Preventing More Baby Formula Shortages (with General Gustave Perna)

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As the man responsible for manufacturing and distributing the COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year, US Army four-star General Gustave Perna has a thing or two to say about today’s supply chain issues. He says product shortages, from vaccines to baby formula, are preventable if you center mission over profit and run hypotheticals that prepare your team for worst case scenarios. Andy relives Operation Warp Speed with the general as they discuss what we can learn from it.

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Andy Slavitt, Gustave Perna, Speaker 3

Andy Slavitt  00:17

Welcome to IN THE BUBBLE. This is your host, Andy Slavitt. It is Monday, June 6, there have been not quite 254 Star generals in the history of the United States, many of whom you’ve heard of George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Douglas MacArthur, Dwight Eisenhower. And there’s a few that are alive today, and one of them is on our show today. And that’s general Gustave Perna. Many of you got to know, general Perna in the context of his leadership of Operation Warp Speed, which by the way, during this interview, he refers to on one occasion as OWS. So now, you know what he means by OWS, was Operation warp speed, which was the Trump initiative to get vaccines out to the country. There was a lot that was successful about Operation warp speed, we did get vaccines created, we did that on multiple averses, there is a lot to be grateful for and how that was done. There was also a lot that was done poorly. And General Perna came to people’s attention when it was time for the vaccine distribution rollout and the Trump administration had promised 10s of millions of doses, even 100 million doses will be delivered by the end of January. And it was quite clear that they didn’t have nearly enough vaccines to satisfy the country. And at that point in time, people may remember Perna stood up and said, I’m accountable. I got this, and in effect, took the blame, if you will, for anything that people were unsatisfied with. Now what I discovered after being at the White House, was the fact that Perna was taking the blame for things that were decisions made well beyond him. And he in effect was trying to reduce the noise. We’re going to talk about that on the show. And it’s a really interesting moment. I got to know General Perna when I met him after joining the White House when the Biden team came in January 20th. need to think about this, he was there as part of a long term, career government official, a five star general, as matter of fact, who was working on behalf of the Trump team and who had to quickly pivot to now working with the Biden team. And I will want you to hear how we first met each other. That will be part of the interview, because it says a lot about general Perna’s character in addition to what I just said about taking responsibility. And I think getting general Perna’s story told directly is important from a historical perspective.

Andy Slavitt  03:04

But it’s also important in another regard, in that is that I think he is someone who delivered to the country what it needed, when it needed it. And when I think about the country needing things and when we get them, it reminds me of another element of who General Perna is, which is he is essentially was the logistical mastermind of the US Army, he basically led the entire supply chain effort into a rack. And so one of the areas that I wanted to explore with him today was how we got into the supply chain mess with baby formula and other things in this country right now. And how a leader who’s a four star general, running the nation’s most complex logistics, sees a situation like that. Now, I was never in the military. But I can tell you the number of times in my career where I felt like I was part of an operation that was labeled by others in the media as a war, time effort, a warlike effort. So it’s really fascinating dealing with a guy and I don’t know, how many of you have been in the military, which are prospective in the military, for military families, but the perspective that he has, as you will hear, he doesn’t do these very often. Doesn’t like doing the media interviews, I think he will talk about why he did this particular conversation. And he’s very, very candid. So I hope you enjoy it. And I hope that you get a little bit of a sense of kind of what is like to work through some of the problems at the scale that he’s worked up through. Ultimately, this conversation is one of the country’s, believe me, optimistic, optimistic that with the right principles, the right focus the right effort, we can accomplish a lot and overcome a lot as a country. How you doing?

Gustave Perna 

Andy, I’m all right. Good to see you. Good to hear you.

Andy Slavitt 

We first met each other, I came in to do a very brief stint in the White House, you were overseeing the operations of the distribution, delivery of vaccines around the country, really a very significant operational effort, which is ultimately quite successful. You either reached out to me or whatever I reached out to you quickly, and you wanted to make sure to introduce yourself and just make sure we had a knew who each other were, you were incredibly gracious. And when I left, you were the first person to actually send me a note. And first, I want you to know that those things are so noticed in today’s society. And they’re so meaningful. And they establish a relationship. And it was a time when life was pretty chaotic for all of us. So I really appreciate you taking the time to do that. It just said a lot about your character. And I remember the first question I asked you, which I’d want to ask you again now is, if you’d mind, tell me a little bit about yourself and your military career and how you decided to join the military and what that career was like?

