November 14, 2022

Driving Digital Transformation in Large Organizations with Cory Gundberg

Episode 189 of The Innovation Engine podcast.

This podcast is part of the Masters of Innovation.

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When you think of financial services, ease of transformation likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. There are privacy concerns, compliance issues, and security responsibilities. The same goes for healthcare. So how does a massive company that sits at the intersection of those two industries tackle digital transformation—all while already sitting at the top of its field?

For this episode of The Innovation Engine, we’re speaking with Cory Gundberg, who has a wealth of experience driving digital transformation in large corporations. He currently serves as the COO of Optum Financial, where he’s driven their transformation strategy for the last year. Prior to that, Cory served as Chief Digital Officer of Optum Rx. He also held several leadership roles at Walmart, including SVP of Health and Wellness, SVP of Walmart Labs, VP of Walmart Technology, and Senior Director of Innovation.

One of the big questions we asked Cory is this: how do you convince a large organization that’s already thriving that more transformation is what’s really needed? Cory joined Optum in 2019, shortly after the company had crossed the $100 billion in annual revenue milestone, so clearly lots of things were already going well when he joined. Here are a few of the key takeaways that anyone looking to drive digital transformation in large organizations should take to heart.

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Always Strive to Be Better

Cory was blessed to inherit a leadership team at Optum that was already attuned to the idea of relentlessly striving to be better. This didn’t mean Optum comparing themselves just to their competition in the healthcare space. It meant comparing themselves to best in class consumer brands and uncovering new ways to help their customers with problems they may not have even known they had.

One area where Cory spends a lot of his time is on improving Optum’s digital self-service experiences and making those experiences easy and seamless for the customer. Whether you’re on Optum Financial’s website or mobile app or are interacting with one of their call center reps or an agent via chat, Cory is focused on driving excellence in each of those areas so Optum’s customers can quickly and easily get the service they need.

Listen, Learn, Lead

Cory has a simple formula that can be applied for leaders looking to drive transformation in large organizations, especially those companies that have already been successful: listen first, learn, and then lead. It’s important to listen to your customers but also to listen to your employees, as they will often have the critical insights you need to begin shaping or further refining your transformation.

When he was at Walmart, that often meant going into stores and learning from associates and store managers, or going to distribution centers and learning from the people running them. The closer you can get to the people who are actually serving the customer the better.

Cory notes that it’s also important for building a culture of trust to show your employees that their ideas are not just being heard but are being acted upon. At Optum, for example, they have roughly 80 different items that have come up through listening sessions that they are actively working on and reporting progress against. This goes a long way toward establishing an open-door culture and environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas with leadership.

Tune in to the full conversation to hear our discussion with Cory on what drives innovation within his organization, how he filters through the noise to find where transformation is truly needed, and how UnitedHealth channels its massive R&D budget into new technologies that help its consumers.

Episode Highlights:

  • [01:16] Cory’s role in Optum and the range of services they provide to innovate at the intersection of financial services and healthcare
  • [07:14] Navigating the compliance and security roadblocks that hold back digital transformation
  • [08:54] Making the case for transformation during an already successful period
  • [11:45] What to pay attention to and what to ignore when large organizations strive for transformation
  • [16:57] What big technology and innovation budgets can accomplish
  • [19:51] Affecting digital transformation across millions of associates at Walmart and how the leadership team got buy-in from store associates to see their online offerings as complementary, not competitive
  • [24:41] Dealing with doubt and opposition by putting yourself in the shoes of people being affected and understanding they mostly want to know how the transformation will affect them


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About The Innovation Engine

Since 2014, 3Pillar has published The Innovation Engine, a podcast that sees a wide range of innovation experts come on to discuss topics that include technology, leadership, and company culture. You can download and subscribe to The Innovation Engine on Apple Podcasts. You can also tune in via the podcast’s home on Spotify to listen online, via Android or iOS, or on any device supporting a mobile browser.


Intro: [0:00:05] This is the Innovation Engine Podcast from 3Pillar Global, your home for conversations with industry leaders on all things digital transformation and innovation.

Scott Varho: [0:00:18] Welcome back to The Innovation Engine. Today, we’re speaking with Cory Gundberg about driving digital transformation in large corporations.

