Bob Wegmann: Blood Work

As Americans jammed Red Cross blood centers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bob Wegmann and his staff worked the phones. Their mission: to get vendors to rush enough blood bags, swabs, printed forms, and other supplies to accommodate the hordes of donors.

“Obviously, no one predicted Sept. 11. But we were able to predict, after the first couple of days, what we thought our requirements would be so we could build up supplies, recalls Wegmann, director of logistics operations for American Red Cross Biomedical Services.

The challenges didn’t stop there. Wegmann and his team also had to figure out where to store all that donated blood. “We had to actually lease refrigerated tractor-trailers and place them in the yards behind the regional blood centers, he says.

They also had to obtain extra agitators—machines required to store blood platelets. And with the nation’s air fleet grounded, they had to figure out how to move supplies and blood products as quickly as possible.

The dance of supply and demand at the Red Cross isn’t always that dramatic, but it’s a dance that never stops. The volume of donations and the need for blood sometimes fluctuate in different directions. Like the blood products, some of the collection supplies—such as blood bags lined with anti-coagulants and adhesive-backed labels—have a limited shelf life. Wegmann must make sure the centers always have enough supplies in stock, but not so many that they go to waste as they expire, or as procedural changes render some of them obsolete.

“There’s a fine-line balance between just in case and just in time, he says.

Wegmann honed his supply chain skills during 20 years in the army, where he served as a quartermaster officer. Returning to civilian life, he worked as distribution manager at the Red Cross national warehouse in Lorton, Va.

“That entailed maintaining approximately 2,500 product lines and doing the customer service, order entry, pick, pack, and ship for approximately 1,400 chapters and 42 blood service regions, he says. Most of the products shipped from that warehouse were printed materials—such as texts for Red Cross safety classes, disaster preparedness brochures, and forms used to maintain blood donation records.

Wegmann then moved to Biomedical Services, where he spent four and a half years as senior logistics engineer before assuming his present position. A major theme of his work has been leveraging the organization’s buying power through national contracts. When Wegmann arrived in Biomedical Services, only 30 to 40 percent of the division’s purchasing contracts covered the entire United States. “Now, we’re closer to 85 to 90 percent nationalized, he says.

Ideally, Wegmann says, he would like to see the logistics operations serving Biomedical Services and the local chapters combined, to go even further in stewarding the organization’s resources.

Saving money for the Red Cross and making it more efficient provides Bob Wegmann with an unusual kind of satisfaction. “Every day I can go home and say, I don’t know what his or her name is, but today I saved a life.

The Big Questions

What are you reading?

Rogue Warrier by Richard Marcinko.

What’s in your briefcase right now?

I don’t carry a briefcase. I come to work, do my work, and try to leave work at work.

Why did you pursue a law degree?

A law degree has always been a long-term goal. But I find it has served me well here in grasping the regulatory aspects of this job, and understanding why and how the rulemaking processes go on within the administrative agencies. It also has helped me in contract negotiations.

Mission statement?

Together we can save a life. That’s the motto throughout the Red Cross, its chapters, and Biomed. Our goal is to get the right blood type to the right patient, in time, every time.

Advice for people starting in logistics?

Get in on the ground floor. Start at the grass roots and go out into the field and learn what the requirements are. If you get into a headquarters-type of environment, that experience will help you know what your customers need.Go up and down the supply chain and learn as much as you can about the different aspects of each function.