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People Development: Lack of Today and Opportunity for Tomorrow

2 Mar 2015

Procurement Skills Gap

An Interview with Steven Valenti


Name: Steven ValentiFocus Life Science

Title: Director - Lead Consultant

Company: Focus Life Science



Steven ValentiniI was drawn to Life Sciences because we are all going to need some sort of medicine and help with our lives at some point. Chronic disease makes up about 70% of all deaths now, so at one point when we are old, we will need medicines from the Life Sciences Sector to help us

Career overview

Pre-1995 Former PGA Golfer - 3 tournament wins
1995 HND Purchasing at Glasgow College of Commerce followed by BA (Hons) Procurement & Supply Chain at University of Northumbria
1999 Joined Motorola on graduate programme, progressed to Project manager & MCIPS and MCILT Chartered Member
2004 Joined Bausch & Lomb working in the USA
2006 Joined Intercell Biotechnology
2010 Started an interim role at CooperVision
2010 Head hunted by Alere Technology – Head of Supply Chain
2014 Started Focus Life Science



In 1996 I graduated from Glasgow College of Commerce with a HND in Purchasing & Supply Chain which was the first of its kind in Scotland, following on from a short time as a professional golfer. I then attended Newcastle business school to complete a honours degree in Supply Chain Management, as well as completing the MCIPS diploma, which was a time 100% dedicated to study.  I’ve recently completed a degree in Game Theory.

Career Timeline


Started on the fast track graduate programme at Motorola, which allowed people from different educational backgrounds to be coached and developed in six sigma lean thinking. I stayed there for a couple of years, where I spent a year in Singapore, purchasing electronics and plastics from Asian suppliers which were going to be made into mobile phones in Scotland. Unfortunately I was made redundant along with 40,000 other people at that time.  However I was fortune enough to have found a job and start at Bausch & Lomb on the Monday.


This was my first exposure to the Life Science sector, where I stayed for 5 years, 2 of which were spent in the central headquarters in New York, where I was Head of Procurement. At that time my family moved over with me. At that time I looked after the Corporate and Commercial which had a spend coverage of over $100million, across Canada, the US and Latin America.

The biggest difficulty I faced was coming from an Operations background with lots of matrix with key indicators telling you were things are working well in purchasing in terms of cost reductions and price variations however on the indirect spend, it is much more difficult to measure as it is much more subjective. For example, buying space in a Newspaper, it is almost impossible to measure the success of that in relation to the impact to the business. However extremely interesting working across various parts of the America’s and dealing with various cultures on a daily basis.


At this point in my career I joint Intercell (now known at Valneva). This was the most challenging part of my career from a Supply Chain perspective. They were developing a pandemic vaccine .   This was a great opportunity to work with a company during the product regulatory licensure process and also attempt something that no other BioTech company had done before – go for concurrent US and European approval. The reason companies don’t normally do this is because, apart from being very difficult, the two sets of regulations on each side of the Atlantic are not 100% harmonised.  

This part of the journey was extremely exciting; it was about designing and validating a biologics Supply Chain that would meet FDA and MHRA expectations. This meant very detailed analysis of prospective Suppliers; establishment of good practises within your supply chain, you have to have scientific defensible data to why you have selected certain suppliers.  Rigorous due diligence process looking at compliance & financials of the prospective suppliers. This took 4 years to develop the Supply Chain and the team. We gained FDA approval and launched the product which is now being used around the world.


Following on from Intercell I did some consulting work down in Southampton however I was approached by Alere Technologies. They had received some of the most significant funding in Scotland , almost £35million, to develop, qualify and market the world’s first finger stick immunoassay for the measurement of BNP. This system (called HeartCheck) allowed patients to take a quick test without leaving home and the results are sent to the clinician who decides if intervention is required.

The product achieved CE marking and was launched in 2011 and gained momentum in markets around the world.  Sadly, a corporate decision was made to remove it from the market and the factory in Stirling closed on March 5th 2015.


