Keeping Up Fifty Years of Growth at Medline Industries

By revamping their offices and promoting interdepartmental communication, Alex Liberman helps Medline Industries hold onto its half-century growth streak

Medline Industries has done something almost impossible in the business world—experienced growth every year for the last half century. On top of that, the past ten years have seen new acquisitions and international expansions facilitate that growth into nearly $12 billion in revenue each year for the largest privately held manufacturer and distributor of healthcare supplies in the United States. As general counsel for Medline since 1999, Alex Liberman is a crucial part of these initiatives, contributing to improvements in the company’s corporate culture and facilitating partnerships between departments.

While the company’s growth is a “pleasant fact of life,” says Liberman, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. For instance, addressing bursts of rapid growth often makes it difficult to create efficiencies and improve operations, he says: “Everybody contributes so much individually; there’s little time to catch our breath.” As such, Liberman works hard to ensure his team takes time to work on inefficiencies by creating new workflows and adopting new technologies.

Alex Liberman Medline
Alex Liberman, General Counsel, Medline Photo by Timothy Carlson

Medline offers managers at his level a great deal of discretion to take on efficiency projects like these, he notes, but “it takes courage to convince your senior colleagues to buy in, while making sure you get your day job done.” With the leeway granted to him by Medline’s management, Liberman ensures that his department does more than routinely perform its duties; they are constantly working to improve their operations.

Much of this is down to Liberman’s leadership style, which he says centers around listening to the needs of those around you. “You have to be a good listener,” Liberman says, “not just with your team, but also clients within the company.” While lawyers and compliance professionals “get a bad rap” sometimes for thinking they always have the answer, Liberman extols the virtues of being willing to change your mind and admit when you are wrong. “In the long run, people have more respect for you,” he says.

As general counsel, Liberman has been approaching Medline’s many growth initiatives with a focus on teamwork and collaboration. “So many of these things we’re doing for the first time,” he says. In addition to getting the right people for your team, Liberman says, it’s important to remember that no one person has the right answer, and that egos should stay out of the way. “If you create that environment, these projects go so much better,” Liberman advises.

To facilitate that level of communication and cooperation between departments, Liberman has been more internally aggressive about identifying opportunities for cross-functional projects, bringing other managers onto projects they may not normally undertake. He has also facilitated company-wide email training that focuses more on culture than policy, as well as training in employee dispute resolution and communication techniques.

So far, Liberman is pleased with these initiatives, as the company has been underserved in this kind of interdepartmental communication. “Sometimes softer priorities like corporate culture don’t get taken up as causes; they’re often seen as secondary,” Liberman says. However, he’s seen that these initiatives have led to greater consideration of how culture affects the company’s operations, contributing greatly to Medline’s continued success.

“Medline is certainly a good place to work for a lot of reasons, but that’s improved dramatically over the last few years,” notes Liberman, due partially to his efforts to focus on improving the company’s corporate culture.

Medline recently moved its headquarters to Northfield, Illinois, enhanced their work transportation program, and created an office in downtown Chicago to entice younger people living in the city to work there. Much of this change is driven by the changing priorities of millennial workers, who have a different view of the workplace than previous generations. “They’re motivated, but not exclusively by money the way we were,” Liberman says. By catering to those needs, Medline hopes to attract younger hires and improve retention of workers seeking a more fulfilling career experience.

As for Liberman, he has also found himself personally benefiting from the more communicative, collaborative culture that Medline has cultivated. “I feel a lot more pride and a higher level of energy the last few years,” he says, thanks in part to these modernizations. Whether improving the daily experience of working at Medline or fostering communication between departments, Liberman hopes to continue Medline’s fifty-year growth spurt.