I’m your host, Scott Varho, 3Pillar’s Chief Evangelist. And today, we’ll cover how to get buy-in when that means convincing thousands of people to change the way they think and act; why many people put too much emphasis on the digital, when it should really be placed on the transformation; and how ultramarathons relate to digital transformation.

Cory has a wealth of experience driving transformation as the COO of Optum Financial. He previously served as Chief Digital Officer for OptumRx. He has also held several leadership roles at Walmart, including SVP of Health and Wellness, SVP of Walmart Labs, VP of Walmart Technology, and Senior Director of Innovation. Cory, we’re glad to have you.

Cory Gundberg: [0:01:05] Yeah. Scott, thanks for having me. Pleasure to be here. Look forward to talking with you.

Scott Varho: [0:01:08] Yeah. Well, this is a meaty topic for sure. Transforming large organizations is not easy. So, why don’t we start just with where you are now, a little bit of background on your current role. Many listeners may have heard of Optum, but they may not know the breadth and depth of what you do and what Optum does. And then, a little bit more on your role in Optum.

Cory Gundberg: [0:01:31] Sure, sounds good. So, appreciate the time. People may or may not have heard of Optum, but Optum is part of a larger organization called UnitedHealth Group. And the way I like to describe it is UnitedHealth Group has two parts. Really, Optum and UnitedHealthcare.

And so, UnitedHealthcare – health plan organization serving employer individual markets, Medicare retirement markets of a large business. The other half is Optum that often serves UnitedHealthcare and other external healthcare companies.

And so, when I think of Optum, I break it out in a couple of simple ways. One, we have OptumRx, which is a large pharmacy benefit management and prescription home delivery organization. So, think of your maintenance medications, maybe your specialty medications that you need, taking care of your pharmacy benefit needs, and also delivering that medication to home.

So, OptumRx is a big part of Optum. You have Optum Health. So, think of it like a care delivery organization that really delivers care to those in need through a variety of different care centers. We have Optum Insights that does external consulting, internal consulting. Optum Insights, we just had the acquisition of Change Healthcare announced. So, that’ll be really exciting as we integrate Change Healthcare.

And then, I’m part of Optum Financial, which from a reporting-off-the-street standpoint, reports up into Optum Health as part of Optum Health’s overall business. I’m the Chief Operating Officer for Optum Financial. Happy to dive a little bit deeper into Optum Financial as a business if you want or take it in another direction.

Scott Varho: [0:03:13] Yeah. I mean, because you and I have spoken about this before, and I found it fascinating, the range of services that Optum Financial is involved in. Can you just give us a few examples?

Cory Gundberg: [0:03:22] Yeah, I’m happy to. So, Optum Financial really sits at the intersection of healthcare, financial services and fintech, which, for me personally, is an awesome place to be right now. How do we figure out how we can help people, not only find the care they need, but pay for the care they need? And paying for that care is a really important part of that care journey. People’s inability to pay for care can lead to things like bankruptcy. Certainly, they’re going to collection agencies.

And so, when we think about how we help people there, we run a large, and I would say leading health benefit account business. And what that means is, so think of a health savings account you get through an employer, maybe a financial savings account, a health retirement account, so how do you take advantage of the triple tax advantage you get by having employer make pretax contributions, you make pretax contributions, and to be able to spend that money without being taxed on it? It’s an amazing opportunity that you have there from a health benefit account business, and we run I think one of the best in the US at that.

Another part that we have is a business that facilitates payments between health plans. So, United Healthcare, other health plans and provider offices. So, the payments from the health plans to the provider offices, for example, and payments from consumers to those provider offices. And so, we help adjudicate those payments and that payment flow.

Another business that we have is called Solutran. It’s what I like to call a directed benefit spend business. And that’s a lot of words that may not mean anything to somebody. So, think about this, if you are a Medicare and retirement member, so you qualify for Medicare retirement – Scott, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re probably not far off, right? So, say you’re seven years old and you qualify for that, you’ll select your health plan, and you may get a fairly rich benefit pool as part of that. You’ll get your health benefits, but you also may get an allowance for over-the-counter medication. So, your vitamin Ds, your vitamins, those kinds of things. You may get a monthly or quarterly allowance for food, like healthy foods that qualify. Maybe you get a transportation benefit. Maybe you get a benefit that helps you pay your bills.

