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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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The Road to Alliance Excellence: Upsher-Smith’s Journey

Posted By Michael J. Burke, Thursday, September 10, 2020

When a company relies heavily on partners and partnering for its success, it’s natural to assume some sort of “intelligent design”—i.e., that an intentional, coherent plan or program has been or is being put in place to promote and maintain alliance management and further that company’s strategic objectives via partnering. But what should such a program look like? How do you get an initiative like that off the ground? And how do you achieve executive buy-in to ensure that the alliance management program is nurtured and supported, rather than left orphaned and floundering?

These and other questions will form the subject of a keynote presentation by Rusty Field, president and CEO of Upsher-Smith Laboratories, LLC, called “Fostering Organizational Excellence in Alliance Management: The Upsher-Smith Vision Brought to Life,” at this month’s first-ever virtual ASAP BioPharma Conference, to be held September 14–16, 2020. His address will take place on the first morning of the conference and will be immediately followed by a panel discussion with some of Field’s Upsher-Smith colleagues involved in alliance management.

Upsher-Smith is a midsize pharma company based in Maple Grove, Minn., part of Japan-based Sawai Pharmaceutical. Its products include both generic and branded medications used to treat seizures, migraines, and other conditions. Like other companies of its size—and many throughout the biopharma ecosystem—Upsher-Smith more than gets by with a little help from its friends. In fact it depends on “the strength, depth, and daily execution of partnerships” to fulfill its goals, according to its website.

C-Suite Support of Alliances: “There Is No Other Way”

So what’s the formula? How does such an organization operate its alliances at a high level and achieve its objectives?

“Operational excellence in alliance management begins with the creation of strong working relationships with all of our partners, at every level of the organization,” Field explained. “From the start, leadership and team members need to understand and be sensitive to different work cultures and ways of doing work while at the same time developing a road map to leverage these differences to create new synergies. Measurably strong, collaboratively driven relationships ensure that we have the trust, transparency, and shared commitment required to achieve short- and long-term goals.”

In order to make that happen, getting senior executive buy-in and backing is a must, Field acknowledged.

“An organization-wide alliance management initiative absolutely requires the support of C-suite members in order to flourish,” he said. “There is no other way. As president and CEO, I believe that providing support to our executive team is critical, so that they will feel empowered to establish and grow a company-wide commitment to creating and capitalizing on synergies with key partners.”

The Appropriate People with the Appropriate Mindset

Alliances, of course, can look different depending on what type of partnership we’re talking about and what the objectives are. As they say, if you’ve seen one alliance, you’ve seen one alliance. In biopharma this diversity can include research and development, quality assurance, supply chain or manufacturing alliances, commercialization alliances, and more. So how does a company—or does a company—establish a uniform alliance management program that cuts across different functions and types of alliances?

“Every function in our organization stands to benefit from the principles of alliance management, including our commercial, technical, and supply chain areas,” Field said. “That’s why Upsher-Smith didn’t establish a new department for alliance management. Our approach instead involves creating and nurturing an organization-wide mindset that ensures the appropriate involvement of the appropriate people at the appropriate stages within the initiation, development, and commercialization phases of our alliances. The particulars of how this plays out may vary, but the underlying principles remain the same.”

The Collaborative Journey and the Road Ahead

As most alliance professionals know, the road to alliance management excellence and the solid and successful establishment of such a collaborative mindset can be a long one, full of detours and speed bumps along the way. But Field feels confident that he and Upsher-Smith are on the right path in their alliance management journey.

“It truly is a journey, and we are always building upon our experience and key learnings,” he said. “I am extremely proud of how committed our team is to the alliance management initiative, and how it has become a part of the culture here at Upsher-Smith. Going forward, our mission will be to continue to strengthen our global partnerships and to optimize programs critical to the company’s growth.”

As noted, immediately following Field’s presentation will be a panel discussion featuring Field and four of his Upsher-Smith colleagues:

  • 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

If you haven’t already, be sure to register for the 2020 ASAP BioPharma Conference, Sept. 14–16. Registration entitles you to view any and all of the three days of livestream programming as they occur, as well as the half dozen on-demand sessions at any time. This year, our Virtual Coffee Cafés, Virtual Hallway Discussions, and Conference Roundtable Discussions promise to make the conference as interactive as it can be short of an in-person event. So we’ll see you there!

Tags:  Alliance Management  Blake Boston  procurement  Rusty Field  sourcing  Upsher-Smith Laboratories 

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