In fifth grade, I was on a TV quiz show. The host would say a word, and we had to spell it and use it in a sentence. The host said, “break,” and I spelled “b-r-e-a-k,” then hesitated. Nothing came to mind, so I improvised and said “My bike broke.” The host, cameraman, and everyone else fell back laughing. Once they cleared their tears of laughter, they took pity and gave me the points.
Jorge Vasseur knows from experience that, when life puts obstacles in his path that could spell potential failure, knowing how to respond with determination is the key. He learned that when under pressure during his fifth-grade quiz show and again at age 15, when he suffered a serious neck injury while playing high school football.
He was hospitalized for a week in traction and then began a three-month recovery, during which his neck was immobilized with a brace. Despite the severity of the injury and the fact that Vasseur was never again able to play football, he went on to play varsity baseball in high school and intramural basketball in college.
“My injury taught me a lot about persistence and perseverance in the face of great challenges,” he explains. “This near-death experience made me appreciate life more and has taught me to make the most of every day. I talk to employees about enjoying life and ‘living their dreams,’ because life is too short to spend on something you don’t enjoy. I believe my football injury has a lot to do with my outlook on life and how I project that to others.”
Today, Vasseur shares that valuable perspective while serving as General Manager for Baxter International’s Latin America North Region, which comprises Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and all of the Central American and Caribbean countries. The region has more than 300 employees and generates annual revenue in excess of $160 million. Because Vasseur has operational and P&L responsibility for a multi-country sub-region of Latin America, that important role constantly draws upon his talent and personal passion for leading diverse teams.
“Cultural competence, I believe, is a critical skill for any leader in a world where diversity is a given and understanding how to get the best contribution from all is required for success,” Vasseur explains. Working with healthcare systems also makes his work all the more meaningful and rewarding to him. “Working for Baxter gives me the opportunity,” he says, “to bring life-saving therapies to patients in under-developed countries that otherwise may not have access.”
“Jorge has proven his leadership ability by inspiring his team to always strive for excellence and tireless service to others,” says Wolf Kupatt, president of Latin America and Canada Baxter Export Corporation, Vasseur’s Eagle Award nominator.
That translates into significant performance, as Vasseur has successfully managed the growth of the company’s Latin America North Region despite a challenging business environment. Vasseur credits strong relationships based on trust, along with an ability to enjoy whatever one does in life and work.
“You need to enjoy what you do,” he says. “I’m a firm believer that success doesn’t make you happy, but happiness leads to success.”
Meanwhile, Vasseur is quick to acknowledge that the most important thing he does is to raise his children. “Becoming a father brought a level of responsibility that helped me mature almost overnight as a person and as a leader. I believe raising my kids has made me a better person and a better business leader.”
CareerFOCUS Magazine and the National Eagle Leadership Institute® salute 2011 Eagle Award winner Jorge Vasseur.
The Leadership Promise at Baxter
As a global healthcare company that provides life-saving products to patients in more than 100 countries, Baxter’s success depends on its ability to effectively incorporate diverse perspectives, skills, and backgrounds throughout its operations. A clear set of Leadership Expectations necessary to drive a high-performing organization defines Baxter’s culture and establishes the foundation for hiring, assessing, and developing people at all levels. Within this framework, one of Baxter’s most important priorities is promoting an inclusive and diverse workplace — creating and sustaining an inclusive culture where diverse ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are respected and valued.
Baxter has made significant strides in hiring and developing culturally diverse leaders who have helped the company drive innovation, create trusted partnerships with customers, suppliers, and the community, and contribute to business success. This past year, the company significantly increased hiring, promotion, and retention of women in leadership positions across the globe.