Peter Schuele: Injecting Life Into Supply Chains
Peter Schuele is head of global supply chain and distribution at the life science business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, which operates as MilliporeSigma in the United States and Canada. He has held this position since 2015.
Managing 130 distribution centers around the globe, as well as the supply chain models for the company’s life science business.
Senior vice president, VWR Corporation; president of Europe lab and distribution service, VWR; vice president, supply chain, EMEA, Sigma-Aldrich Corporation; various positions, Frachtenkontor.
MBA, Heilbronn University; undergraduate degree in business and supply chain.
After graduating college, I spent 10 years with a freight forwarding company, where I was given an opportunity to run a location within the company that wasn’t profitable. I was 30-something and it was my first big assignment: Run it for 12 months, and at the end of that time, we’ll decide to either close it or fix it.
We were able to fix it. We had to cancel our contract with our biggest customer because we couldn’t come to terms on the price, and the contract was unprofitable. We also had to work on improving our processes. In the end, the facility became ISO certified.
I left that company to go to Sigma-Aldrich, where I consolidated three warehouses into one. After the consolidation, we shifted from a German to a European to a global approach.
Distributing products on a local or regional level is a different animal than the global level. You have to understand all the markets, cultures, and regulations.
For instance, in Europe, all freight ships by ground. In India, however, the infrastructure isn’t there. To improve service to our customers in India, we had to reduce the lead time for products manufactured outside of India.
So, instead of routing all deliveries from Europe through our India distribution center, we switched to consolidating end-customer deliveries by region within India, and then shipping them by air to 3PLs in the country’s main centers. We picked/packed deliveries to be ready to go to the end customer after customs clearance. I had to understand the customers’ needs, and line up the supply chain to meet those needs.
When I joined Sigma-Aldrich in 1994, I became responsible for sales for a number of European countries. I came to realize an effective supply chain is a powerful sales tool. If a company is easy to deal with—it’s simple to place orders and find contacts—customers are more likely to make purchases.
When you look at the entire process from when a customer calls until the order is filled, you see where improvements help. For instance, an employee in a lab may go to our website, push a button, and order one unit. In a production setting, the orders are for multiple units; they need to ship within a specific time frame, and the documentation is more complex.
To provide best-in-class service for both customer segments, a reliable supply chain that manages the end-to-end process is a base for success. For our research customers, high stock availability in combination with fast delivery service (24-hour) is key. Supply chain security, quality management, and on-time delivery also are important.
I came to Merck KGaA to be part of a company with a strong focus on improving life and because of my passion for supply chain management. With the acquisition of Sigma-Aldrich, we are one of the strongest players in the life science industry. I also have the chance to manage the transformation of two global supply chain and distribution organizations into one.
Our business is all about people. When I was younger, I’d look for technical skills when considering new hires. Today, I look at whether a person will fit with our team and has a passion for supply chain.
Managing people is difficult, but I like it. Helping people and teams be successful in understanding and meeting customers’ needs is motivating.
The Big Questions
What’s your ideal way to spend a day off?
Because I live in the Swiss countryside, I enjoy riding my motorbike, and going off-road in the mountains.
If you could learn a new language, what would it be?
Italian or Spanish. Both sound great. I’d enjoy being in Italy or Spain, and talking with everyone while visiting the local coffee shop.
What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
Keep a balance between work and life. Business is important, but your family is, too.