A Culture of Integrity – Our Anchor in a Global Crisis
Former CEO Rice Powell talks about the importance and challenges of creating and maintaining integrity as well as a unified culture in a company as global and multifaceted as Fresenius Medical Care.
When the pressure is on and ethical lines get blurry, our integrity has to stay intact.
Great endeavors are built on legends. America, I was told as a boy, has its founding fathers. And a lot of great companies were born in a garage. These stories take us back to when things were supposedly simpler, bonds stronger, and emotions clearer.
But the company I lead, Fresenius Medical Care, is well beyond this stage. Today, we have around 123,000 employees, run over 4,000 dialysis centers in more than 65 countries with increasingly complex laws and regulations, and serve more than 345,000 patients. So how can we claim that we are one unity? How can we make a consistent promise to everyone who comes into contact with us? Our teams are remarkably diverse: Some are elite university doctors while others started working as teenagers; they come from different places; vote for different parties, love different books, pray to different gods, and cheer for different sports clubs. What is it that unites us?
That’s a difficult question to answer. You might start by saying: We are complying with the law. But laws are different from country to country. Complying with them is non-negotiable, but it’s far from enough – “it’s not illegal” seems like a low bar to clear. We strive for something much higher and more elusive: trust. We want our patients and business partners to trust us to do the right thing.
That is where culture comes into play. “But Rice,” you might object, “didn’t you tell us how different everyone at your company was? How can you even speak of one culture with such a diverse group behind you?” That’s a valid question, which takes us straight to the heart of the matter. I am not talking about who our employees love, pray to, or cheer on in their private lives.
In their first weeks with us, every Fresenius Medical Care employee is introduced to our vision, mission, and values and our Code of Ethics and Business Conduct. The goal is not to reduce their differences or streamline them – but to strengthen our common bond and convictions. The guiding idea is simple: We do what we do because we care for our patients. Nothing that hurts their trust in us could ever be correct. Our patients deserve our best: The best possible care, the best possible quality of life, and a future worth living. If we get that right, everything else falls into place.
We strive for something much higher and more elusive: trust. We want our patients and business partners to trust us to do the right thing. That is where culture comes into play.
Some of us keep that promise even in the worst conditions imaginable. As cities across Ukraine were destroyed and curfews kept people from going outside, Fresenius Medical Care employees slept on the corridors of their dialysis centers. They moved machines and treatment areas to basements for safety and did everything to secure the remaining supplies in our local warehouses. At times, Fresenius Medical Care was the only company in Ukraine that could help people on dialysis. Amidst the devastation, our teams never wavered from their mission: keeping patients with kidney failure alive by giving them the care they need.
There are no words to describe the bravery and humanity shown by our Ukrainian employees. They are the epitome of the integrity I am talking about, the ultimate embodiment of Fresenius Medical Care’s promise.
But not all of us are heroes, and our record isn’t spotless, even if time and time again, our teams show us that we deserve to carry the word “Care” in our name. That is why we strive to be a company where everybody is allowed to speak up and question things as they are – without fear of being hushed or not taken seriously. Everybody is uncertain at times, yet if we are empowered to speak up, we can all learn to do better. Our colleagues have shown us that integrity is more than just a word.