Global Healthcare: Keeping the Medicine Moving [PODCAST]

Written by Expeditors
27 minute read


At the onset of the pandemic, it seemed the greatest spotlights were on two major industries: shipping and pharmaceuticals. In today's episode with Global Director of the Healthcare Vertical, Andrew Lester, we'll discuss the relationship between the two as the years passed and how they'll have to work together with new perspectives, strategies, and expectations.


Chris Parker: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Expeditors Podcast, where we look at the logistics and freight forwarding industry through the lens of a global logistics provider. I'm your host, Chris Parker, and today, we are talking about the healthcare industry and its transformation over the last couple of years, to account for a very different world, and how that has affected the way companies produce and move their goods. Joining me today is Andrew Lester, our Global Director of the Healthcare Vertical. Welcome to the podcast, Andrew.

Andrew Lester: Good morning, Chris. Thank you very much.

Chris Parker: Hey, so I know you and I have been, I would say, frenemies would be the best word, for the last couple of years. But folks here may not know you, so I was wondering if you could walk me through your career with Expeditors and before, and explain yourself a little bit.

Andrew Lester: Right, sure. Explain myself, that might be a little more difficult.

Chris Parker: Yeah, I'm hoping to settle a few things here.

Andrew Lester: I'm used to hiding those. So many years ago, I started off with a UK domestic parcel company, and then graduated onto their kind of very young international arm in couriers, then moved to one of the bigger couriers, and started focusing on the pharmaceutical industry in the UK market, initially, back in the '90s. Then moved to a freight forwarder, was a global account manager for a large multinational pharmaceutical company, and then, 20 years ago came to talk to Expeditors about working here. And at the time, there were no vertical industry management groups within Expeditors, and I was the first one that was employed here. Started off as, I think I was called Pharmaceutical Sales Manager for Europe, then Healthcare Industry Manager for Europe, then industry manager EMAIR, and then, about nine years ago, took over the global job when Bob Koplowitz retired, and have been doing that ever since. So based here in the UK, looking at the healthcare industry from very much a global outlook, and traveled all around the world, dealing with it. It's been a very interesting 20 years with this company.

Chris Parker: Yeah, especially the last couple, too, I'm sure.

Andrew Lester: Oh, yes. Yes, everything turned upside down in many ways and has provided us with some enormous and very much unprecedented challenges.

Chris Parker: Sounds like pharmaceuticals were part of your career from the get-go, it seems like. What about it really fascinated you?

Andrew Lester: It is a very, very interesting industry to deal with. Obviously, it has a direct impact on each and every one of us at some point in our lives, but also, it's an ever-changing and ever-challenging industry to deal with. We all know that medicine development has come a long way since we were children and since our parents were children. And we are always hearing stories about new wonder drugs moving into the future, new medical treatments, new medical devices, and so forth. And the pace of change in that over the last two and a half years has been phenomenal.

Andrew Lester: It's a little like, I suppose the only analogy I could bring, is the development of weaponry in wartime. You have a massive imperative to bring these products to fruition much faster than you would normally because you're in a global healthcare crisis. So we've seen a huge development there. The other thing, I think, is, it's a very stable industry to deal with, from a larger extent. It's something that isn't really impacted by economic downturns and upswings, and so forth. It was never affected at the beginning of the pandemic, except in a positive way, once we figured out what was possible. So it's always changing, and I learn something new every day, dealing with the pharmaceutical medical industry. It's very interesting.

Chris Parker: Yeah, and actually, now that you've mentioned it, let's dive into today's topic with my first question here, is, would you lay out and describe how the pandemic impacted the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries?

Andrew Lester: Well, like all industries, at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, nobody really knew what the hell was going on. It was, one minute, you're sitting there watching the TV news thinking, oh, it'll never come over here. Don't worry about that. And then, within three weeks, everybody was working from home. And so, naturally, for every industry, it was, well, how on earth do we manage our logistics in this new environment, this untested environment that we'd never had to deal with before? But the one thing that we did know was that we would have to keep the medicines moving, especially as treatment started to be understood very, very quickly. In fact, one of the first things that everybody needed was ventilators, because that was what the worst effects of COVID were causing. People's breathing capacity was shutting down, so we needed a huge amount of ventilators.

