Embracing Change In Uncertain Times
“To be a change advocate and leader, because the world is ever moving, for us to be successful as a company, as a team, we need to be comfortable with what’s moving around us. We need to move and see what needs to change in order to improve. I will admit I navigate toward change, I’m not afraid of it, change is inevitable,” says Susanna Webber, senior vice president and chief procurement officer for the global supplier management group at global research-intensive biopharmaceutical company Merck & Co.
With that winning attitude, Webber, who brings more than 20 years of global experience, both in supply chain management and procurement, has taken on the reins of her new position as of February this year, several key priorities driving her leadership perspective. “One is identifying and integrating disruptive digital capabilities to drive business benefits, to look at how we work and how we can guard efficiency and improvement in business,” she says.
“Closely connected with focusing on digitization in driving innovation, is driving it in all facets of how we work across the business as the basis of our core strategy’s competitive advantage. Changing the way that we work can be a form of innovation,” she shares. Another guiding factor is creating an inclusive and diverse environment focusing on talent. “Our focus on open, transparent organization and environment is paramount. We are a support function within the organization, it is critical how we show up in the business.”
“Our sustainability efforts, beyond ourselves and the walls of our company, is really looking at how we can move the needle in respect to being there for the community that we work in,” she adds. “When we think of Merck and the business that we are in, we touch people all over the world with respect to our patients. It’s important for us as a supply management group how that looks from our supply chain and how are we able to mirror that so that we are truly touching the community that we all live and work within.”
Webber admits though that this year has brought some modifications to her approach. This includes a clear focus on the company and its people as working from home has changed how we stay connected. “But it also has accelerated the importance of our digitization and availability to data and information that we work with both internally and with our supply base. For all of these, the levers have been pulled a bit differently and challenged in the right direction,” she says.
Shifting course isn’t a new challenge for Webber, who has also worked in finance, operations, sales and business development, and first joined Merck in 2015 as the vice president for the indirect sourcing and operations team. Prior to that, she enjoyed an almost 18-year stint at American vehicle manufacturer General Motors Co. immersed in procurement, supply chain and operational roles, that also took her overseas thrice to Europe. During her time at GM, the majority of global responsibility resided in the U.S. Webber’s leadership role moved her overseas to Germany and Russia, providing the opportunity to demonstrate that finding the right talent for the role is vital. Webber was also at GM during its financial bankruptcy in 2009, leading the procurement and supply chain team through a time of intense pressure.
Such varied experiences aided Webber’s move from one industry to the other with relative ease and speaks volumes of her strengths and courage at the leadership level. But she is quick to point out her leadership role models reside closer home. “I consider a lot of who I am comes from my parents,” she shares. “My mother worked for a university and instilled in me that it is important to have a voice, be strong and not be afraid to stand up for what you believe in. My father was in corporate and instilled in me, by me being able to see him, how he engaged with his business partners or colleagues and clients…it’s about relationships, understanding others in order to effectively work and accomplish what you want.”
She holds those lessons close to heart as she shares the most satisfying aspects of her role today. “One is the opportunity to lead this strong group of individuals that have many different skills and capabilities, and to be the leader that enables pulling those capabilities out and helping them grow and develop is incredibly satisfying. The other is how to focus on the relationships of our suppliers and strengthening the partnerships across our organization that brings value and opportunity to the company.”
When addressing challenges facing the diversity and inclusion and supplier diversity sectors in the future, Webber highlights embracing and leveraging technology. “That is critical as we shift to a more digital environment, we all need to know what it means to our business and understand how technology will be able to help solve problems or create new opportunities.” Another challenge she sees is the ability to create joint ventures and partnerships. “It’s through the partnerships and the ability to work collectively to meet a need, that allows possibility for achieving something on a bigger scale,” she says.
A strong team player, collaborator and relationship builder, Webber’s focus in the future is on impactful relationships across Merck’s global footprint. She says, “I am tremendously humbled by the opportunity to lead, and proud of my organization, people and the work we do. 2020 has been an interesting test to our perseverance and tenacity…for all we have experienced in 2020, I am super excited for what the future will bring.”
Closely connected with focusing on digitization in driving innovation, is driving it in all facets of how we work across the business as the basis of our core strategy’s competitive advantage. Changing the way that we work can be a form of innovation.