Walking through the halls of CaridianBCT, one can immediately feel that the company's vision, "For Better Blood and Better Lives," is truly valued by its employees as they improve lives through innovation, quality, and services in blood component technologies.
The world's leading supplier of products and services in the blood banking, hospital, and biotech industries, CaridianBCT serves customers with products that provide patients with the life-saving gift of blood. With more than 50 years as the market leader in the industry, CaridianBCT is grounded in the belief that evolution and growth comes from a commitment to innovation, which includes a dedication to life-long learning, training, and employee development.
President and CEO David B. Perez has led the company for a dozen years. We talked with him at CaridianBCT's offices in Lakewood, Colorado.
Q| Like many companies, CaridianBCT experienced some softening of its business during the recession. Could you describe the challenges you faced then and tell us what role employee learning played in meeting them?
A| The healthcare industry, at least from CaridianBCT's perspective, was more affected by the global economy in 2010 than it was in 2008 and 2009, partly because healthcare tracks with the unemployment rate. If you are not employed, you typically do not have insurance, causing minor and cosmetic surgeries to be pushed out; thus, less healthcare is consumed. Although one out of every three hospital admissions requires the use of some type of blood product, hospital admissions are down because unemployment is up; therefore, blood utilization is down.
Another challenge is that we operate in more than 95 countries, and there have been currency fluctuations and government funding issues in a variety of them. It's affected the willingness to buy new products, especially if they require adapting to new disruptive technologies. Overall, I think we've managed these challenges exceptionally well.
It was extremely important to stay committed to our time-honored principles around lifelong learning and competency during the economic downturn. We truly believe that there is a return on-investment in further developing employee talent and that it can actually improve a company's bottom line. I feel that the company's positive results in the toughest economic year that we have ever faced shows that we did the right thing by staying true to our values.
It comes down to the philosophy that we have around our Worldwide Balanced Scorecard (WWBSC) - our business management alignment tool. We remain dedicated to our WWBSC approach to running our business. It is what we do in the market and internally to drive quality and process improvement, as well as with innovation and learning, that will drive long-term, sustainable growth.
Far too often in a down economy, companies focus on the financial quadrant. For us, the financial quadrant is a look in the rearview mirror. Our forward-thinking investments in learning and development breed innovation, which drives market results.
Q| The equipment that CaridianBCT makes is often complex and so are the procedures for which it's used. What kind of training challenges does that create?
A| We do train a variety of people - from physicians to sales representatives - on highly complex machines, associated with multifaceted procedures that are treating very sick patients. It takes about a year for a clinician to be fully trained on all of our products. A field sales representative can take more than a year to receive the approval to teach customers how to do certain procedures. It takes hundreds of hours of training and a lot of hands-on experience because of the complexity involved.
For example, a premature baby was born in Texas with a very high white cell count and was going to die unless those white cells were removed. The hospital was not familiar with our therapeutic procedure for removing white cells, therefore our team of clinicians stayed on the phone for 10 hours walking the hospital through the procedure. The only way we can do something like that is if we have a highly skilled, highly trained organization and we maintain that competency.
Q| Is it true that bonuses are tied to training credits?
A| We have a requirement within our WWBSC that every employee in the company has to average 44 hours of training and professional development per year for all company bonus programs to be paid. In 2010, the average per employee was 69.2 hours of training.
Q| That's impressive. The average number of hours of training per employee for the companies we surveyed for the ASTD State of the Industry report in 2010 was 31.9 hours. We also know from our research that providing training helps to reduce turnover. I am curious, what is your turnover rate?
A| Before the economic environment became so challenging, in 2007 and 2008, the turnover rate in medical device manufacturing companies was 25 percent. Ours was traditionally less than 12 percent. I do believe that our commitment to training and development was part of that. I cannot guarantee employees lifetime employment; however, I can guarantee that they will be more employable because of the training and development that we provide in this organization.
Q| What role do you play in helping to develop employees?
A| I believe that it starts with the vision, the mission, and the values of the company. Our people, products, and processes are at the heart of that. Were it not for our people, we would not have the market share that we have.
I expect people to adhere to the culture of the organization. When they join the company, we expect them to first learn how we do things. They must seek to understand how we operate, and then they have a fundamental responsibility to help make us a better company by bringing new thoughts and ideas to what we do. I also encourage feedback that is timely and respectful.
Q| How did the recession affect the learning and development budget? What were the highest priorities during tough times?
