“We make life saving drugs so we can’t take risks.”

Twelve years ago Claude Laurent took up the challenge of running the European supply chain for Japanese pharmaceutical company Astellas Pharma. His philosophy is that the supply chain is a process of product transformation, an approach that has helped to increase European turnover by fivefold to around €8.5 billion. While he would like total ownership of the supply chain he realises that sometimes you have to make compromises.

Interview conducted by Martijn Lofvers en Edwin Tuyn, written by Helen Armstrong

The pharmaceutical market is anything but simple. It is characterised by complexity, segmentation and it is limited by policies and authorisation. Still the major players have to find a competitive edge. Astellas Pharma, which manufactures and markets pharmaceuticals worldwide, is head quartered in Tokyo and employs around 17,000 people. Its aim is to expand sales by becoming Global Category Leader in several therapeutic areas including immunology, urology and oncology, It’s European subsidiary has more than 20 affiliates, three manufacturing plants and one research & development centre in Leiden, the Netherlands, which is home to Claude Laurent. He talks about his role as vice president supply chain and manufacturing for Astellas Pharma Europe and how he actively pursues the company’s business strategy and maintains a consistent line.

How do you see the supply chain and how can it make the difference?

I was brought in 12 years ago to deliver a supply chain transformation, assembling all steps from sourcing materials at suppliers to delivering finished products at customers, to conversion at manufacturing plants owned or contracted, into a consistent supply chain process; a process valid through all phases of the product life cycle.  Such a focus on process often conflicts with the prerogatives of the traditional, vertical, organisations in the company. Keeping the unity of the supply chain requires a continuous effort. In Astellas, the Supply Chain cohesiveness in Europe has also to compromise with global interactions.

We have undergone significant corporate changes but have maintained the supply chain model during the last 12 years, and our turnover has multiplied five times. Part of my role has been and still is to maintain the unity and the consistency of the supply chain. You need to focus and to actively pursue your business strategy.

You manage the supply chain as a business, so do you have to follow the business plan of the affiliates?

A replenishment forecast, by definition, is delivered by collaboration. The Supply Chain however concludes the process by ultimately deciding the numbers that will drive the replenishment loop. We are listening to the affiliate, who, in reality, is making the first draft forecast. There is space for negotiation and a need for transparency. It only works cohesively if one party takes ownership. Supply chain in the end takes ownership of the replenishment forecast.

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