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Why a focus on quality can really drive change



I admit it: I’m a convert to the role of quality. I used to think, like a lot of people, that the function was purely a barrier to me getting things done, run by teams of people who enjoyed policing, box ticking and generally being meticulous to a fault. However after two very different but very significant experiences, I can now say that I was wrong early in my career.

The majority of my career was spent working in research and product development teams when I was asked to take on a role within a Quality & Regulatory (Q&R) department, which completely changed my role and responsibilities as I had known them up to that point in my life and career.

I had my doubts. Working in quality was not something I had previously considered, and quite frankly, I questioned how it would impact my career development in the long term. “Would I have the same authority and respect internally? Crucially, would I become the ‘naysayer’ that I had always cautioned against?” were just a couple of questions that entered my mind.

The transition was quicker than I could have imagined. My first role in quality required a similar technical expertise and having an analytical background was a huge advantage for me. I found myself surrounded by incredibly intelligent, passionate individuals who were focused on having a real impact and making a difference in patients’ lives. Most of these quality professionals were in their roles not because they had to but because they wanted to be.

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Appreciation for Quality Professionals

To date, I have not looked back. My role continues to be challenging, and the projects I’ve been involved in have required me to develop my skills and really reflect on how the role is often under-appreciated. I’ve delivered some of the best work of my life, and while I’ve quashed my previous mistaken beliefs, I’ve found that regardless of the industry, there continues to be a lack of recognition and appreciation for quality professionals. Terms like “bottlenecks,” “roadblocks” and “naysayers” are often used by people in other functions when describing quality professionals. So my work in quality will continue.

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A Moment of Realization

The second experience, which really cemented my desire to stay in this function, was far more terrifying and made the significance of my day-to-day role become imminently clear. About four years ago I had a health scare while at work. My blood pressure shot up unexpectedly, I collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. The doctors estimated that I was within 30 minutes of death or significant brain/kidney damage.

I was somewhere between conscious and unconscious while the medical team was treating me. I don’t remember a whole lot, but I do remember looking up and seeing some of the medical devices that I value from companies such as Philips being used to treat me. And I remember my immediate reaction being one of hope – a high level of confidence knowing that the quality teams, who were part of the product’s journey until they were used to treat me, had ensured that quality is built in and every proper compliance check had been made. It was a bit of a bizarre experience, but one that made me realize how valuable it was to have strong, values-driven professionals working on life-critical products and solutions.

It also made me further realize how much patients deserve to know the tests and compliance standards that the medical devices being used on them have gone through. I now ask my team different questions on their decisions and approaches than I would have without this first-hand experience, which I (thankfully) have lived to share.

Because of my experiences, I am determined to continue to champion the quality team’s role throughout my organization in 2016. I want to strengthen the reputation of the people who helped save my life when it mattered most and generate recognition for the good work that is happening in the Q&R team across Philips. The global transformation that we, as a company, are undergoing provides an exciting time to review and improve our operations, but most importantly celebrate when key milestones in that journey are surpassed.

With the Q&R team now elevated within the business, reporting directly to top management, we have been able to start driving critical change. Designing and launching a single, global Quality Management System at Philips has landed on my to-do list, and I can say with certainty that I am excited about the challenge instead of skeptical or disappointed by it. I know the positive outcomes that “getting quality right” can drive. I’m living proof of it every day.

If you’re interested in a career in quality at Philips and being part of our transformational journey, take a short quiz to see if you have what we are looking for.

You can also find out more about the Philips’ Quality Transformation program in this personal message from the company’s CEO.

Dr. Venky Gopalaswamy

Head of Quality Management Systems and Supplier Quality

Dr. Venky Gopalaswamy is Vice President of Quality Management Systems and Supplier Quality at Philips. He has been working in the Quality area for 18 years and has a special interest in the relatively new field of combination product development where drugs, biologics and medical devices are combined into a single product. He is also a published author on the technical, scientific, regulatory and quality issues that arise when merging these technologies and systems. Venky earned his PhD and MS degrees in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the University of Illinois.



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