Gustave Perna  06:38

Well, Andy, you know, first of all, thanks. You know, I’m doing this because of you. And I’m just a big believer in treating people right. And I was raised that way. As you can remember, it was a time period, where there was a lot of rhetoric, let me just leave it like that, coming from all directions. And I just thought it was important for the people who were actually doing things to get to know each other, and be able to talk. And, you know, I was you were one of the ones that welcomed me as part of the team. I’ve been working on it, but you know, teams transition, leadership transitions, it’s just important to get off on the right foot, right? Disagreements, not disrespect. And at the end of the day, authority and responsibility, people have to be accountable for but in the meantime, it’s good to just, it’s just important to treat people right. So thanks for bringing that up. I do remember that phone call. Remember it clearly. So, you know, look, I’m not quite sure how it happened in real life, in retrospect, but I was blessed to, you know, end up in military school. Some might not think that’s a blessing. But, you know, I ended up there, it was the best thing to happen to me. It was life changing for me, quite frankly. Anyway. You know, I got my commission in two years. I commanded at the time in Iraq in 2003, what we call the Fort Support Battalion that was in support of an armor maneuver brigade combat team. I went back two years later and commanded what we call a Sustainment Brigade. It was responsible for the commodities and distribution in support of all maneuver force. We were headquartered in Baghdad, but we ran convoys from Kuwait to Baghdad and Baghdad to Northern Iraq, Eastern Iraq, Western Iraq, you know, we spent quite a bit of time in very dangerous roads. You know, very proud of that time period, quite frankly, well trained, well, discipline, well lead organization at all levels.

Andy Slavitt  09:06

Can you give us a sense of the scope of what being in charge of all of those, all that logistics actually means in terms of what things were you moving through and into the country at what scale?

Gustave Perna  09:18

So I was, I think, one of five brigade, sustainment brigades, and it felt under great one star general named Becky Halstead, remarkable officer, leader. And so I worked. We had 7000 soldiers, who was five battalions, 7000 soldiers, on average, in general, we ran somewhere between 30 and 50 convoys a night and the convoys range from you know, short mileage 5 to 10 miles, go to a base camp, come back, you know, to long distribution goes all the way up to the northern border, or the western border, the eastern border and right wrong convoys. We carried everything that you can imagine, you know, food, fuel, ammunition, probably the main things, but also repair parts and other types of things that were ordered and needed everything from, you know, paper copiers, to, you know, pens, you know, screens, computers, etc. But we ran those every day, right? The battle is, you know, is flowing, it’s consistent. The key to that is understanding what’s happening, right? What’s the sense of going on, and then, you know, you have to figure out how to distribute it so that it’s at the right place at the right time. You know, for the maneuver force, that’s who you’re supporting those soldiers and leaders on the ground fighting the enemy. And the last thing they need is to be worried about fuel or ammo or food, or water, right? And so, you know, it’s art and science of it. As I tell younger leaders, we have to be able to synchronize integrate echelon, commodities, right, that’s everything I just talked about, food, ammo, fuel, etc, and distribution and support at the maneuver commander, very, very, very fluid situation every single day, for a year.

Andy Slavitt 

As I said in the introduction, you’re one of a very small number of people in the history of our country that became a four star general. And I won’t ask you to talk about that because of the quote on your wall, which I think is where you live to, which is, you get a lot done by not focusing on yourself and taking credit. But you do know an awful lot about logistics and supply chains. And we’re seeing things happen with supply chains, baby formula would be something currently in the news. And I’m wondering, just if you have, you know, overall thoughts on these challenges we’re facing around the world, when you look at them, as they’ve emerged out the pandemic, how do they get resolved? Do you feel like you’ve got insights to deal with when you look at those situations? Are there parallels to kind of your own career?

