Once seen as a less glamorous area of the pharma industry, supply chain management (SCM) is fast gaining a much higher profile. The talent needed has to deal with a more complex world needing new skills and new ways of thinking. SCM is now an area that touches every part of a pharma company, from clinical development to commercialisation, even R&D. So, better alignment is needed between supply, demand and production. People who can work across functions are vital.

Higher risk needs higher level thinking

With new risk factors, such as the high cost of biological drugs, the industry can no longer afford to be anything less than highly efficient. The days of over-stocking are gone. Also, supply chains now use more third-party logistics and distribution adding to the difficulty of making an expensive drug in one country and shipping it to a hundred others.

Another risk is tougher regulation around quality, validation and fake medicines. The growth in new markets such as Brazil, Russia and China can mean tackling unique local challenges.

Exceptional talent needed – insiders or outsiders?

To succeed, anyone leading a pharma supply chain has to be familiar with the practices of other sectors such as automotive, food and FMCG where innovation is more common. They have to combine learning from others with the expertise needed to take on the challenges of moving medicines round the world. Not an easy skill set to find.

Do you hire from another sector or should you go for the tried and trusted ‘insider’? You need people who can adopt and adapt, who can recognise when to innovate and when to apply their sector expertise. They must be strategic thinkers able to grasp the complex nature of manufacturing in one country and selling in many others.

A future leader will be able to show the importance of the supply chain at the most strategic levels. They will see the need for investing in better processes and systems and have the influence to secure it. They will be someone who can learn from other sectors while balancing the complexities of shipping medicines, implementing what they’ve learnt appropriately. Now is the time for new thinking.

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