Following on from Alere Technologies, I set up a consultancy firm called Focus Life Science. This company is designed to combine operations and regulatory affairs to help manufacturing and engineering firms to improve GMP quality performance, lower costs and to bring new products from feasibility to production.  


Have you noticed a prevalent skills gap for procurement and supply chain professionals in the Life Science sector?

In the Biotechnology area there are not a lot of people working in Supply Chain with the specific exposure and skills to meet the level of compliance required when dealing with the FDA and MHRA.

It is very difficult to find people with this exact skill sets which means bringing in FDA consultants to teach what the FDA inspectors are going to look for, how to handle an interrogation and the reasons behind these questions. We do lots of fake audits to ensure people were ready to answer any questions they may face, however doing this in a safe environment allows the team to learn and gain feedback. One of the main success factors is giving people confidence that they are the experts in their procedures and all they need to show is they are in compliance with them.

The Scottish life science sector has a purchasing spend of about £2 billion and this will grow to about £3b if we achieve our 2020 growth vision.  We have new technologies and life changing products in the pipeline. There are great opportunities in the supply chain area, as per the subject of the interview.

However, there is also a great people development gap.  New supply chain people coming in do not have the necessary skills.  None of our 18 Universities are teaching these skills and the CIPS, at the moment, don’t provide for the life sciences in their tailored training product.

This has resulted in a ‘crisis of identity’ in supply chain in the sector.  Most life science firms are led by people from a scientific or technical back ground so supply chain is viewed as the transactional side of the business, ordering the materials and shipping the goods. Ordering and shipping are required to run any firm but we need to do much better by seeking out and delivering more value to the wider business.


What have been your career highlights to date?

  • Opportunity to live and work in America and Asia and experience different cultures and countries
  • Working on the Ixiaro Vaccine whichis still the only approved vaccine in the world for that particular virus
  • All of the people I hired have  gone on to been promoted and achive success
  • Designing and validating new supply chains for ‘world first’ products and managing clinical trials for world leading institutes like the Duke Medical University and the Mayo Clinics.
  • Working with highly skilled professionals in the science and medical areas
  • Ability to make a change in the wider health care economy, better and more efficient supply chain mean treatments in the right place at a lower cost.


What advice would you give to procurement and supply chain professionals?

  • Choose who you want to work for and learn as much as you can about the business, the market and the competition.
  • Read the regulations you are governed by and look for, and close, gaps in your business.  This will show value beyond traditional supply chain by developing a value chain.
  • Get involved with R&D projects at the early stage and Learn the technical language  used by the experts in your business.  Develop and present stratified cost models to R&D, all Purchasers should be able to do this.
  • Be knowledgeable and accountable. Look to add value beyond the day-to-day job
  • Be involved and ask for opportunities to get in at the early stage of whats going on I the business 
  • Find a strong industry mentor and as for feedback on what you do well and what you can do better

My first two jobs taught me, that it’s great to do a great job and be respected but at the will of anybody else around the world it could immediately be stopped. Which is something you have to accept and look for the next opportunity.  In a Manufacturing environment all the machines are on wheels and a lot of companies work on short term leases, to allow them to be agile and move quickly. 

Focus on what you are doing today but always be looking around the corner for tomorrow.  Educate yourself not only on the firm you work for but also on the customers and the wider industry.  In the life sciences there is a strong emphasis on getting it ‘right first time’ so planning and collaboration is key.


We would like to thank Steven for taking part in this interview.


Did you know these products were invented in Scotland?

  • Bausch & Lomb invented the Daily disposable contact lenses (also the first company to gain FDA approval for the contact lenses in Japan – significant win due to the level of standards)
  • MediSense invented the home pregnancy test (sold to SelfCare), blood sugar test devise for diabetics (sold to Johnson & Johnson)
  • Alexander Fleming  invented Penicillin

Please feel free to comment below on any key points of the interview or any questions you many have. Make sure to check back next month where we will be interviewing another procurement and supply chain thought leader.

Considering a career change? Browse our latest procurement and supply chain jobs.

Read the other interviews in our "Interview With" series:


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