You may not think much about it, but almost everything made around you has been through a long journey. The engines of the planes in the sky, the power plants that run the city’s electricity, and even the sensors doctors use for CT scans. All of these components have been thoroughly designed, tested, sourced for materials, tested again, and then delivered to the customer.
No one at GE Healthcare thinks about this more than Tommy Mitchell. As the organization’s vice president of procurement, Mitchell and his team perform a balancing act of delivering the best quality healthcare while reducing costs so patients and customers can afford their care. “But the two can be solved together. Every industry has something they’re working on, but in the healthcare industries, it’s more acute—we can’t provide healthcare if it’s too expensive.”
GE Healthcare has existed for nearly a century, the result of a merger between Victor Electric and General Electric, two of the biggest X-ray tube manufacturers at the time. Today, GE Healthcare also develops technology such as MRI machines, CT machines, and ultrasound, in addition to X-Ray tubes to name a few. In recent years, GE believed its healthcare business wasn’t growing as much as it could, so Mitchell was brought in to help. “I came in with a bunch of people and tried to get healthcare moving again. Part of that was product cost and sourcing.”
Mitchell was already a twenty-three-year supply chain veteran at GE when he was offered the position. He had started working at the company while pursuing a manufacturing engineering degree at Boston University. GE had a training program for students that introduced them to supply chains in aviation, from production and quality control to process engineering. “Every six months you got a new role, so you get four to five years of experience in two years,” he says.
For the first decade at GE, Mitchell worked in the company’s aviation sector, first in Massachusetts, then in New Hampshire, then North Carolina. Around the same time, GE was pushing its Six Sigma philosophy to its leaders, leading Mitchell to work in finance, sales, and other areas of the business. During the process, he got insight into how important sourcing and procurement was to the supply chain.
Mitchell’s journey in developing supply chains through procurement brought him first to Shanghai, China, for three years, Germany for four, and then India for three before returning to the US to work on supply chains for the power industry. “To go into a different country, with a different culture, and translating it into a local perspective, was invaluable. We really try to understand local requirements and operate locally,” Mitchell says. “Even though we’re a global player, we want to be a regional brand.”
“We have about forty-five manufacturing sites within healthcare all over the world, in more than twenty countries. That’s the biggest challenge—being global and yet maintaining the same standard in all those facilities.”
GE Healthcare operates in more than 140 countries. Because of its global scale, one of Mitchell’s main concerns is maintaining the company’s reputation and adhering to quality across the globe. For example, while Germany has a more controlled and rigid approach to its processes, India has a more entrepreneurial and creative approach. On top of all this, each country has its own regulatory body that GE Healthcare has to accommodate.
“We have about forty-five manufacturing sites within healthcare all over the world, in more than twenty countries,” he says. “That’s the biggest challenge—being global and yet maintaining the same standard in all those facilities.”
Another challenge is the conflicting pace of progress between the medical industry and the technology it uses. “We have a product that lasts more than twenty years, but the industry that makes those components change every two to three years because it moves so much faster.”
The key, Mitchell says, is product vitality, to drive product development cycles increasingly faster. Take an MR system for example. Instead of reinventing the entire system each time, GE Healthcare builds off a common operating platform and iterates improvements over the years. “With that iterative approach, we can incorporate technology faster and avoid obsolescence,” he says.
Perhaps the most exciting challenge is GE Healthcare’s commitment to developing technologies and solutions that enable precision health, the ability to diagnose exact issues and develop precision treatments. But before we can get to that point, Mitchell says, companies will have to find ways to reduce costs associated with machinery, such as precision imaging.
“We’re fundamental in producing equipment that provides precision images,” he says. “We’re integral in designing and testing something. If you can’t produce it in volume at a reasonable cost, it doesn’t have the same impact. Precision health will be revolutionary, because it touches everyone.”
Mitchell’s responsibilities at GE Healthcare have only just begun, and in the following year, he will add material planning and logistics to his sourcing responsibilities. “We’re not just building widgets and trying to sell it with more features,” he says. “We’re trying to put a structure in place across the world that helps change lives.”