Andrew Lester: We had Formula One companies who were obviously not able to race at the time, but they were putting this massive engineering brains trusts that they had into developing new ways of filtering oxygen out of the air around us. Because again, the shortage of supply of bottled oxygen was starting to affect the provision of services to those in desperate need in the hospital. So we were having to find out ways of moving product, and then, of course, you had the massive scramble for PPE. And we discovered then, over many years, that a lot of this low-cost product had been outsourced overseas, which is all well and good when you have a regular traffic of aircraft and ocean containers coming inbound into your country.

Chris Parker: But that got impacted.

Andrew Lester: Absolutely, hugely, because there were no passengers flying because nobody was allowed to. The airlines were pretty much grounded. And how the hell were we going to move face masks that are traditionally being manufactured in China, into the US, into the UK, into Germany, into France, into the hospitals that needed them? And there are no passengers paying for the vast majority of the costs on their aircraft. I think probably, three, or four years before the pandemic, there were some numbers released by IATA that said that around about 93% of global airline revenue came from passenger traffic. So you take that out of the equation all of a sudden, and what used to be 7% of the revenue is now having to pay the cost of an entire flight, otherwise, that flight won't take off. And it was phenomenal, the rapid impact. And you see any of the economic graphs from that time, activity went through the floor.

Andrew Lester: Subsequently, for those products that had to move, we were desperately trying to find space. That was the biggest problem. And pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies were saying, well, I don't care how much it costs, it's got to be with that health service by Wednesday of next week, or people are going to die, literally. And we had a particular situation when Indian airports were closed at one point, a month or so after the beginning of the lockdown, where there was one drug which is manufactured to relax the airways of patients before they're intubated, as it's called. You have a tube push down your airway to enable a ventilator to work, possibly. And the vast majority of the manufacturers for that drug were in India. So we were on conference calls morning, noon, and night, trying to figure out how we were going to find space on aircraft out of India, into Europe, into North America, so we could enable the treatment of people in desperate need.

Andrew Lester: And it carried on. There was a new treatment, a new wonder drug that was being talked about almost every week back then. We had some people trying to figure out why you didn't coat your airways with bleach to prevent the development of such viruses, all the way through to anti-inflammatory drugs that had been used for an awfully long time for other purposes, which were now being investigated for the potential use to reduce inflammation in the lungs and so forth, and help people get over the worst of the disease. It was a constantly changing time, constantly changing. And then, of course, you're moving in towards the development, very rapid development of vaccines that came along. And we all know the big names that were involved in that.

Chris Parker: Of course.

Andrew Lester: Some of them were developing it with new technology, some of them were developing it with old technology, but new ways of using that technology. And obviously, we had seven and half billion people around the world who, if they all were to be fully protected, would potentially need one or two, or now, even three doses of these vaccines to be moved. So there was some journalistic mathematics done at the time, that figured out you would need 8,000 747 jumbo jets to move these vaccines around in a very short space of time. And obviously, there was never going to be the capacity to do that, even in the real world. Even in 2019, we didn't have that many planes in the sky every week.

Andrew Lester: And as it turned out, it wasn't quite the same way, because very sensibly, a lot of the manufacturing organizations who were involved at the time took a very regional approach to their manufacturing. So what we are going to be delivering to hospitals and clinics in North America, we're going to manufacture in America. What we're going to be doing within Europe, we're going to manufacture it in Europe. And again, it was the first time in major news organizations, I'd heard the words, temperature control logistics used in a news broadcast.

Chris Parker: That was a new term for a lot of folks.

Andrew Lester: Well, exactly, exactly. And all of a sudden, logistics became absolutely critical to the provision of these products to the end patient. For the first time, we started being treated as somebody who was integral to the planning of the delivery of these products, as well. I think I've mentioned this one to you before, that a lot of the pharmaceutical industry and medical industry, logistics groups, and ourselves as their logistics operators, all of us, are very much treated as the house painters who are asked in at the last minute. All the house is built, and the tenants are coming in on Saturday. It's Thursday afternoon, let's find the house painters, and get them to get it all done by Saturday morning. Because it's never been viewed as a particularly complicated thing. It's transporting, how difficult can it be? But when you're talking about temperature control, when you're talking about good distribution practice quality management, to support that product being worthy of use when it arrives at a patient, it's a little more complex.

