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The Vision of Earl Bakken

June 12, 2017

Earl Bakken is 93 years old and still going strong. While he has become the bionic man with his implanted devices, Earl’s mind is sharper than ever as he pursues myriad causes on behalf of his lifelong mission to use science to benefit humankind.

For all of his many contributions to human health throughout the past 70 years, I cannot think of a more worthy person for the Center to be named in honor of than Earl Bakken.

Only rarely in life does one have the opportunity to work with a true pioneer, a person who, through his vision, inspiration, courage, and leadership can change the course of human history.

Earl Bakken is that person.

When I was chief executive of Medtronic, Earl was always encouraging to me, and filled with many creative ideas. Yet in my thirteen years there, he never second-guessed one of my decisions. For all the employees of Medtronic, he was a true inspiration, never tiring of explaining the Medtronic mission to new employees or in challenging us to reach higher to find new ways of fulfilling the mission. That’s why every CEO of Medtronic, including current CEO Omar Ishrak, has made the mission central to his leadership.

Since his graduation in electrical engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1948, Earl has been completely dedicated to the University, and has been a leading supporter of the Center and its founder and director, Dr. Mary Jo Kreitzer.

With his invention of the first wearable, battery-powered pacemaker, Earl Bakken launched the modern medical-technology industry. Through his leadership, he has enabled tens of millions of people with life-threatening illnesses to be restored to full life and health. Now in his ninth decade, he is pioneering again, creating entirely new forms of healing.

Earl is a true visionary, one of the greatest I have ever known. In fact, his ultimate contribution to humanity may be in his lifelong vision of healthcare to treat the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. As is evident throughout his life, Earl Bakken can dream of a future unthinkable to others and then lead people to enable his dream to become a reality. Earl’s dreams are often so advanced that others scoff at them or simply ignore him. They do so at their peril, for Earl has spent a lifetime making his dreams come true.

It was Earl’s vision that stimulated him to co-found Medtronic in 1949, along with his brother-in-law, Palmer Hermundslie.

It was his vision that inspired him to write the now-famous Medtronic mission in 1960, which begins, “To contribute to human welfare by application of biomedical engineering in the research, design, manufacture, and sale of instruments or appliances that alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life.”

It was his vision that led to the creation of Medtronic’s 100-year strategic plan in 1960, as he saw the potential for the implantation of electrical products throughout the human body.

It was his vision that inspired him to support Dr. Kreitzer when she created the Center for Spirituality & Healing in 1995. It was his vision to create the Bakken Museum in South Minneapolis to inspire new generations of engineers and inventors with the possibilities of electrical stimulation in the human body.

It was his vision that led to the founding of the North Hawaii Community Hospital (NHCH) in 1996, which specializes in integrative medicine – the blending of the best of Western and Eastern medicine and complementary modalities.

It was his vision that saw the brain-heart connection, leading to academic research centers at Cleveland Clinic and NHCH exploring the emerging new area.

What are the qualities that have allowed Earl Bakken to accomplish so much in his lifetime? He is a man of paradox: an engineer who envisions a world of “high-touch” integrated healing, a leader who inspires others, but lets them go their own way, an introvert who will happily stand on a convention floor for 12 hours at a time, talking to other dreamers and prospective adopters of his ideas.

Earl has deep technical knowledge, but so do many other engineers who never reach beyond the confines of their laboratories. He has vision, but so do many others whose ideas never come to fruition. He has leadership skill, but the world is filled with leaders who never go beyond a single major accomplishment.

What makes Earl unique is his soul.

Earl’s vision to use science to benefit humankind began with an idea he received from his pastor in his early teenage years and from which he has never deviated. He has a deep sense of spiritual calling, and an understanding of his purpose on this earth.

More than any person I have ever met, Earl is totally devoted to his calling. Nothing can cause him to deviate or give up. Money, fame, glory — Earl has all of these, but none is really important to him. He conveys his mission to everyone he meets, and he openly, yet modestly, asks them to join him on his journey.

Earl is the epitome of the mission of the Center for Spirituality & Healing – and entirely worthy of this naming honor.


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