This morning, I attended a breakfast hosted by Kiros in which Jean Bartell Barber described her work as Vice President and Treasurer of Bartell Drugs. I was pleased to hear her discuss the ethics that drive company decisions, confirming that Bartell is one of the many companies in the Puget Sound that is seeking to build a company-wide culture that places a high value on people. Barber gave numerous examples of her own efforts to value people while also building a profitable company. For example, after an earthquake struck near the corporate headquarters and caused damage to warehouse and office building, her biggest concern was not losing profitability but keeping her people safe. Or when a pharmacist who had worked for the company for over twenty years made a human error by giving an elderly man the wrong medication, Barber and her brother demonstrated that they were more concerned about the well-being of the people involved than the financial impact on their company. Defying the instruction of their insurance company and lawyers, they called the family and apologized for their mistake. The family was deeply moved by their apology and did not sue the company.
When a third party came in to review the culture of Bartell, they were surprised to hear that employees throughout the ranks consistently characterized the ethic that guided their behavior by citing the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Because Bartell’s has created this company culture, they have strong employee retention rates and have built a loyal customer base. Because of these values, they’ve been able to maintain profitability while competing with much larger companies like Walgreens and Rite Aid. While Barber acknowledged that being a private company provided Bartell Drugs with greater freedom to make decisions with the medium and long-term in view, the continued profitability of Bartell demonstrates that valuing people pays.