Sara Zavaleta tells us what it’s like to run a huge supply chain operation, how she’s helping build the confidence of the women around her, and reveals the importance of the Gemba Walk.
My friends don’t really understand what I do, so here goes: the medicines in your medicine cabinet don’t appear by magic. We start with the raw materials, transform them in manufacturing and packaging, then deliver them to our customers. In 2017, Teva produced over 100 billion tablets and capsules worldwide. That entire work flow is a supply chain. And that’s what I manage. This is a huge operation and I manage the supply chain across several sites in the United States.
We have a big responsibility. Take the USA, where 1 in 10 generic medicine prescriptions are filled with Teva products1 – so no pressure! I make sure the materials are here, the people are here, the equipment capacity is available, and if I see that one of those elements is missing, I need to raise a flag and create actions to address the problem.
I do a Gemba Walk every day. This is a Japanese term linked with the Toyota model of manufacturing and involves physically going to the shop floor and seeing for myself what is happening. I talk with people and they share their ideas and sometimes their problems. I then do my best to help resolve issues and remove roadblocks.
It’s not unusual to have a woman in a supply chain; what is unusual is that a woman controls such large sites! Last week I was in Goa, India, and the entire team I met was male. At the same time, I still go to meetings in the United States where I’m the only woman at the table, so there’s still work to do.
I try to help the women in my site become more confident, because I know they can do a great job. A common problem for women is that if we don’t believe that we are 100% capable of doing a job, we sometimes don’t try. If a man thinks they can do 70%, they will often go for it and figure the rest out later.
After the age of 12, a woman starts to lose confidence. Between 12 and 20 is the lowest they get. When I see my two girls, aged 14 and 12, I try to highlight the good qualities they have. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it’s what my mother did with me. Don’t concentrate on what you lack, focus on what you’ve got.
I loved music stores when I was young, and I miss spending the day going through racks of cassettes. I’d only have $10 and I’d spend all day deciding which one I could buy. I think the ability to just click and download music is too easy.
No one should ever stop listening. In 1993, I had a bad car accident – my Mom, my two cousins and I were all hospitalized. I realized that I should get the best out of every day, because it might be my last. It was tough to come back out of that. My family, classmates and teachers helped me keep up with work and elected me senior year class president when I made it back to school. I’ll never forget that.
I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and I did my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering. I was working in Puerto Rico when I was offered a promotion to senior manager… in Florida. I moved to Florida on my own. It was a big decision. But if I’d stayed in Puerto Rico, it would have taken me longer to grow professionally. I could not miss this opportunity. And the best part is that I met my husband in Miami, Florida!
If a new woman started work in my job, I’d tell her to be confident, to believe that she can do it – because she can. I’d remind her that each of our site's 720 employees has a family, so every decision we make impacts 720 families – not to mention all the people around the world who rely on the medicines we manufacture. It’s essential we feel empathy for everyone.