“Let’s make sure we do the right thing,” CEO Harry Kraemer told Alan Heller, president of the Baxter International Inc. division responsible for dialysis equipment, when dialysis patient deaths began in August 2001 in Madrid, Spain, and Croatia. Rather than waiting to know if they were at fault, Baxter took accountability immediately, with a global recall of all of the filters and a hold on distribution of warehoused filters. It was finally determined that a fluid made by another company that was not flushed out of some of the filters during equipment testing had entered patients’ bloodstreams during dialysis, causing the deaths. Even though this error was not caused by Baxter, their equipment was involved. CEO Kraemer didn’t blame other parties and didn’t hide the facts. He apologized publicly with heartfelt empathy and humility. As a result, Baxter decided to shut down the plants that made the filters. They settled with all families involved.
“What we try to do is do the right thing,” Kraemer said when asked about this situation. “I think there’s a tendency to make things more complex than they are. If we live the values we profess, we’ll add shareholder value. I don’t see a conflict.”
Under his watch, Kraemer made sure that Baxter could live those values by opening up dialogue on translating values to decision making. The financial community applauded the straightforward talk and recovery. And Baxter’s employees got a lesson. The congruence between values and decisions even in a tragedy buoyed employees’ faith in Baxter and Kraemer. Henry Kraemer was flooded with e-mails and messages from proud employees. Kraemer said in an interview one year after the incident. “If the values are authentic, then so are the decisions and the actions.”
In a time of crisis, are these your proudest moments?
The decisions will be tough, but making the right ones will signal your values, what you believe in, and if your decisions are guided by them.