Davita Kidney Care CEO: Run to the Fire

18 November 2015

By Dave Hendrick

Javier Rodriguez received a sobering lesson on the importance of embracing his company’s values early in his career.

Rodriguez, now DaVita Kidney Care President and CEO, had stuck with a troubled company — Total Renal Care — through poorly conceived acquisitions, financial instability and mass departures. When new CEO Kent Thiry was hired to turn around a seemingly sinking ship, Rodriguez welcomed the change but immediately grew skeptical of what he perceived as an undue focus on values and mission statements at the expense of the bread-and-butter business growth plans.

“Values don’t pay bills,” Rodriguez said he recalled thinking at the time. While Rodriguez stepped up his commitment to excel in the business and began to lead a highly successful team, he remained largely dismissive of Thiry’s focus on building a specific values-based culture.

Called into the CEO’s office one day expecting to be rewarded for his performance, Rodriguez was instead informed that while his business record was indeed exemplary, his commitment to the company — which had recently been rebranded DaVita — was not acceptable. He could truly embrace the company’s core values such as service excellence, team, accountability and integrity, or he could begin thinking about a separation agreement.

Rodriguez said he quickly reflected on his leadership and his attitude.  After concluding that Thiry was correct, and that it would be way more fulfilling to lead from the heart, Rodriguez bought all-in on the vision for building a community at work.

Now a $15 billion, Fortune 250 company, Rodriguez said DaVita has not and he hopes never concedes that the workplace is just a place where one exchanges their time for a check.

The company wants its employees to practice “work-life integration,” with one’s professional persona and home persona identical — and fundamentally happy.

The CEO said the company has been particularly pleased with the values system Darden School graduates have brought to the company, and recently made the School a partner of choice for its Redwoods Leadership Development program.

Regarding his own climb to the top of the company, Rodriguez told Darden students at a Leadership Speaker Series event that his path had twists and turns and stops and starts, but, critically, always included a willingness to “run to the fire.”

Whether working in accounts receivable for a then-nearly bankrupt company, agreeing to take over a particularly troubled, high-profile division or running IT without the traditional resume, Rodriguez said he always sought to embrace both risk and visibility as a means to stand out from the crowd.

“Want to put your career on steroids? Run to the fire,” Rodriguez said.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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Sophie Zunz
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Darden School of Business
University of Virginia