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Executive edge: Kent Thiry



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Photo by Sam Adams

When Davita Inc. opens its $100 million headquarters near Denver's Union Station next year, the 14th floor penthouse will house a cafeteria with a huge terrace.

"In most corporate buildings the top floor has the CEO, the board room and things like that," said Kent Thiry, CEO of the Fortune 500 company that last year moved its corporate headquarters from El Segundo, Calif. "In ours, it's going to be the cafeteria so that every teammate - both the ones that live here and the ones who visit to attend DaVita University - gets the best view."

That's just one of the fingerprints Thiry has put on DaVita, where he calls employees teammates, likens the company to a village and labels himself Mayor KT. He developed the village metaphor shortly after taking over near bankrupt Total Renal Care in 1999 and overseeing its emergence as DaVita, which last year had revenues of $6.1 billion.

"We were trying to create a special place for people to work," Thiry said. "In a village you look out for each other; you pay your taxes; you don't litter. We wanted to be a healthy community, and everyone knows how to behave in a healthy village."

At first the idea of calling the company a village was met with dead silence by his senior team.

"We have a lot of people who never lived like that," he said. "But what we attempt to do here is we liberate people's desire to celebrate universal values. We're about humanness, and most people want to be about humanness."

Thiry himself grew up in small villages in Wisconsin - Thiensville and neighboring Maquon - where his father was a partner at Arthur Andersen and his mother was a stay-at-home-mom of six children. He envisioned growing up to become mayor or running a company, although not near the scope of DaVita where at 55 he is Colorado's highest-paid CEO, earning $13.8 million 2010.

"Being raised in a small community, you got exposed to people who made a difference and believed in the community," Thiry said. "All these people didn't give flowery conceptual speeches, but just the way they lived right in front of you, spoke of their quiet civic leadership."

He would go on to earn a B.A. in political science from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

Today he delivers "State of the Village" addresses to his teammates, even pointing to some of his own shortcomings, which he admits can be brutal.
"Many of my faults were embarrassing, and yet it did set very positive forces in motion because once you discuss some of this stuff, you're really on the hook for improving," he said. "I used to be into micromanagement, and when I was disappointed, I would get angry. That took me a few years to get over so it was on my 360."

As part of his DaVita boosterism, Thiry regularly dons a "Three Musketeers" costume that he insists on calling "my uniform." Shortly before joining Total Renal Care, Thiry had seen the movie "The Man in the Iron Mask," and the company's "All for one and one for all" mantra was born.

The company was in terrible condition when 90 of its top executives were called to a meeting in a cramped restaurant meeting room.

"I thought, ‘We had to have a skit because we wanted to have fun,'" said Thiry, who sent people to Hollywood to rent costumes and equipment. "We did this skit about the "Three Muskateers" defending a dialysis center that was being taken over by evil forces. The energy was amazing so we did it for all our teammates months later.

"Even now before our earnings calls, the last thing we say before the call is ‘All for one and one for all.'"
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Lynn Bronikowski

Lynn Bronikowski is a freelance writer in Denver.

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