Chris Parker: And the scale, I imagine, too.

Andrew Lester: Oh, it was monstrous. It was monstrous. There were chartered aircraft flying all over the world at the time. And again, this had exposed the running down of the freighter industry over the last, probably 20 odd years, where airlines had retired a lot of their freighters because they could make more money, obviously, with passengers on board, rather than just pure freight. And with no passengers, you had passenger aircraft being converted to freight-only aircraft. You had cardboard boxes of PPE sitting on seats in aircraft just to get them moving. And some of those companies who had retained a small fleet, or even a medium-sized fleet, the freighter aircraft, were obviously able to provide more space than many of the other ones. So yeah, there was a lot of balancing done, in terms of whom you were using, as well, at the time.

Chris Parker: So fast forward to now, and vaccines have already been out a couple of years, so this seems like the world has been improving its conditions regarding COVID. So are we in a recovery phase right now? What is the current state of the pharmaceutical industry and its supply chains?

Andrew Lester: There's still a long tail from COVID. There are still, I think, the biggest lanes of pharmaceutical transport in the world prior to the pandemic, were probably the transatlantic ones, and the transatlantic airline industry relies a lot on business class and first-class passengers. And it's still not back up to the level, and we used to have 53 flights a day from London to New York, pre-pandemic. I think we're running something like 25, at the moment. So we're still way down on capacity. We'll see what happens now over the summer, but already, major airports have been saying to airlines, do not book any more passengers between now and September.

Chris Parker: Yeah, I just saw a headline today saying that Heathrow, I think, was capped at 100,000 for the day, right? Yeah.

Andrew Lester: They would normally look at something like 125 to 130,000 passengers a day during peak. They said we were going to accept no more than 100,000 passengers because we still have people off work with COVID. We still are seeing the after-effects of redundancies and furloughs that happened within the airline industry very early in the pandemic. And a lot of people have decided they don't want to go back to the old life that they had before. So it's still very, very constrained. However, after two years of completely upside-down pricing capacity being king for all these guys, people paying outrageous amounts of money, to be honest, in terms of what the cost was to move their products, people are now looking for some degree of stability so that they can actually budget over the next six, nine, twelve months. There was no point in anybody going out to bid during the depths of the pandemic, because the price per kilo could travel from one day to the next, depending on what the availability was, and depending what somebody else was prepared to pay to get that space, as well.

Andrew Lester: Now, I think most customers are saying, okay, as I said before, we can go back to the pub. We can go to a restaurant. We can go and have dinner with our friends at their houses. The world must be relatively back to normal. But those same people are still not buying business class tickets from London to New York, from New York to Tokyo, from Seoul to Sydney, and so, the airlines are still operating with constrained passenger revenue. And therefore, to keep the aircraft in the sky, there's still a big premium on cargo. Added to this, the ocean industry has reached capacity through this whole process, and we are seeing a lot of ocean freight being converted to air freight because of the urgency of ... we've all heard the stories of 20 and 30 cargo ships lined up outside Singapore port, lined up outside Long Beach in Los Angeles, and so forth, Rotterdam.

Andrew Lester: And that hasn't gone away yet. It's a much more inelastic industry, the ocean industry. To build an 18,000 TEU ship takes an awful lot longer than to build a 787, and it'll be the same for some time yet. So there's a lot of pressure on the air freight industry, which will continue to maintain somewhat artificial pricing for some time, I expect. But it's stability, I think, which is the key thing now. A lot of companies are looking at now breaking up rigid procurement strategies that they may have had before. We have two providers, we have three providers, we've fixed the rates for two years, one year. Some even asked for three years before the pandemic. We manage it this way, and this is what we do. And obviously, through that pandemic, anything that was rigid struggled.

Chris Parker: It didn't last very long, yeah.

