Author: Jill Young Miller


About Jill Young Miller

As research translator for WashU Olin Business School, my job is to highlight professors’ research by “translating” their work into stories. Before coming to Olin, I was a communications specialist at WashU’s Brown School. My background is mostly in newspapers including as a journalist for Missouri Lawyers Media, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida. Also, I am the reigning Olin Cornhole Champion.

In the United States, no manufacturing source exists for more than 80% of the active ingredients in medicines the US Food and Drug Administration deems essential for public health, according to a new study from the Center for Analytics and Business Insights (CABI) at Olin Business School.

“This creates an incredible vulnerability to our public health care system, our health care security,” said Anthony Sardella, an adjunct professor at Olin and senior research advisor at CABI. He conducted the study using proprietary data from across the industry.

Anthony Sardella

Essential medicines include antibiotics, antivirals, blood pressure pills, steroids and many others.

“We have a national security issue related to being able to maintain our public health,” Sardella said, because the US is so reliant on foreign production of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).

“The US Active Pharmaceutical Infrastructure: The Current State and Considerations to Increase US Healthcare Security” focuses on generic medications, which represent more than 80% of US prescriptions.

‘A fragile system’

APIs are the necessary components of medicines that provide patients with the drug therapy they need. The compounds are made into dosages of tablets, solutions and creams.

A June 2021 White House report on supply chain resiliency referenced an epidemic of national drug shortages occurring even before COVID and the pandemic, but “COVID really drew attention to the fragility of our pharmaceutical supply chain,” Sardella said.

The crisis highlighted US reliance on long, complex supply chains and drug shortages in the US. “We really have a fragile system.”

The first of its kind, the study relied on industrywide data from Clarivate, a data and benchmarking company in the healthcare industry that has developed a dataset—Cortellis Generics Intelligence—that provides insights across the sector.

“The data is staggering, as is the implication to our health security,” Sardella said.

Sources of COVID-19, Antivirals, Antibiotics and Top 100 Medicines in the United States. Cortellis Generics Intelligence, formerly known as Newport. Copyright Clarivate 2021

A ‘race to the bottom’

His analysis shows the following:

  • The majority of large-scale manufacturing sites of APIs are in India and China, while less than 5% of such sites are in the US. (In COVID times, both China and India have threatened to cut off or restrict shipments to the US.)
  • Of 52 COVID-related medicines, 75% had no US source of API.
  • Of the top 100 generic medicines consumed in the US, 83% had no US source of API.
  • Of the 47 most-prescribed antivirals, 97% had no US source of API.
  • Of the 111 most-prescribed antibiotics, 92% have no US source of API.

One cause for our weakness in API manufacturing is the “race to the bottom” on pricing against global players, Sardella said. Foreign manufacturers have structural advantages including greater government subsidies, lower costs and fewer regulatory burdens.

He said solutions to protect US healthcare security must address the risk by creating a critical mass of domestic manufacturing infrastructure to protect domestic interests; a level playing field for global competition; and sustainable domestic markets for American manufacturers.

“Tony’s outstanding research shows the impact of being both values-based and data-driven,” said Michael Wall, professor of practice in marketing and entrepreneurship and CABI’s co-director. “This principle is core to Olin and to CABI.”

The new study follows a previous one aimed at understanding the business, societal and governmental environment of the pharmaceutical supply chain. Sardella and Paolo De Bona, a consultant and formerly a staff scientist at WashU’s School of Medicine, conducted an extensive review of academic research, media reports and public policy statements to discern the causes of chronic pharmaceutical shortages in the United States and develop policy solutions to address them.

The work has gained the attention of policymakers in Washington, DC, and compelled the pair to join with the Brookings Institution in hosting a public forum on the subject

About the Center for Analytics and Business Insights: CABI serves as a  conduit between business, academia and the broader community, helping leaders better leverage analytics and technology to make a positive and principled difference in organizations, communities and society at large.

The pandemic made “supply chain” a familiar term as people drove up demand for exercise equipment, kitchen appliances, furniture, power tools, electronics and other things we hoped would improve our lives in isolation. As demand for such products skyrocketed, shortages followed.

Even today, botched logistics and bottlenecks in ports, ocean and air cargo are limiting global supply flows of goods.

Panos Kouvelis, director of The Boeing Center for Technology, Information, and Manufacturing and Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management

If you’re a manager in supply chain, logistics, procurement, engineering, IT, R&D or sales, Olin is here to help. Starting on August 23, we’re offering our weeklong Supply Chain and Risk Management Certificate program to hone your skills and capabilities. You’ll leave with the tools to maximize your organization’s performance.

