Melissa Mack, Pharmore Ingredients-- How to build efficiency?
April 27, 2021
Melissa and Greg chat about product traceability, lab testing, efficiency, supply chain challenges and Faygo.
Melissa Mack is the VP of Operations at Pharmore Ingredients. Pharmore is a supplier of dietary supplement ingredients to both the human and animal nutrition industries since 2001. Melissa grew up in Michigan and has dedicated her career to the nutritional industry. She is passionate about providing quality products and committed to growing the business as technology evolves. Preparing for challenges can be unpredictable, like Melissa’s passion for riding a motorcycle. Some say why, Melissa says why not? This innovative thinking is why Pharmore was resilient and thrived during the pandemic to be a reliable supplier.
Greg Mader: [00:00:00]
Today, I’m speaking with Melissa Mack, vice president of operations for Pharmore Ingredients.
Pharmore Ingredients is the leading wholesaler and supplier for a number of pharmaceutical and food grade ingredients that are primarily in the supplement business. Melissa, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Melissa Mack: [00:00:22]
Thank you Greg, for inviting me. I look forward to participating.
Greg Mader: [00:00:26]
So, the question I ask everybody first is what’s your favorite snack food.
Melissa Mack: [00:00:31]
Tortilla chips and salsa.
Greg Mader: [00:00:34]
Tortilla chips and salsa. Any particular kind of salsa?
Melissa Mack: [00:00:38]
The milder, the better, and I like it chunky not blended.
Greg Mader: [00:00:44]
I have a daughter who hates chunky tomatoes in any form, so it has to be perfectly smooth for her.
Melissa Mack: [00:00:52]
That’s more of a pico than a salsa.
Greg Mader: [00:00:55]
Okay. Do you have a favorite salsa brand?
Melissa Mack: [00:00:58]
There’s a local grocery store that makes it, and so it’s Harmon’s; they’re their specialty brand here.
Greg Mader: [00:01:06]
Next time I’m in your neck of the woods I’m going to check that out, so thank you.
Melissa, you’re one of the more accomplished people I know. You have this background in science and management that I think is amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got to this place in your career?
Melissa Mack: [00:01:25]
I did achieve a bachelor’s in chemistry and it was because I had a passion for chemistry and strength in math that carried me through. As soon as I graduated, I started working at a manufacturing facility, doing quality control testing for both in process and finished goods. That quickly led me, when I was promoted, to technical support, where I worked with customers in helping them with their applications of our product. I actually achieved a patent while doing this with one of my customers. I quickly realized that my technical background would assist me in the business world. So I moved over to sourcing and purchasing, and that allowed me to work and communicate with the quality control as well as the business development process.
Then I was given this opportunity to run the day-to-day operations of an import company, so I was using my technical skills, my business skills, my finance skills. So, I’ve had a passion for the nutritional supplement industry and that’s where I have spent all of my career.
Greg Mader: [00:02:33]
It really is remarkable. I have two daughters who are both really interested in science, and I’m surprised at how nerdy our conversations around the house are. It seems to me like chemistry is one of the places where more and more women have found success. Were there a lot of women when you were taking classes in chemistry?
Melissa Mack: [00:02:56]
When I graduated, there were only two of us that were women in the bachelors of chemistry degree. So a lot of my classes were male dominated fields. And like I said, I only had another woman that graduated at the same time.
Greg Mader: [00:03:13]
It seems to have changed very quickly. That’s what I’m noticing.
Melissa Mack: [00:03:17]
Yes, I think we talk about that right brain versus left brain, and I think it’s about channeling that connection and finding that. Like I said, I wasn’t very good at chemistry, but I had a passion for it and my math skills carried me through. And so, it’s finding something that you enjoy, but you might not be the best at, that keeps you going at it, because if you go for something that you’re very good at, I think you’ll get bored very quickly.
Greg Mader: [00:03:49]
Talking a little bit about Pharmore and the last year: did you have supply chain issues? How did you manage?
Melissa Mack: [00:03:59]
So, supply chain for us is very long. We purchased from manufacturers that are overseas. So we’re dealing with not only the political environment from our relationships that we have with other countries, but also the importing that we have here. COVID really played an impact on the dock workers at port. It truly delayed our shipments and there’s really nothing you can do about it. We were fortunate enough to have the warehouse supply chain in place to be able to stock more inventory. Of course, that comes with costs, but keeping in supply for our customers was critical. We are proud to report that we’ve had no out of stocks during this situation and have been financially successful as well.
Honestly, I was shocked that we were able to turn around so quickly in managing people working from home and everything else. It’s not something that we really looked at, but our contingency plans that we had in place and that we had tested actually allowed us to be resilient.
Greg Mader: [00:05:11]
Interesting. When did it hit you that, ‘Oh, no, this is all different. We’ve got to change.’
Melissa Mack: [00:05:19]
Our customer service gal has kids that are very young, and daycares and schools closed and she had no choice but to be at home. And so, that’s when it hit us hard that we need to do something different to keep her employed and manage our business. We run lean and mean and so that’s really what hit me is when the schools and the daycares closed and she had no choice with her kids, we knew we had to come up with something different to keep us going.
Greg Mader: [00:05:47]
Was this an opportunity for you to look into new products and services?
Melissa Mack: [00:05:53]
Not really. We really supported our existing customers and our existing business took all of our resources just to manage getting things. The process took so much longer. I think our customers were just scrambling to keep production going because they had so many challenges with other ingredients. They were constantly changing their production schedules to accommodate the ingredients that they could actually acquire.
Greg Mader: [00:06:18]
How did you realize you needed to initiate some sort of a change in your business process?
