Culture Levers to Shape, Change and Grow Organizations

In this session, Gagen MacDonald CEO Maril MacDonald facilitated a rich discussion across a variety of geographic, industry and demographic perspectives to discuss the levers you can pull, and should be pulling, to change, grow or shift a culture.

  • Tiffin Jernstedt, Senior Vice President, Global Communications, PVH Corporation
  • Bill Wohl, Head of Brand Communications, United Rentals
  • Omar Zaafrani, Senior Vice President, Group Communications, ADNOC
  • Maril MacDonald, CEO, Gagne MacDonald (moderator)

Session Photos



Culture goes beyond values. It’s about how employees are treated, how leaders behave, the systems that help or hinder operations and the way decisions are made. In this session, Gagen MacDonald CEO Maril MacDonald will facilitate a rich discussion across a variety of geographic, industry and demographic perspectives to discuss the levers you can pull, and should be pulling, to change, grow or shift a culture. Cases include Omar Zaafrani of ADNOC, Tiffin Jernstedt from PVH and Bill Wohl of United Rentals. #PageSpring


  • Tiffin Jernstedt, Senior Vice President, Global Communications, PVH Corporation
  • Bill Wohl, Head of Brand Communications, United Rentals
  • Omar Zaafrani, Senior Vice President, Group Communications, ADNOC
  • Maril MacDonald, CEO, Gagne MacDonald (moderator)

Three CCOs talk about how their companies are tackling and redefining culture.


The organization:

    • Abu Dhabi National Oil Company
    • Employees: 50,000 (with 14 subsidiaries)
    • Multiple brands, multiple cultures.

In 2015-16, the fundamentals of the industry changed, forcing change on ADNOC, including a new CEO.

The assignment:

Evolve a traditional, state-owned oil company into a:

    • Progressive
    • Commercially motivated
    • Performance-focused
    • Technology-driven
    • Transparent
    • Best-in-class business

The obstacles:

With multiple brands and numerous cultures, the decision was taken to move from a “house of brands” to a “branded house,” and become ADNOC around the world.  

The strategies:

The team leveraged legacy and leadership to drive the message, hearkening back to the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the legendary leader who went to all the disparate tribes to form the UAE in 1971.

A quote of his was adapted as a mission statement: “We harness energy resources in the service of our nation.”

ADNOC also allowed employees to contribute their thoughts and choose what values they believed truly represented the brand.

“This really helped us create the buy-in, powerful inside and outside the company.” – Zaafrani  

The outcomes:

One of the byproducts of unification was an increase in brand equity to become the most valuable brand in the Middle East.

Brand values were introduced and cascaded across the organization, to ensure employees were living “the ADNOC way” in striving towards personal goals as well as the company’s higher purpose.



The organization:

  • 10 brands: including Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Speedo.
  • Employees: 38,000
  • Recently went global due to an acquisition.
  • Formerly a holding company model – now a parent company.

The assignment:

Five years ago, Jernstedt and her team were charged with creating a culture for the parent company.

The obstacles:

  • Strong household name brands and lesser-known parent company.
  • Parent company and brands at different stages in culture journey.
  • Cultural disconnect.
  • Siloed programs.
  • Need to connect everyone to celebrate our collective culture.
  • How to balance brand versus corporate pride.

“All around the world, one brand dominated the others and we didn’t have assets to bring together.”

The strategies:

  • Create identity and narrative for the parent company.
  • Freedom in a framework.
  • Shared values.
  • Investments in enterprise-level culture drivers, i.e. PVH University, Inclusion & Diversity.
  • 10 global communications platforms with space for brands and regions.
  • Brands invite everyone, i.e. TED @ Tommy.
  • Strong PVH moments supported by brands, i.e NYC Pride.
    • Some 800 associates participated, and PVC is bringing representatives from 15 countries together for World Pride in June in New York.

The results:

The platforms fostered new kinds of collaboration.

“Because of the business structure, a lot of our stores are next to each other. So when we gave them a platform they were resource sharing and problem-solving together. Instantly we had retail associates around the world talking about PVH.

“PVH University, inclusion & diversity councils across the organization, business resource groups – for our world, these things are quite new. Now they are going global.”


United Rentals

The company:

  • Employees:18,800
  • Rental revenue per employee: $430,000
  • The No. 1 equipment rental company in the world, United Rentals customers build big things like office buildings and shopping centers.

For United Rentals, culture is not an abstract concept but rather it is tied directly to the company’s focus on its people, and safety.

“The CEO talks about our people because it is a competitive advantage for us to show how our employees work together as a team. We have 10% turnover and 40% employee referrals. Our employees believe they work for a great company.”


For United Rentals, the philosophy is to “get out of the way and let the culture drive itself.”

One of the tools for doing this is Facebook Workplace.

“It’s enormously flexible, and familiar to our employees so the opportunity to like and to share and come together in groups is just natively simple.”

Truck drivers have a group where they share photos from the road. Technicians share posts of how they solve particular problems.

“We use Workplace to enable the culture to grow stronger.”

Another example of culture in action is the company’s Compassion Fund. Through payroll deductions, employees contribute to a company-matched fund to help colleagues in need.

“It’s an example of our employees taking care of each other.”

One employee, a driver affectionately known as Mr. Chicken, took it upon himself to post a video advocating for the fund, which drove 2,000 new signups organically.

“We work in a business that is inherently dangerous. People get hurt on job sites every day. There’s a camaraderie among these employees. When culture gets to that level amazing things can happen.”



In their own words:

“When I started learning about our history and what we were doing in CSR and beyond, I said to my boss that we have a lot more to talk about than just sustainability.”

– Jernstedt

“We had been a slow and silent organization – adapted rarely, evolved slowly, and communicated never.”

– Zaafrani

“When culture gets good, get the heck out of the way.”

– Wohl

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