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“Working with all those different cultures is challenging, diverse and dynamic.”

The whole world as a playing field

Medicines are mainly purchased in India and China. Although it could also happen that tomorrow a good supplier pops up in Vietnam. “The whole world is our playing field,” says Nancy. “We are constantly looking into where in the world we find the product with the best quality and the most optimal conditions.” That is one of the things she likes so much about working for the MEG. “In the morning I’m on the phone to a Chinese supplier, in the afternoon I speak to a partner from India and in between I have contact with a supplier from Nigeria. Working with all those different cultures is challenging, diverse and dynamic.”

The MEG has a large network of suppliers. Most collaborations are for the long term, because Nancy believes in partnerships. The advantage of such an extensive network? “We are flexible and can deliver almost everything the customer wants. Whether that is a malaria tablet, an MRI scanner or a hospital bed. We think along with the customer.”

Loyalty first

The purchasing team selects new suppliers inter alia at international fairs. The purchasing team also ends up with new partnerships through current suppliers. A good network of (local) suppliers is important to be quickly informed of developments and trends in the market.

If the MEG wants to qualify a new supplier for a certain product, extensive investigation is carried out first. The buyers go through all the criteria with a pre-screening tool. Does a product meet the qualitative requirements? What is the expected delivery time? Is the price level feasible? Nancy’s team always focuses on the commercial image of a new supplier, but also wants to be loyal to suppliers with whom the MEG has been working together for some time. “If potential new suppliers can deliver a product for a dime cheaper, that will not immediately mean we have to throw our lot in with them. Good, sustainable relationships are just as important to us.”

In collaboration with the Quality Assurance department (QA), the quality of medicines and products is critically examined. QA also carefully inspects the factories. Quality is crucial, Nancy emphasizes. “A band-aid that doesn’t have optimal adhesion is not acceptable, but the consequences are manageable. However, a shot into the bloodstream that does not meet the quality requirements set... That can be a matter of life or death.”

On a visit in China

Before a cooperation starts definitively, the purchasing team prefers to visit the suppliers themselves. Nancy was in China last month to meet potential and existing suppliers. “I want to see the company and the production process with my own eyes. Owing to the language barrier, it is sometimes difficult to conduct a good conversation by phone. If you look each other in the eye and see the factory, you can better gauge whether you want to do business with each other.”

The MEG ensures that all employees of suppliers are working at the company of their own free will and that the working conditions are safe. Every supplier of the MEG is obliged to sign the ethical code, or else collaboration is not an option. For example, the ethical code stipulates that child labor is prohibited.

In addition, a factory tour says a lot about the social conditions in which people work, Nancy has noticed. “Of course it is just a bit neater and cleaner when we are there. But we pay attention, for example, to the extent to which staff follow fixed procedures and what checks are carried out.” A nice development that Nancy saw in China is that there is more focus on personal relationships with employees. For example, there were table tennis tables in many places. And in many companies there was a wall of fame with pictures of the staff.

Honest and personal contact

The purchasing manager tries to ensure that 80% of the purchase value is purchased from 20% of the strategic suppliers. There is weekly contact with the suppliers. “I believe that supplier management is crucial to be successful,” explains Nancy. “Keeping each other informed of trends in the market, sharing information, calling each other to account if the other is not performing as expected. But also celebrating success together.” Then the supplier just goes that little bit further for you, she knows. In the event of a delay, for example, they make sure that orders from the MEG are on time in any event. “They give us that. Conversely, we award them the purchase order.”

“In some cultures it is not the done thing to say that something isn’t going to work.”

In this business, timely delivery is crucial. What Nancy hammers on about with suppliers is that they give notice in time when there is a risk of delay. “We Dutch are very to the point, but in some other cultures it is not the done thing to say that something isn’t going to work. If there is a personal relationship, suppliers are not afraid to report a problem earlier.” And that is important, because honesty, openness and candor are paramount at the MEG. “We stick to the agreement. We also expect that from our suppliers. A project is only successful with good collaboration.”

Local sourcing

Where the team leader wants to go in the future? “Now we often fill the customer’s wish list, but I want to supplement the list. With innovative products.” For example, examination gloves are still supplied in large cardboard boxes. But the MEG has recently found a new supplier that works with smaller packages. That makes logistics easier, lowers costs and is better for the environment. “I want to create such win-win situations more often.”

Furthermore, Nancy expects to cooperate more with local suppliers in Africa. One of the new propositions of the MEG is local sourcing: purchasing products from suppliers located in the sales area. For example, she went to Nigeria recently to visit her suppliers. “When we buy there, the products are immediately available in the country of destination. And we contribute to Nigeria’s self-reliance. I think that is a good starting point.”

Because no matter how much energy Nancy gets from making a good deal, ultimately what makes her heart beat faster is helping people. She still has firm memories of when she visited the neonatal ward in a Dutch hospital years ago. Tiny, vulnerable babies were lying there in incubators. “The babies were completely dependent on the nose masks that provided extra oxygen,” relates Nancy “It was then that I realized how privileged we are to have that medical equipment so accessible in the Netherlands. I also realized that this is not the case everywhere in the world. While everyone is entitled to basic health care. I am happy that I can contribute to this with my work.”

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