Gustave Perna  12:48

Yeah. So many people are not gonna like my response to this. But it was all preventable, right? This didn’t happen because of Covid, Covid was a symptom that magnified the situation. I personally believe we’re in this position, because we failed at the leadership level. Right? The things the decisions that were made, are all leadership decisions, right? And you got to first start with what is the purpose of a supply chain? Right, the supply chain is to enable a capability or capacity, right? And so then you start making leadership decisions about how to execute the supply chain or what right and how you do thing, what are you going to do, and how you’re going to do things, if you decide you’re going to make factories and put them in other countries, because you don’t want to meet the regulatory requirements in the US because you don’t want to meet the union requirements in the US, but you don’t want to meet safety requirements in the US because you don’t want to pay the taxes in the US. Those are all good decisions. And they’re all leadership decisions. But the result of those decisions are supply chain disruption, when other countries are not capable of, you know, getting the vaccine rapidly. And then things have to be distributed through air or sea or ports where you know, where workforce is not there. So the you know, my point is, right, we failed collectively, right? At the leadership position, because we collectively, the […] right made decisions about supply chain. My observation, which were more financial, than they were about delivering the product Look at the capacity that is needed, right? Second point is we fail collectively the royal we again, on holding ourselves accountable to execution. This just in time thought process, right? In an extreme all the way over to the left is not the right approach, it’s a good approach for saving nickels and dimes. But it’s not our approach to ensuring that the supply chain is relevant in meeting your purpose. On the other hand, I am absolutely not a believer of stocking and storing and creating mountains of things, that’s the wrong way to do it. So everything in moderation, you need to have some type of bring it to center and adjust. But two things have to happen when you do that.

Gustave Perna  15:49

One, you have to be able to see yourself, you have to be able to understand what you’re doing the friendlies situation, you have to understand what your competitors are doing, the enemy situation, you have to understand what’s happening in the environment, whether it’s storms or COVID, or whatever, right? I mean, you have to understand those three things. And then you got to start making assessments and decisions on how to adjust. It’s not just something that is lockstep, right? It’s a moving fluid situation. So that’s number one. Number two is you have to be disciplined in execution, right, and you have to have the highest standards, and everybody has to be held accountable to that, right. I just, it’s infuriating to see we’re in a situation because organizations couldn’t determine, you know, the importance of things, right, and then come together and work to that end, because we’re just so used to doing things our way that we got into status quo. And so, you know, my personal opinion, all these supply chain issues could have been avoided. And even once they occurred, I think if leaders were on their game, they could have gotten involved, there could have been adjustments made. And we could have gotten ahead of this. And there’s many, there’s myriad reasons or symptoms, now that it’s becoming over exaggerated, right? Organizations not working together, people try our organizations trying to make up for money lost, you know, with the shutdown in 2020, countries having to shut down for whatever the reasons, I’m not going to get into all that stuff.  And what’s the impact of that? You know, but, it’s the three things, it’s the leadership and decision. It’s the operational approach and standards and discipline.

Andy Slavitt  17:45

So if you were, I mean, let’s just take baby formula, like if you were the equivalent of getting food out to the troops in some respect, if you’re facing this type of situation, right now, if some president asked you to fix it, where does the relief come from, you know, what are the tools at our disposal? I mean, I take your point about we valued cheap products, and just the type of inventory over resiliency, we are where we are. And I think there’s a lesson to be learned in resiliency. It’s apply, as you said, you can’t afford at the frontline not to have the ammunition or the food there, the cost of missing it is greater than the efficiency of having just the right amount. So you’ve got to have some amount of resiliency. But when you’re in a situation, and you must have been in situations like this in your career, where you inherit a situation, or there’s just not sufficient supply, like what do you do as someone who’s leading the entire logistical effort to fix a situation like this, when you’ve got the kind of urgent need you have when people don’t have food?

Gustave Perna  18:56

I’m a big flow person. And my responsibility in the army was to make sure soldiers had what they needed when they needed it at the right place, right. And so I was able to, you know, I didn’t have to answer to people about profit, I had to make sure that it was ethically morally and legally, right. But my job was to make sure that they have what they wanted when they needed it, right. And it didn’t get wasted. So I had to create flow to that end, so I just I want that to be codified, right. I’m not I’m not an industry leader. What’s driving them and what drove me is different. But let me give you an example on OWS. Let’s talk about managing that supply chain. We had remarkable people managing on OWS, but here was my guidance. We were backing six vaccines, right? You remember? Six different vaccines, but two are like you know, they were in groups of two. And so and then generally the supplies needed in those different types. to vaccines were managed in pockets of two, for formula. But then the consumables that were needed, were basically the same, tubing, bags, plugs, all the consumables, right? needles, syringes, everything, you know, so we had minerals that we had to manage, and we had consumables that we had to manage, and we had equipment we had to manage. Right? So here’s my thing. We went on the offense and defense in managing the supply chain for these three things. Number one, I’ll come back to that. Number two, we created the system to see ourselves, didn’t happen, was not available, we had to be able to see all the minerals, all the requirements, all the minerals, all the consumables, right? Third, we had to manage the all this equipment, consumables, and then minerals, materials, right? To meet the scale of production requirements, right, which was a paradigm shift for all of these organizations. Because we never had six organizations making vaccines at the same time at the volume we were working at, we had organizations that were used to collecting everything they needed over a period of time and then utilizing it when they needed it, right? We were flowing, we were flowing this right, we were going from trials and exponentially increasing, you know, the volume that was going to be available in the vaccine. So we needed all this stuff in a continuous flow. We couldn’t let any of the companies bully another company. Right? We couldn’t let anybody hoard just because, you know, whatever. They were the big people on the block or whatever, right?