What this business does is it can set up those directed spend benefits, we call them, according to what the health plan wants to set up. And then, it can process those payments from – it will be in 2023 – 55,000 different retail locations, where we also have the ability to do a call-in and leverage those benefits to order over-the-counter medications, those kinds of things. You can go online at certain retailers and use those benefits as well.

And so, what that really did is, previously, a Medicare retirement member would maybe get, for that set of benefits, five different cards in the mail. They have to understand, what do they get with each one? Is this a monthly benefit? A quarterly benefit? How do I use the benefit? Now, we’re going to a single card that a member can keep in their wallet, and they can use it at the retail location, they can use it online in a variety of different ways and really make it easy for them to utilize the benefits that they’re already paying for. And these are great benefits. So, super exciting business there, that directed spend benefits.

Scott Varho: [0:06:47] Although, at some level, going from five cards to one card hardly feels like a massive leap forward, but as someone who uses these benefits, I can tell you, I’m pretty sure I have at least two or three outdated cards in my wallet because I don’t know if they have money on them or not, to be totally frank. It can be very, very overwhelming on the consumer side for sure.

So, that’s really interesting. So, certainly, it’s interesting to hear you be so excited about a space where when I hear financial services and I hear health in the same sentence, I hear all the roadblocks to transformation. There’s a lot of compliance, security, privacy concerns that fit into that space. So, I’m interested to kind of pick a little bit at your excitement for that space and your ability to transform and innovate in that space.

Cory Gundberg: [0:07:40] Yeah, I think, first and foremost, to start with an innovation or transformation, we understand what are the problems that those have that we’re trying to serve? And then, how can we uniquely help them solve those problems?

And I think, again, Solutran, with the offering we have that will be branded sort of Ucard with UHC for January 1, 2023, kind of a single card. And Ucard is an amazing example because those benefits were highly underutilized, and what we know is healthy foods and your over-the-counter medications can help prevent healthcare visits to a hospital and prevent sort of larger healthcare issues.

And so, if we can get it on the frontend and make the healthcare system work better for everyone, this is one small example,I think we can truly change healthcare in America. And when you’re part of something that is that big and ambitious, it’s hard not to be excited about.

Scott Varho: [0:08:43] Well, I talk a lot about missionaries versus mercenaries. And so, yeah, your mission comes out very clearly when you state it that way. And so, let’s dive in a little bit on the Optum journey. So, you joined in 2019 just after the company had announced they had hit a hundred billion dollars in revenue, which is mind boggling for me. And that was the first time they had reached that plateau, and you’ve grown by 11 percent the previous year. And you’re coming into an organization that’s that successful and trying to make the case for more transformation. How do you make that case?

Cory Gundberg: [0:09:19] The interesting thing coming in and one of the things that really attracted me to Optum and joining OptumRx is the leadership team was already there. So, I think there’s a restless pursuit of excellence that is within sort of ingrained in this organization at the UnitedHealth Group level and whether that’s Optum or UnitedHealthcare, and you’re never really satisfied with the status quo.

And so, when I joined the organization as part of OptumRx, the collective leadership team under John Prince, the CEO at the time, realized that, yeah, they may be one of the largest pharmacy benefit management organizations in the US, but being one of the largest isn’t necessarily the goal; they wanted to be the best.

And so, I think there was always striving to be better. And then, not really to sort of compare yourself against other organizations like other pharmacy benefit management or home delivery organizations, but what are those best in class consumer brands out there that people recognize, and how do we strive to be aspired to be like them and serve the consumers in maybe ways they didn’t even know they needed help them solve problems they have? And that was really with kind of healthcare, pharmacy benefits, prescription management, making sure people are getting the medications they need.

And when I saw that restless sort of pursuit for excellence and not really being satisfied, I’m like, “This is a place where one, I don’t have to convince people there’s a need to transform. They’re not resting on their laurels. And they’re actually probably going to push me to be better.” And that was awesome.

