Accord Healthcare’s Sandra Lee on keeping employees proactively engaged

Sandra Lee, Managing Director of Operations at Accord Healthcare, on how being visible and ‘walking the floor’ during times of major change keeps employees proactively engaged.


How did you get to where you are today?

I first joined the industry 35 years ago as a young chemist working at the bench. I was really fortunate and was able to study a degree part time, did a post grad, then became a QP. It was at that point that I started to realise how important it was to connect people together. I’ve been at Accord for five years now, and on a daily basis from the site here in Barnstaple we produce around 20 million tablets. I’m responsible for and lead a team of around 500 people across two sites, where we perform manufacturing and packing, supply chain and planning, warehousing, testing and development of new products. It takes quite a lot of people to make that happen. When we’re making products, and you’ve got 500 people – it’s the connections that make it work. I’m really lucky, because every single day I can make a difference to someone’s health and wellbeing. That chemistry that introduced me into the industry…it’s also about the chemistry of people and making it all come together.

Tell us more about how you led Accord’s staff through the transitions last year when Actavis UK rebranded as Accord Healthcare following its acquisition by Intas?

When you’re leading that change, it’s exciting. I work on what I call my ABC; at the start set the direction of how the businesses are going to come together, the second part is about being transparent, and the third is about how to connect the goals of the two companies. Everyone needs to know exactly where they fit in and what the destination is, so that everyone is aligned, and every individual knows what it means to them. From scientists to process leaders to the people who drive the fork trucks – they all want to understand what the impact of that change is going to be and how it is going to impact them personally. It’s about conversations. When I’m leading a transition, it’s about standing at the front, but it’s also about the conversations afterwards, these are what bring everyone together.

How did you keep everyone engaged through that time of change?

Being visible is key to managing any transition. Now, just over a year later, I walk the floor, and people say that they’ve seen a change. It’s been very positive. The factory is now producing 25% more, and that’s what people want to see; more product coming through the factory and investment. I have my most fruitful conversations when I’m walking through the packing floor, or visiting the lab, or bumping into someone in the coffee queue or the restaurant. Those are key places where I can really dip in, test the temperature of the water at that moment. It all comes back to the conversations, the two-way thing of not only sending a message but receiving it and listening. Also, as a combined organisation we get tremendous support from the parent company in India, from which I’ve just returned after a week working with my colleagues over there.

What is it like being a female in the traditionally-male dominated sector of manufacturing?

I have been very fortunate, because in the early days of my career I joined an organisation that heavily invested in me in terms of developing my qualifications, but also professionally, and I had a coach and a mentor. There aren’t many women in the sector, I found a way to set myself as a role model. There are many enthusiastic young women who come into the industry, and if they can see a role model, if they can see it in action, that makes a difference when young adults are making choices around their studies. We have a very strong apprentice programme here in terms of providing support and encouragement. I regularly sit down with people – whether they’re female or male – and get them to think about what their career is going to be in the future.

What have been your key achievements?

Setting up the team at a site that was poorly performing to becoming one of the highest performing in the network, bringing a team together to develop new products, changing people’s quality of life. It’s also about being able to do that and add value – a pack that leaves here, on average costs less than a cup of coffee in the high street, yet it makes a difference. The biggest and most rewarding achievement is when I see a member of my team exceed their own expectations. Coaching and mentoring is absolutely crucial to that.

What does your job mean to you?

I’m so lucky. I’ve always had a role that I just love doing. A factory is like a beating heart, you can feel it as you walk through. It was from that point that I had that absolute joy – I love walking the floor, seeing everyone come together. Multiple things have to happen when you’re making a product, and when I see everything coming together and a pallet of product leaving the site, it’s so rewarding. One in six prescriptions in the UK is filled by a product from Accord. Every time a patient takes a prescription to the pharmacy, they go with this implicit trust in that medication and that’s with us every single day. Making sure that we do it right and to the best of our ability is one of the most important things that we have to do. I recently spoke to a friend whose son is on one of our products, and it’s changed the quality of his life. How wonderful is that?

What’s next?

It’s an exciting time! As two companies come together, our vision about where we want to go is about thinking bigger about how to get even more affordable medicines to the people that matter most, our patients. It’s an incredibly exciting and challenging place to be; I have probably got more opportunities to shape this business than I’ve ever had in my career. It is my passion and it’s fabulous to be part of it!