September 2010 | Case Studies | Reader Profile

Gemma Fillmore: Supply Chain Advocate

Tags: 3PL, Retail, Supply Chain Management, Pharmaceutical Logistics

TITLE: Corporate logistics projects

COMPANY: Medco Health Solutions, Franklin Lakes, N.J., since 2009

PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: Various supply chain and logistics positions, Bonaventure Textiles; warehouse manager, inventory supervisor, Tibbet & Britten (now Exel Logistics); corporate operations supervisor, Reckitt Benckiser; senior transportation manager, operations and other supply chain positions, Nabisco Foods; senior manager procurement—logistics, Kraft Foods; director of global logistics, Campbell Soup Company; owner, G&A Distributors

EDUCATION: Hastings College/Brighton Poly, zoology and sociology, 1984

Gemma Fillmore's life has taken her from Hong Kong to England to the United States. Her career has brought her from the garment industry to third-party logistics services to retail and consumer packaged goods. Now she's in healthcare, working on corporate logistics projects at Medco Health Solutions, a leading pharmacy benefits management company.

But Fillmore also has taken another kind of journey, emerging from the male-dominated environment she found on the job in the late 1980s into a business world that genuinely appreciates the contributions of women.

Fillmore earned her way up the corporate ladder by tackling hands-on roles that often involved working second or third shift. "Not many women start logistics careers as forklift operators or warehouse workers and progress to a more senior role" she says.

Moving into a corporate logistics role at Reckitt Benckiser in 1992 was a "baptism by fire" Fillmore says. There were no formal training programs to help her transition into the corporate culture or cultivate supply chain skills.

But she still found plenty of teachers and good sources of information. "There is no better source of knowledge than the suppliers and carriers you do business with" Fillmore says.

Fillmore works on projects to improve supply chain performance at Medco. The company's services include a mail-order pharmacy operation.

"Logistics and supply chain fundamentals are transferable" Fillmore says. "But the rules and expectations relative to the type of business vary. For example, when moving pharmaceuticals, chain of custody, service, quality, and visibility are critical."

The pharmaceutical industry has come a bit late to streamlining the supply chain, Fillmore observes. But in the current economic climate, the industry's perspective has changed. "Pharmaceutical companies are starting to more closely examine their supply chains, which are a large cost" she says.

Getting C-level executives to give supply chain issues the attention they deserve has been a focus of Fillmore's career. "One challenge logistics professionals face is ensuring the right people know what we do" she says.

The supply chain discipline has come a long way in the past 20 years, but practitioners still have more to accomplish, Fillmore says.

"Being a risk taker, challenging the norm, driving cost out of the supply chain, and preparing for the future are core" she explains. "Building a formidable team—securing and growing the talent, while getting the corner office to support your position in a turbulent market—that's priceless."

The Big Questions

What do you do when you're not at work?

I spend time with my family. My nine-year-old twin girls join me in gardening, cooking, and riding their bikes while I go on my daily run.

Ideal dinner companion?

My father. He lives in England and I don't get to see him much, but he had a tremendous influence on my career. His message was: when you find what you love to do, it doesn't feel like work.

What's in your laptop bag?

My iPod, Blackberry, memory stick, and a book by Catherine Kaputa, The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business.

Business philosophy?

We can minimize the negative impacts of a volatile industry if we prepare for the future. To do that, we need to have our finger on the pulse of today and remember the mistakes of yesterday.

If you didn't work in supply chain management, what would be your dream job?

Writer. Good writing skills, especially in the business world, are becoming hard to find.