When Brianna Mills interviewed in 2013 for a warehouse job at Novocure’s U.S. Operations Center, she absorbed what’s at stake.
A careless mistake here, she was told, “isn’t like sending somebody the wrong pair of shoes.” Team members must appreciate their critical role in delivering our therapy to cancer patients.
Now a Senior Warehouse Supervisor managing shipping and receiving operations, Brianna tries to instill a similar lesson in new hires. It takes a certain type of person, she says, to thrive in Novocure’s Shipping and Receiving Department — the type who “absolutely adores the fact that he or she is the last person to touch a package before it goes out the door to a patient.”
Patients rely on us to get them what they need, when they need it. So, we take a lot of pride in our work.—
Senior Warehouse Supervisor
The Shipping and Receiving Department represents one end of Novocure’s Global Supply Chain, but the mentality Brianna describes pervades each organizational link, according to Vice President of Global Supply Chain Jens Hult.
As a trusted, go-to business partner for companywide challenges, the Global Supply Chain team has worked courageously to navigate the disruptions created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to providing high-quality products and extraordinary service to patients and clinical partners, the team is building the backbone for our company’s anticipated growth.
Master organizers and collaborators make up the Supply Chain team. They often work under the radar but are as passionate as anyone about our mission and driving our innovative cancer therapy forward.
“I’ve seen people raise their hand and say, ‘Listen, I’ll take my personal car and drive this device from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Atlanta,” or, “I’ll drive it from Switzerland up to the north of Sweden just to make sure that the patient stays on treatment,” Jens said. “That passion is still at the core of the Supply Chain team, and maintaining that spirit is one of our goals moving forward.”
Like Brianna, Jens has been with Novocure since 2013, when he was hired to launch the Global Operations Center in Switzerland. He was also tasked with envisioning and building a more robust Supply Chain for a future era in which we hope to earn commercial approval to treat not only glioblastoma and malignant pleural mesothelioma, but also other aggressive forms of cancer.
As we move closer to realizing these commercial inflection points, Jens now has the help of a team of experienced supply chain professionals driven by the challenge.
If you look at the full scope of what we need to do between today and in the next few years, the challenge might seem enormous. But that’s why we, in our long term strategy, have planned ahead and broken it down into bite-sized pieces.—
Vice President of Global Supply Chain
The Supply Chain team has four main responsibilities: plan, source, supply and deliver.
As the company grows, we need to maintain effective internal communication so we can accurately forecast the demand for our therapy and coordinate the resources needed to provide our therapy to patients. The Supply Chain team plays a leading role in building and strengthening these cross-functional partnerships.
On the opposite end of the supply chain from Brianna is Florian Le Bellec, a Senior Global Supply and Demand Planner. Florian and the Planning team forecast and allocate the volume of arrays, device components and other materials to various regions. They measure and consider the availability of inventory and storage space, price trends and budgetary constraints, and component lifecycles, among other things.
Florian, based in Root, Switzerland, compares the work to tacking, the sailing strategy of making small course adjustments to progress through wind. Using real-time metrics, the Planning team constantly makes small adjustments to maximize resources.
“We have a direction and need to make sure we have the data to allow us say, ‘We need to go a little bit more left or right, or we need to go a little faster or slower,’” Florian said.
After joining Novocure in October 2020, Florian set up and organized weekly and monthly meetings to promote better communication among leaders of Quality Control, Service and other departments. The cross-functional discussions on important operational topics have highlighted areas for improvement.
More routine and deliberate collaboration, Florian says, has enabled the Supply Chain team to establish more relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) that in turn empower more agile adaptation and a swifter trial-error process. Among other things, they have improved the accuracy of forecasts.
In other words, Florian says, everyone needs to be on the same boat in order to guide it to where you want to go.
“Like all of us in Supply Chain, I don’t like surprises,” Florian said. “I’m very metrics-driven because that helps us avoid surprises, see and react to deviations, and make informed decisions.”
After working for a larger, legacy corporation, Florian has enjoyed working for a growing company that “has the flexibility to change.”
The people I work with here are really innovative. They are willing to change and are eager to make things happen. I haven’t met anyone yet who says, ‘This works well today, why should we make it better?'—
Florian Le Bellec
Global Supply and Demand Planner
Managing all hands on deck can get pretty complicated. More than a thousand people, Jens says, handles our products as they are manufactured, assembled and transported around the globe. And most of them aren’t Novocure employees.
For global companies growing in fits and starts, it’s sensible to outsource manufacturing and distribution. You can spend less upfront on capital costs and adjust more quickly to somewhat volatile supply and demand dynamics.
The Global Supply Chain team finds reliable, global and best-in-class business partners and monitors and manages these partnerships.
In recent years, the team has been working to shore up our supplier base by establishing additional manufacturing sources for each critical component. This makes us more resilient to unexpected disruptions.
They have also sought to manufacture in more cost-effective locations and in closer proximity to regional operations hubs. Shortening the supply chain saves money and makes us more agile, allowing us to quickly react and adjust to inevitable demand changes.
As we work with additional suppliers and produce more devices, the Supply Chain team must maintain the quality of our medical devices. To do so, our visibility and control over manufacturing, service, storage and distribution must keep stride, Jens says.
