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American Heart Association EVP Katrina McGhee: “Diversity is essential because we are strongest when we collectively bring our ideas to the table, and the best ideas come when we brainstorm with others”

…diversity is the strength of any organization. Your volunteers and supporters have to be reflective of the community. That’s significant for a couple of reasons. Number one, it allows for different thinking to enter the room. We are strongest when we collectively bring our ideas to the table, and the best ideas come when we brainstorm […]


…diversity is the strength of any organization. Your volunteers and supporters have to be reflective of the community. That’s significant for a couple of reasons.

Number one, it allows for different thinking to enter the room. We are strongest when we collectively bring our ideas to the table, and the best ideas come when we brainstorm with others. Looking at challenges and opportunities from different lenses always helps bring out the best.

Secondly, heart disease and stroke impacts everyone. So, the fact that we are challenged with something that impacts nearly everyone around the world means that we have to not only serve diverse audiences but also bring them to the table. We have to partner up with them so that we can provide the best service and education for all of our communities.


I recently had the pleasure to talk to Katrina McGhee, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the American Heart Association.

Katrina is a global marketing executive with more than two decades of experience in leading brand-building for world-class social purpose organizations. She began her career with the American Heart Association as marketing director, where she created national social marketing programs, launched several multicultural marketing programs and developed public-private partnerships that generated millions of dollars in annual revenue.

McGhee later served as the executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Susan G. Komen for the Cure®. Most recently, she worked as an independent consultant and launched the Loving on Me Career Success Academy, helping empower women to take charge of their health, lives and careers. She has also served as a business adviser to corporate executives in the areas of strategic planning, brand building, fundraising and career development, with an emphasis on transforming underserved communities and impacting the lives of women, children and minorities. McGhee is a noted speaker and the author of two books: “Loving on Me!: Lessons Learned on the Journey from MESS to MESSAGE” and “BE BOLD BE BRILLIANT BE YOU: Lessons from the C-Suite to Accelerate Your Career.”


Yitzi: Thank you so much for joining us, Katrina. It’s a delight to talk to you. Can you tell our readers a bit about your background and what brought you to this career path?

Katrina: I originally worked for the American Heart Association. Then, after about six years, I left and started a consulting company as well as an online retail business. After that, I went to work at Komen, and later, I started a second company.

In December of last year, a recruiter called me and said, “Hey, the American Heart Association is interested in talking to you.” Learning more about the organization and having a chance to talk to the leadership team about what they were looking for in terms of brand relevance and taking the mission and messages to a variety of audiences excited me. So, I said, “Yes, I am all in.”

Yitzi: I know you just recently rejoined, but can you share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you rejoined the American Heart Association?

Katrina: Well, it has been only two weeks and four days, so it’s really new. But we’re just coming off of our board meeting and I have to be honest with you, I have learned so much.

First, I learned a lot about our incredible work in rural communities and about so many things that people don’t think of when they think of the American Heart Association — for example, the things that we’re doing for brain health.

Yitzi: Okay, fantastic. Can you describe in a bit more detail how the American Heart Association is making a social impact?

Katrina: We are doing several things related to social impact so I’ll answer that from a different perspective. What I really love about the American Heart Association is their commitment to overall health. We’re not solely talking about heart disease and stroke, but we also want people to have healthy bodies, minds, and souls. We recognize that there are a lot of things that we can teach Americans, for instance, how to reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and control their diabetes. But unless we address social determinants of health — the things that impact us in our environment like clean water, clean air, transportation, and a host of other things that prevent people from having access to healthcare — we won’t be able to make a real difference. So, in order to look at how best to address that, we actually have established what is called a Social Impact Fund. Then, we can look for people within communities who are making a difference, who are ensuring they’re not food deserts, who are ensuring that they have adequate transportation, who ensure people can access care when they need it.

I am truly excited about that. We are looking at the entire ecosystem of healthcare and trying to determine how we can make a difference through collaborations, direct services or educating the general public.

Yitzi: Okay. Thank you. I know that the American Heart Association is involved with millions of people, but is there a way to narrow it down? Can you perhaps share with us and the readers a story about a particular individual or an individual family that was impacted by your cause?

Katrina: You know, you may be aware that last month, February, was actually American Heart Month. We put a lot of focus on our women’s movement, Go Red for Women, and actually announced the new class of Real Women right at the start of the month. There are so many inspiring stories, but one that stood out was Ashley, a young woman in Boston who went into cardiac arrest at work and was saved, in part, because her coworker immediately started performing CPR. The real kicker is, her coworker had just learned CPR two days before this happened.

Yitzi: Okay, super. Now, are there things that society or community or even politicians can do to help you address the root problem you’re trying to solve?

Katrina: I would say that there are a number of things.

First and foremost, I always start by reminding people to take care of their own health. Be mindful. Don’t smoke, control your weight, reduce your blood pressure, control your diabetes, get active. Those are the things that you can do yourself. Eat better and take care of yourself personally.

Our mission statement is “to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives”. So, when I ask people to get involved, at first I ask them to take care of themselves.

The next thing is that we just recently presented a paper around rural America and the health care challenges that many people face. We are actually doubling down on three communities as a part of that work so there is a movement around trying to get more resources in rural America so that we can stop the increase in heart attacks in those areas.

Then finally, we have started to work on our 2030 goal, which is to make sure that people live longer lives in their best health. There was a person a couple of days ago that made a statement that had such a profound impact on me. She said that “people expect disease, they don’t expect good health.”

So, the notion that as we age, we’re going to get sicker seems to be ingrained in our society. We have to flip that narrative on its head and say, “I’m getting older, life is changing for me, but I still can have a long, vibrant, and healthy life.”

So, I think those are the four big things that are most important for people to hear and actually listen to the message.

Yitzi: Can you explain to our readers why diversity is so important for the success of an organization?

Katrina: I think diversity is the strength of any organization. Your volunteers and supporters have to be reflective of the community. That’s significant for a couple of reasons.

Number one, it allows for different thinking to enter the room. We are strongest when we collectively bring our ideas to the table, and the best ideas come when we brainstorm with others. Looking at challenges and opportunities from different lenses always helps bring out the best.

Secondly, heart disease and stroke impacts everyone. So, the fact that we are challenged with something that impacts nearly everyone around the world means that we have to not only serve diverse audiences but also bring them to the table. We have to partner up with them so that we can provide the best service and education for all of our communities.

Yitzi: Fantastic. Do you have a favorite “life lesson quote” that most resonates with you? And how is that relevant to you in your life?

Katrina: I do. My favorite quote is “I dwell in possibility” by Emily Dickinson. I love it. It is one of the guiding values in my life. I believe impossible is a solvable problem, not a permanent situation. There are always endless possibilities.

Yitzi: Okay, final question. We’re very blessed that permanent leaders read this column. If there’s someone that you would love to meet, perhaps we can tag them in the article and perhaps they’ll see this.

Katrina: I have not yet met Michelle Obama. And you know what, if you can make that happen and connect me with her, you will be one of my favorite people in the world.

Yitzi: (Laughing) Okay. Fine. So we’ll do our best, tag her and see what happens.

Katrina: That’s great. Thank you.

Yitzi: Okay. Okay. Katrina, it’s been a delight. I wish you only success and I’m looking forward to being in touch with you again soon.

Katrina: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure chatting.

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