In Conversation: Bringing the Outside In
"When a factory is needed in the future, what could it look like, and how should we think and work differently to build it?" This is a question that Roger Connor, President, Global Manufacturing Supply, GlaxoSmithKline, considers frequently. I had the privilege of meeting him during the ISPE 2017 Annual Meeting & Expo. This is an abridged and edited version of our conversation.
How do you define innovation? How do you develop that value within an organization, from the ground up?
It’s all about people and the “leadership shadow” that they cast. At the top of the house you have to welcome innovation, recognize it, and demand it. Right across the organization, you want every one of your leaders to believe it’s their role to innovate, to spot things that can improve. So, as well as the big innovation plays—the headline projects—you need to recognize all the smaller things that get done.
Line managers are some of the most important people in our factories. They set the tone and culture for the company. If they set a certain expectation of a team and encourage innovation, that’s where the successful ideas come from.
Do you think it is easier outside of North America? Is there a cultural difference across continents?
Western countries can be more focused on trying to solve things themselves. I see a greater hunger in Asia to go and learn from others. They’re not embarrassed to “steal with pride,” as we call it, to find a best practice in another sector and apply it. If you get into a mindset of “Well, it’s not invented here, so we’ll have to find a solution,” that is just waste.
I was going to ask about the impact on manufacturing operations of trying to solve things yourself, but you summarized it with one word.
It’s complete and utter waste. I’d much rather ask our teams to learn first—to go and see what others have done. That’s the behavior we should reward. If we encourage people to go out and learn, we’ll get a massive return. This also allows us to move rapidly onto the next problem, and the next one after that.
What are the industries from which pharma can learn the most, and what do they bring to the table?
The obvious one is aerospace, which is very highly regulated, as we are. It has deviations, it has quality control issues, and still the industry manages to have one of the best safety records of any sector in terms of avoiding catastrophic failures. Some of the areas we can learn from in aerospace include material science and preventive/predictive maintenance. So, aerospace really interests me.
Another is the automotive industry. The sector has had to innovate to survive as profit margins have been squeezed and competition has grown. The industry is going through radical change in terms of new technology. We can learn from this and recruit some great talent too.
How easy is it to do that?
It’s very easy to attract people to health care from outside our sector. At GSK, for example, what attracts people most is our mission and values. It’s an opportunity to apply their technical skill set in an area where they feel they can really make a difference.
What is it that they bring to the table, in terms of values and traits, that bodes well for the future and future hiring?
They come in to the sector with a real hunger for continuous improvement. They believe that everyone has a responsibility to create value every day, whether it is to make a product safer or make it cheaper. I love that infectious desire to improve.
When managing a global operation, do you look at it as a whole or as a series of necessarily diverse parts that address distinct needs across geographies? Is a holistic vision possible?
I look at both. There are elements, I believe, in an organization our size that need to be looked at holistically. For example, you want everyone to buy into your mission and goals as a global company. And everybody needs to understand the important role they personally play.
On the other hand, within our global manufacturing organization (I have more than 70 factories and 30,000 employees), we have quite specific skills, competencies, and disciplines that are essential to our operating environment. Our people need to engage fully with these. They also need to feel they can influence their immediate work area to make things better. And you have to let that happen.
So it’s a mixture: You set some very clear global rules and standards, and then, within that framework, let the positive aspects of local culture shine through.
In a complex operational environment, how do you make compliance easier for employees?
We ensure compliance through our training, our procedures, our oversight, and our process design. All these things add up to creating a compliance-based culture. But we have to make it easier for people to do the right thing every time. That starts with simplifying our SOPs (standard operating procedures). They can be complex, not visual enough. I want them to be incredibly intuitive for our operators, so there’s no room for misinterpretation or omissions. Equipment design and technology can also help here. We need to hardwire the right way of working into our machinery to reduce the scope for operator error.
What is needed for sustainable manufacturing to become embedded in an organization’s overall culture and management?
