By Ronald Hedley
Barry Kull is Associate Director of Category Management-Procurement at Novo Nordisk. I recently sat down with him to discuss cooperative ecosystems. Surprisingly, our conversation evolved into a transcendental exploration of the personal growth one experiences when living life to the fullest. Don’t worry, though, we did get around to talking about cooperative ecosystems.
Kull is an avid reader, who exudes an eclectic wisdom gleaned from his many experiences. “Life is a journey, and my personal journey right now is about understanding myself and growth and expansion, my thought patterns and process, really activating different parts of my brain and body. It feels awesome,” said Kull.
Kull was a history major at Pennsylvania State University and his love of history has not dwindled. Some of his favorite historical reads are 1776 by David McCullough, Empire of the Summer Moon by S C. Gwynn, and The Greatest: My Own Story by Muhammad Ali and Richard Durham. Kull stated, “What gets me about Ali was his tenacity, his toughness. He was an elegant person. He could go from beating Sonny Liston to poetry, to thinking about his influence on current events and society.”
Kull recently completed reading Change By Design by Tim Brown and Barry Tapp. “It’s along the theme of creative destruction, engineering, and turning a need into a demand.” The book has influenced Kull’s vision of procurement. “I look at positive or creative disruption, or creative destruction, if you will. If you have a process or a way of working, sometimes you need to blow it up and put it back together. A lot of times, you find opportunity there,” said Kull.
Kull has not always been so in tune with his world and the people in it. His personal evolution, coupled with his professional development, has led him to developing and promoting the idea of cooperative ecosystems within a supply chain. As such, Kull divides his career and personal journey into three parts.
Part 1: Early Career
“When I started out, one of the first procurement tools I learned about was the Request for Proposal (RFP). I was very focused on using the RFP to drive the best price. It was all about savings. I would pound suppliers with a two-by-four. I would do my research. I would pit them against each other. I would make myself uncomfortable and push my skill set beyond what I thought was possible, all to get the best price.”
Part 2: Mid-Career
“The middle part of my career was more [centered] around procurement processes, really understanding technology, and starting to understand people and their business objectives. And that evolved into where I am today.”
Part 3: The Present
“I’m really understanding people and their motivations. What are their thought processes and why are they taking certain actions as it relates to their objectives? What are their solutions? I try not to think like a procurement person, but, rather, like a marketer and as a business person. My goal is to increase market share, revenue, and profitability. In the context of negotiating with suppliers, I try to understand, from reading a lot of psychology books, why a certain person might say something or hold back information during a negotiation. And, as I am understanding that, I can really understand how to build the best solution for the business,” said Kull.
”“A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”Muhammad Ali
Kull has a holistic understanding of the bottom line. He stated, “The best solution isn’t always about the lowest price. I try to bring in the best supplier with the best capabilities because that combination will bring more long-term valuethan the lowest cost supplier. That’s part of the evolution of the ecosystem. That’s what I have been saying for the pasfive years, ‘Savings will come.’
My CPO or CMO, might ask, ‘How much are we going to save?’ “I will give an estimate, but I will always surround that estimate with, ‘Savings will come. They will be what they will be.’ Kind of a Buddhist approach. ‘It will be what it will be. Don’t put any attachment to this number.’ Of course, I must have a tangible result in the end, but I have learned that there can be many different paths to savings.”
“A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” -Muhammad Ali
It was time to ask Kull the essential question: “What is a procurement cooperative ecosystem?”
Kull responded, “A cooperative ecosystem is a combination of different partners or suppliers that bring their own set of values to the table. The partners and suppliers then work together to solve a specific problem or to create an opportunity.” In the context of launching a new pharmaceutical brand, the following is Kull’s (paraphrased) list of potential partners and suppliers that might be part of a brand viable ecosystem:
A company that leverages media, such as TV, print, or digital, across dozens of clients to assure that the pricing and quality are optimized.