Melissa Mack: [00:06:24]
Well, you realize that things aren’t going as smoothly as you want, and you want to improve. The goal always is to keep moving forward. And sometimes it’s not about innovation, but it’s about survival. What we were able to do was have people work from home and manage that as a smooth transition. And to me, that was probably our biggest business project you could talk about and we were able to quickly do that.
Greg Mader: [00:06:54]
In your organization, I think one of the key competitive advantages you have is your quality system. I’ve watched your quality system over the years, and initially it was manual with some automation throughout, but you’ve evolved that into having a very automated quality system that integrates these third-party tests into certificates of analysis and validates with local tests.
Melissa Mack: [00:07:22]
Quality is key in our business, for sure. It’s what really distinguishes us from our competition. But quality is given, your customer expects it. We don’t manufacture, so we have to validate what we are given. And we validate that through third-party testing.
When we were looking at different processes, we evaluated the quality piece and what we were doing was partly automated and partly out-of-the-system is what I would call it. And we found it key to do data analysis to evaluate how our process is trending.
And so it’s key to watch that from our manufacturing process and have the ease to do it so that we can evaluate that fairly quickly.
Greg Mader: [00:08:09]
In this journey of automating your quality systems, what percentage of your documents are automated, now?
Melissa Mack: [00:08:19]
I would say we’re probably close to about 80%. We still have third-party testing results that come to us and have to be entered into our system. And I don’t think there’s really any way that we can develop that relationship with a testing lab to enter that information on our behalf.
Greg Mader: [00:08:40]
What’s the role for business leaders to pick a technology?
Melissa Mack: [00:08:44]
Well, I think it’s important for business leaders to be involved in picking technology. Not only because of the cost and the time associated with it, but the resources that are going to be involved. They have to rely on their employees to be empowered to make the right recommendations. But, I think they have to support those recommendations and get everyone on board for what it brings, not only to solve a problem, but to protect you from the future as well.
Greg Mader: [00:09:17]
Why do some IT projects succeed and why do some projects fail?
Melissa Mack: [00:09:22]
Yeah, Greg, that’s a really good question. I think it has a lot to do with all of your background questions that you ask yourself. Sometimes you are asking the wrong questions and so you lead yourself down a path of failure. And you’re looking to solve a problem, not looking to how can we do something better? And you need to ask not only how you’re doing it, but why you’re doing it. When you do a project like that, you can be more successful when you do a lot of the research upfront and evaluate things and aren’t just looking to solve that problem. So, I think a lot of the future of a project and whether it succeeds or fails is what you’re trying to manage in the beginning and how you evaluate it in the very beginning.
Greg Mader: [00:10:12]
Melissa, you are this seasoned executive here. Do you have any fun stories from the school of hard knocks?
Melissa Mack: [00:10:21]
Well, it just goes back to evaluating the people that you have on board with you and how you approach things that make your job very interesting and challenging. On the school of hard knocks, I don’t have any real stories to share. For me, it’s the research you do before you make a decision. I spent all of my time researching and evaluating it. And again, it goes back into your personal life, too. Whenever you go to purchase something, you read all the reviews and you do all the research and the comparison.
And I think that’s where the school of hard knocks comes from, when you don’t take the time to make it right and have to make a quick judgment call. That’s what ends up really burning you in the long run.
One thing I’ve noticed as a goal for Pharmore was using automation to both cut costs and improve throughput. Has your new system achieved those goals for you?
Melissa Mack: [00:11:29]
Yes, most definitely. We’ve been able to minimize the workload of, say, our customer service person, who’s now able to work on inside sales that ultimately grow our company. We have reduced our paperwork, which has not only cut our costs, but it does also allow us to be remote working where everyone has access to everything that they need and aren’t relying on things. So yes, we had an unintended goal and it goes back to that resilience process that we were able to quickly turn the switch and manage our processes outside of the office because of those goals that we achieved.
Greg Mader: [00:12:15]
To help people who might be looking for your products or ingredients, can you give us a little pitch on Pharmore? Tell us why this is the right place to buy their pharmaceutical ingredients.
Melissa Mack: [00:12:25]
Pharmore has been in business for about 20 years, and we really do have a team of experts that have been dedicated to the nutritional supplement industry. Our quality team has visited over 500 factories, over many different countries. And we really strive to not only provide the product, but understand the processes of the product.
We manage our controls, I think that’s key; we seem to always be ahead of the curve as it relates to regulations in our industry. It was very exciting this year as we managed new processes that we were already doing, but had to just change the paperwork to be in compliance.
So really the key difference for us is that quality. We’re there for you. When you have challenges and formulating, we’re there to help you because we’ve been in your shoes, as well. So I think it’s that diverse team that we do have that understands the entire process and is committed to quality.
Greg Mader: [00:13:33]
So, I have some questions about specific Michigander food. Melissa, may I ask these questions? Can you explain Faygo red pop?
Melissa Mack: [00:13:46]
Oh my goodness. Faygo is one of my favorite brands. I remember going to the different places with the bottles, and you get to pick out all your different flavors and bring home a case of Faygo. Oh my goodness, yes. You can’t even begin to explain it to anybody. There’s nothing out there that can mimic the flavor, the style; it’s really nostalgic. So, thank you for bringing up that very good memory.
Greg Mader: [00:14:13]
Okay. One more then, the Detroit style Coney dog that is a love it or hate it thing. Your take.
Melissa Mack: [00:14:20]
I’m not that keen on hotdogs, but I will tell you that we introduced my children to it and they absolutely love it. We actually have it delivered to our house, occasionally.
Greg Mader: [00:14:35]
Wow. That’s something.
Melissa Mack: [00:14:37]
Yeah. It’s very expensive, but a very nice treat for them.
Greg Mader: [00:14:40]
Melissa, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. This was just so much fun.
Melissa Mack: [00:14:45]
I really enjoyed my time, Greg. Thank you for choosing me to be a part of this.
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