Kevin Hagan: Helping to Lead the Fight Against Diabetes

In the sunlit northern Virginia offices of the American Diabetes Association, Kevin Hagan shows me an engagement photo of himself and his wife. "She calls me her second husband," he jokes. Eight years ago—about a year after the picture was taken—Hagan was diagnosed with prediabetes. He had a high-stress job and was already on two blood-pressure medications, and his doctor told him he might not live to see 45. In response, Hagan changed his lifestyle and lost 120 pounds. Now, at 42, he looks like a completely different man from the one in the photograph, and to some extent he is: Although he still struggles to keep the weight off, he has learned how to take better care of himself.

He keeps nuts and cranberries handy to stave off cravings, and for a while he even had a personal trainer.

Kevin L. Hagan is the CEO of the American Diabetes Association. (Chet Susslin)So when on June 1 Hagan became CEO of the 75-year-old ADA, which works to help people prevent and manage diabetes as it also supports the search for a cure, the mission he undertook was personal as well as professional. One of his main goals, he tells me, is to try to promote greater understanding of the condition and its causes. With 29 million cases of diabetes in the United States and 86 million more people at risk with high blood sugar, practically every family has a member who's affected by the disease, he says—but one of the things that's hardest for sufferers to handle is the stigma.

"People have this belief that our family members who have diabetes brought it on themselves," by eating too much or exercising too little, Hagan says. "And that's what has to go away." Diabetes is "a very complex disease," he tells me. "Countless genetic and environmental factors contribute."

Born and raised in Sylvania, Georgia, Hagan attended Mercer University and then moved to Washington to pursue his master's in international affairs at American University. In 1997, he joined the U.S. Postal Service, where he spent roughly a decade, including a stint as national program manager for the service's conflict-management program, which had him handling complaints filed by people who believed they'd been discriminated against at the agency. He credits the service with teaching him much of what he knows, calling it "an amazing place to learn everything."

In 2007, Hagan landed a job as director of ethics and training at U.S. Foodservice—an offshoot of a Dutch supermarket chain—which had been embroiled in an accounting scandal. There, he devised and implemented a corporate ethics and training program for the multibillion-dollar corporation, after which he was promoted to director of public affairs and communications. He then served for three years as COO of Good360, overseeing the nonprofit's work to provide in-kind product donations to other nonprofits to help them fulfill their missions, before moving to Oklahoma City in 2012 to become CEO of Feed the Children. For the next few years, he helped repair the 36-year-old antihunger organization's public image, which took a hit when its longtime CEO became mired in scandal. This May, Hagan moved back to the D.C. area to join the ADA.

"When people ask me what my career is about, I tell them it's about organizational transformation," Hagan tells me. In his new job, bringing transformation will mean raising awareness about "the disease that nobody talks about," he says—often because they're too ashamed to admit they have it or fear they'll be discriminated against by their employer. Hagan adds that, with more Americans than ever gaining access to regular health care, it's also a "critically important time" for the organization to think about its future and how best to meet its goals. Beyond dispelling the pernicious stereotypes surrounding diabetes, Hagan says, his job is "to make sure we clearly know where we're headed, and to make sure resources are aligned there."