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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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Q4 Strategic Alliance Quarterly Sourcing Outtakes: The Power of the First Draft, Ever-Changing Tech Standards, Customers and the Cloud, Value vs. Discounts

Posted By Jon Lavietes, Wednesday, December 11, 2019

In our upcoming issues of Strategic Alliance Monthly and Strategic Alliance Quarterly, we will examine the changing nature of supplier collaborations in today’s business world. In a lengthy feature for Strategic Alliance Quarterly, we dive deep into how advanced digital technologies are transforming sourcing and procurement managers’ jobs such that they now need alliance management skills and practices to effectively carry out their responsibilities. Meanwhile, a feature in our next edition of Strategic Alliance Monthly explores how a company can become a preferred supplier in the eyes of its partner.

As is the case with just about every piece we put together for ASAP’s publications, there were plenty of great insights left over from our interviews with experts from the ASAP community that don’t appear in either article. Here are just a few of those nuggets.

Alliance Agreements and the Power of the Pen

Andrew Eibling, CSAP, vice president of business development and alliance management at Enable Injections, Inc., made it known several times during our conversation that he felt that, in pharma, the procurement division was generally a parking lot for nonstrategic partnerships. In other words, wind up with a procurement manager as your point of contact and odds are that you have almost zero chance of having any real influence over the partner organization’s affairs. In that discussion, Eibling noted that initial contract negotiations offered a sign of how a partner will view your organization and relationship. The goal is to agree on a contract that hews closer to the principles set forth in The ASAP Handbook of Alliance Management rather than a boilerplate supplier agreement, and the best way to ensure this is to compose the first draft for the partner’s review.

“Somebody has the power of the pen. Who drafts the agreement first? Everyone wants to take the first pass because that becomes the substrate you’re going to work from,” said Eibling. He added that an alliance agreement “tends to be more bidirectional versus what we would get from a monodirectional supplier agreement [where] you will do what’s on the schedule according to the terms we agreed to, and that’s that.”

Are We a “Standards Fit”?

An important element to assembling a tech alliance that we didn’t end up exploring in great depth in the feature was the layer of complexity added by the number of disparate standards for emerging technologies, such as cloud and IoT, competing in the marketplace. Companies putting together a smart tractor, for example, have to find partners that are not only a feature/function fit and a cultural fit but also a “standards fit,” so to speak—that is, they base their systems on technical protocols that align with your IT architecture.

“Things are moving so fast. You might get a standard out there and get everybody to adopt it, but then some new technology comes along that disrupts it all. You’ve spent all this money on standardization and it didn’t endure. That’s one of the reasons why, as a supplier, you need to know what your customers’ sourcing strategies are, and if you’re going to be compatible with the direction they are going in,” said Russ Buchanan, CSAP, vice president of strategic alliances at Xerox and ASAP’s chairman emeritus.

As an example, Buchanan talked about how companies that base their technology on proprietary standards want to be sure to avoid getting entwined with organizations that are placing their chips on open source models.

“OK Google: I’m Seeing Other Cloud Companies”

Subhojit Roye, CSAP, vice president and head of alliances at Tech Mahindra Business Services, singled out the three cloud Goliaths—Google, AWS, and Microsoft—as another potential source of complexity in constructing an alliance. One or more of those vendors may pressure the manufacturer to make it the exclusive cloud platform for the new product or service, but in many cases decent portions of the OEM’s customer base may be split among each of the three cloud leaders. The manufacturer can’t risk alienating a portion of its clients. Thus, the sourcing manager may need to stand up to a powerful market mover, something alliance managers have been doing for years.

“Suddenly, if you’re the procurement manager you have to explain to Google, ‘I’m sorry, but customers are demanding that we have to talk with all three companies,’” Roye said.

Don’t Nickel-and-Dime a Valuable Relationship

More than one interviewee stressed that lower prices are no longer the end game for sourcing and procurement managers. Overall value is the buyer’s main goal. Roye explained the situation in greater detail.

“The procurement function is becoming more and more strategic. The chief marketing officer is becoming critical. Chief customer service officer, the head of sales, and the CEO are suddenly banking on the procurement officer to say, ‘Listen, those days are gone. Don’t nickel-and-dime the vendor. Don’t ask him to give us a $10 item for $6. We’d rather get more value for $10. We’d rather pay him $12 to make sure he’s happy with us, he gives us our products on time—we don’t wind up with a screw-up on Thanksgiving or during the winter holidays—or he doesn’t switch at the last minute and go to a competitor.”

Remember, this is just what hit the cutting room floor. Be sure to check out the next issues of Strategic Alliance Monthly and Strategic Alliance Quarterly for more great insights into alliance management vis-à-vis the sourcing and procurement functions in today’s corporate landscape. 

Tags:  alliances  Andrew Eibling  AWS  Cloud  digital technologies  Enable Injections  Google  IoT  Microsoft  procurement  relationship  Russ Buchanan  Sourcing  Strategic Alliance Quarterly  Subhojit Roye  Tech Mahindra Business Services  Tech Standards  transforming sourcing  Value vs. Discounts  Xerox 

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