The team requires contract manufacturers and distributors to meet KPIs related to product volume, efficient use of resources and transport time. When possible, it employs technology to track those KPIs in real-time.
Internally, the Supply Chain team has become more involved in the product development process. Our colleagues in New Product Introduction (NPI) work closely with the early innovation and product development teams, among others, to design new products and product improvements in a cost-effective manner.
In 2021, the Supply Chain team led a cross-functional project to strengthen and streamline our process for taking products from concept to reality. Among other things, it established clear responsibilities for NPI activities across teams and functions, updated KPIs and created a new structure for project governance and approval.
“The team has been extremely successful,” Jens said. “We’ve managed to attract very experienced professionals from larger companies in a diversity of industries and regions, and this has paid off. They’ve joined us because of our brilliant mission and story, and for the opportunity to build something here.”
As we have increasingly outsourced operational tasks to business partners geographically closer to our patients, the Supply Chain team is developing its in-house oversight and coordination skills. It develops and implements global transport strategies. It ensures operation centers have the resources they need to do maintenance and repairs efficiently.
Our suppliers and business partners need to understand how our therapy works in order to manufacture, assemble and distribute it optimally. Our colleagues in Global Service are often the first points of contact for our partners, and therefore need to be both master technicians and communicators.
Beata Kaczmarek joined Novocure as a Global Technical Engineer weeks before the pandemic began. Especially for a hands-on position such as hers, the timing wasn’t ideal. Beata is responsible for preparing manuals and training regimens on how to use, service and repair our devices. She’s a tactile learner and had counted on having equipment at her fingertips as she began writing detailed, step-by-step instructions.
If she was going to succeed, Beata realized, she needed to summon the courage to ask for help and clarification early and often. In situations where she didn’t have a piece of equipment at her disposal, she needed to rely on photos and videos. Though she was afraid of being “a bit pushy,” she forced herself to demand more detailed and higher-quality visuals when necessary to complete her work.
Among other projects, she helped complete new product documentation for MyLink, the tool that allows patients to download their Optune® usage data from home without the need for an in-person visit by a Device Support Specialist.
Beata found that her colleagues appreciated and supported her assertiveness and drive to get things right. Head of Global Service Massimo Altomare has been impressed by how Beata developed relationships with partners across the company to reach consensus on new and updated documentation.
Even though it wasn’t in her day-to-day job description, Beata helped identify the need for a more comprehensive spare parts tracking system and helped set it up. She’s also shown leadership by becoming a primary point of contact for Zai Lab, our commercial partner in China, as well as third-party businesses involved in the assembly of our devices.
Beata “is one of those employees who offers real collaboration to other departments without thinking too much if it is in her scope,” Massimo said. “She takes a company perspective rather than a department perspective.”
Beata, now a Senior Global Technical Engineer, grasps the part her work plays in earning the trust of patients and caregivers.
My biggest motivation is that I know my work is important to the end of the chain. Without my work, other employees cannot do their work, and then we cannot do everything possible for the patient.—
Global Technical Engineer
In Portsmouth, Brianna has also helped identify process improvements and complete warehouse renovations so the Shipping and Receiving department can continue to provide excellent service as the company grows.
When Brianna first started working in the Portsmouth warehouse, the Shipping department handled only a few dozen packages a day, and the team tracked supplies by walking the warehouse with a clipboard and pen. Today, they’re handling hundreds of packages per day, and a just-in-time inventory management system enables them to ship nearly every order the same day it is received.
The team has also streamlined operations by tracking orders and managing inventory within the same software system. It hopes to further reduce labor-intensive work, Brianna says, by adopting technology that automatically produces shipping labels when orders are processed.
Greater teamwork in the Portsmouth warehouse has been a key to navigating growth. In 2019, Brianna was tasked with also managing the Receiving team.
“We’re growing fast, and we’re only going to have to add more people,” she said. “So getting everybody on the same page has been really helpful.”
The pandemic disrupted the transition, but the warehouse staff stepped up to meet the needs of both patients and business partners. For example, they ensured that Device Support Specialists and other field employees received personal protective equipment as quickly as possible.
Colleagues say the shipping department under Brianna’s leadership consistently steps up to fulfill a late order, recover or replace a lost item, or meet some other unusual demand.
“If we get something late in the day, it’s all hands on deck to get that package or a couple packages out the door,” Brianna said.
“Some people look at warehouse jobs as a stepping stone or something anyone can do. I try to instill in my staff that these aren’t just packages going out the door, that everything you’re handling does affect a patient or somebody helping a patient. The accuracy and attention to detail are so important.”
Our Global Supply Chain colleagues exemplify the leadership and teamwork all of Operations have demonstrated during the pandemic to ensure our therapy remains available to patients, Chief Operating Officer Wilco Groenhuysen said.
“I’m extremely proud of the entire team’s unwavering commitment to our patients and their families despite the dynamic challenges posed by COVID-19,” he said.
Wilco is also impressed by the team’s focus and drive as we prepare for larger, more diverse patient populations.
We believe we have a tremendous opportunity ahead of us, and it will take the continued dedication of us all to deliver the benefits of our therapy to any patient who may benefit.—
Chief Operating Officer