Wyeth's OpEx Legacy

Did any of you catch that recent WSJ report on the negative impact of mass layoffs? OK, I know that M&A layoffs are different, but today brought the sad news that Pfizer/Wyeth will lay off 6,000 employees and close eight of its manufacturing plants in Ireland, Puerto Rico and the U.S. over the next five years (click here for the news from Pfizer.com).

Among the operations that will reportedly be affected is biopharmaceutical manufacturing at the company's Pearl River, N.Y. facility, although the facility will become a center of excellence for vaccine manufacturing, and R&D jobs will not be affected. Local news in Rockland County, New York, clarified the picture: 1,850 consumer healthcare and biopharm manufacturing jobs in Pearl River by 2014.  

Wyeth has left a lasting impact and positive example on the industry, reinventing its corporate culture after serious compliance issues. Some of its former managers are, presumably, taking some of what they learned to other companies and organizations--the company's former QbD leader, Steve Simmons, for instance, is now VP of quality at the Canadian generic drug manufacturer, Apotex.  PAT guru Pedro Hernandez is now consulting, former biopharma operations SVP Michael Kowolenko is now with CIMS, the Center for Innovative Management Studies at North Carolina State University, and former SVP of manufacturing Peter Bigelow is president of North American Operations at Patheon.

Over the years, manufacturing teams in consumer healthcare products and biopharm manufacturing at Wyeth Pearl River have won Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Team of the Year awards for ongoing improvements in manufacturing, and for implementing Lean Six Sigma and "Toyota" principles--reducing cycle and changeover time, among them. Here's more on the Consumer Healthcare project. But some of the most significant improvements had been seen in the way the company handled biopharm manufacturing, specifically, the making of Prevnar vaccine, a notoriously complex process. Their manufacturing floor employees, down to the leanest possible team when I visited in September, were enthusiastic and invested in their work. They clearly bring great spirit to what they do, every day. 

Before the merger, I was privileged to interview fill and finish operators, including lead operator Fifi, one super-sharp supervisor, as well as two of the facility's top managers: Elizabeth Twomey-Galvin and Chuck Schneider, who discussed the final stages of an ongoing operational excellence program at the facility.  After years and several rounds of fine Lean Six Sigma work, when a major product went off patent, employees at Pearl River had committed to shaving yet another 20% of expenses. Some of the key changes seem simple but aren't easy to implement:  improved communication, including formal shift huddles examining issues and KPIs connected to corporate goals, and servant leadership. At that point, they were already well ahead of the year's target. 

When I interviewed them last September, the Pearl River biopharm manufacturing team exuded confidence and fearlessness about the coming merger. "We've been through M&A's before," many of them said. I hope that any of them affected will soon find new positions, within or without the company, as soon as possible.

These bootleg videos, taken last September, before the merger, show the progressive spirit of Wyeth's bio manufacturing team and Pearl River employees in general, from plant floor operators to senior site managers. I'd planned to edit and refine them, but even in rather raw form, they speak for themselves. Besides, the official and slick corporate videos are already out there.  

Sorry I didn't get your approval to publish them, Pfizer Communications department, but they reflect so positively on your corporate culture that I hope you will understand. They're each quite short (a minute for most, less than three minutes for all of them....)

Here, I heard about sustaining gains the team had made in changeover from a middle manager/supervisor at the facility. I regret that I don't have his name and exact title. I'd interviewed him twice over the past seven years. He is one of the most articulate and sharp pharma manufacturing employees I've ever met.

Here, a word from Fifi, who leads the day shift and runs the shift huddles.

An operator shows the importance of connection to the end user of any pharma product--with Prevnar, that's infants and young children--in this very brief clip, while one of her colleagues wonders why operators weren't involved much sooner in the transformation in this clip.

Finally, Elizabeth Twomey-Galvin and Chuck Schneider discuss the need for management to walk the gemba floor, and to embrace the challenges of true "servant leadership."

Here's to Pfizer-Wyeth Pearl River's outstanding and imminently employable employees, including its biopharm manufacturing team, to true employee empowerment, and to more senior pharma executives heeding the call to "go out and gemba." Hope that anyone affected soon finds another position.