Werfen: The importance of suppliers in the medical industry
Living most of his life in the Northeast of the United States, Don Perigny is a proudly married father of three. Transitioning from a career as a professional athlete, Perigny describes how he found himself in the medical industry as “getting lucky”.
Joining Werfen in 2003 as Senior Manager, Global Procurement, Perigny today holds the position of Director of Strategic Procurement and Supply Chain Compliance. Loving what he does for a living and the great company that he works for, Perigny explains that he doesn’t compare himself with other professionals.
“I always want to be in the middle of it, pushing buttons - that’s what makes me tick,” he says. I think the old athlete in me is what drives me; I want to be the go-to guy, the guy out there on the pitch.”
Being a part of Werfen for almost 20 years, Perigny explains that, in that time, the organisation has evolved from one that had 10 suppliers with whom they spent more than US$100,000, to having over 50 suppliers that the company spends more than US$1mn with. “That’s huge growth,” says Perigny.
Over the years, Werfen has continued to add new policies and governance to ensure optimal quality in the manufacturing process: “Today, we have very strict requirements for installation qualifications (IQ), operational qualifications (OQ) and performance qualifications (PQ).,” explains Perigny.
“We are in an environment where minimising risk is essential, so we continuously ensure that our processes are tight and stringent. Operational excellence is our mandate. Data drives us.”
Procurement challenges for the medical device industry
When it comes to procurement, Perigny explains that the days of pounding your fist on the desk and demanding suppliers bow to your every whim are long gone - thankfully something that was never his approach, anyway.
“We don’t have vendors, we have suppliers,” he says. “In baseball terms, a vendor is the van outside selling hotdogs; we want our partners to be an extension of our company, and I think this approach has driven our success.”
Like many other organisations, 2020 saw Werfen go head-to-head with its greatest challenge yet: COVID-19. “Before the pandemic, we thought we were busy; but, once it hit, our definition of busy changed,” says Perigny. “Much of this was due to a loss of the control we previously had on our procurement process. We had to compete for labour with our suppliers, and as the pandemic rolled out across the world, we faced this over and over, due to our global supplier base.”
He adds: “Many companies were forced to close with little notice, and every country dealt with it slightly differently - from Europe to Mexico, to Canada, to the United States. And by 2021, we weren't only competing for labour, we were competing for virtually every part. Suppliers were constantly de-committing, and without notice.”
Perigny emphasises that the strength of the relationships Werfen built with its suppliers was a key differentiator. “Many manufacturing companies in the US - particularly the Northeast - were forced to close because they simply couldn’t get the materials needed to maintain their manufacturing. But we didn’t stop. It was a significant challenge, a lot of late nights, weekends, and no vacations, but we made it,” says Perigny.
He adds: “Instead of focusing on ‘here’s why we can’t, we focused on ‘here’s why we can,” and that positive focus was huge. But ultimately, getting ahead of those material issues is what really made us successful. We jumped on the shortage issues as soon as they surfaced.”
Werfen and its suppliers
When discussing suppliers at Werfen, Perigny stresses that “I always see our suppliers as a part of the Werfen family - I truly believe that we are in this together.”
When it comes to finding the perfect supplier, he explains the importance of due diligence first. Are they legitimate? Are they ISO-approved? Who are their customers? What is their reputation?
“Once your due diligence is completed, it is important to determine whether a potential supplier can meet the business’s quality expectation all day, every day, every year,” explains Perigny. “And, can we get that written down in a quality agreement?”
He adds: “Change management is hugely important in the medical industry; even simple changes that may be insignificant to a supplier can be catastrophic to us. Any change could be a big change. So, it’s important for companies to ensure they have written agreements with their suppliers to ensure that no changes will occur without notification and approval.”
Other key factors for Werfen when selecting suppliers include whether they will allow Werfen employees or a third-party regulatory body to conduct audits at their locations, as well as their long-term partnership potential. “I don’t like switching suppliers; validation of new suppliers requires significant time and is a costly process. So we look for long-term partners,” says Perigny.
Werfen’s ‘newest’ suppliers have been working with the company for five years, while its ‘oldest’ suppliers have worked with Werfen for 40 years. “On average our suppliers have a 24-year business relationship with us,” says Perigny. “They have been with us for a long time, they all know us well and they know how to work with us.”
Every year, Werfen conducts a group supplier meeting either on location in Bedford or in recent years, virtually. “This meeting gives us the opportunity to update our suppliers on our current operations, as well as receive updates from them on new improvements and capabilities. We discuss our five-year plan and make our suppliers a part of it,” says Perigny.
He adds: “On top of that, we have a supplier portal where they can see their real-time delivery performance and quality performance, and access non-conforming reports. Additionally, we have a complete supplier engineering team available to answer suppliers’ calls, ensure clear communication, and provide support. It’s a teamwork approach. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, but the results speak for themselves.”
- Don Perigny