Gustave Perna  21:53

We needed the six companies for all the right reasons, right? One fail, we wanted others to be strong. Right? We needed to we were trying to our purpose, safe and effective vaccines to the American people had nothing to do with money. Right? It was for the American people. And our job was to make safe and effective get it out. So everybody could have it. fair and equitable distribution to everybody. We talked about that. But it couldn’t let anybody bully the supply chain. Right. That’s why we put in […] defense production x, because we needed to offensively and defensively control the supply chain. Offensively, we needed to know the requirements, we had to go get it defensively, we had to manage it to the flow of what we were producing, as well as not let anybody bully the supplies are their own need. Right. And so that’s the guidance my team had. And then we managed all those things to that end. You know, we never ran out of collectively, it was a great team effort. Once we got, you know, kind of the game rules in place, great team effort. And as you know, vaccine availability exponentially increased every single week after we started, right, we had to account for that. And we had to drive that. So my example is, I think we had a pretty important very hard mission to do. And we figured out how to do it. Right. I’m just saying other people could figure it out too.

Andy Slavitt  24:00

General, there’s a point in time when, thanks in large part to your leadership and a number of people both inside and outside the US government. We really starting to get on a roll in distributing vaccines to the contrary, demand was still waiting supply of vaccines. There are people all over the country, millions of people still looking to find vaccines. And we were, as you said, gaming on it every week, and then a storm hit. Actually, let me go back and play a clip of a press conference that I lead out of the White House. Right on the heels of that storm. This was from February of 2021. As of now, we have a backlog of about 6 million doses due to the weather. All 50 states have been impacted. The 6 million doses represents about three days of delayed shipping, and many states have been able to cover some of this delay with existing inventory. So let me first walk you through the situation, and then tell you how we, as an entire nation will have to pull together to get back on track. There are three places along the distribution chain that had been impacted by the weather. First, FedEx, UPS and McKesson, our Logistics and Distribution teams have all faced challenges, as workers have been snowed in and unable to get to work to package and ship the vaccines, kits, and the required diluent. Second, road closures have held up delivery of vaccines at different points in the distribution process, between manufacturing sites, to distribution and to shipping hubs. Third, more than 2000 vaccine sites are located in areas with power outages. So they’re currently unable to receive doses. And I recall getting calls as you did as well from governors who were somewhere between concerned and entitled, I remember getting on the phone with you. It’s suddenly these moments and I remember how these things get straightened out, Could you could you just as an illustration of how you think about, and I’ve thought about it prepare for these challenges and take accountability for these challenges? Do you remember that incident? Can you just describe what happened?

Gustave Perna  26:28

Yeah, I remember extremely well, you know, we used to joke in the office, you know, we couldn’t make this any harder if we planned it, right? If we were we were doing training and people were throwing, you know, scenarios at us to test us right, we could make that crap up everything from the middle of an election to the storms we had, you know, etc. And what it did is it hit the primary hub of Tennessee, Kentucky, just literally got shut down doesn’t take a lot of snow to shut you down in those states, right? Snow removal plan in those states is a sun they don’t invest in and rightly so. They don’t invest in all that stuff like the Northeast. So it did shut down capability and capacity, right? You know, to really a hub and spoke thing. So that’s number one. Number two, we were just in we’re maybe four weeks into distributing the vaccine. And so we weren’t at the volume of distribution that we were at as late as March where you know, vaccine was exceeding demand. And we knew my whiteboard showed us that was going to happen, right? We knew it, Jeff Zients and I talked every day, as you know, and you know, we knew where we were going to be with that. But at that time, what was happening, governors were, you know, they were running, you know, okay, they were telling her states, tomorrow, we’re going to be open and sign up and 100 people would sign up or 1000 people or whatever it was. But the key was, you know, in their defense, we were we told them we deliver vaccine within 24 hours. And so if they planned it, it would be there, don’t worry about it. And so when the storm hit and shut down, the hubs literally, literally physically shut down the hubs, people were not allowed to drive the work. People were, you know, they were not allowed to distribute the vaccine, you know, outside of the, you know, because the states were closed down, and they were closed down for four days, if I remember correctly. So, you know, that’s, that’s kind of the foundation of what you’re talking about. Now. Here’s, you know, even though it was a blip, it wasn’t a catastrophe. One, we had incredible partners, with UPS, FedEx, Pfizer, Moderna, at the time, and McKesson trucking, right, those five partners were so crucial in seeing what was about to happen, understanding the packaging that needed to be done understanding that preparation, you know, for soon as the roads are open, and people who get to work, you know how to get it going. So I just not talk about that enough how great those organizations were, and your leaders were.

