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ALTIX INDUSTRY CHAMPIONS INTERVIEW

One on One: Discussion with a Global Industry Champion: Guerbet Group

Each quarter we sit down with industry executives and thought leaders to discuss the trends, challenges, and best practices that are transforming their businesses.

Today, we are with Caroline Couturier, Plant Manager at Guerbet

Caroline, can you please introduce yourself and your company?

Sure! I graduated with a business degree and my first job assignment was with a consulting firm specializing in industrial optimization. I initially consulted for several companies in the automotive and medical fields. I clearly enjoy being in “the thick of it”. I was eventually hired by one of the companies I had consulted for, where we adopted an organizational approach based on competency. This involved defining all the necessary functions for running the production lines, creating detailed job descriptions, reviewing salary structures, and conducting a comprehensive reorganization.

I joined Guerbet in the US three years ago as Plant Director for our site in Cincinnati which produces injection solutions and urology suites. After Guerbet acquired four sites from Mallinckrodt’s contrast media and delivery system (CMDS) in 2015, our company went from a French company with 1,500 employees to an international company with over 2,800 employees. One of my challenges was to ensure that this Cincinnati site becomes fully integrated into the Guerbet group. Since then, we have modernized the building, reorganized production, and improved the efficiency of our site operations. 

Guerbet is a French healthcare company that supports healthcare professionals specializing in diagnostic and interventional imaging. We develop and market contrast media, delivery systems, medical devices, and digital solutions. Listed on the Euronext segment B, the Guerbet Group generates $753 million in revenue. Guerbet owns 8 specialized manufacturing facilities: Our sites in Marans and Lanester (France), and Dublin (Ireland) manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients for our MRI, X-ray, and interventional imaging product range. Our sites in Aulnay-sous-Bois (France), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and Raleigh (USA), are dedicated to the fill-and-finish process of contrast media. Our site here in Cincinnati is dedicated to imaging solutions (assembly of injectors and urology suites) and services.

Guerbet distributes its products and services across 5 continents with a direct presence in key markets. Here’s an interesting fact for you: Every second, a patient around the world undergoes an imaging procedure with a Guerbet product.

What are some key factors that contribute to the overall success and sustainability of your company?

There are a few important elements that contribute to our company’s success: Within our company, our stable, long-term ownership structure and extensive expertise which spans 100 years are both fundamental.

The Cincinnati site, which has also been based in the region for over 100 years, has been able to attract and retain talents. The site placed value on long-tenured employees. We recognize the benefits of knowledge, mentorship, and productivity. We even have 6 employees with more than 30 years of experience here!

We drive our activities with a lot of operational excellence methodologies. Our consistent commitment to getting things done effectively also significantly contributes to our company’s accomplishments.

Specifically, how does Guerbet approach the integration of safety measures and protocols into its daily operations, and what role does fostering a safety-conscious culture play in achieving these goals?

Safety is our priority in everything we do! We need to ensure that our work environment is safe and supportive for our employees.  

We are actively cultivating a safety-conscious culture. Our aim is to embed safety deeply into our culture. It’s not just about protocols; safety is becoming an integral part of who we are and how we operate. An effective tool we have on-site is our visual orange “T-Card” system [safety idea / near miss identification] available to all and progress is tracked on a Visual Board in the center of the site. We want to make sure that our diligence is highly visible to all.

Could you please touch upon a factor that underlines the foundation of successful operations and is consistently woven into the fabric of your manufacturing site?  

Executing well-defined daily routines is essential to achieve our safety and production goals.

As an example, our daily shifts start at 7 a.m. with a standing meeting (Tier 1) where we review the last 24 hours and plan the next 24 hours. Each meeting starts with safety, then communication, quality, delivery, and cost.

On top of that, every day at 9 a.m., for 15 minutes, we have a (Tier 3) manufacturing meeting where we gather all key functions of the site and follow our KPI on a Visual Board. This Visual Management helps everyone clearly understand our current position, commit to, and adjust the activity when needed, and it also helps us identify any potential risks. Every day, we cover a new safety briefing to ensure people will listen and pay attention.

As a leader, I strongly believe routines, clear KPI’s and visual management are essential to promptly detecting issues and for being finally, accurate and reliable.

How do you measure the success of outstanding safety implementation and how do you motivate people to care about safety as much as your company does?

We have a comprehensive approach to measuring the success of our safety implementation, using both leading and lagging indicators. Leading indicators are marked by our visual orange “T-Card” system, serving as a visible reminder for everyone. This system helps create awareness and emphasize the importance of safety. On the lagging side, we marked a significant milestone in June with 1,400 days without any OSHA recordable incidents! We understand that incidents are not completely avoidable, but our focus is on education and prevention, by addressing all improvements known to minimize risks and impacts.

