Tom Sullivan | February 10, 2021
When Paul Kusserow began as CEO of Amedisys six years ago, the stock was valued at approximately $26 per share. Now, it’s over $300 — and Kusserow points to diversifying the board and executive teams as a principal driver of that and other metrics of success.
Amedisys, in fact, achieved something of a milestone via the appointment of Ivanetta Davis Samuels in January 2021, which made women the majority of the company’s board.
Health Evolution Editor-in-Chief Tom Sullivan spoke with Kusserow about the business decision to diversify, the operational and financial improvements the move has yielded, and his advice for other CEOs about undertaking diversity initiatives.
Health Evolution: At what point did you first realize you wanted the board to be either a majority of women, more diverse or both?
Kusserow: When I started here, I wasn’t an expert at home health and hospice, so prior to COVID-19, I spent a week every month out in the field. To figure out what we should be doing. I’ve spent time in close to 500 care centers in 39 states. We have 23,000 employees and 85 percent of our employee population are women. When I go into people’s homes the patients are both men and women, but the caregivers in the home are generally women, daughters, female relatives. I started to see in the home care environment and hospice; our patients, caregivers and employees are women, there are lot of people of color as well — and here I was, this white male.
I became Chairman of Amedisys about a year ago. When I was thinking of taking on the board, I felt it was important to have the board reflect, as much as possible, our patient and our employee populations instead of just having a bunch of old white guys sitting around a table with one woman. Changing that perception has added considerably to how we need to be thinking about the world. The best companies’ boards should reflect customers and employees.
Health Evolution: How did you actually make it happen? Was it a matter of waiting for men to step down? How did it all come together?
Kusserow: Some people were ready to leave and they left. For other people, we made changes with a little more pressure. You can’t fire someone from the board, but you can indicate whether they’re welcome. It’s tough, nuanced work.
CEOs might read this, roll their eyes and say, “You can’t change the board.” But you can in three to four years. You can do it. It’s not a Big Bang. Instead, it’s a prolonged, open, proactive, inclusive process and the board needs to understand why it’s important – why are we making this journey?
We were also spending a considerable amount of time on diversity and making our C-suite and leadership ranks look like our patient population. That’s increasingly important and board members and senior leadership needed to understand that. We’re doing better on the board than in the C-suite, but we are working on that as well.
Health Evolution: Regarding C-suite and leadership, what is the makeup of the other executives?
Kusserow: We have about 100 leaders and that makeup is majority women. The SVPs and VPs are about 70 percent women. It’s still not 85 percent, but it is a strong percentage. Of our six C-suite officers, right now only two are women, but we will eventually sort that out. We need to be better on that front.
Paul Kusserow, Amedisys
Health Evolution: What has surprised you the most about the journey toward diversity?
Kusserow: The only thing surprising to me is that more people have not more urgently done it. They are so focused on their customers and their markets, yet their management teams don’t reflect those. They’re still so old school thinking that the C-suite can be homogenous white guys despite the rest of the company being more diverse.
What surprises other people, or what they find most unusual, is that this is coming from me. That a relative dinosaur is pushing for these types of initiatives as aggressively as I am. But I will tell you it matters. Having a diversity of management yields higher quality, better retention and improved metrics of success.
Health Evolution: The case for diverse boards has come into the spotlight in 2020-2021 but the business advantages were already understood. McKinsey, for instance, has tracked diversity for years and found that more diverse companies perform better financially. How has the strategy to transform the board and leadership translated into real change for the company?
Kusserow: I know very few organizations that have grown in value as much as we have. We’re almost 12x our value compared to six years ago. We’ve gone from $800 million to $10 billion. So, I look at it very simply. Six years ago, we were in the middle of the pack in terms of quality, and we’re now the leader. We brought turnover down to a third of what it was. That unleashed incredible productivity and improved quality. When an organization achieves at levels of high quality that attracts high quality clinicians, which has also made us more productive and generated significant economic returns.
Health Evolution: Now that the board is majority women, how do you envision that having a longer-term impact moving into the future?
Kusserow: We are going to continue to push for almost a mirror image of our patient base with our employee base and then our employee base with management and our board. We’ve just made more progress more quickly with the board. I think we’re unusual, with the exception of companies that produce services and products for women, but otherwise boards tend be comprised of a bunch of old white guys with one woman and one person of color, and if they get “a twofer,” all the better — that game has to change. The fact that we’re producing high quality scores and have grown significantly illustrates that clearly.
Health Evolution: You’ve discussed the improvements to retention, productivity, quality and the bottom line. What other factors do you take into consideration with the drive to diversity?
Kusserow: The other important factor is equality. We are rigorous about that because lacking equality leads to turnover. People vote with their feet, it’s the one vote they have on their own. So, if someone leaves, we want it to be for a good reason not because the organization is inequitable.
Health Evolution: What advice do you have for other CEOs considering diversifying their boards or leaders who are not yet undertaking that work but perhaps should be?
Kusserow: If you don’t reflect your employee base and patient base there will be a gap in understanding, and that will affect how you are able to think about key elements of your business. It’s almost impossible to bridge this gap without equitable representation in your management team and your board. If you want to grow and improve performance diversifying is a significant way to accomplish that. We live in a diverse world and if you don’t change things up, there will be that void you just can’t get across. Your employees should reflect your customers. It’s pretty simple.