The Importance of Strong Supplier Relationships

By Rich Weissman

September 26, 2011 at 6:52 AM

As the director of materials management for Boston’s world renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, John Willi is very much aware that the performance of his organization, and his suppliers, have a direct result on patient care. “Our suppliers completely understand the work we do directly impacts cancer patients and cancer research,” says Willi. “We take that responsibility very seriously and our suppliers do as well. We often leverage our brand, and our reputation, to attract best-in-class suppliers.”

Willi, who has been with Dana-Farber for almost four years, has a strong background in global supply management, having held senior positions with Nuance Communications and Draper Labs. With a B.S. in finance and an MBA, Willi took a circuitous route to procurement, beginning his business career in finance. But when Draper Labs needed some additional expertise in procurement, he jumped at the chance and has not looked back since. His commitment to professionalism has earned him a variety of professional certifications including CPCM, C.P.M., A.P.P. and CMPR certifications. 

At Dana-Farber, Willi and his staff of 30+ are responsible for tactical and strategic purchasing, logistics and warehousing, and inventory control. He is also responsible for specialized services including central sterilization, biomedical engineering, and food services, including dietary and nutrition services. “Our annual spend is in excess of $500,000 and through a centralized effort we focus on operating, administrative, and MRO purchases,” he says. “We also have responsibility for capital projects and that is where a lot of my attention is these days.” 

The changes in healthcare laws are beginning to seriously impact working capital and Willi is not sure of the long-term implications. But he and his suppliers are on high alert these days. “This business segment can be the most rewarding and also the most challenging,” says Willi. “Dana-Farber is recognized nationally as a leader in healthcare and I feel a responsibility to develop our supply management expertise to support that leadership.”  

Willi’s focus is on staff development, utilizing the ‘people, process, and systems’ approach to continuous organizational improvement. Dana-Farber uses ERP based e-procurement applications as well as third-party applications. “We will reorganize, retrain, and add new technology whenever appropriate,” he notes. But soft skills are important as well. “Being able to communicate well, including making clear and compelling presentations, is critical to establishing the necessary internal and external rapport to drive successful initiatives.”

Willi’s fundamental approach to effective supply management is based squarely on strong supplier relationships. “We have been successful in creating strong relationships and partnerships over the long term,” he says. “We focus on helping our key suppliers to gain market share, realizing that a strong supplier has more to contribute to our success, including cost reductions and performance improvements.” Willi notes that Dana-Farber is a highly sought after account because of their notoriety. “We do know that the business landscape will be more difficult, with less reimbursement and lower margins,” he says. “We need to migrate to a lower cost model and our suppliers are a big part of that approach. They are fully aware of the pressures in the healthcare business and we brainstorm with them on how to maximize savings. There is a real give and take.”



Tags: Strategic sourcing MRO/indirect Procurement Healthcare sourcing
Category: News Article

Rich Weissman


Endicott College Assistant Professor Rich Weissman teaches management courses for the School of Business and the Van Loan Graduate School. He is also the director of corporate education, which includes the Center for Leadership, Endicott’s management development institute. He is vice chair of the planning committee and also serves on the technology committee and the Institution Review Board.  A practitioner turned educator, Weissman has more than 25 years of experience in all facets of procurement and supply chain management. He has held positions with large business units of Fortune 500 companies, medium-sized contract manufacturing companies, small venture-backed Internet startup firms, and third-party procurement, consulting and strategic sourcing firms. 

Rich holds an M.S. in Management from Lesley University and a B.A. in Economics from Rutgers University. He is past president of the Purchasing Management Association of Boston and a recipient of the Harry J. Graham Memorial Award, the highest honor bestowed by the association.

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