Panos Kouvelis leads the program. He is Olin’s director of The Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation and the Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management. He’ll show you how apply the latest research-based thinking to your business challenges.

The  program examines of-the-moment issues and lets you apply what you’ve learned quickly and effectively. Class discussions include pandemic-related shortages and bottlenecks—and the resulting consumer wait times and price hikes—as well as recent supply chain issues caused by a 1,300-foot ship’s temporary blockage of the Suez Canal.

The Supply Chain and Risk Management Certificate is a five-unit cohort program delivered as real-time virtual sessions supported by Olin’s new learning platform, Learn.WashU and hosted via Zoom. Sessions will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. central time on five consecutive days. Tuition is $5,500. (Enroll five or more participants to take part in a corporate team project.)

You’ll learn how to get ahead of the game with a more resilient, responsive and efficient supply chain; an optimized sales and operations plan; strategic partnerships for a complex world; and change management tactics that work.

Are you missing out on fascinating news about Olin research highlights and thought leadership?

Let’s fix that. To subscribe to Olin Business Insights, simply sign up here. You’ll receive the newsletter every other month.

In the June issue, readers learned how consumer’s expectations changed dramatically in 2020, a surefire way to measure a firm’s innovation, and how the US could combat shortages of critical medicines. You’ll also see Olin research featured in the news, and you’ll find links to register for upcoming events.

Join us: Register to receive upcoming newsletters.

Anjan Thakor, Olin’s John E. Simon Professor of Finance, has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Financial Intermediation Research Society (FIRS) for his contributions to financial intermediation research.

FIRS is a global society of research scholars dedicated to stimulating, promoting and disseminating research on topics relating to financial intermediation. The main goal of the society is to provide a worldwide forum for those interested in financial intermediation and related topics.

FIRS seeks to bridge the gaps that exist in the flow of ideas across the different continents. It encourages bringing scholars in emerging markets into the mainstream of financial research.

Thakor delivered the keynote address at the 15th annual FIRS Conference this month.

On Principle image for featuring on the Olin Blog

How do you put a price tag on a hall-of-fame ballplayer? How do you decide to throw away one career dream for another one? How do you survive an existential crisis in your business? A new podcast from WashU Olin Business School brings listeners behind the scenes with entrepreneurs, executives and other business decision-makers, telling stories about the pivotal moments in their businesses—and how they confronted them.

The podcast—named On Principle—officially launched its teaser episode on June 8 and begins its first eight-episode season on June 15. A new episode drops every two weeks after that, with the final first-season episode scheduled to appear on September 21. Podcast producers plan to create two eight-episode seasons each year.

“We empower students to become values-based, data-driven leaders at WashU Olin,” Dean Mark P. Taylor said in the teaser episode. “On Principle really dovetails with that mission by bringing to life stories about the kind of leader our students can become.”

The first episode introduces listeners to Gerard Craft, a James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur in St. Louis, who takes us back to March 2020—and the pivotal moment when the reality of the pandemic set in.

“I am not an emotional guy. I really am not I,” Craft says at the outset of episode one. “But I have never cried so much in my entire life during this time.”

Inside the minds of decision-makers

Each podcast episode will present a business leader and the story behind a choice that leader confronted. In some cases, the choice represents a moment in time, an immediate pivot the leader was called to confront. In others, the story examines a process that unfolds over days or weeks. Visit the podcast’s website for a schedule of first-season episodes and a summary of each story. Listeners can subscribe on all their favorite podcasting apps, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

In each episode, Olin Communications Director Kurt Greenbaum, the host of On Principle, explores the broader issues with faculty members who put the decision-making lessons into context and drive home the takeaways. In the first episode, Elanor Williams, associate professor of marketing, and Peter Boumgarden, director of the Koch Center for Family Enterprise, provide their research-based insights to the situation Gerard Craft confronted at the dawn of the pandemic.

“I’m fascinated by these thoughtful and deliberative leaders, who bring process and principle to their decisions, while showing the effect their choices have on them as human beings,” Greenbaum said. “I’m lucky to be part of this new storytelling chapter at Olin.”

Olin’s differentiated approach to a podcast

The podcast was the brainchild of Paula Crews, senior associate dean for marketing and strategy. A yearlong process of research, conceptualization and production led to season one. The planning process focused heavily on finding a niche that would distinguish On Principle in the vast podcasting landscape.