Scott Varho: [0:10:55] Yeah, to be able to contribute and to be pushed. Did you find then that – and it sounds like you did, but I want to call it out, did you find that this mission, this mission to be better, to advance healthcare and health outcomes, was a shared mission with your colleagues there at Optum?

Cory Gundberg: [0:11:11] Yeah, with a lot of my colleagues at Optum, that is a shared mission across the UnitedHealth Group. How do we make the healthcare system work better for everyone at the end of the day? And I’m convinced that if healthcare is going to be transformed in the US, and I think it will be, it needs to be done by organizations like UnitedHealth Group or in the driver’s seat there. And we need to sort of push for that innovation and that transformation, and making it really easy for the consumer, the customer, the member to get the care they need.

Scott Varho: [0:11:43] So, one of the challenges, because it’s a larger organization, and you have experienced this at Optum and Walmart, larger organizations trying to drive some change, what are some things that you pay attention to, that you really focus on most acutely? And definitely, an addendum to that is, what are some things that you try to ignore because there’s always the signal-to-noise ratio? So, I’m curious how you see that?

Cory Gundberg: [0:12:07] First and foremost, I try to ignore my past biases. Like my experience of how we went about doing things needs to be positive, but I can’t go into something assuming the problems I solved for in another place in the organization authorization apply here.

And so, one of the things I think about is, how do you approach the first 30, 60 and 90 days? I think it’s so critical. And here’s how I do it. First, I listen. Then, I learn. And then, I lead. And that listening involves not only listening to sort of the colleagues around you, the people that have experience and expertise because, especially joining Optum or Walmart – very, very successful businesses – there’s a lot to learn from the people that are there. There’s a lot to learn from the team members that serve the consumers.

So, in a Walmart store, that’s going into the stores and learning from the employees in the stores, the store managers, department managers, going into distribution centers and learning from the people running the distribution centers. They’re really close to serving the consumer every day.

Here at Optum, it looked a little bit different because it’s largely, sort of, call-center-based in how we service the customer. So, going and doing side-by-sides, and really learning and understanding the business, and doing that in every part of the operation.

When it comes to the home delivery prescription business, going and seeing the fulfillment of the prescriptions. How do the pharmacists and the technicians work to process those prescriptions? Then, how are they processed and fulfilled in the backend, and ultimately get mailed out to a consumer’s home? What can we learn from those that are doing it day to day that are closer to the consumer about what we really need to do to improve or transform as a business?

And I love the quote from Sam Walton that the best ideas come from your associates. And I think you just need to ask and you need to listen.

Scott Varho: [0:14:04] Did you do some of those side-by-sides?

Cory Gundberg: [0:14:08] Yeah, I’ve done it in every business. So, I don’t remember the exact count when I joined OptumRx, but it was in the hundreds of individual side-by-sides that I did. Here in Optum Financial, since I joined here in January, I visited, I think, every operating site we have. And in every operating site, I’ve done side-by-sides where I listen to calls.

I’ve done side-by-sides with team members that process work in the back office so that could be like claims processing, that kind of thing. Do listening sessions with team members of all grade levels to hear, like, I want to understand what’s going well. And I also want to understand if they could change one thing, what would they change? And once you start opening that dialogue, it’s amazing the ideas that you get.

Now, the really important thing I think for leaders there is you have to build a culture of trust in the organization. And part of that is with the team members that work in the organization, one, it’s great to listen to them but they’re going to really be watching for what you do with that.

And so, we track and we have about 80 different items, as an example, that have come up through the listening sessions in Optum Financial, and we track our progress to completion on that, report back out to it to the team members. And we highlight, “So-and-so team member came up with this great idea. And yeah, we implemented that, and here’s the difference it’s making for everybody.”

And create truly an open-door culture there, where the team members are comfortable raising issues and concerns, and they’re comfortable raising new good ideas that could really help the business and those we serve.

Scott Varho: [0:15:43] Hi friends, quick favor to ask, if you’re enjoying the Innovation Engine, please give us a rating and leave a review on your podcast player of choice. It helps us get the word out about the show, so we can continue to bring you more high quality episodes. If you have any feedback about the podcast or guests you’d like to hear interviewed, send your suggestions over to That’s 3Pillar with the number 3. And if you’re looking to drive innovation and transformation in your organization, look us up at Now, let’s get back to the action.

