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Terry Bradwell, Chief Enterprise Strategy and Innovation Officer at AARP

By Peter High, published on Forbes
5/22/17

Terry Bradwell is not only an executive at AARP, he is a member. He has risen from chief information officer to chief enterprise strategy and innovation officer at the $1.5 billion, Washington, DC based non-profit that advocates for Americans who are over 50. He notes that though he is 54 years old, he is not the same 54 that his father was, and, in turn, in a few years, a 54 year old at that time will have a different makeup than he does. This notion drives his ambition toward continuous innovation.

This orientation toward innovation began when Bradwell was the company’s chief information officer. Having spent time as a consultant in IBM’s Media and Entertainment practice, he developed a strong business acumen that meant that as he joined IT departments, he did not accept that the department should be relegated to a supporting role.

Bradwell established innovation labs for AARP while he was CIO, but through a series of conversations with AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, he realized there was value in carving off his CIO duties, responsibilities that would go to his key deputy, Amy Doherty, the current AARP CIO. This allowed him to focus more on innovation. His time in IT helped foster relationships across the entire enterprise, and a cognizance of the strategic needs of each. His impact on innovation and strategy made is move beyond CIO logical.

Peter High: Terry, you are the Chief Enterprise Strategy and Innovation Officer at AARP, quite an interesting title. Could you unwind that and provide an overview of your purview?

Terry Bradwell: Providing some context will help explain my role. AARP is arguably the leading voice of and advocate for the 50-plus population. Our purpose is to empower this population to live their best lives. AARP started out as an innovative organization almost 60 years ago, and has continued along that path. The 50-plus population has continued to evolve; I am 54 years old now, but I am not the same 54 year old that my father was, and a few years from now a 54 year old will not be the same 54 year old that I am today. This evolution means that AARP has to innovate to stay relevant and to be able to continue to drive our social mission and advocacy. We are a social mission organization, but it takes revenue to power that.

My role as chief enterprise strategy and innovation officer is to address opportunities and risk for the organization. From a strategy perspective, I am responsible for the creation of a multiyear plan that encompasses our opportunities, threats, and risks. It is my responsibility to develop a strategy that is outcome-focused that the organization can rally around, but is also flexible enough to change as the conditions on the ground change. We use innovation as a primary lever to deliver outcomes that ensure that we strengthen our value proposition for the people who we serve. We are a strong organization, and our strategy aims to keep AARP that way by addressing potential long-term relevancy and revenue risks.

When they are doing well and feeling secure, many companies become complacent. We are fortunate to have a dynamic CEO who recognizes that simply being in a successful position creates a risk. At AARP, we double down and push twice as hard when we are comfortable. That is why my function was created. At the highest level, I am responsible for shaping a strategy that ensures the outcome is a strengthened value proposition through innovation.

High: Innovation can be hard to define. Can you define innovation for AARP and how you measure progress?

Bradwell: At AARP, innovation is strategy-driven and focused in areas that we call health, wealth, and self; these are health security, financial resilience, and personal fulfillment. Let me provide a few examples. In the financial resilience zone, we looked at the trends and recognized that work and jobs are a huge concern for the 50-plus population because jobs are being transformed due to disruption and new categories of jobs created by the sharing and gig economies. Gone are the days when you worked 20 or 30 years for a company and had a pension and a retirement package. We are exploring these trends and innovating around financial resilience. With health security, we are innovating around a huge area within caregiving; which includes bringing products, services, content, and information to individuals who have caregiving challenges. We know from our insights and data that caregiving is a growing challenge. Over the next five to 10 years, there will be 117 million people in this country that will need some form of care, but only about 43 million unpaid caregivers available to provide that care. Likewise, there are only about 4 million paid caregivers. We are innovating around these caregiving shortages and other trends.

High: You run AARP’s innovation lab. Please share examples of the motivations behind setting up the lab, how it was developed and set up, and its place within the larger organization.

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