The hiring of Julius Heil stunned a few people in healthcare supply chain circles. Last May he replaced longtime CEO Brent Johnson at Intalere, the St. Louis-based group purchasing organization owned by Intermountain Healthcare, a 22-hospital integrated health system based in Salt lake City.
Heil had very little healthcare experience before getting the job. His most recent work was as a supply chain consultant in multiple industries. Before that he was running logistics for a refrigerated warehousing company based in New Jersey.
Healthcare supply chain experts say that kind of journey should be more common, because the industry needs an infusion of new ideas.
Heil has surrounded himself with direct-reports with significant healthcare knowledge to help him absorb the important nuances of the industry. But he considers his lack of personal experience more of an asset than a deficit. “I'm not bound to any supply chain-related paradigm in healthcare,” he said. “I naturally can challenge (the status quo) because there's nothing telling me not to.”
Hospital and health system executives have been reluctant to hire top supply chain leaders from outside of healthcare. The job has evolved from a simple purchasing and logistics role to one that requires leaders to consolidate physician preferences for products and consider quality and long-term value beyond a product's sticker price. Some would say that the transformation calls for more healthcare acumen than ever. But despite these more complex demands, healthcare supply chain leaders aren't using advanced technologies and best practices that have become commonplace in other industries, experts say.
“Today (supply chain) looks more like engineering, a STEM-based field, than it ever was from a blocking-and-tackling perspective,” Heil said. “If you can't handle the math, you can't actually be a visionary or a thought provoker in the supply chain industry today.”
Supply chain VPs or chief purchasing officers at hospitals have traditionally worked their way up from initial jobs on the loading dock. In more sophisticated industries, supply chain executives often have formal degrees in supply chain or logistics. The changes that have taken place in healthcare mean legacy supply chain professionals may need more formal education or advanced experience to deal with modern challenges, said Mehrab Deboo, an executive recruiter and a principal in the Global Supply Chain Center of Expertise at Korn Ferry.