Scott Varho: [0:16:17] I think it’s great, and this is a lesson I think that a lot of senior leaders could stand to learn. And you said a couple things there that are really interesting. One, checking your own biases, right? Like, you could do all of the same activities, but if you hold to your biases, you’re just looking for evidence that you were right and you’re just collecting data points. But if you’re actually looking for places where maybe you’re wrong or you have an incomplete picture, you can really learn a tremendous amount.

So, your approach to that is so key, but the fact that you do it at all is already interesting, and it says a lot about you and your style. Yeah, I think that’s really, really interesting.

And also, it speaks to something that we try to preach a lot of which is actually sitting in your customers’ shoes and getting the empathy that you get from sitting on their side. So many products are built by people who’ve never seen a person who might actually use their product. And it’s a scary thing how many producers never meet a consumer, especially in digital technologies. It’s fairly fascinating and frightening.

And so, I’m always trying to find ways to bridge that divide. But I mean, one of the things that’s really great, I think as well is you have what many of us would salivate at. You have a very large budget at Optum for innovation and for technology that dwarfs what several other companies are able to spend in this area. I think according to Optum’s website, the company claims to invest $6.4 billion each year in technology and innovation. I’m definitely one of the people who’s like, “Okay, that would be great to have.” But, what are some of the big buckets that that represents?

Cory Gundberg: [0:18:04] Yeah. And so, I think, in general, when you think about what does it represent, it represents help. Helping to make the healthcare system work better for everyone. And so, there’s a variety of ways in different technologies that come forward, very focused on how do we build experiences that work for the consumer or the member where they’re at.

Sometimes, that will be an amazing self-service digital experience in a website or an app that connects them with their healthcare journey where they’re at, understands who they are, and what they need next. Sometimes, that could be frankly an experience where I call a call center, and somebody knows who I am, they know likely why I am calling, and they help me take care of my needs. Often, obviously, for us, my healthcare-related needs.

And so, how do we really build the process and technology that makes it really easy for a consumer or a member to take care of their healthcare needs? I personally focus a lot on, I’m going to call it the digital self-service experiences, making that easy. But also, then, making it really easy for our team members and the process and technology they have to take care of the member when the member calls in.

And I think both of those areas are very important. Some of that is leveraging data analytics to drive insights to help that consumer. Some of it is a simple workflow, either for a member, or customer, or for a team member that is serving them.

And all of that has to work together because I can’t dictate how you want to interact with us, Scott, as a member or consumer. You’re going to choose if you want to use the mobile app, if you want to use the website, if you want to call us, maybe you want to chat with us, but what I need to do is be excellent in all of those areas, so you can get the service that you need.

Scott Varho: [0:20:01] Well, one insight that I gathered is with respect to team members, as you talk about them, and in giving them tools to better serve customers, if they buy into your mission, they want to serve people better. And so, enabling them better can be as useful for their morale and their engagement, as it is for the people they’re trying to serve, which is great.

So, during the intro, I mentioned that you had experience changing the way thousands of people think and act. And if we dig into that a little bit, there are more than a million employees at Walmart leveraging technology. Do you have any stories from that transformation that you can give us a before-and-after on?

Cory Gundberg: [0:20:44] Yeah, I have a ton of stories.

Scott Varho: [0:20:47] I imagine.

Cory Gundberg: [0:20:48] I’ll pick a couple. So, I was at Walmart from 2010 through 2019, an amazing nine years with an iconic brand and culture, very much a purpose-driven culture. And if you sort of think about what happened around 2014-2015, what really happened was across retail, sort of the digital and physical coming together in ways that just seem obvious to us today, but they didn’t exist back then.

And so, what we had was the new leadership took over for Walmart US, Greg Foran was named the CEO of Walmart US at that time, and he brought in a new leadership team. I was put in charge of technology delivery for Walmart US. So, really partnering with Greg and his team to figure out, how do we deliver the technology that the consumers and the team members need? There was a – they call them associates at Walmart, in order to serve the customer and for the business.

