Five Questions for Our Boss, the CDC Foundation's Charlie Stokes

Charlie Stokes“The CDC is protecting Americans and the world from health and safety threats. In so doing, it’s protecting our economy. Businesses with huge global workforces care about that,” according to CDC Foundation President and CEO Charlie Stokes, who was featured in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution’s (AJC) 5 Questions for the Boss column over the weekend.

The 5 Questions for the Boss column is a regular feature in the AJC, highlighting lessons learned by some of Georgia’s top business and civic leaders. In early June, the AJC’s Sunday Business Editor Henry Unger sat down with Charlie, who offered insights into his 40-year career in public health, including the last 18 leading the CDC Foundation.

During their conversation, Charlie discussed the CDC Foundation’s role in connecting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the private-sector—including businesses, foundations and individuals—to address important public health issues.

“In today’s flatter world, where both government and business both have to deal with fewer resources and become more efficient, we have to change that old model of government and business staying in their own corners,” according to Charlie.

He went on to say, “In my opinion, the only solution is that government and business have to partner. I think it’s important to have a bridge like us in the not-for-profit arena that can take a wheel spinning at high speed—business—and another wheel like government that is moving at a different speed, and minimize the friction. That helps build trust so the partnerships can grow over time.”

On a more personal note, in describing some of the lessons he’s learned over the years that he applies to his leadership, Charlie reflected back on his time in the Army Reserves beginning in 1971. “During training, two of the three companies were ‘old Army’—all the motivation was negative. But in my company, they were experimenting with much more positive reinforcement. We don’t have to denigrate you. We can treat you in a civil way. The bottom line is you have to perform.”

Charlie continued, “In every single competition, we in the new Army totally outperformed the other two companies. I have never wavered from the belief that it’s positive reinforcement that really gets the results.”


Pierce Nelson is the vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.