I think this goes back to a continuous improvement culture and really asking yourself each day, whether as a leader or an individual: “What have I learned? And tomorrow, what will I do better?”
“You set some very clear global rules and standards, and then, within that framework, let the positive aspects local culture shine through”
We have tried and, I think, have successfully created a “production system” environment at GSK, a defined way for our teams to operate, inspired by the automotive industry. We’re in year six of fostering that production system mindset across the organization. I think sustainable manufacturing depends on creating this environment—one where teams manage their own performance, solve problems together, and learn from their mistakes. You need standard ways of working—for leaders and operators—to make this work. The result is a very powerful dynamic that delivers sustained performance improvement.
It’s a long-term process.
It’s a gradual process. It’s easy to issue instructions and standards. You can do that in weeks. But to inspire people—head and heart—they need to understand and buy into the vision and what you want them to do. This starts with identifying the “change agents” within your facilities—influential individuals who get it and can bring people with them.
What are the benefits for patients?
First, the quality of the product continues to improve. Second, patients can rely on you to keep your products in supply. The third is competitiveness: You drive the cost of goods down for your products and they become more affordable.
Patient benefit is a big motivator for me and the people in my organization. We talk a lot about the person at the end of our supply chain.
Let’s shift gears and talk about gene therapy and its impact on pharmaceutical manufacturing.
It’s going to be totally game-changing. Remember GSK launched the first approved cell and gene therapy, Strimvelis, in Europe. This is a seriously impactful cell and gene therapy that we’ve brought to market. It is totally different from anything we have made before. So while the clinical trial supply chain and commercial supply chain are different for a normal pharmaceutical product, for cell and gene therapy they are exactly the same.
These products can have an incredibly short shelf life. That means your manufacturing facility has to be co-located with your treatment facility, or at least be very close. Your laboratory also becomes your factory. For GSK, that has meant forging some strong external partnerships.
Can you talk about creating the right conditions for developing cell and gene therapy?
Absolutely. We’re a big presence in the UK, and we have been talking to the government about what will make the UK the go-to location for cell and gene therapy development and manufacturing. There are a number of critical factors: links to academia, to encourage research; the availability of specialist skills and labor; and a favorable fiscal environment to attract investment. Put these things together and you
With Brexit looming, that last point might prove difficult.
To be honest, at GSK we don’t see Brexit as driving our choice of location for manufacturing. By far the most important factor is access to the skills and capabilities we need. There are going to be challenges with Brexit, such as the importation of product and retesting. We’ll have to direct some resources to address that.
Looking to the future, from a manufacturing perspective, what are the top three obstacles the industry faces?
As an industry, we are risk averse. We need to take some chances on new technologies and really swing behind them, put our best brains on them, and make them work. There’ll be bumps along the road, so we need to be courageous and place some bets on big technology. That’s one.
Two, in our industry we tend to work in silos. We have to work in partnership more with R&D and commercial teams, sharing business goals. It’s not enough to speak from a manufacturing perspective only. We need to work together to deliver a strategy and goals that we all believe in and want to make a success.
As a sector, our thinking can also be siloed. When GSK forged a partnership with the McLaren Formula One racing team to help improve our business, it made a huge difference. We weren’t sure what to expect at the start, so we had to believe. We created a joint team to look at performance in our packaging areas for potential improvements. The idea was to use the race mentality. First, we had to define what “winning” looked like for us: “A day when no one is hurt, a day when we don’t have any defects.” Then problem-solve to achieve this goal, like a Formula One team. We got improvement within days, thanks to the completely fresh perspective they brought.
The third obstacle is our sector’s tendency to focus on bigger, long-term-change projects rather than short-term improvements that can deliver quick wins. We need both. One of the benefits of having a consumer health care business within GSK is that this encourages the pace of change and execution associated with FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), delivering results more quickly. Rapid results also create energy and confidence in your organization.