And one example I’d give you is in 2014-2015, really, the ecommerce business – so, think of – and the US stores business were two separate entities that sometimes, frankly, were at odds. You would hear examples of store managers and maybe even employees and associates in the stores, I would say, that wouldn’t really acknowledge that existed because they felt like it was taking sales away from the store.

And so, if you fast forward to – I forget when it happened but maybe 2016-2017, somewhere in there, the leadership team did a couple things. One, they aligned incentives. And by the way, the important thing about these incentives is they work so you better have the right ones. And what they did to align incentives is they gave the store managers, the entire store, I should, say credit for ecommerce sales in their ZIP code. And so, what that did is that made it so you were all operating as one team, and you had the stores that were promoting people to engage digitally because it benefited them.

And oh, by the way, we had a little bit of research at the time that said those individuals that shop in-store and shop online through multi-channel consumers are, over all, the consumers that spend the most and they’re the most loyal to the brand. So, let’s figure out ways to bring the digital and physical together. And Walmart really chose to go after online grocery pickup and delivery as an area where it was going to compete and differentiate.

And so, I want to say 2014-2015, there wasn’t online grocery pickup and delivery broadly at retail and much less at Walmart. And under Greg Foran’s leadership and the stores’ leadership, he put together, under Judith McKenna, Mark Ibbotson there, based out on a strategy to enable online grocery pickup and delivery across Walmart.

We had some amazing leaders in technology that had started that up. And Rob Fucillo, Kristen Williams, this individual Kevin O’riordan took it over. And really across, I want to say two or three years, went from zero stores having online grocery pickup or delivery capabilities to scaling across the US, where it’s available to 95 percent of the US.

And for me, that was an amazing business transformation, digital transformation, lesson in leadership, lesson in how to leverage process and technology to serve the customers because you had to build all this tech for the associates in the stores to pick the orders effectively; you had to build all this tech for the consumers, so they can engage on or on the app; and you had to build out all this operating infrastructure; and frankly, make investments into the stores for what’s going to come and be the future of retail when it wasn’t really clear how would that make money or not.

And so, I think it was an awesome transformational journey connecting the digital and physical, and really bringing together the best of Walmart. That was frankly fun to just be a part of.

Scott Varho: [0:25:15] Wow, that’s an incredible story. And I do love that there’s an offline and an online component to this story, as well as the psychological. I’m an economist by training or by schooling, I should say, and I love the alignment of incentives. That does really make a big difference.

It also creates the potential or one of the things that I’ve run into – and I’m curious if you ran into this during that time at Walmart – the potential for people to say, “Well, I can’t affect sales online. I’m far removed from that. I don’t like our website. I wish-” whatever.

Cory Gundberg: [0:25:51] Yeah.

Scott Varho: [0:25:51] You run into a ton of this kind of opposition. How did you deal with those kinds of pockets of opposition or feeling of disempowerment against that strategy?

Cory Gundberg: [0:26:02] It’s a great question, by the way. For those individuals that may have resisted the change – and you’re always going to have people that do that – I think the first and foremost thing to understand about any change is it’s really hard for somebody to accept it if they don’t know what it means to them as an individual.

And so,it’s hard for me to go through a change and sort of get onboard with it unless I know what it means for me. I think for the associates in the stores as an example, some of them may have felt, “Well, with this ecommerce thing, man, are stores going to be around. Are they going to be relevant? Are we going to matter?”

And what the leadership team did, I would say, from the business, Greg and Judith and that leadership team is they really built this one team concept and that the stores are the lifeblood of Walmart. They matter now, they will matter forever into the future. How they integrate across digital and physical may change overtime, but they’re shopping destinations that the vast majority of America, millions of Americans, hundreds of million Americans love to shop at. And they’re important in today, for today’s business, and they’re even more important for the future of business because the future hasn’t been written. And Walmart really gets to write that future. And I think they started, as an example, with online grocery pickup and delivery.

Scott Varho: [0:27:32] Well, what I find fascinating about that too is I’m much more likely, as a consumer, to use a brick and mortar as a way to test drive. I want to touch and feel what it is I’m thinking about buying, especially if it’s a bigger ticket item like an audio system, or a TV, or a laptop or something like that, but I’m very unlikely to make the purchase on the site.