“All good decision-makers apply data through the lens of their values. Great decision-makers also know how to prepare to confront the consequences of those choices,” Crews said. “On Principle not only shows listeners how a decision happens, but how it feels.”

Members of Olin’s marketing and communications department and the Center for Digital Education partnered with St. Louis-based creative agency Almanac in the conceptualization and first-season production phases for the project. The team chose to focus on pivotal decision-making moments by laying the groundwork for those moments and building context and research-based expertise around the stories.

The anticipated audience for On Principle includes early- to mid-career professionals open to change, potential students, business leaders and organizations seeking candidates for their positions.

Twenty years ago, Robert S. Mathews Jr. was a student at Olin, working toward his professional MBA.

Also 20 years ago in September, terrorists hijacked four jetliners and flew them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and crashed one in a field in Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people were killed.

“Unfortunately, things took a very bad turn in the world.”

In December 2003, Mathews, a U.S. Army reservist, was recalled to active duty to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He promised himself that, one day, he would return to Olin.

In all, Mathews served 33 years in the U.S. Army. Early in his military career, before the terrorist attacks, he commanded the Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha in the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).

In that role, he supported counter-drug and counter-terrorism training in the U.S. with Mexico and Central and South America. Ecuador was his specialty. One of the highlights of his career, he says, was participating in peace talks between Ecuador and Peru.

A word about the Army Special Forces. They’re also known as Green Berets. As Mathews himself said, “It takes an individual with a high tolerance and endurance for physical and mental pain to complete the two and half years of training.”

As the years passed, he rose in rank, took on expanding responsibilities and received numerous medals, including the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit.

Recall after recall

Let’s backtrack. During his time in the Army Reserve, and some time before the September 11 attacks, Mathews worked at G.E. Capital in Danbury, Connecticut. He was with the Commercial Equipment Finance group as a Six Sigma Black Belt.

A certified Six Sigma Black Belt leads and facilitates teams of subject matter experts on process improvement and lean initiatives that executives champion in the business.

He was then promoted to Six Sigma Master Black Belt and sent to the GE Small Business Finance Group in St. Louis, where he also started his PMBA at Olin.

Months later, the Army recalled him into active duty. In all, while he was trying to build his corporate career, he was recalled four times for a year each time. After one of those recalls, Citibank hired him in New York City as the senior vice president of national client onboarding. That lasted a year before the Army called him into service again.

Eventually, the Army pulled him back full time, into what’s called acquisitions. “Now, most people think of acquisitions like mergers and acquisitions, but the Army does it differently,” he said.

“It’s more the procurement and the contracting. We essentially are the business part of the Army that negotiates the contracts, commodities, services and minor military construction throughout the world for the different parts of the Department of Defense.”

Mathews wore two hats: Chief of staff of the Mission and Installation Contracting Command and acting commander of the 418th Contracting Support Brigade. As chief of staff, he managed the executive staff responsible for 1,500 people and a $15 billion portfolio throughout the United States. As the acting commander, he oversaw 500 people and a $3 billion portfolio for Army contracts West of the Mississippi.

A two-mile run

As of today, Mathews is officially retired from the military. Yesterday was U.S. Army Colonel Mathews’ last day in uniform.

The Army retired him because of a medical condition.

“We’re required to do a bi-annual physical fitness test to demonstrate that we’re in good working order and that we’re still able to do all the things that the military asks us to do,” he said.

“Well, in that test it was the first time in my entire military career where I couldn’t finish a two-mile run. I was having a hard time with breathing.”

An MRI on his chest revealed pulmonary embolisms in his left lung. “It was very, very dangerous.”

In Afghanistan, Mathews and others were repeatedly exposed to fumes from burn pits the Army used to get rid of waste. “The fumes and everything, we think, got into my lungs created these problems.”

The condition would prohibit him from remaining in uniform, especially because he has to be on blood thinners. It was likely that no one could stop the bleeding if he was shot or injured in an explosion.

Mathews’ career, however, is far from over.

These days, he is enrolled in Olin’s Executive MBA program: He expects to graduate in April 2022.

The Army is footing the bill as part of his vocational rehabilitation benefits.

Mathews says he’s getting the tools he needs to transition back into corporate banking. More important, he says, is having access to professors with extensive experience, along with building a network in his EMBA 56 class and with people in other EMBA classes.

“It had been 20 years,” Mathews said. “And this was my first opportunity to return to the program.”