Shaping corporate culture – A case study

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Whenever I think about an example of how a “real company” might implement ethics as a business process, I think of Edwards Life Sciences in Irvine, California. Edwards was spun-off from Baxter Medical in 2000. Since then the CEO, Michael Mussallem, has been implementing a program he refers to as “actively managing the corporate culture.”

After hearing him speak at a University of California at Irvine Management School of Business lecture, I spoke with him afterwards about his presentation and the implementation of his program. I shared with him my view of ethics as a business process, and he agreed that we were saying essentially the same thing. Actively managing the corporate culture and implementing ethics as a business process are very much the same systematic implementation of decision making and establishment of values for the corporation and employees.

Edwards strives to inculcate its values throughout the organization by utilizing the vision and mission statements as well as procedures and policies. Management teaches by example the values embodied in those documents. Edwards makes products to correct cardiovascular disease, and they are the number one heart valve manufacturer in the world. Let me show you Edward’s credo. (By the way, do you know what a credo is? It is a statement of principles, in other words, a creed.)
Our Credo:

At Edwards Lifesciences, we are dedicated to providing innovative solutions for people fighting cardiovascular disease.

Through our actions, we will become trusted partners with customers, colleagues, and patients—creating a community unified in its mission to improve the quality of life around the world. Our results will benefit customers, patients, employees, and shareholders.

We will celebrate our successes, thrive on discovery, and continually expand our boundaries. We will act boldly, decisively, and with determination on behalf of people fighting cardiovascular disease.

Helping Patients is Our Life’s Work, and Life is Now.

Every mechanical valve Edwards makes has a serial number. Each valve is manufactured by one individual. Each patient who receives a valve can, if they wish, know which individual at Edwards made their life-saving valve. From time to time, the leadership team at Edwards will arrange a meeting between the patient and the person who made the valve. The meeting will often take place during work hours right on the production floor at Edwards. There is NEVER a dry eye at these meetings. And you can rest assured that once a patient tells everyone on the floor that day how important his or her new heart valve is, how precious their new lease on life is, that there will never be an Edwards worker who purposely chooses to ignore the quality of a product for the sake of expediency or economy. That is how an ethical company works; that is actively managing the corporate culture. This is ethics as a business process.

Edwards is also rightfully proud of their “Owner’s Manual (see below).” This document is the roadmap for employees describing how Edwards is committed to continuous improvement and living out their ethics process. This document also shows the commitment to a much more robust approach to the art of growing a business—the commitment to continuous business model innovation. In their recent book, The Ultimate Competitive Advantage, Donald Mitchell and Carol Coles point out how important it is to continually develop a more profitable business model. The case studies they provide are compelling and their approach to achieving the necessary performance is straightforward practical business. Edwards exemplifies continuous business model improvement.