I’m much more likely to make it online after probably talking to my wife or something or looking at options or whatever, but I’m going to use that brick-and-mortar experience as part of my overall shopping journey, but I may or may not make the purchase in the store.

So, what I find fascinating is going at the grocery side of things because that’s been talked about for a while. This idea that brick and mortar might become the showroom, but not really where people make purchases, right? But then, to flip the script and go for the lowest end, you’re going to need groceries. So, if we can solve groceries and get you there, get you used to, that’s a really interesting strategy and a risky one.

Cory Gundberg: [0:28:36] Yeah, but think about the frequency of the purchase patterns from a grocery or kind of consumable standpoint, if you will, versus more hard goods like a TV. I don’t buy a TV very often personally.

Scott Varho: [0:28:50] It’d weird if you did.

Cory Gundberg: [0:28:51] Yeah. But groceries for a family of six, we’re buying a lot every week. And so, if you can build a really simple and easy experience there, you can build a lot of brand affinity in stickiness with consumers that will, then, shop and consider you for maybe other things they wouldn’t have.

And I think that’s the amazing part about that online grocery pickup and delivery business is the stickiness of it and, frankly, how much people are delighted by that experience. And if you can delight them, it creates a ton of brand affinity and they’ll be better customers overall.

Scott Varho: [0:29:34] Yeah, I know, definitely. I’m reminded in my own product design education of habit-forming design, and I think this is a wonderful instantiation of that. If you get them used to buying from Walmart, then it’s going to be easier to get at the mid-range and the high-end of their purchasing. It’s brilliant.

Well, fantastic. Well, Cory, this has been really great. I want to dig into a speed round of questions, if you don’t mind. And our first one actually is a fun one. Fergus Falls, Minnesota. We had to dig for this one. What does one do in Fergus Falls, Minnesota during winter?

Cory Gundberg: [0:30:14] So, first of all, you say Minnesota by the way, where you have to get the accent properly first if you’re going to live in that area. My accent is that once in a while, especially when I say Minnesota.

Scott Varho: [0:30:22] Well, I noticed the Swedish last name, so I feel like I’m –

Cory Gundberg: [0:30:25] Yeah. Yup. So, for me, frankly, in the winter, you’d be surprised there’s a lot of outdoor activities. I don’t want to be stuck in the house whether it was sledding down a hill, playing ice hockey, ice fishing, which if you haven’t done. It’s a lot of fun. Snowmobiling, snowboarding, like getting out and enjoying the outdoors.

So, the thing about Minnesota, for me, is it may be cold but the sun is often shining. And just to be out and getting that vitamin D, playing in the snow, whatever you’re doing, love to do as a kid, I still really enjoy today.

Scott Varho: [0:31:00] Well, it’s funny. Sorry not to make this about me, but I’m a second-generation native Californian. And so, I didn’t see snow fall from the sky until I got to college and was fascinated when I finally did. But the idea that you’d want to spend time outside just seems crazy when it’s that cold. However, after living in Colorado for a little while and the sun shines so often, I was just like, “Oh, I can mind, I don’t care about the snow, I just need sunshine.”

Cory Gundberg: [0:31:27] Exactly, yeah.

Scott Varho: [0:31:28] No, that actually does make some sense. Fantastic. Well, one thing we haven’t talked about is that you cut your teeth as a software engineer at Accenture. And I’m just curious if there’s anything that you miss about writing code.

Cory Gundberg: [0:31:40] What I really enjoyed about writing code, and I did it as long as they would let me, you got to sort of take a discrete problem and really individually measure your progress towards solving that problem. And I got to see the output, I got to see when I failed, I got immediate feedback when my program didn’t compile or it failed the functional test, as an example.

I loved that problem-solving. And it’s probably the thing I still enjoy the most about work is take a big sort of meaty problem, solve that problem for those that you’re serving, maybe for your team members, and the satisfaction I get from that is what I really, really enjoy. So, probably take in what I enjoyed most about software engineering and made a job out of it as an executive.

