“Boris and Eva supplied the horsepower”

Students develop data model for the operations strategy of Roche Diagnostics in Switzerland

After completing their studies in civil engineering, Boris Parmentier and Eva Roos went on to enrol in a Masters in General Management. They knew exactly what they wanted from their in-company project (ICP): experience working abroad, preferably in supply chain management. So they started searching. Through our alumni database, they came into contact with Steven Baekelandt, Director of Global Operations Strategy at Roche Diagnostics in Switzerland. “I have really good memories of my own Masters in General Management and the ICP. I understand the importance of a successful ICP, so when they contacted me I was immediately prepared to help them.” However, that was not the only reason. Boris and Steven look back on their eight-week collaboration.

Boris Parmentier and Eva Roos at Roche Diagnostics

First impression: a definite yes!

“To me, their meticulously prepared email and the brochure they put together to introduce themselves as a team were instant proof of their motivation and business acumen”, recalls Steven. “It was clear that these are two people who like to be in control. Additionally, the fact that they were specifically looking for international experience and prepared to live abroad was a plus point. Their profile was another distinct advantage: general management students at Vlerick are strong candidates who have a lot to offer an organisation like ours.”

Centralised or decentralised?

Steven Baekelandt - Roche DiagnosticsRoche has two virtually independently divisions: Pharmaceuticals and Diagnostics. Roche Diagnostics develops, produces and markets innovative equipment for diagnostic tests along with the accompanying reagents. The Global Operations department is responsible for the planning, production and logistics of all these products. Steven’s team determines the strategy to be adopted by Global Operations: “Which products are manufactured where? Are they produced them at our own facilities or is production outsourced? In other words: what does our production network look like? Another question which we have been trying to answer for some time, and for which we invited Boris and Eva on board, is whether regional production is advantageous. We often produce at one specific site for the entire global market. Would it make sense to have these products manufactured locally in Asia, America or Europe? How do the costs weigh up against the profits – the advantages of being closer to the consumer? Boris and Eva were given the task of developing a data model to analyse the greatest advantages for us.”

Future-proof

Although the assignment was clear, there was a lot more to it than immediately met the eye, Boris recalls: “It wasn’t just a question of weighing the economies of scale associated with centralised production against the cost of transport, which increase in proportion to the distance covered, because economies of scale also apply to transport costs. Moreover, we were asked to build up the model using a step-by-step approach. We started with incomplete data sets and, as more and more information became available, we were able to incorporate it into the model and to start refining and optimising it.”

“The final model is parametric, which makes it easy to make new simulations by adjusting specific parameters. Take shipping costs, for example, which are determined by weight and volume, but also by the nature of a product – the latter has an impact on import duties, which also influence transport costs.”

Their model is both parametric and future-proof: “Roche Diagnostics can use it for their current portfolio, but also in the development of a new product with a view to obtaining an initial indication of the potential advantages and disadvantages of centralised or decentralised production”, says Boris. He adds: “It was a fantastic opportunity for two recent graduates to work at a level that has a global impact, and to be able to get into discussions and work together with people who appreciate your input and are actually using it today.”

Impact

Steven smiles. “You could really see that Boris and Eva wanted to make a concrete contribution. And that’s exactly what they did. They supplied the necessary horsepower for this project. Their model gave us insights that we did not have before. I cannot discuss the details, but we will certainly expand on what they have developed. Of course, you cannot expect to obtain concrete results immediately when working on projects like these. A decision that has an impact on our production network is not taken after completing a project that only lasted a few months. However, the long-term impact of strategic analyses like these should certainly not be underestimated. If they are interested to find out exactly what has changed, they should give us a call in a couple of years’ time.”

Essential preconditions

The project was a success, but success does not materialise out of thin air. The input and capacities of the students are of crucial importance, but the company also has an important responsibility, Steven believes: “When a company invites students for an ICP it must decide in advance what is feasible, and what can be reasonably achieved in a period of only eight weeks. You need to come up with a clear assignment so that they can get to work immediately. Additionally, you should not assume that these students will simply set up shop in an office and draw up a plan of their own. This might work at a smaller company, but at an organisation like ours they would be swamped by information, and they need a network to fall back on. This is why it was so important for Boris and Eva to be integrated into our team. In short, a company can only get the most out of a project like this if it puts enough time into providing the necessary guidance.”

Boris is still enthusiastic about the guidance and support he was given at Roche Diagnostics, both in the period leading up to and during the project. “Steven immediately showed us the ropes, and it is a good thing he did. If we had had to get started on our own in a company of this size and with such an extensive product portfolio, we would never have been able to complete our project in eight weeks. Eva and I had an excellent relationship with Steven. He also helped us find our way around Zurich and helped us with all sorts of paperwork.” Boris was also enthusiastic about that team at Vlerick: “They really go the extra mile to make sure that your ICP will be a success. And they take all the practical problems off your hands so that you can focus on your project.”

Unforgettable

Boris and Eva have gained important experience. According to Boris, being away from home also had its advantages. “Because we were separated from our friends and family, we were really able to focus on the project. However, if we needed to take a break we immediately felt like we were on holiday. You only need to travel half an hour from Zurich to be surrounded by nature. In the evenings, after work, we could enjoy a picnic by the water. This is something we would never do it home. We spent five days a week working at Roche Diagnostics. On Saturdays we worked on our report and on Sundays we put on our swimwear and sunglasses and off we went. Steven made sure that we were able to relax a little and benefit from our experience abroad.”
 
“Besides being very interesting in terms of content, I have also learned an incredible amount from the project: working in a big international organisation like this (the ten people in our team came from five different countries), staying abroad, learning to chart your own course: all of this was a truly unforgettable experience. If I could do it again, I would jump at the chance!” he concludes.

Worth repeating

Steven feels the same way: “I am speaking for the entire team as well as myself when I say that we are very pleased with our collaboration with Boris and Eva. Of course that has a lot to do with their motivation and dedication. They adopted a professional approach right from the start and spent a great deal of time and effort ensuring the success of their project. The results make the time that we have put into it ourselves more than worthwhile. Would we recommend this? Is it worth repeating? Absolutely! As a matter of fact, we are currently discussing a new ICP with the School.”

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