This is the company that has the intellectual capital, a set of algorithms, which they utilize to help companies, such as Novo Nordisk, understand how they’re investment in media has affected their sales.
When a company is launching a new brand, they’re going to need new, creative campaigns to help communicate the brand value and differentiate opposite competitors.
Medical communications firm:
Novo Nordisk utilizes a medical communications agency to help them better communicate therapeutic value to physicians. Other ecosystem partners: A new brand will use a whole host of other suppliers across print, logistics, meeting companies, and others.
Kull understands the importance of getting it right. He said, “Bringing a new therapy to market takes years and a massive effort to plan the development, launch, and distribution seamlessly. Think about it, even if your organization is fortunate enough to develop a meaningful therapy that adds value to the patients, you then need to move the product from factory to distributor. So, more and more, because of evolving technology, such as AI, robotics, and big data methodologies, and because of integration, manufacturers need to get information quickly, and it must be accurate. The ecosystem needs to be rock solid. It truly needs to be a cooperative. Cooperation starts with selecting the right supplier who is aligned to your values.”
A Personal Story
“How do you find the right supplier for Novo Nordisk?” I asked Kull, who responded with a story.
“When I was going through the recruitment process [at Novo Nordisk], my youngest son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. After we found out, I was scheduled for my next round of interviews, where I was to meet with the CFO and other executive leaders. Walking into our meeting, I was apprehensive about bringing up my son’s diagnosis, but the conversation went such that the opportunity to talk about it presented itself. And I am so glad it did. When I mentioned my son’s diagnosis, the CFO’s body language and energy absolutely changed. He leaned into the conversation and was genuinely curious about my son. He told me how Novo Nordisk addresses challenges that adolescent type 1’s encounter. And, for me, that was a strong signal that these people [executives at Novo Nordisk] care. This culture cares. And that is something that I found to be consistent throughout the rest of my interview discussions, as well as when I joined the company, and [it] still is today. It is a very strong, positive culture.”
It is obvious that Kull cares deeply about Novo Nordisk and is proud to represent them. Kull stated, “I feel grateful every day that I get to work in a place where I get to learn more about my son’s disease. By understanding that disease state that is in my house every day, I understand the greater patient population. I can empathize more, another human quality. And that is something that [exists] throughout the organization.”
Kull is looking for similar values in his suppliers. “I don’t expect suppliers to care about diabetes as much as I do, or as much as Novo Nordisk does, but I expect them to understand why we care so much. I expect them to be there with us and to anticipate. I want them to lead us. I want them to come to us with ideas. I want them to push our thinking, so that the culture is super strong.”
Kull continued, “That leads to innovation. We partner with suppliers, not only to deliver something, but to help pave the way and to put light into our innovation path. It’s a two way street. Innovation is not easy. The supplier needs to be a fast follower and keep pace with us.”
The Evolving Ecosystem
Kull believes that procurement professionals need to move from simply understanding and repeating the requirements as part of a sourcing process to understanding the business problem. He believes that procurement professionals must make sure that the right partners are in place, who can address the problem along the entire value chain. He believes that, “We need to drive the performance of those right partners throughout the relationship from day one; day one starts with issuing the RFP.”
”A cooperative ecosystem is a
combination of different partners
or suppliers that bring their
own of set of values to the table.
The partners and suppliers
then work together to solve a
specific problem or to create an
According to Kull, it is constantly evolving. “In our sourcing process, it is something that we look at as we evaluate potential partners as well as current partners. Not only do we need to understand if they are effective, but are they good people with strong ethics? Do they understand our mission? Are they going to be long-term partners? Ecosystems evolve and morph. Are potential partners going to be flexible and understanding when things change?”
Kull likes to listen to podcasts, including Sam Harris, The Art of Procurement, and Tim Ferris. At the end of his podcast, Ferris asks his listeners to create their own mission statements, asking, “If you had a billboard, what would it say?” If Barry Kull had a billboard, he would write in big, bold, letters, “Do more than you think you can. Be more creative than you think you are.”