Emory Wright, Senior Vice President Global Operations, joined Align Technology in 2000 and has been at the forefront of our manufacturing expansion.
Can you share some of the milestones we had over the last two years regarding manufacturing expansion?
In addition to our facility continuing to expand to support greater capacity and manufacturing close to 300,000 custom aligners each day, we also opened a new order acquisition (OA) and two treatment planning operations, one in China and one in Germany – all of which were big milestones for us and “firsts” in over 15 years. Moving resources, technology, and processes closer to our customers and improving their experience is at the center of our expansion efforts.
Our first Order Acquisition operation, located in Mexico, receives incoming physical PVS or “putty” impressions that get scanned and form the basis of our Invisalign digital treatment plans. In 2016, we opened a second Order Acquisition operation in Amsterdam. Adding a central European location is designed to provide a better customer experience, eliminating the long transit time in shipping a physical PVS impression from an EMEA-based Invisalign provider to Mexico and shortening the cycle time for our customers.
An even bigger milestone was accomplished this past June (2017), when we opened a Treatment Planning and Training Center in Chengdu, China, the second location outside our initial Costa Rica treatment planning operation. The new operation in Chengdu provides treatment planning and digital case setups for orthodontists and dentists in China who prescribe Invisalign clear aligners, clinical and customer support, as well as training and education. Later in September, we opened our third Treatment Planning facility in Cologne, Germany to support our EMEA customers.
Our operational expansion initiative is enabling us to better support our growing global customer base by providing a better customer experience, more localized support and overall service. We are still working towards completing the expansion and fully transitioning processes at the China and Germany locations, but we have received positive feedback from our customers to date. It is tremendous to see our global vision being realized.
Is there a particular skill set or approach you see as critical to being successful in our aggressive global expansion?
In my view, the most critical skill sets are knowledge and experience within a region. It is critical for us to hire people that have a deep understanding of their region. It is also critical that we pair new leaders with internal people who have a deep understanding of our technology, products, and process. During the expansion efforts, we ensure our new leaders spend sufficient time learning our operations and business, and we connect them with teams of experts to ensure we can be successful in the technology transfer to a new team. Given that we will naturally run into unplanned obstacles, these efforts require our new and existing teams to be flexible and agile.
Can you share your vision on the transition to a global company?
In the past, most of what we did from an operations perspective was viewed through a North American lens, where we are headquartered and started our business. Even though we support a growing global customer base, much of our thinking has historically centered around a North American perspective. Over the last few years, our efforts to get closer to our customers and move our processes closer to our global customers has broadened the team’s perspective. Moreover, it has enabled a significant amount of learning and change which has led to an appreciation for the differences in the regions, countries, and markets. This education has enabled us to think differently about what we do and how we support the different customer needs, and has driven significant change in how we approach our different customers.
What change have you seen in the leadership team over these last years?
In my ten years since joining the executive team, we have placed a much greater emphasis on the global nature of our business. The executive team routinely travels to different regions to talk to customers and meet with local teams to see and learn what has worked, and what challenges and opportunities for improvements are present. By visiting the regions often, we know better how we can direct investments and resources to better support and enable our global business. In addition, we have a diverse team with different international perspectives. I believe that the global mix of the executive team helps drive the acceleration of change in our business.
Can you share lessons learned from these manufacturing expansion experiences?
In retrospect, I would have hired the leaders in local sites much sooner. When we started planning and executing our expansion efforts, we were organizing our local leaders simultaneously which, in hindsight, may have started us out at a slight disadvantage. It would have been great to have them come in and be trained earlier and be more involved in the initial planning stages.
Another lesson we learned was to have more extensive contingency plans. Planning the transition of our processes and workflows and that of our doctors from one place to another and how to ramp up in one site and ramp down in another was a known challenge. Yet, even with all the planning that took place, it was difficult to fully anticipate all possible scenarios. We learned from our first transition with the China based operation and made improvements with our Germany operation. Overall, what is key to success is improving with each step. Knowing there is always room for improvement, especially with our customers.
I am glad to share that we are seeing the benefits of our expansion efforts. We are seeing faster lead times and better customer interactions with the local operational teams. And we will continue to improve and better connect with our customers to provide the highest level of service.
What would your recommendation be to other leaders?
Be open to opportunities that aren’t comfortable. Be willing to take career risks that might be uncomfortable. Make it a priority to work hard for the company.
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