Committing Head and Heart to Health
Chris Cassidy was eight years old when healthcare became a major theme in his life. Playing with friends, Cassidy was accidentally struck in the head with a golf club. At first, his doctor didn’t realize how serious the injury was, and had Cassidy’s mother not pressed for a CT scan, the boy might have died.
“My mother’s advocacy had a huge impact; it formed my passion for healthcare, which became a bridge to my supply chain management career,” says Cassidy, who joined UPS in April 2018 as president of global healthcare logistics strategy.
Cassidy recently told us about the interests and principles that drive his leadership, and about his mission at UPS.
IL: Once you discovered your interest in healthcare, what led you to supply chain management?
I went to Georgia Tech to become an industrial and systems engineer. I love innovation, technology, and process improvement—creating solutions and problem solving. After working as a consultant, and after running three high-tech startup businesses of my own, I went to work for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in December 2006 as its SC IT serialization RFID manager. My work was part of an effort, first spurred by a California e-pedigree mandate, to track and trace healthcare products at the unit, case, and pallet levels. I eventually took a tri-chair lead role, supporting standards organization GS1 in developing requirements for the electronic drug pedigree information system that provided the framework for the federal Drug Supply Chain Security Act.
IL: How is supply chain management for healthcare different than for other industries?
In healthcare logistics, you have to engage both the head and the heart in every decision you make. One North Star I encountered when I joined UPS was, “It’s a patient, not a package.” In healthcare, it’s critical to have visibility and control throughout the end-to-end supply chain—not just the node-to-node elements. Also, because quality assurance and regulatory compliance are crucial, healthcare logistics is more complex and specialized than many other verticals. It requires working closely with customers on designing integrated solutions and services through partnerships.
IL: Tell us about one of the hardest supply chain challenges you’ve faced in your career.
In 2011, I was evaluating GSK’s child-resistant packaging operations in Tokyo when the earthquake and tsunami caused the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The GSK Imaichi manufacturing facility was only about 68 miles from that plant, putting the site in the radiation contamination zone. We suddenly had to leverage our logistics business continuity plan to source products elsewhere for the Japanese market. We decided to source the medicines out of the UK, Italy, Germany, France, and Spain. Predictably, this created new challenges, such as setting up mechanisms to bring the product into Japan through Osaka. This natural disaster moved me deeper into supply chain management, working with various third-party logistics companies. It ultimately led me to redefine how a pharma company transformed its end-to-end supply chain logistics.
IL: What was at the top of your agenda when you joined UPS?
My first 100 days were all about connecting—with my peers, the management committee, the regional staff, and my team. I’m proud of the capabilities UPS has developed since it created its first healthcare strategy in 2002. I want to build on the great work, and refresh the strategic pillars and purpose, based on what I see as an attractive market where technology intersects logistics for home health and e-commerce.
IL: What traits make you an effective leader?
I’m passionate. I love to innovate and tell a story. I live by three words in my career—connect, collaborate, and deliver—and that starts with building relationships. I find success in seeing people grow and succeed. Also, I’m analytical by nature. I’m an engineer; you can’t take that out of me. I love to look at and challenge data and understand the ‘why’ of it. Finally, I’m an entrepreneur, and I like a good challenge. I believe people are our number-one asset. Processes and systems are important, but their main role is to make people effective.
IL: Which recent IT developments are having the biggest impact on your business and your customers?
We see a lot of advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning, and in robotics. The intersection of IT with industrial engineering—the physical state of things—has become tremendously important. UPS recently created a team called the Advanced Technology Group to focus on smart network technologies. I’m working with them to create a healthcare network-within-a-network. We’re looking at how to use innovative technologies to make sure we can see healthcare packages move through our network with the right levels of visibility and control.
Another thing that has become important is the concept of a control tower—a single management layer that sits on top of all the other activities and participants in the network. As we start to see track and trace, and use technologies such as serialization and blockchain to provide security and fast movement from manufacturer to patient and consumer, we need to create these layers to move the product agilely and affordably throughout the supply chain.
IL: What aspect of your job is most fun?
The best part is visiting different UPS facilities, meeting with our operations people, and hearing their pride in what they do. The same goes for our clients. I spend most of my time shaping the strategy centrally, but the most fun is understanding how to deploy it locally, within our facilities and operations. I enjoy global traveling, meeting with people, and ultimately being able to drive change and see the results. Also, throughout my career, I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to live in the United States, UK, and Japan.
IL: How do you spend your time when you’re not at work?
When we get the chance, I love international travel with my wife and three children. At home, we enjoy college football and soccer. We love spending Sunday afternoon around our pool and barbecuing with the extended family. My son and I golf, run, and hike together. I am increasingly involved in community service, particularly with the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and United Way.
Take Stock, Move Ahead
“Every day, take five to 10 minutes to reflect on what you did that day and what you learned.” That’s the first piece of advice Chris Cassidy would offer a young person embarking on a career in supply chain today. “Think about what you did successfully, what you can improve, and what you would do differently next week.” Then, based on those reflections, take action to make a difference. “Don’t look back; just remain positive and look forward,” he says.
While focusing on your current job, don’t forget to think about your long-term goals, Cassidy advises. “Of course, the journey will never be what you expect,” he notes. But you’ll probably achieve more than what you expected.
Finally, focus on depth as well as breadth. “Don’t jump from job to job because of titles or promotions,” Cassidy says. “Take the time to learn the content of each role.”