Andy Slavitt 

But you had them working well together, too. I mean, you had the functioning as a team is not an easy thing.

Gustave Perna 

We had unity of effort, and they were great leaders and a great workforce. And so the way we and I’ll come back to this, but because of them, we you know, we were up and ready to go. We talked every day and we knew what our plan was number two. To my last point, we knew what the plan would be to get going. We didn’t have to make it up. We didn’t have to design it. We already figured it out we’d already planned for this is what’s going to happens. How do we come out of it.

Andy Slavitt  30:02

You plan for a potential storm? You got through that scenario?

Gustave Perna

Yeah, we had to, we had to think through that, right. And the team worked their way through it through constant conversation and execution. And we made up right in the next first four days, we couldn’t deliver, in the next four days, maybe five days, not only do we deliver what we were supposed to deliver, but we delivered everything that was now ready in the following week. So we doubled delivered right to that end, because we had just worked it in the leaders and the workforce was magnificent.

Andy Slavitt  30:39

This is a good point to stop and go back to that press conference. And play a bit more of the explanation that I got directly from you as to what was going on. General Perna’s guidance to the team was to ensure safety of personnel, preservation of the vaccines and supplies and constant communication with the states. Because of 72 hour cold chain constraints, we don’t want to ship doses to those locations, and have them sitting at a site where they might expire. So the vaccines are sitting safe and sound in our factories and hubs ready to be shipped out as soon as weather allows. That was weather conditions improve. We’re already working to clear this backlog. 1.4 million doses are already in transit today. And we anticipate that all the backlog doses will be delivered within the next week, with most being delivered within the next several days. And we expect we will be able to manage both this backlog and the new production coming online next week.

Gustave Perna 

Now, two things to this point, right. This didn’t happen by accident. We did a tremendous amount of planning for your question. Two, we designed the distribution system. Right? We took it out of the box. There was a lot of people that thought they were going to come in, I mean I had people well just have the National Guard deliver all we’re just gonna have one trucking company. Oh, we’re just gonna you know, we’re gonna have whatever, right, people coming out of the woodworks.

Andy Slavitt  32:24

Every state wanted to send their own National Guard, right?

Gustave Perna  32:26

Everybody wanted everything. Right? But you know, what we did was is I wanted to take advantage of the people that knew what they were doing. UPS, FedEx, McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, and Cardinal, right. These are the experts in delivery of medical supplies, right? And so we ended up making a choice between the three main distributors, we chose McKesson because we didn’t want it. We didn’t choose all three because we didn’t want to disrupt all their medical supplies, heart disease, cancer, blah, blah, blah. So AmerisourceBergen and Cardinal great companies continued on with the normal flow of other things. And McKesson primarily took on the hub for the vaccine. Then we partnered McKesson up with Pfizer, because they were packaging on their own, Moderna because McKesson did the packaging for Moderna. But then we brought in UPS and FedEx. And those leaders were remarkable in the collaboration and working this plan on how to get it. And we figured out new ways of doing things, Andy, there was less than I don’t know the exact number there was less than 10,000 locations identified for distribution of vaccines, and it was primarily attached to the child distribution, child flu distribution. What we did is we created a database ahead over 70,000 locations, right? And my guidance was simple, right? Let’s normalize it to the American people. We want American people in my vision was to get let them walk into CVS, Walgreens, Walmart, doctor’s office, hospital, normalize, right? So if it had to be repeated year after year after year, it wasn’t something that was grand, it was something that was normal. And what we did is we created the capability, right? They all became approved by the CDC who did a magnificent job certifying all these locations, right for delivery and administration of the vaccine. We went from less than 10 to over 70 I think the numbers into the 90s now, quote me on that but that’s a you know, close now what that meant was UPS and FedEx deliver around the world. Right? And they deliver into our neighborhoods, they deliver to your house every whatever you order something, right? They just deliver well, that we were delivering to 70,000 locations around the country. Right? And when we did this on day one, the first day vaccines were available. You remember this, Andy, everybody in America got some vaccine, whether you were in the Pacific territories, you were up in Alaska, you were from the west coast all the way through the East Coast, Maine, down to Puerto Rico, right. And then back, right, we developed a formula, and because of the magnificent distribution work, right, everybody in America simultaneously got vaccine. And it was proportional based on, it was a mathematical formula. You remember this? You know, medical formula based on population over 18. Everybody got their fair share.

