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May 15, 2017
On the record

An inside look at IDEXX's 'culture of innovation'

Photo / Jim Neuger
Photo / Jim Neuger
Giovani Twigge, chief human resources officer at IDEXX Laboratories Inc., says the company doesn't target young talent, it targets talent.

Giovani Twigge is chief human resources officer at IDEXX Laboratories Inc. (NASDAQ:IDXX), a Westbrook-based provider of diagnostic tests for pets, poultry and livestock. IDEXX is Maine's largest publicly traded company. Twigge, a native of South Africa, joined IDEXX in 2010 after more than a decade at Abbott Laboratories.

During a tour of IDEXX's sprawling campus that started in a cafeteria and wrapped up at the fitness center before his cardio workout, Twigge discussed the company's "culture of innovation" and approach to employee wellness.

Mainebiz: How has IDEXX changed during your seven years with the company?

Giovani Twigge: IDEXX has been on a phenomenal growth path. We've almost doubled the number of global employees from 4,000 to 8,000 'IDEXXers' today. That includes 7,000 full-time employees, and an additional 1,000 contingent or seasonal workers. From those who stock up our manufacturing lines to software engineers working as independent contractors, they are critical to what we do.

MB: With such a large workforce, how do you maintain one company culture?

GT: You've got to rally people around something. We have a very strong purpose: to improve the health and well-being of pets and livestock. We promote that, which attracts people with a passion for that same purpose. We also have guiding principles that are critical. I want to mention two of them here. The first is about investing in and empowering our people, and the other is about taking care of the communities in which we live and work.

MB: What have you done on the 'people' side?

GT: When I joined the company, IDEXX was in need of a talent strategy and needed to do something meaningful to employees right out of the gate. We could have focused on many different areas — but what is more meaningful than your health and wellness? In the United States, the cost of health care has been top of mind, as has wellness. But very few companies have figured out how to execute a corporate wellness strategy. We launched ours in 2011 and the data show that it's working.

MB: How do you motivate employees to use the wellness and fitness center?

GT: When we set up the program, we were innovative in multiple ways. How much to charge was a big discussion, because research says if people pay something they will be more inclined to come. What is 'something'? $20? For some that's very affordable, but for others that might be a roadblock. We decided to throw it upside down: If you use the fitness center, it's free, but if you don't, you pay. Which means, if you only come eight times a month we reimburse your fee. And eight times is easy. You can come, sign in, change into sneakers, and go for a walk. That counts. We also opened it up to partners and spouses.

MB: How do you attract young talent to IDEXX?

GT: We don't target young talent, we target talent. As a company focused on technology and science, we look for specific specialities. For the current generation entering the workforce, technology is their first language. We had an 'Aha!' moment a couple of years ago when an intern from MIT completed a mobile interface for one of our apps in hours rather than weeks. That recalibrated how we do internships. We work for them and learn from them.

MB: I notice a lot of employees with laptops. Can they also work remotely?

GT: We take a different approach in our culture of innovation. I want to create an environment so that when people wake up the morning, they don't want to stay home. An important part of that is our culture of being a family. Many of our on-site services, that you might often see other companies outsource, are also IDEXX employees. What you will also see on our campus are maximum opportunities for people to connect — in the cafeteria, in the fitness center, or just walking around. That connection fosters collaboration.

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