Andrew Lester: No, it didn't. It was very difficult. So it was more flexibility now needed, in terms of the providers that you use, the airports, potentially, that you use, the airlines that you use, all to try and give us a slightly longer-term view of, where are we going to be at the beginning of 2023? Whereas pre-pandemic, people were asking for two years of fixed pricing. Nowadays, they know that's not necessarily going to happen, and anybody who tells you they will is taking a bit of a chance.

Chris Parker: Sure. As pharmaceutical companies and the healthcare industry as a whole were in this kind of state of suspended animation, now that they're coming out of it and looking to change up their strategies, seek a little bit more flexibility, stability, yeah, I guess, how has that forwarder changed in that time?

Andrew Lester: That's a very good question. The forwarding industry, should I say, has had to deal with a much-changed environment. Again, looking at capacity being important, we're looking at how smaller airports are making new offerings to the industry, in terms of, at one time, being freighter specialists, airports are now looking at building greater relationships with the airlines, and therefore, with the freight forwarding community, and it's then causing customers to think slightly differently about where they bring their product into. At one time, maybe it would've been, this is the airport that we want our product to fly into, and we only want to know about product coming in here, but there's an airport 50 miles down the road which we could also use and has different if not better capacity and handling process. And so, no, no, I want to use this big, well-known airport, but again, the pandemic has taught people that you need to be a little bit more flexible.

Andrew Lester: Within the pharmaceutical industry, and within those freight forwarders that serve that industry, we have to maintain the level of quality to ensure the product is never compromised in any way. But it brings more possibilities in, in terms of how we could actually move that product. And I think if we can get better forecasting as an industry, then we can plan better as an industry, to offer the capacity at a more stable pricing for those customers. Again, I go back to the kind of house painter's analogy. If we were more the interior designers and house painters, working with those customers to plan their transport solutions and their logistics process, then I think we could bring more stability, both in terms of price and capacity, into the market.

Chris Parker: Trying to get from that transactional relationship into something that's a lot more collaborative.

Andrew Lester: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think a lot of companies on our side, in the freight industry and on the pharmaceutical industry, have understood that it is something that is worthwhile doing, and I'm going to build that longer term into their plans.

Andrew Lester: Why the need for such rigidity in their original supply chain plans? What would a company be giving up by seeking flexibility?

Andrew Lester: Well, the key thing, especially for pharmaceutical companies and medical device companies, as well, is, quality is king. We absolutely must maintain the quality of the product that we are offering to a patient, in exactly the same condition from when it leaves the factory, to when it arrives at the point of delivery to the patient. So, therefore, what that tends to breed is an attitude that changes risk, and we want to minimize risk to the quality of that product. So the easy response to any suggestion is no because then we know we're not changing anything, we're not risking anything, and there's no potential patient impact at the end of that. I think now we're in a situation where people are starting to say, okay, perhaps no isn't always the right answer, perhaps we need to start with why, how-

Chris Parker: Yeah, yeah, that's a good start.

Andrew Lester: ... or one of those other questions that generate a conversation rather than a blank door. I think we're starting to see more openness to that. We're still having, obviously, to go through our due diligence to make sure that we are as 100% confident as we can be, that there will be no negative impact by changing the flow of the product. But I think companies in the medical industry are more open to the idea of change and flexibility than they were pre-pandemic.

Chris Parker: Now, when I'm thinking of pharmaceuticals, healthcare products, consumer products, I'm thinking of the specialized researched medicines. And then, there's the Tylenol that I can get at my store. So then, that means that there's no one size fits all approach to all these goods. So how has the industry changed to address that, and get more flexibility between these two different kinds of products?

Andrew Lester: Yeah, you are absolutely right. Mass-produced generic drugs, like ibuprofen or paracetamol, or something like that, the vast majority of the supply these days comes out of low-cost manufacturing countries. And it's a low-margin product, so why are you spending thousands and thousands on air freight around the world when you're not going to make those thousands and thousands back on selling it in Target, a supermarket, or wherever it may be?

