HR Administration

Edwards Lifesciences Optimas Award Winner for Competitive Advantage

By Gina Ruiz

Sep. 7, 2011

Leaving a powerful parent company as a spinoff organization can be a jolting experience. “We didn’t know whether we were going to have the right type of talent to succeed,” says Robert Reindl, corporate vice president of human resources at Edwards Lifesciences Corp. That daunting prospect was one of the catalysts for why the cardiovascular device maker decided to craft a new workforce management strategy. And it is one, Reindl says, that is closely intertwined with the company’s significant accomplishments.

    Since spinning off from medical products maker Baxter International in 2000, Edwards Lifesciences has seen its stock climb to $50 from an initial public offering price of $14. The company, which invests upwards of $110 million on research and development annually, now boasts sales growth of 7 percent, up from 1 percent at the time of the spinoff. “We couldn’t have achieved any of this without a sound workforce plan in place,” Reindl says.

    One of Edwards Lifesciences’ strategic workforce pillars boils down to a basic yet underused exercise: charting the various functions within a company and pinpointing which operations are critical. After careful analysis, the company identified 75 critical job functions. For competitive reasons, Reindl declined to disclose what those positions are. The workforce population within Edwards Lifesciences, however, is divided into main divisions that include engineering, marketing and clinical.

    The list of mission-critical functions is updated regularly to reflect shifts in business strategy. Each year, the company’s 15 top-ranking executives meet with CEO Michael Mussallem to discuss business imperatives, organizational challenges and new mission strategies. The outcomes of these assessments are used to determine whether any amendments need to be made to the company’s talent management strategy and critical-jobs list.

    Succession planning is an integral component of the talent management strategy. For each of the 75 critical positions, there are at least two employees who are identified as replacement candidates. Training and development play a central role when it comes to amassing a solid inventory of qualified successors for the most critical positions.

    Reindl says the company spends millions of dollars on various initiatives—including e-learning programs and instructor-led courses—to meet this end. In addition, Edwards Lifesciences each year hosts an intensive weeklong leadership program for upper management and promising talent.

    Training and development efforts have paid off. Almost 70 percent of job openings are filled with internal candidates. As important as internal career mobility is in retaining key personnel, Reindl says that there will always be a need for recruiting externally. “External hires bring fresh ideas and a new way of seeing things,” he notes. “That helps to keep on our toes.”

    Staying on top of workforce strategy is a priority at Edwards Lifesciences—so much so that Mussallem dedicates as much as 20 percent of his time to talent management. Indeed, workforce strategy is woven into the agenda of every board meeting, as well as into the monthly executive team meetings, which assemble the company’s 15 top-ranking decision-makers from 14 offices under one roof. Succession planning, recruitment strategy and organizational challenges are some of the workforce topics addressed during the gatherings.

“Failing to meet our workforce targets is as serious as missing a sales goal for the quarter,” Reindl says.

    For developing a system that tracks talent and recognizes it as being instrumental to company success, Edwards Lifesciences wins the 2007 Optimas Award for Competitive Advantage.

Based in Irvine, California, Edwards Lifesciences has 5,700 employees in 14 offices. In 2006, the company had more than $1 billion in sales. Edwards Lifesciences is a spinoff of medical product maker Baxter International. It sells its high-tech products worldwide through a direct sales force and distributors such as Baxter.

The company makes a wide range of instruments for cardiovascular disease treatment, including cardiac surgery and critical care products. Edwards Lifesciences is the world’s No. 1 heart valve company. The organization bears the name of Miles Edwards, co-inventor of the first artificial heart valve.

Workforce Management, March 26, 2007, p. 24Subscribe Now!

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