Close this search box.
Close this search box.

How Roche Diagnostics’ CEO Tackled A Covid-Crash Supply Chain Overhaul

© AdobeStock
The pandemic forced the maker of essential PCR testing equipment to suddenly rethink their entire supply chain. Matt Sause, CEO of Roche North America, shared key takeaways from the experience.

At our recent Smart Manufacturing Summit in Indianapolis, supply chain disruption was very much top of mind among the CEOs that were on hand from across the country. In a presentation from Roche Diagnostics, we heard how they’ve embarked on dramatic overhauls of their supply chains that were prompted and accelerated by their response to Covid.

The onset of the pandemic in early 2020 created an “all-hands-on-deck moment” across the North American headquarters for the world’s largest biotech company, headquartered in Switzerland, said Matt Sause, president and CEO of Roche Diagnostics North America. He leads more than 3,000 people in Indianapolis who develop and make diagnostic products for cancer, cardiac health and other conditions—as well as infectious diseases.

Suddenly, Roche was being called upon to supply six times its previous volume of polymerase-chain reaction (PCR) tests for the coronavirus that comprised the front line in health authorities’ arsenal. “This had been a low-volume business,” Sause told the summit. “One of our instruments that does Covid-19 testing has 23,000 individual parts and takes seven to 10 days to assemble—it’s the size of a small SUV.”

Yet, Sause said, the company “went from the first knowledge of the Covid-19 [genetic] sequence to [federal] authorization of our tests within six weeks. We did some manufacturing scale-up at risk of knowing we were still just validating the product, but we were well aware we had to get the test out as soon as possible.”

Some of his top tips from the experience:

1. Corral a team: Sause pulled in a small, highly dedicated team for pandemic response consisting of “the best talent from anywhere in the organization,” he said.

2. Spread the risk: Roche boosted its global supplier network, squeezing a typical 18-month process into as little as nine months, and created supply-chain redundancies “across items we knew were absolutely critical.”

3. Tighten the chain: Roche learned the importance of creating full collaboration and transparency with suppliers and of disengagement from the company’s previous just-in-time inventory focus: When customers needed PCR tests, they had to be available.

4. Leverage purpose: Roche hired hundreds more people in Indianapolis and a New Jersey manufacturing site to scale up PCR test output. That included a big push to quickly add managerial and executive talent, which was assisted by the searing importance of the work that Roche was doing. Talk about corporate purpose. “It really focused on the proposition of working for an organization with a mission and an ability to impact the health-care environment in the U.S. and globally,” Sause said. “We were able to recruit talent from competitors.”

5. Care enough: Simple thoughtfulness also helped Roche’s team get through: The company gave flight upgrades and free dry cleaning to field engineers whose roles demanded they be in hospitals and clinics as the pandemic raged.

As a leader, Sause learned about “when there isn’t sufficient data to make decisions with adequate certainty to the outcome. You have to use past experiences to plumb up future decisions. When do you obey your gut; when do you look for more data? Having to constantly toggle between those two things has been an absolute challenge.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.