Some Post-COVID Advice, Part One: To The Supply Chain Leader

Note: This is the first of a three part series.

The great American philosopher Satchel Paige once famously remarked, “Don’t look back, someone might be gaining on you.” That advice (or at least the concept) could not be more apropos today. Actually, if you are a healthcare supply chain leader, you had better look back to see who exactly it is that is gaining on you.

Because a lot of folks are on your tail.

The heroic work you and your staff have been doing over the last fourteen months has been greatly appreciated by your senior staff. In many respects, your efforts have kept doors open that otherwise may have closed.

Great work.

Great job.

When the dust clears and COVID battle ends (or at least slows drastically down), the chances are better than good that the attention that has been so keenly focused on supply chain will, over time,  revert to the places that formerly held the limelight- revenue enhancement, assuring maximum reimbursement for services rendered, anticipating what the competition is going to do, fighting off (or giving in to) possible mergers and acquisitions and staying ahead of the new competitors entering the market- competitors like Walmart, CVS, Amazon and Walgreens.

And just as they have in every year anyone alive has been in the business, the C-suite is going to come to the Supply Chain Leader with the directive to, “Save me money.”

The fact is, neither the CEO, COO nor CFO are supply chain experts, yet they continue to demand often unrealistic results. Often, too, they fall prey to outside (or inside) influencers such as your GPO or your med/surg distributor- whose motivation is to maintain relationships and maintain or acquire new business. Too often, the Supply Chain Leader learns what is going on when it is too late to do anything. C-suites have a way of not sharing what they do, or knowing what possibilities they are missing out on by not sharing their plans.

As a supply chain leader, you cannot allow that to happen. At every moment of every day, there are two stories and timelines interacting concurrently- the story of the organization you represent and the story that is your life and your future. You cannot just sit back and allow the future to happen to you. You must take responsibility to learn as much as you can and do as much as you can to be able to influence the future or your organization, its supply chain and your own future.

Here are some things to think about:

  • You are on the clock. The last ten years should have already opened your eyes to this reality. More and more individual hospitals and small systems are being acquired by bigger ones. There are fewer and fewer SC Leader positons out there. Just because you have one today is no guarantee that you will have one tomorrow. You have to work two or three times harder than ever before simply to keep up.
  • Competition is coming from non-traditional sources. Healthcare represents nearly 20% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As such, it represents a huge target for companies that have achieved excellence in areas other than acute healthcare delivery- companies like Walmart, CVSD, Walgreens and Amazon. These large and successful retail giants all have a few things in common- they know what they are doing, they do it well and they know how to make a profit doing it. Each of these organizations consider the supply chain to be an essential element of their success. To them, the supply chain is an essential element of their focus. Too often in the past, supply chain has been viewed as a support function and given secondary importance. If you are running your organization’s supply chain and your title says anything but Senior Vice President of Supply Chain (or at least, Vice President, Supply Chain), your organization does not consider Supply Chain a senior level function.
  • Learn what is going on in other businesses. Learn all you can about what supply chains look like in the competitors mentioned above. Learn how they go about making decisions, what measurements they employ to monitor the efficiency of their operations. Compare what they do and how they do it to the way you do things. Remember: As Satch said, when you turn around and look back, these are the guys that are likely to be gaining on you- not your former cross-town competitor. Chances are good that that competitor has already been acquired by a mega-system. While there is something to the old saw that “healthcare is different”, the truth is, healthcare is much more like other businesses that it is different. An accompanying truth is that supply chains outside of healthcare are much more advanced. There is much to be learned. The advantage that you, as a healthcare supply chain leader has is that you can translate what you learn from organizations outside healthcare and find ways to integrate improvements into what you do.
  • Find a way to force yourself into the C-suite. In even the largest Integrated Delivery Networks (IDNs), it has taken years for the Supply Chain to get the appreciation and status it demands. Those changes took time and the efforts of some visionary leaders who understood what was at stake and worked tirelessly to inveigle their way to a seat at the table. Often, Supply Chain leaders at smaller IDNs and individual hospitals don’t learn what the senior leadership is doing until it is too late to make a positive contribution.
  • Look at things with a skeptical eye. Remember, some of the people or organizations that you might look upon as collaborators or “partners”- organizations like your GPO or you major supply distributors- are companies out to make a profit themselves. They face keen competition and will do whatever it takes to access the C-suite and offer them deals that sound fantastic, but eventually fall short of the mark. Also, you, the Supply Chain leader often become the scapegoat when things you had no hand in fall short of the mark.
  • You and only you must take charge of your (and your organization’s) future. In most cases, you are the only person at a senior level in your organization that totally understands Supply Chain. As such, it is incumbent on you to educate those you report to, train those who work for you and become an evangelist for the function. You must learn all you can, share and pass that knowledge on and gain the trust and support of the senior leadership team. Supply Chain can be the savior or a key contributor to the success or failure of your organization, and you are the only person who can lead the charge. The same is true fpr your career. You must continue to grow, acquire more knowledge and learn to anticipate things before they actually happen. You are solely responsible for your future.

Satchel Paige was perhaps the greatest pitcher ever to play the game of baseball. Although records in the Negro Leagues were not as diligently maintained as in the white Major League Baseball, it is estimated that Paige may well have pitched in over two thousand games and won over 1500. Cy Young, the winningest MLB pitcher, won 511, so who am I to take issue with Old Satch?

Still, my advice is this: Take a good look behind you because someone is gaining on you. You’ve got to know who it is and how they operate if you want to stay ahead and win the race. And, you’re going to need help.

Let us help

Over the last 38 years, we at St. Onge have helped countless organizations both within and outside healthcare plan the future of their supply chain operations. Through our design process, we perform an intensive level of due diligence to learn our clients’ needs. Site tours, detailed interviews and data drive the models and simulations we use to develop a thorough understanding of our client’s day-to-day activity from an efficiency perspective. This process validates our understanding of the client’s issues and provides the foundation for developing the relationships required to create innovative solutions.

St. Onge Company has grown steadily and developed a client list that includes many Fortune 500 companies and several world-renowned institutions. We have completed approximately 5,000 assignments for over 1,000 clients located through- out the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Europe, the Middle East, the Far East, China and South America.

Our past projects cover a wide variety of Institutional, Commercial and Industrial applications for clients such as Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dana Farber Cancer Institute, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Rush University Medical Center, Duke University Medical Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and King Saud Abdul Aziz Hospital, as well as with their architecture firms. For these clients, we have developed a strong familiarity with the challenging logistics and related real-time issues associated with hospital operations, including campus supply chain strategies, materials management master plans, departmental optimization, facility designs and information systems to plan, direct and coordinate the movement of materials. Some of these solutions are highly automated; all are highly effective.

If you find yourself interested in developing a resilient supply chain operations strategy, please contact St. Onge. Our experts stand ready to take a look at your operation and find the opportunities you may have overlooked. You can reach me at or call me at 563-503-1847.

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