A Time to Plant.

Employing almost 400 people and supplying 90 countries worldwide, the MSD Cramlington site is one of Merck Sharp & Dohme’s (MSD) key tablet manufacturing and packaging sites. It is also considered one of the world’s most advanced technological pharmaceutical sites. Senior Director of Operations at the site, Martin Inskip talks to First for Pharma about his take on the changes happening in the pharmaceutical sector, culturing an inclusive ethos, and the trick of focusing on a blurred horizon.

There is no-one in the pharmaceutical industry today who doesn’t have some sense of the hot breath of Asian pharmaceutical manufacturers as they peer ever closer over the collective shoulder of their more mature and established Western counterparts. From a mild sensation of things ‘heating up’ to scorch marks forever altering the landscape, these newcomers are coming up fast.

While no company particularly likes competition, some rise to the challenge better than others. Says the site leader pragmatically, ‘The increasing pressure from China and India has probably intensified our efforts to develop our operating strategy and put into context the operational improvements we’ve made over several years. They’re starting to make an impact, and it’s essential that they do. Globally innovative companies now realise that to be successful they have to be truly global, including a significant presence in developing markets like Russia, China, Brazil and India – not just supplying 20% of the world with innovative products at a high profit margin.’ Those days of the ‘big 5’ in Europe, USA and Japan may not yet be gone but they are surely numbered.

These countries, fueled by growth in their overall economy and increasing personal wealth, come with their own growing markets. But to compete effectively in this space suppliers must reduce their costs significantly, maintain quality and compliance, and probably offer something different in terms of value. ‘Because of this, as a plant in the UK we have different competition – new plants in these developing markets and also a significant proportion outside the company network. We have to change our focus and make use of our capabilities to provide value for those new markets, as well as our existing markets.’

A compliant, reliable supply at significantly lower unit cost is our constant focus over a number of years, but at the end of the day it is people – their capability and their culture – that are core to any operation’s success. “You have to build new capability as you transform and perform, so leadership and employee engagement is an imperative to maintain compliance and product quality. But we also put a lot of effort into training people in lean methodologies, Six Sigma, and new business tools, like SAP. We find new ways to ensure all our employees are included, engaged and empowered, and understand the rapidly changing needs of the business and our unit.’ No small feat in itself.

But it doesn’t end there. To Martin and his management team at the site, employee satisfaction means that everyone has the opportunity to contribute to his or her full potential. MSD’s Leadership Model describes the company’s vision as ‘maximising business performance and employee satisfaction’. This is supported by two areas of focus: developing individual competencies and building a productive work environment.

The company promotes an inclusive culture and we work hard to encourage and develop this. We give training in it and promote it in innovative ways, teaching peer to peer using hand-picked partners who have received specialist training. It’s supported by strong leadership attributes – which are expected from everyone – and specific methodology for change management. In these ways, all employees have constant involvement and engagement in the business, and hopefully feel they’re being developed and can contribute their best. We monitor this by making feedback important and reviewing the results.’

Yet, Martin is still faced with a number of personnel challenges. The main one is keeping colleagues motivated and focused on day to day sustainable performance and year on year improvement using new tools like Six Sigma and Lean when the future is unclear. Such low pixilation is thanks to a variety of disparate yet inescapable issues, including the global economic environment, changes in the sector and growth of emerging markets, and change within in the company, including a major merger.

As if that wasn’t enough, challenges facing the plant – now and in the foreseeable future – include transforming while performing, essential to this is continuous improvement using metrics visibly and rigorously, rewriting the cost base and culture rule book, winning against new competition, and helping shape the strategy of the company.

Frankly, only companies displaying such unwavering resolution (and a strong constitution) to embrace these challenges will see their way to a sustainable future as the picture develops further.



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