Andrew Lester: But again, logistic supply chains tend to have one train of thought, and this is where we do this at X company, and well, we'll try and move that on ocean freight, but otherwise, we'll just have a single strategy. A number of the big companies, a number of companies have been thinking about this for a long time, but I think it may have accelerated the move towards divesting those consumer health, those over-the-counter, off-the-shelf product lines, into a standalone company, which would have a different logistics management philosophy from the pharmaceutical specialized side of the business because they necessarily need it. One's a very high margin, high risk, high impact business on the specialized pharmaceutical side, and the other one's a low margin, over-the-counter, more of a day-to-day product, which-

Chris Parker: It's a steady supply that doesn't need specialized treatment.

Andrew Lester: Absolutely. And some of these products have been manufactured for 100 years. Paracetamol was discovered in about 1909, as far as my memory serves me, but it's still being used every single day. And so, the manufacturing of it is pretty much predictable, as long as there are no quality issues, so you can use more predictable supply chain management, as well. With the real cutting edge development stuff, the exclusivity on the manufacturer of that will probably last only about eight, nine, ten years, by the time it's brought to market. So you have very little time to recoup development costs for all that, not only that drug, but all the other drugs that fail to make it to market, but money has been spent on.

Andrew Lester: So it's much more important never to miss a sale than it is to have a predictable process. I think the analogy would be, between the kind of the high-end, haute couture fashion business and the fast fashion business. They're both clothes, they both keep you warm or modest, or whatever you use them for. But at the end of the day, there's a massive difference between a Chanel dress, versus something you buy from a store on your high street. So to some extent, there is a similar kind of separation that we're seeing.

Chris Parker: Right. Right. So then, with this divestment of these consumer products, pharmaceuticals can pay special attention to how these specialized products are being moved because they're still unstable in some way, I imagine.

Andrew Lester: Exactly, they tend to be more temperature sensitive than the products that have been around for many years, because there's a lot more data on those products that we've been manufacturing for 50 years than there is on something that is new to the market. One of the reasons, and I'm sure many of the listeners would remember this, is that a lot of the vaccines that were initially moved had to be moved at -60 or -70 degrees Celsius, which is around about -95, -100 Fahrenheit. And that was because there was no history of the stability of this product if it was transported at normal room temperatures or just refrigerated, or whatever.

Andrew Lester: So the way to maintain the structure of that vaccine was to have it as deep frozen as possible, which is a huge challenge then, of course, because aircraft do not refrigerate down to -70 degrees Celsius, despite what people may have seen on the little TV screen on the back of the seat in front of them. -75 outside the aircraft, but the only way to achieve that inside the aircraft is to open all the doors and windows on a flight at 35,000 feet. And obviously, that's never going to happen.

Andrew Lester: So there was a lot of packaging being developed, and a huge urgency in terms of the throughput of those products to get into the freezer farms that were being built in various parts of the world to maintain the stability of that. As time goes on, as stability data starts to be collected on this product, the transport conditions get less and less difficult. In fact, as I said, the AstraZeneca vaccine used a well-known carrier kind of vaccine that had been around for a number of years, had been very thoroughly tested, originally developed as a vaccine for Ebola. But it was the delivery mechanism that was very, very well understood. Subsequently, they could move that at normal refrigerated temperatures, plus two to plus eight degrees Celsius. So that was an awful lot easier to move, and that's why it's going to probably be the vaccine of choice for a lot of the lower-income countries around the world because naturally, it's cheaper to develop because it's a well-understood technology, and cheaper to manufacture. And it's also cheaper to transport, as well.

Chris Parker: Absolutely. And the equipment is more widely available, too, to reach that temperature range.

Andrew Lester: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, there are some trucks around that can maintain -60, -70, but they're very, very few and far between, and they're very expensive. If you can use refrigerated trucks, there are hundreds and thousands of those in every market that can be used to manage that product.

Chris Parker: So over the last couple of years, freight forwarders have gone through big changes, and these learning curves, as you mentioned, but then also, pharmaceuticals have changed a lot, too, because some of them have divested themselves to not have to worry so much about their consumer products, and just focus on specialized medicines.

Andrew Lester: Which, by the way, there's a particular supply chain approach that, as you mentioned, you have to take for specialized medicines. But there's also a particular supply chain approach that benefits the consumer health side of the business, as well. So there are good reasons for both sides to have slightly different philosophies, yeah.

