Operations Management: Career Management for the 21st Century

Feb. 21, 2007
Business pressures are bringing pharmaceutical companies to a realization that some other industries have had for years: profesionals with operations management skills are vital to the success of the enterprise.

As the worldwide business climate has grown increasingly complex – due to globalization, consolidation, governmental regulation, labor issues, financial pressures, supply chain management and security concerns – the purview of “operations management” has expanded. In many fields, professionals who may not have needed or sought training in operations management before are finding it necessary to develop skills in such areas as strategic planning, quality assurance and supply chain management.

Previously focused more on product than process and insulated from some of the pressures felt by other industries, the drug industry has been criticized for lagging behind food processors and consumer-packaged goods manufacturers in terms of IT utilization and operations management. As pharmaceutical companies move to embrace practices proven successful in other industries, it is appropriate that a pharma executive was recently elected president of APICS, The Association for Operations Management.


Joseph Shedlawski, CPIM, Principal in Commercial Operations at Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, Madison, N.J., took the APICS helm effective Jan. 1. The “CPIM” after his name is an acronym for the Certified in Production and Inventory Management designation he earned through APICS – and an important career move. It is that certification, as much as his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Bucknell University and his MBA in Finance with Honors from Iona College, to which he credits his professional success.

“My career has encompassed demand management, materials planning, long-term resource planning, budgeting, customer service, inventory management and distribution, and I developed many of those skills through APICS,” Shedlawski says. “I established the first-ever sales and operations planning process in several divisions here at Wyeth, and it was APICS’ education that gave me the confidence to develop that process and lead it successfully.”

One does not achieve any of APICS’ three certifications overnight; the programs are rigorous and thorough, which is what makes them globally recognized and valuable. But besides those programs, the association offers specialized courses of study on-line, at its Alexandria, Va. offices, at its annual conference/expo, and via a network of local chapters throughout North America. Shedlawski, who has been a member of the APICS-Northern New Jersey Chapter for 22 years, says his involvement at the chapter level helped him early on. “It gave me the opportunity to develop leadership and public speaking skills in a supportive environment,” he notes, “and to demonstrate a high level of proficiency in each subject I studied.”

Asked whether his presidency will help raise awareness of APICS within the pharmaceutical industry, Shedlawski observes that that awareness is already growing due to several factors:

  • Across numerous industries, there is a high value being placed on APICS’ body of knowledge,” he says. That “body” includes education and training materials in more than two-dozen operations management-related topics including inventory control, logistics, manufacturing management, materials management, process design and control, production, purchasing, quality, strategic planning and supply chain management.

  • As APICS members take advantage of that body of knowledge, the association validates their education through three globally recognized certification programs: Certified in Production and Inventory Management (CPIM), Certified Supply Chain Professional (CSCP), and Certified in Integrated Resource Management (CIRM). Like other industries, pharmaceutical companies acknowledge the value of those certifications.

  • Pharma is a highly competitive industry, and companies are experiencing financial pressures more than ever before. Thus, operations management issues affect the entire company, and the supply chain has broadened to include “everything from the suppliers’ suppliers to the customers’ customers,” he explains. Whereas historically, a background in biochemistry or chemical engineering may have been most highly valued in a pharmaceutical company, today, there is a growing demand for professionals with skills in operations management — even if that is not their primary function.
Shedlawski points out that because other manufacturing industries felt pressured to improve their efficiency and productivity earlier than pharma, there is much pharma can learn from other industries’ best practices. The beauty of APICS, he says, is the cross-pollination that occurs whenever members come together, whether that is at the local level, nationally, globally or on-line. Competition within the drug industry can sometimes hinder information-sharing among pharma professionals, but APICS is geared to disseminating information and advancing the profession of operations management across multiple industries.

Shedlawski couldn’t have picked a better year to become APICS’ president: It’s the association’s 50th anniversary, which will be celebrated at its International Conference and Exposition, Oct. 21-23 in Denver, Colo. (Visit http://www.apics.org/education/conference/index.asp for more information.) But his tone suggests he’s excited about this conference every year. “It gives us the opportunity to meet and collaborate with members from all over the globe – to share issues, concerns and best practices,” Shedlawski enthuses. “Our common ground is much broader than a single industry, because our focus is on the common dimensions among many fields.”

About the Author

Heidi Parsons | Managing Editor