Andy Slavitt 

And then they got a predictable supply with you basically told them, here’s how much you’re gonna get so they could plan on their end.

Gustave Perna 

That’s right. But because we did that planning, because we set that in place because we went with the experts, because we did rehearsals because we could see ourselves, right, we created the system to see ourselves, because, the local government, state and local governments were involved. That’s why we the storm came a blipped, but we got through

Andy Slavitt  36:18

it, he did a very interesting thing that isn’t often done in Washington, where things were not going very well, at some point, this was before the Biden team got there. And there was a lot of noise and a lot of finger pointing in, you quieted down the noise during this entire mess. And I think really took a lot of the politics out of it by doing one thing that is just never done in Washington, which is you effectively told the public, I got this, I am accountable. In fact, here you are, in an interview with 60 minutes at the end of 2020.

Speaker 3 

So if this distribution of vaccines doesn’t go according to plan, where does the buck stop?

Gustave Perna 

Conversations over, it’s pretty easy. Me I hold myself 100% personally accountable to that end.

Andy Slavitt 

I remember, it is such an untraditional thing to happen in Washington, where someone says hold me accountable. And what that did was it basically all the chirping that was very distracting, started to diminish. And I, you know, I noticed that that was before I met you. And the end that I met you and saw that you were effectively saying that to us every day, tell me what you need. And I’ll make sure we deliver. I thought that was a pretty special moment. I don’t know if there’s a lesson out of that, or how much even thought about what you were doing there. But not a lot of people do that.

Gustave Perna 

Thank thanks for you know, recognizing that Andy and, you know, it’s, you know, I was blessed. I just I had a great family, great parents, great, you know, family examples. And then I was a part of an institution, you know, that lives up to, you know, standard and holds themselves accountable. And, you know, in, there’s a lot of examples of what you just talked about over the years, right, people and doom, you know, hold themselves accountable to that. And, you know, it was I remember clearly getting a phone call about coming to do this on Saturday morning. And, you know, it took me less than a second to say yes, because, you know, the country it was, you know, we were at war as far as I was concerned. And I thought it was, you know, morally, I was gonna be morally accountable to, you know, doing it. And then, you know, when things happen, you know, at the end of the day, this is what was on my desk, at Operation Warp Speed, right? Failure is not an option, right? We, you know, it was we had to figure out solutions, we needed diversity of thought we need to get things done, what we didn’t need is disruption. For whatever reason, and so, you know, being accountable. Okay, me, ready, go. Let’s go, you know, what’s the same, right? Everything that goes well, there was a bunch of people that did it. And they deserve the credit.

Andy Slavitt 

It was success has 1000 fathers; failure has none.

Gustave Perna 

And I had a great team and I wanted them to go be great and they weren’t great, trust me. And hopefully the story will get out someday about all these individuals that just did great things both in industry, academia and up on this staff, you know, between DOD and HHS, but at the end of the day, come on, why waste time on blaming, pointing fingers? It’s not helpful. Right. I’m accountable, ready to go, over.

Andy Slavitt  40:01

That was so in such an incredible part of the success of this story. And I’m sure I’m extrapolating throughout your career, and the many things you did and is the last question, and I will give you the last word I’m wondering. It’s a time of challenge in our country. It’s a time of crisis, a lot of division, a lot of uncertainty about the future. I’m wondering if you have leadership lessons, or thoughts on this country and getting through tough times from I think your look, you’re one of whether you like it or not, you know, you’re one of 249, four star generals in the history of this country, which includes people like George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Dwight Eisenhower. And so I’m gonna say that, because that puts you in, and that doesn’t happen by accident. That happens for reasons that I think people I think, who listen to this well understand. And your leadership lessons, I think, are quite valuable, quite pertinent for all of us in going through the kinds of times that we face, we face in the past, we will face the future. And I’m interested, if you got perspectives on that, as a leader, in many decades, you’ve been a leader.