Scott Varho: [0:32:31] That’s fantastic. I hope that’s true for all of us. That’s a gift. You spent a number of years in Bentonville in your Walmart days. And you and I talked a little bit about this when we saw each other in person. What are some of the best things to do in Bentonville if you happen to find yourself there?

Cory Gundberg: [0:32:48] For those who don’t know Bentonville, Arkansas, sort of the northwest corner of Arkansas where Walmart’s headquartered. So yeah, we lived there for nine years. One, in that warm of a climate, I’d highly recommend having access to a pool. It’s just very nice in the summer. So, hopefully you can do that.

But one of the things that the Walton family has really done – and this is primarily a couple of the grandkids, Tom and Stewart – is they’ve built hundreds of miles of mountain biking trails around Northwest Arkansas. They do it in other communities, but really a focus on building Northwest Arkansas to be a destination for talents in mountain biking, as an example, to attract people.

I can’t tell you the number of people I talked to in Minnesota, they go down there to mountain bike. I personally chose to trail, run in those trails. I was really into running marathons and some ultras at the time and love just running on those trails. Still love it today if I can ever get back.

You may be surprised but Bentonville, over the last sort of six or seven years, a number of really good restaurants have opened there. And so, a wide variety of food, a big influx of people from sort of outside of Northwest Arkansas into there. And then, there’s some really good breweries. One of my good buddies owns Bike Rack Breweries down there, some of the best deals.

Scott Varho: [0:34:10] Sounds related.

Cory Gundberg: [0:34:11] Yeah. So, Bike Rack. I mean, come on, and brewing. Come on.

Scott Varho: [0:34:16] Ultra marathons and being outdoors in Minnesota, I get the feeling you don’t like yourself very much. So, with that, when’s your next hundred-mile bike ride? Gosh, how did we not stumble on this topic?

Cory Gundberg: [0:34:30] That’s a good one.

Scott Varho: [0:34:32] Century.

Cory Gundberg: [0:34:32] Yes, but did a hundred-mile bike ride, first one ever this summer to raise money for the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation, which is an Optum charity. I should say an awesome charity at UnitedHealthcare, as part of UnitedHealth Group. So, my next one will be in, sort of, the end of November, I’m going to attempt to do an Ironman. And so, that involves-

Scott Varho: [0:34:54] Wow.

Cory Gundberg: [0:34:55] … 2.4 miles of swimming, 112-mile bike ride, and then 26.2 mile run. And so, that’s when I’m going to attempt my next hundred-miler and hopefully I make it through.

Scott Varho: [0:35:06] Wow. That’s fantastic. I did some Olympic triathlons for a while, and I thought they were going to break me. So, I definitely wasn’t going to make it for the Ironman. I tip my cap to you, Cory. That’s incredible.

Cory Gundberg: [0:35:18] Thank you.

Scott Varho: [0:35:19] Well, that says a lot about your constitution. And probably one of the key ingredients of transformation is that steady pace. I don’t know if you find that there’s a metaphorical connection there, but I think there is.

Cory Gundberg: [0:35:33] Yeah, I think there is because I always tell people, so, it’s amazing the progress you can make overtime when you say consistency on a set of priorities and focus on them. You don’t have to arrive in a week, a month, or a couple of months. But when you look back over three, six months, a year, it is amazing the progress you can make.

And I think what matters more than anything there is setting really clear priorities, and then staying true to those priorities, and understanding you’re always going to reserve the right to learn more and adjust. So, let’s not sort of lean into our biases there, but I think it is amazing the progress you can make overtime when you stay consistently focused on a set of priorities.

Scott Varho: [0:36:18] Yeah, yeah, well said. Well, Cory, thank you so much. This is a fantastic conversation, and I’m so grateful that you were here with us.

Cory Gundberg: [0:36:27] Yeah. Thanks for having me, Scott. It was a blast.

Scott Varho: [0:36:30] Thank you.

Outro: [0:36:32] This has been an episode of the Innovation Engine, a podcast from 3Pillar Global. 3Pillar is a digital product development and innovation partner that helps companies compete and win in the digital economy. To learn more about 3Pillar Global and how we can help you, visit our website at Lastly, remember to give us a rating and leave a review on your podcast player of choice. If you have any feedback or guest suggestions, send them over to Thanks for listening and see you next time.