The interview presented below has been edited and abridged for clarity.
How did Baxter, and your team in the APAC region, spring into action when COVID-19 started to spread?
It's been a journey. When it first hit, we all thought about this as a China issue and that's how the whole world saw it until it came to our respective regions. I remember on February 6, I came back from one of our launch meetings in Australia and got a WhatsApp message from the Singapore Government saying, “We are now escalating to Code Orange” and, this means X, Y and Z to the Singapore market. We didn't go through a complete lockdown at that time, but this was a wake-up call -- “This is now out of China.”
That was one of the seminal moments for the organization where we started thinking about, “How do we learn from China?” That was a Thursday; by Saturday morning, we were talking to the Chinese team, working on a playbook, trying to think about the Singapore office communication. And I felt like that process repeated itself about six or seven times in Asia as different countries were impacted.
As an organization, we learned to really lean on and learn from each other in real time, in an accelerated fashion. A lot of times we go through projects, whether it's a launch or a business transformation, and it's more structured, you see it coming. This hit in almost real time, although it was delayed a couple of weeks from country to country. Everyone has had to learn resilience together; share the mistakes we make and then build from there. In the last four months, we went together through three phases – from reaction to coming back, and then to moving forward.
Andy, if you think about that journey personally, as a leader of a very substantial business that is at the epicenter in many ways, particularly your ICU business, how has your personal leadership style or approach changed? What have you learned as a leader?
We were already an inclusive team, and listening and problem-solving as a group isn't something necessarily new to the leadership team. So, I felt comfortable in an uncertain environment, but the speed that we had to adapt to was new. And then the flexibility to look at the team players and say, “Who has alpha? Who has the experience?” or “Who has the idea?” and not just count on the hierarchy that's traditionally around “The largest country knows best;” those were things that I learned, which caused me to occasionally say to the team, “Let’s take a pause here.”
As you alluded to, one of our ICU impacted businesses was our blood purification therapy, known as CRRT. A lot of folks talk about the ventilator effect, and the surge in demand that went there. Right after that came the question about renal failure. One of the first things that doctors would try and do is ease the pressure on the kidneys and also purify the blood to remove the cytokine storm. That's where our CRRT product really came into play, and the demand increased about five-fold in a number of countries.
And, so, the question as a team was around how do we create the right kind of allocation process – which quickly became a global allocation process – to be able to look back and say we made good decisions? It was easy in the beginning for Asia to get product. But once we were facing the crisis in Italy, in France, in the UK, and then in the US, all of a sudden, the allocation process had to be much more agile and focused on areas of the greatest need.
As the team worked through that, I was really encouraged by the maturity of the leadership team. They were able to confidently and clearly talk to customers about this and not worry about things like “Hey, am I getting my fair share?” Everyone wants as much supply as they can for each country, but in reality, we were quite transparent from the top, in terms of that product flow. So, the speed approach is really important, the thinking around who really has the expertise and trust.
Then lastly, as we've thought through coming back to work, it's the structure and the framework by which you try and problem solve. Again, trying to think about the fact that one size doesn't fit all. We have different infection rates in different countries, and we know infections can come back. Do we have a framework in which management can open offices, but with certain clear signals about when to move back and close offices, so that we ensure employee safety and the like? Those questions have been quite memorable as I've gone through this process.
You mentioned a couple of very interesting points. One was that the hierarchy within the teams was no longer in play, and there were people rising to the challenge from different parts of the organization. The other piece was leaning on and learning from each other. How has that changed your outlook on the team, who the leaders are, and what it means to lead in a crisis?
When you see certain team members step up, and not just react, but respond and create new opportunities and build trust with their organizations in different ways, it gives you a lot of confidence as a leader in your leadership team.
One of the things I was really proud of early on was that playbook that I alluded to when we were first impacted in Singapore. The Southeast Asia team built that based on the learnings from China, with some of the China leadership team. And then within 10 days, we set up a global platform for all General Managers at Baxter to come in, and we shared it live.
Normally, you expect those things to come top down, but because of those leaders being able to step up, I could confidently talk to my peers and say, “Hey, this is an opportunity.” We got a lot of response on that, and it was them leading it, not me per se. It's exciting to give people the platform and watch them run.
From a leadership perspective, as you think about speed, expertise, and trust, and letting others lead outside of the typical hierarchical structures, how many of these aspects do you think are going to be durable as we think about the leaders we need in our healthcare organizations in the future state?
What we're seeing right now is super valuable. It's almost like a laboratory for leadership.
Coming into this, Baxter had been going through a cultural transformation over the past couple years and had made a lot of tough choices with restructuring. We were trying to do the right thing to put the company on both solid innovation footing, as well as solid financial footing, but more importantly solid cultural footing. We have four cultural levers that have become commonplace in our vernacular: speed and simplicity, courage and collaboration. So, I think that cultural foundation is very durable.
Part of what we’ve tried to layer on top is “How do you really activate it and simplify it?” And that really kind of ties to digital transformation and virtual work. We've been working on those two areas for about the last 18 months, but we've accelerated them since early March in a much bigger way. The mindset was “This is the time; use this crisis as a real opportunity for change.” We always say, “From lemons to lemonade,” and we're seeing some really exciting things come out of that.
In terms of some of the transformation work that you're doing, how are you seeing it play out from a go-to-market perspective in a post-COVID-19 future?
One of our biggest platforms is in-home dialysis, often called peritoneal dialysis. Less than 15 percent of all patients get treated at home for a variety of reasons, usually related to economics or infrastructure. Now, when you think about being safer at home, we've really looked at, “How do we enable this new safer-at-home type of treatment to be more widely adopted?”
One of the things we have worked on to underscore this is something called connected health, or Sharesource in the vernacular of Baxter. Sharesource is a connected platform for patients to doctors. Before, if I was a patient, every month I would bring a handbook into the doctor’s office of what happened and how many times I did dialysis. Now, every day, the doctor or the nurse can look at all of their patients and say, “How did they do?,” even applying artificial intelligence to predict if a patient’s therapy should be changed or if they should come into the office. That platform was there and gaining a lot of momentum – we have about 10 million treatments across the world – but just like videoconferencing, all of a sudden it becomes, “Oh, that makes so much more sense now”.
So, we're looking at technology layered onto our products. A number of things in our R&D pipeline are looking at layering on connected in the hospital, or at home. And that means we need people who can sell that technology better, explain it better. That's not, I would say, a muscle in our selling repertoire that's universally owned in Baxter.
In a nutshell, for our go-to-market strategy, we're looking at how do we deploy the technology better, and how do we sell it more smartly and more digitally. Do we need the same amount of people? Do we develop better digital content to empower a smaller group, or a different group? As a leader, I don't have the answers yet. Right now, the unpredictable is the norm. But I'm certain by the end of this year, I'll have a different makeup of sales efforts, with significantly more digital than what we've done in the past.
Thank you, Andy, for everything you and Baxter are doing for patients and thank you for your vision into the future. It's really been a pleasure to speak with you.
Thank you. It's been a pleasure, I’ve really enjoyed it.