We have also implemented visual tools like the Kamishibai board (a Lean Manufacturing tool we use to conduct brief 5-minute checkpoints that focus on housekeeping), a visual and living tool that employs cards with the picture of the standard requested. This tool aids in workstation checks and discussions with employees. This helps to pinpoint areas of concern and set priorities. Another collective initiative is the health and safety fair. This event dedicates an entire day to reviewing our safety practices comprehensively. A good way to combine Safety and good relationships.

In the context of building a motivated and engaged workforce, could you please share some insights into how your company nurtures a sense of belonging and purpose among its employees?

In 2021, our company took a significant step towards fostering a motivated and engaged workforce by embracing a clear sense of purpose. This initiative was started by our CEO and was very successful.  Our site was chosen as one of the pilots for this purpose-driven approach, which provided us with valuable insights into the reasons behind our actions. Understanding the ‘why’ behind our activities.

One initiative focused on exploring why individuals who had been with us for decades continued to come to work each day. Through testimonials, we celebrated the camaraderie and positive atmosphere among colleagues. A notable initiative involved planting trees for the twelve employees who dedicated more than 30 years to the company.

This year we launched a joint project that combined teamwork with sustainability. This project introduced a Guerbet mascot to represent our shared dedication. The challenge was to build the mascot entirely from recycled materials sourced from the site. We focus on creating an environment where employees enjoy their time, especially considering the amount of time spent on the company premises. It was great to see our employees passionately involved, showing their commitment to the environment and their family bonds.

We also uphold strong, longstanding traditions like our annual Thanksgiving celebration. Our unique tradition involves the management personally serving all employees during the turkey feast.

Employee engagement and satisfaction are vital for sustained success. Can you elaborate on how your company supports internal mobility and growth opportunities for its employees?

Sure! Making sure our employees are happy and involved is very important for our long-term success. Let me explain how we help our employees grow and move up in the company:

Each manager has a personal goal to work on. It could be something like learning project management, better understanding of our ERP, time management or even learning French. We make sure everyone does at least one thing to improve themselves. We also focus on helping employees figure out what they enjoy and want to do in their careers. Internal mobility is essential and in the past 18 months, 10 employees switched to new roles within the site. We have dedicated groups – like career committees, who help with career and succession planning.

We also try to have as many of our hourly workers to be part of a annual Kaizen event as possible. Since we’re a smaller site, it’s important for everyone to be able to perform different tasks. This helps us be more flexible, involved, and ready for anything.

In manufacturing, processes are pivotal, yet agility is crucial for success. How do you approach ensuring that the team remains motivated and engaged while executing the company’s vision, particularly in the dynamic environment of the manufacturing world?

Absolutely, manufacturing relies on processes, yet staying flexible is super important for success. Let me explain an example of what we do to keep our team engaged:

Aligned with the group’s ambition and our industrial key objectives, we set up a big matrix for our site with all our plans displayed on it (Hoshin Kanri methodology). To define, execute, and review it, we get more people involved than only the site leadership team, including middle management and other key contributors. And every 3 months, in breakout sessions, we revisit our initiatives during a half day. This exercise is instrumental in strengthening the sense of execution. Starting at the end of September, we look back at what we’ve achieved, figure out what challenges are left, and start planning out the next year. We try to use the purpose and the reason behind what we do.

Thank you so much for sharing all these steps of your successful journey, Caroline. Would you mind sharing your vision for the next challenges you are addressing in the coming 2 to 3 years?

Looking ahead to the next 2 to 3 years, our vision is set on several challenges. First, a primary goal is to continue our work on the EHS roadmap we began. We’re determined to complete it together. A big part of this involves a redesign of the facility’s layout.

Additionally, there’s a significant change coming – the rollout of SAP. This is planned for fall 2024, marking a major transformation for us.

We’re also focusing on improving some production line efficiency and launching new products. This is crucial for our growth and development. These are the main areas we’ll be tackling in the next few years. Thank you for your interest in our journey.

As a leader, you are challenged in many ways – how do you personally find your balance and keep your energy level high and a positive/forward-thinking mindset even in the most difficult times?

Personally, I find a lot of balance in running and traveling with my family. I’m also an extrovert, so working with my team energizes me. Giving perspectives and projecting the team forward is something I truly enjoy. I also appreciate blending short-term goals with long-term vision. The process of challenging ideas and being open to challenges keeps me engaged and forward-thinking.

Thank you again, Caroline, for being with us today and allowing for this Champions Interview! We are excited and honored to feature you and Guerbet Group in the Altix Access Newsletter and Industry Champion Interview!

About Guerbet Group:

Guerbet is a French-owned, international pharmaceutical group that has been supporting healthcare professionals specializing in diagnostic and interventional imaging since 1926. Guerbet develops and markets contrast media, delivery systems, medical devices, and related solutions adapted to their needs. Recognized as a leading expert in medical imaging worldwide, Guerbet offers a full range of medical solutions and services in their field.