Building Community in an Age of Anxiety

At a time when no job is truly secure, knowledge and a global outlook are essential.

By Agnes Shanley, Editor in Chief

Shanley

Pharmaceutical manufacturing professionals are becoming increasingly worried about job security. Merck’s recent announcement that it will lay off 7,000 people over the next three years may not have been all that surprising, but it still sent shock waves through the industry. In a time of ruthless downsizings, Merck had been a throwback to a gentler era, when talent was nurtured and retained.

The news merely proved that drug manufacturing is already well into an Age of Anxiety, which began with the mega-mergers that formed Sanofi-Aventis, Pharmacia-Pfizer, and AstraZeneca. At this point, many of you wonder where your next job will be. You may even be questioning your choice of careers.

I wish there were some comfort to offer, but there isn’t any — except for the knowledge that you’re not alone. There are no guarantees of job security, for anyone anywhere anymore.

Will drug companies, as we know them today, even exist in the future? Will they become virtual holding companies, outsourcing specific functions to service providers throughout the world? Imagine flying clinical trial samples from the U.S. to India for laboratory testing, and receiving results by email within a week. It’s already happening, and as it does the job market becomes even more fluid and unpredictable.

Who will the manufacturing professionals of the future be? Imagine a multifaceted elite, moving blithely between stints in New Jersey, Las Piedras, Cork and Jurong without missing a beat. Sounds fun and exciting, and such individuals already exist. I recently met one of them: J&J’s Johnny Munoz, a young engineer and Lean Black Belt whose career has already taken him and his family from Puerto Rico to Brazil and, recently, to Alza’s facility in California.

But for the less adventurous, or those with roots — mortgages, spouses with equally challenging careers, and children to see through the terrible twos or teens — is this a realistic scenario?

Even if the jet-setting life is not for you, an international outlook will be essential to your survival. As new global pharma centers take shape, it’s important to focus on what unites members of the world’s drug manufacturing community, rather than on national identity or the international competition for jobs.

Pharmaceutical Manufacturing will devote several issues to bringing you best practices from centers of drug manufacturing excellence outside the U.S. We believe that knowledge, from as many varied sources as possible, is the key to ensuring performance excellence and addressing job insecurity, one day at a time.

We are proud to dedicate this first issue of a new year to the outstanding pharmaceutical community in Puerto Rico, whose operations teams and managers continue to raise the bar for quality and efficiency — among them, the team at Arecibo that piloted the “Merck Production System,” the operational excellence strategy that may be the key to helping Merck weather the storms it faces today.

For those of you who may once have viewed Puerto Rico bitterly for taking away U.S. jobs, keep in mind that your peers on the island face the same challenges as you do, particularly since Puerto Rico lost its tax-exempt status last year. In the future, competition may come from other centers in Latin America, particularly Mexico.

However, Puerto Rico’s hunger for excellence will assure its future in pharma. We believe you’ll learn something from each of the experts in this issue, and we thank each of them for sharing their experience, with special thanks to Ivan Lugo, director of INDUNIV, the consortium that is helping to shape the island’s life sciences strategy, for his help and advice.

Global wisdom and communication may be just the remedy for anxiety. In the meantime, keep the faith! Or as they say in Puerto Rico, "Pa' lante, nunca pa' tras*..." (Always forward, never back!) .

*(For you Castilian purists, that’s slang for Para adelanate, nunca para atras...)

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