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“A Mindset, Not a Department”: BioPharma Conference Begins with a Vision of Alliance Management Excellence

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Day one of the virtual 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference featured speakers sharing a vision of alliance management in the industry: what it has been historically, what has changed due to the disruptions of COVID-19, and what it may become in the future.

ASAP president and CEO Michael Leonetti, CSAP, got the ball rolling by noting some of the changes that have occurred throughout the biopharma ecosystem, some current trends, and how much more change is already occurring—and at a rapid rate.

“As we look at what’s really important in the world, the ability to collaborate has never been more critical,” he said. “We have the tools, the people—you—and the attention of the C-suite. I know we’ll reach our objectives together.”

This view was backed up by the day’s keynote speaker, Rusty Field, president and CEO of Upsher-Smith Laboratories, LLC. In his address, “Fostering Organizational Excellence in Alliance Management: The Upsher-Smith Vision Brought to Life,” he spoke of today’s pandemic business environment, which has certainly made alliances more challenging through lack of face-to-face interactions.

“Partnerships are at a premium,” he said. “We have to operate differently.”

From a Small Muscle to an Organization-wide Mindset

Noting that in the past, “alliance management was a very small muscle in the organization,” Field said it’s been a capability that Upsher-Smith has worked very hard to flex and develop since then. The way they’ve tried to do that is by instilling processes and systems to get the most value out of their partnerships—or, as Field put it, from the CEO on down, they’ve been “actively living in the day-to-day operations and execution of our strategies. It’s a process that keeps these partnerships alive and allows success to occur. It’s an entire organizational effort.”

After Field’s introductory speech, he was joined by a virtual panel of Upsher-Smith colleagues whose roles all touch on the management of the company’s various partnerships and vendor relationships:

  • Blake Boston, manager of procurement and sourcing
  • Mike McBride, CA-AM, vice president of partner relations
  • Gary Mackinnon, ASQ CQIA, CQPA, CQA, CPGP, and CMQ/OE, director of external quality
  • Jarrod Midboe, PMP, CCRC, director of clinical affairs and vendor/alliance management

A Series of Handoffs

McBride began by showing how the company noticed many of its partnerships involved a series of “handoffs” over the course of the alliance or product life cycle—from technical alliance management in drug development to commercial alliance management, for example, or from project management to product management and launch. Upsher-Smith has thus sought to map those handoffs and put the right people in the right places to handle various alliance inflection points as they occur.

As they moved forward, McBride said, they found some signs of alliance management maturity, including:

  • Connection to company strategy
  • Processes becoming more rigorous, less ad hoc
  • People and culture aligned around the importance of key partnerships
  • Proliferation of the alliance management perspective
  • Enhanced company reputation

Like Field, McBride stressed that Upsher-Smith didn’t create an alliance management department or group, but rather sought to inculcate “an organization-wide mindset.”

“No one is forgotten,” he explained. “There’s intentionality and process around this.”

The Playbook and the Process

Jarrod Midboe talked about how the company basically wrote up an alliance management “playbook” to identify key engagement and decision points with leadership, create a consistent alliance management mindset, outline the approaches for different alliance types, socialize institutional knowledge around alliances, and define who owns which relationships and what their roles and responsibilities are. In addition, partnerships are looked at from inception through to payouts and sunsetting provisions, including revisiting the composition of the joint steering committee and identifying potential risks that may arise.

Gary Mackinnon discussed Upsher-Smith’s Supplier Performance Monitoring (SPM) program, which seeks to measure, analyze, and improve the performance of the company’s supplier relationships. Those relationships are measured on quality, procurement, and time-bound and contractual deliverables. Such metrics are used for internal discussions as well as conversations with suppliers, because the goal is not only to assess how a given supplier is doing, but also to see how Upsher-Smith might do a better job of enabling that supplier and fostering the relationship for mutual success.

Blake Boston outlined the company’s annual business review meetings, which follow Six Sigma principles to fill out a DMAIC scorecard: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control. This was instituted because in the past, Boston said, such reviews tended to be “very reactive,” with a lack of process and frequency. So once again Upsher-Smith installed more rigorous processes that still maintained flexibility, were more proactive in approach, and included documentation and accountability.

And in terms of supply chain, Boston said, suppliers are now moving from initial resistance to seeing the benefits of the process and the questions they’re being asked, which leads to Upsher-Smith having more information about its supplier relationships and what’s working and what’s not. “More dialogue is happening and suppliers are more open to it,” he said.

All these processes and the regular meetings and discussions that have flowed from them amount to a “system” for applied alliance management at Upsher-Smith—or, as Midboe termed it, “a feedback loop for improvement” that keeps stakeholders informed and also provides “a better chance of success in future partnerships.”

That’s the muscle, and the mindset, used to manage partnerships at Upsher-Smith.

Stay tuned to this space for more posts on both the livestream presentations and on-demand sessions from this year’s first-ever virtual ASAP BioPharma Conference. And if you’ve registered for the conference, don’t forget that you can visit the showcase on Vimeo anytime and check out the on-demand content, plus any livestream sessions you may have missed.

Tags:  alliance management  BioPharma Conference  Blake Boston  Gary Mackinnon  Jarrod Midboe  Mike McBride  partners  relationships  Rusty Field  Supplier  Supplier Performance Monitoring  Upsher-Smith 

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