Chris Parker: And so, to appease both of those philosophies, and to keep them both functioning, what does a company need to do to stay on track, in terms of moving their products? You said forecasting, so I wanted to know, has forecasting been different for the pharmaceutical industry?

Andrew Lester: Very much so. First of all, the quality check that is done before release from manufacturing plants by pharmaceutical companies, especially, is much, much deeper and much, much more far-ranging than any retail product might be. With a retail product, you might take a sample of a garden chair off a production line once a day, once a week, whatever, and just stress test it, and make sure it's doing what it's supposed to do. With the pharmaceuticals, that has to be done with every single batch, every single batch that is produced, to make sure that every single batch of product, whether that means hourly testing, whether that means testing every half an hour, has to be done. And if anything fails, the whole lot fails, and that means huge delays. So it's really critically important that those quality checks are passed by every batch of products coming off the production line.

Andrew Lester: So that means that it's a little less predictable and a little more difficult to say, yep, the product will be ready Tuesday, so have the freight capacity ready on Wednesday, when that quality check might hold up for two days. You just have no idea. It could be ready Tuesday, it might be Friday. And in the environment that we've been working with, that's made it very difficult to book space reliably for customers. The other thing is that it tends to be a manufacturing-dominated industry, because the quality of the manufacturer is so important to the product, whereas, a lot of industries are more demand-led, in terms of, well, we want 100,000 units in this country, at that distribution center on Wednesday of next week, because we've got a big promotion starting on Saturday, whatever it might be.

Andrew Lester: This is far, far more of a manufactured, oh, no, hold on, we're making this for the next three days. Then it's going to take us two days to change the line over because we want to make four days of this afterward. So then you tend to get situations where stocks are running low in the country, and the demand pattern escalates very, very rapidly, and so does the priority for the logistic. So it's a bit more of a juggling operation. The better companies in that industry could give a fairly reliable forecast a month ahead of time, some of them couldn't even give you a week's forecast.

Chris Parker: Something tells me that a month still doesn't feel like enough time.

Andrew Lester: Oh, it doesn't. In most other industries, it isn't, but in the pharmaceutical industry, especially, it's not bad, actually. I'll take it, that's for sure. So yeah, if we're looking back on what we've learned a bit, it will be nice to think that at some point in the future, the logistics guys, both on the customer side and our side, are no longer just treated as the last minute house painters, that people learn from their experiences working closely with their own logistics people, and their third parties can give better outcomes in terms of the delivery of the product to the patient, and look at some more accurate forecasting, or at least recognize the fact that forecasting to your logistics group is actually a critical part of supplying to patients. It's not always as simple as perhaps some people think, and if we could get those things going, maybe all three of them, we'd have a lot easier job and deliver a lot more satisfactory performance as a business, as an industry.

Chris Parker: As we're moving through this recovery phase for the industry, what would you say that they're pushing for? What does stability look like?

Andrew Lester: What does stability look like? Well, as I said, prior to the pandemic, people regularly would demand three years of price fixing, with perhaps a quarterly mechanism to adjust pricing if anything went sideways. I think now, customers are now saying, right, okay, we've been asking for one-month price stability up until now. Can you do three? Could you do six? Maybe even nine months. And I don't think I've had any conversations that involve anything more than probably six to nine months, at the moment.

Chris Parker: Wow, it's still not there. It's still not there.

Andrew Lester: No, no, it isn't. I mean, do you know what the global logistics industry is going to be like this time next year?

Chris Parker: Nope.

Andrew Lester: Neither do I. And nobody does, and that's the problem. We're still feeling the tail of the pandemic. People are traveling away for holidays, and stuff like that, but mostly, regionally, Europe within Europe, and the US within the US. And we're still seeing vast problems at airports and baggage handlers and airlines, and so forth, because they're not able to move those passengers. I was talking to a colleague of mine literally half an hour before we started to talk, who had her holiday planned to leave tonight and got an email from her airline this morning saying the flight is canceled. And that was a long-haul holiday. And I know numerous other people who've had similar things happen to them in the last few weeks. And as you pointed out if a big airport like Heathrow is saying, we're going to have to cut our passenger capacity by 25% to cope, over the next summer period, it's going to be affecting every airline around the world, or every major airport around the world.