Gustave Perna 

Yeah, I mean, it’s simple for me. And I don’t want to make an excuse, but many might think it is, you know, I’ve served in the military, I was blessed to have, you know, served in the Army, and have a long career, 38 years active service and two years National Guard. So 40 years, in that 40 years, I never voted, I didn’t vote because I felt I was there to serve, you know, I swore an oath to the Constitution. And then, you know, I worked for the Commander in Chief. And so no matter who the commander in chief was, I was gonna give it everything I had, right. And, you know, morally, ethically, and legally, they were gonna get everything, I had to do that. So in simple terms, I was able to do that in as I defined what I did, I defined everything I did what and how I did things based on one thing, my purpose, my purpose was to support and defend the Constitution, United States, that’s what sworn oath to, right? And so I had a defined purpose, then I figured out what and how I was going to do things, but my purpose was always the same. I say all that because what I believe my personal opinion, as I observe, and I only can observe from, you know, my armchair, my couch, whatever, is I think many people who are responsible to the American people have lost sight of the purpose. And, and they’re, they’re making decisions and doing things for their own benefit. And you can anybody can push back on me, that’s what we’re such a great country, and everybody gets an opinion. But if everybody was collaborative, and really defined in their purpose in what they do and how they do it, then I think we’d have a lot more collaboration, and we’d have a better situation under our hands on our hands. It’s always about purpose, our purpose in OWS was safe and effective vaccines. At the end of the day, what I did and how I did it, I or the team was about safe and effective vaccines, right? morally, ethically, and legally, right period. You know, I didn’t figure out what I was going to do or how I was going to do it. If I was worried about what or how or me, I never would have taken responsibility or accountability. Right? I would have, it’s just don’t balance me, the decision making. And the people who are self-serving against what I think is for their own for their own purpose. I probably didn’t say that very well. I just think we had better clarity in our defined purpose, what we do and how we do it would be more beneficial to the American people.

Andy Slavitt  44:28

I personally subscribe to a similar theory, which is you got to know what your most important objective is because at the end of the day, you know, if you have one vaccine, and you can either give it to a teacher, or an elderly person who’s at risk of dying if they don’t get the vaccine, look, our job as a country is to make two so we have them for both. But at the end of the day, you got to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. And that is defining and I do hope we regain that. I do sense like you do. There’s a lot of things samples right now of being I’ll just call it aimless, which is, which is another way of saying lack of purpose.

Gustave Perna 

Yeah, I mean, it’s simple. You know, if your purpose is to do what’s best for the American people, then you figure out what and how to do things. If your purpose is to get elected, and stay elected, then what you do and how you do things will be different. And that’s why you need such clarity in you know, what is your purpose. And it doesn’t mean we all have to be singing Kumbaya and agree with each other. But, you know, if you’ve driven under the same purpose, then there’d be more collaboration and give and take to that end. My personal opinion.

Andy Slavitt 

Well, you’ve been incredibly keen to do this conversation. I know you do a lot of these. It was incredible experience working with you during very challenging times. It’s very hard to describe that to people how much more important character is in those challenging times. But I experienced with you and I want to thank you general, again for coming on.

Gustave Perna  46:08

Well, Andy, like I said, In the beginning, I did this really because of you, you. You know, we did build the relationship. Didn’t know each other one second before that phone call, but relationships matter.

Andy Slavitt

All right. Coming up next on in the bubble. We’ve got some really fascinating conversations. Have you seen the movie Top Gun: Maverick? If you’ve seen the original Top Gun, I’m assuming you’ve seen the original Top Gun and if you haven’t seen Top Gun: Maverick. We have Jay Ellis on the show, Jay is payback in this amazing movie. Larry Summers, the former United States Secretary of the Treasury is going to be coming on. And then Adam Conover, who’s got a new Netflix series about government. Very funny guy. Arguably not as funny as me, but also a very funny guy. Well, maybe he’s funnier than I am. Alright. Thanks for tuning in to general Perna. Look forward to talking to you Wednesday. Have a great Tuesday.


Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.

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