A| In 2010, we asked ourselves what we needed to do differently during tough economic times, and we decided that it was crucial to develop new ways of doing business more efficiently and effectively. The answer was leadership development and changing old behaviors as we continued to evolve and grow. This, in turn, would further improve our overall financial picture in a changing market and economy.
To come out of the recession as a stronger company and thrive going forward, we needed to invest in change. We had old, disparate ways that put the company at some degree of risk if we didn't aggressively address them. To connect the ROI of leadership development is a challenge for anyone in my position. It is difficult to literally measure it, but you can see and feel the positive results through our employee's commitment, passion, and drive for results.
To get there, we held a leadership summit in 2010 - inviting more than 100 of our top global leaders to focus on making significant changes throughout the organization. We evaluated the behaviors that needed to change, and we identified crucial behaviors on which we wanted to focus. We call this "raising the bar" on leadership.
Q| How do you decide who's a top leader at CaridianBCT? What are the attributes you look for in someone who can be a top leader?
A| Because I have been at the company for 12 years, I have had the fortunate opportunity of being in the trenches with many of our leaders for a long time. Seeking out new leaders often comes down to shared experiences such as coming out of a challenging year as a stronger company.
I think it's important to look at what we have learned together by sharing those experiences. And then we debrief together, asking the questions: What happened? What did we learn? What are we going to do differently?
When you've been in business a long time, you can just sense a leader. There's a presence, a confidence. I also ask people to tell me stories and give me examples of where they've been battle tested and shown leadership.
My favorite interview question is, "What's the legacy you'd leave behind at the company where you work now?" If you get to my office in the interview process, I know you can do the job. I'm assessing your leadership skills and whether you're going to be a culture bearer for us. Are you going to make us a better company? Are you going to support the values that we live by?
Q| What's the most important thing for learning and development professionals and trainers to understand about the future of knowledge-intensive businesses such as CaridianBCT?
A| As I've said, you can't just look for a black-and-white return on a training investment. You have to have faith that there is a return. If a CEO is going to look for an absolute return, I would say that the learning and development professional has a job to do to open that person's mind.
We value long-term, sustainable financial results. I think that learning and development has to follow the same path of long-term sustainability. It can't be the flavor of the month. You can't expect results overnight. You have to be committed to it long term.
Q| A lot of companies talk about being innovative but don't act on it. How do you drive innovation?
A| This was an innovation company long before I got here. My job is to enable innovation, to be a good steward of this culture, and to feed the innovation engine. To do that, you have to hold people accountable. You have to increase the core technical skills and competencies and find new ways to grow and expand. We believe in a philosophy that we call spiral modeling. The first time we introduce a product to the marketplace, we're already thinking three, four, or five generations down the road. We partner with our customers and really listen to their feedback because that is a critical element in driving innovation.
Q| Placing a high emphasis on skills and competencies and investing in them is consistent with the company's lifelong learning values. What about the other values?
A| CaridianBCT maintains seven key values, and two are linked to what we're talking about - competency and lifelong learning. We also value integrity, initiative, personal respect, teamwork, and open communication. All our employees are reminded of these values everyday as we carry them on our employee badges, along with a picture of a patient to remind us that patients are the ultimate beneficiaries of everything we do.
We value lifelong learning because of our commitment to developing each and every employee. We are in one of the most highly regulated industries in the world. Continuous improvement is embedded in every single thing that we do. Every employee is responsible for quality, which requires continuous improvement. And how do you get continuous improvement? You have to train. You have to develop. You have to take a long-term view.
Passion is a word that's often used in referring to this company. And I think it comes from the passion for quality, the passion for the customer, the passion for the patients whom we ultimately serve. It shows the emotional connection that people make to what we do through our people, our products, and our processes. We have to foster this and invest in it. That's where the training and development organization can really help us - by driving the emotional connection. I think it's at the heart of why we're successful as a company.
Q| What will be your legacy?
A| I hope I'll be known for a few things, beginning with how I interacted with everyone in the company - from the board of directors, to the custodians, to everyone on the manufacturing floor. I would like to be known as a highly effective leader through good times and bad. Instead of being known for financial results, I'd rather have someone say that I'm one of the best leaders they've ever worked with.
And finally, I hope that my legacy reflects that I was a good learner. I have been through many different changes with this company, and I have had to learn to adapt. I've learned a lot through my experiences as president and CEO of CaridianBCT, and I hope that is reflected in my legacy.