Chris Parker: In conversations with customers that you've worked with, what would you say are the qualities of a company that's really nailing it right now? Who is succeeding? What are they doing that sets them apart from others?

Andrew Lester: The ones who are prepared to have more of an open mind, in terms of new ways of rooting their product, using different airports, perhaps, and slightly different processes from the ones they've always traditionally used in the past. Those companies also recognize that they have a part to play in the success of that logistics process, as well, in terms of provision of paperwork, making sure we've got the right import licenses, and if necessary, changing those import licenses, if we're going to be using a different airport in some parts of the world. And those people who are coming to us well ahead of time, and say, right, we've got this thing coming along in six months' time, we need to start planning what our logistics process is going to be for that, I think that is planning for success. Whereas, the last-minute approach always causes scrambling.

Andrew Lester: There's plenty of people in our industry who are very, very good at scrambling because they're forced to be because that's the way that things work. Everybody has had to scramble for the last two years. And it's really time to take a bit of a breath and start thinking about talking to our providers as far ahead of time as we possibly can, and probably more importantly, the manufacturing arms of the companies themselves talking to their own logistics people months ahead of time, rather than saying, oh, by the way, we're releasing this next week for a launch, we need to find 150 tons capacity into whichever country around the world. It does need to be thought of as part of the whole process of delivering to patients. And when we get that, it gives us a huge amount better opportunity to improve and to impress. There are a lot of good people in our industry who, when they're given the time and ability and leeway to think about how we could do things in a better way, we'll bring some great ideas to the table.

Chris Parker: Absolutely.

Andrew Lester: They need to be given the opportunity to do so.

Chris Parker: Yeah. Otherwise, if you're working in a last-minute fashion, then it'll just continue to be last-minute scrambling. No one is developing, no one is changing-

Andrew Lester: Absolutely, and-

Chris Parker: ... or improving themselves.

Andrew Lester: Right. And the only thing you're doing by going out to tender or to bid, is saying, right, this is what we do, can you do it cheaper? Instead of saying, right, guys, we need to talk to a company that thinks about better ways of doing things, who thinks about holistic ways of taking cost out of our entire process, that we can also play a part in. This is critical, as well, because what you don't want is a customer who says, we want to take cost out of our process, but oh, by the way, we're not going to do anything. We're not going to change.

Chris Parker: Yeah, you figure it out.

Andrew Lester: You have to figure it all out for yourself. Again, that's more back to the house painter's idea. But I also think, looking at the way things are at the moment, sustainability is a big buzzword in the industry. It is probably for all industries, but this is the one I speak to, and pretty much everybody's talking about it. Not everybody understands it yet, how they measure it, how they record their impact, and how they can manage that moving forward. But certainly, everybody wants to talk about it, which is a good thing for our future, for our children's future, and for the future of the planet. But there's a lot of that sustainability, and a lot of that carbon impact could be positively impacted if there was a bit more thought given to the whole logistics process.

Chris Parker: Beautifully said, Andrew. I think that is time for us, so I appreciate the time that we got to spend today talking about this. I think you really opened up my eyes to how fascinating the pharmaceutical industry is, and also, just how it moves, and how it gets its products to people. So thank you.

Andrew Lester: And as I said, I've never been bored in the 30 odd years that I've been dealing with it. And there are still many, many, many challenges ahead, so a lot of work to be done. But thank you for some really good questions, I thought, today.

Chris Parker: Yeah, I appreciate it.

Andrew Lester: And hopefully, people out there will find some of this enlightening.

Chris Parker: Yeah, I certainly hope so. All right, thank you so much, Andrew.

Andrew Lester: Okay, Chris, bye-bye

Chris Parker: Thanks for listening to today's episode. If you've got any questions or want to learn more about today's topic, check out the show notes for more information. And before you go, make sure you're subscribed to whatever podcast app you're using so you won't miss the next episode. To learn more about Expeditors, you can find us on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or simply visit us at Take care, and I'll see you next time.

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Blog was originally posted on August 16, 2022 7 AM

Topics: Healthcare


Written by Expeditors

27 minute read