Marc Friedli joined us in January 2021 as a Senior Consultant in Operations. Process engineer, production specialist, bass guitarist and keen woodsman, Marc is our next Consultant to sit in the hot-seat…
How did your MedTech career begin?
I really like technical challenges, so I find production, mechanical design and mechanics very interesting. My career journey began in 1990, where I undertook a four-year Apprenticeship as a Mechanical Designer. After this I studied Mechanical Engineering in parallel to my work as a Design Engineer.
My first experience of the MedTech industry was at a company called Insys that provides robotics and equipment for production line automation for large pharmaceutical companies. Shortly after joining as a Mechanical Designer, I became a project leader. I learnt a lot, with my roles providing my first contact with GXP, GMP, equipment qualification and process validation, and I found that I really enjoyed a regulated field and accurate documentation work.
My first professional highlight comes from my time at Insys. We had won a project for a customer in South Germany, which was perhaps a bit too big for the size of our company. Despite the high risk, we were ultimately successful and the customer was satisfied.
After seven years, I was ready for a new challenge, and so I joined Roche Diabetes Care AG as a Process Engineer, working in product care for an existing insulin pump. Two years in, I became a Project Leader, managing production processes for a new insulin pump which allowed me the opportunity to be involved in the complete industrialisation of the product – from the initial product studies and mock-ups, to process implementation, to supplier and internal production for assembly and even packaging.
What inspired your US sabbatical?
In 2010 Roche decided to close their site in Burgdorf. It was a very interesting time for me, as I was responsible for the transition of our processes to the other sites – completing this big project actually remains a career highlight for me. At the same time as the closure announcement, I decided to diversify my skillset, and started my MBA in General Management from the private college PHW.
Three years later, with my Master’s complete, and my time at Roche ending, the time was right to take the opportunity to have a mental break, to reset and reassess, and to focus on the future with renewed energy.
I used the two-month sabbatical to travel to the Southwest of the US with my family, where we explored California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona in a big RV. This was really one of the best times of my life – to share such an experience with my wife Andrea, and our three children. My eldest son Malik who is now 18 says that whilst he’s too old to come on family vacation again, he will make an exception if we go back to the US!
Two months on the road sounds fun, tell us more about the route…
We flew into Los Angeles, then we picked up the RV – which was a fantastic vehicle over ten metres long and weighing six and a half tonnes! We drove north up the coast to San Francisco and Santa Cruz, then onto Sacramento. Then we travelled across the Tioga pass in Yosemite National Park. The landscape was fascinating, as in the same area you have the combination of the coast and snow-covered mountains.
We visited all the famous national parks – Capitol Reef, Zion, Sequoia, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Arches National park – which (for any Mission Impossible fans) is near where Tom Cruise does his famous rock climbing scene in Mission Impossible 2. After making a stop at Las Vegas, which the kids found pretty exciting, we travelled south to Flagstaff, Joshua Tree National Park, then back to the coast to San Diego.
Of all the wonderful places we visited, the moment that really stands out in my memory was our time in Sequoia National Park. Standing amongst the giant thousand-year-old mammut trees was truly impressive – I’ve never seen something so beautiful in my life.
Back to working life – what experience stands out as a special career achievement?
Feeling energised upon our return from our trip in summer 2013, I quickly found my next challenge, joining packaging company Ivers-Lee as Head of Production. I was responsible for a team of 70, producing drug packaging solutions for large pharma companies.
This was probably the most demanding time professionally for me, as whilst the job required an improvement in quality and a reduction in deviations (which my process training at Roche helped with), my role also involved re-motivating the team. Helping my team members to love their job again was a special challenge.
But with this great challenge came high reward: when I decided to leave the company some of my team members approached me to say I was the best boss they had ever had. This was really humbling – and also a relief to know that I had not gotten everything wrong at least(!).
I remember this moment so clearly because to have had this impact on my colleagues meant so much to me. The experience allowed me to see that if you work hard enough to motivate a team, they will rally behind you and together, you can achieve success.
You ventured outside of MedTech for a time. How did that benefit you professionally?
After three and a half years in the Ivers-Lee role I decided to take a break from MedTech to broaden my perspective. I approached Mobatime, where I had completed my Apprenticeship in the 90’s, and started as their Chief Business Development Officer in 2016. Mobatime produces clock systems for Swiss rail, as well schools, hospitals and other public buildings that need accurate time within Switzerland and further afield.
A year later, I was promoted to Chief Sales Officer which involved Mobatime’s side business that offered services in mechanical design, electronics design, and software development to start-ups who required support with industrialisation.
During this role I was able to see what is possible to achieve within short time spans when necessary and this has really helped me in my MedTech roles since. MedTech is such a regulated industry and things often take a long time. But having a broader scope of experience has taught me to be creative with how to speed things up if required. If you are skilled and motivated enough to change things, it is possible to make a positive difference, even in a very controlled environment.
I also travelled a lot whilst at Mobatime, visiting (amongst other countries), the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Japan, which broadened my professional outlook on an international scale. I found both my Arab and Japanese customers really friendly and professional, but of course I had to tailor my approach accordingly. For example, my Arab customers valued cost efficiency, whilst my Japanese customers were meticulous and detail-oriented when it came to product quality. So learning how to really adapt was important here.
What prompted your return to MedTech?
The travel opportunities and the pace of the role at Mobatime were enjoyable, but as time passed, I started to miss the MedTech field. During my time outside of MedTech, I found that whilst decision making and processes are much faster, the lack of documentation and guidelines meant that work would often get repeated unnecessarily.
Ultimately, I learned that I valued process and working within guidelines. Setting up a process, documenting it in the right way the first time, and validating the process so you know it works, saves a lot of time and money next time you go through the same experience.
Also, working in MedTech, I can easily see how the work I’m doing directly benefits those who are suffering and it´s fulfilling for me to solve problems to help those people. This is what brought me back to MedTech, and what motivates me to continue within this industry – using my energy and experience to improve people’s lives.
So last year, after five years in my sales role, I made the decision to return to MedTech – but this time as a consultant to maintain the variety of daily work and strategy that I enjoy. Knowing Jörg, Bastian Perroset, and Dirk Hüber from my Roche days in Burgdorf made connecting with Congenius a perfect match.
As it happened, my first role with Congenius has placed me at Roche Diagnostics. And it feels like coming home – home to MedTech and “full-circle” back to Roche.
In your view, what kind of challenges will the MedTech industry face over the coming years?
Digital transformation in the Operations field is coming fast. The challenge with digitalisation is the need to establish the necessary infrastructure and along with this, making the right decisions within the right time frames. COVID has demonstrated that home office and a digital workspace can prove very successful for a lot of companies, and I think that as a result, people will no longer work as they did before.
This presents a challenge for both employers and employees longer term, because the “normal” working structure will not return. The ability for people to work from anywhere opens the door for globalisation and companies will need to question whether looking further afield for resource will benefit their success longer term. I´m certainly curious to see how this develops as the pandemic eases.
For many, the pandemic has provided more working flexibility. More generally, how do you maintain a good work-life balance?
I have always been passionate about music. I enjoy rock, funk, hip-hop and I really like metal. I’ve played bass guitar since 1994, and currently play in a Rage Against the Machine tribute band called “Against the Machine” with my brother on drums and other colleagues on lead guitar and vocals. We’ve recently recorded four songs and just a couple of weeks ago filmed a music video with a professional crew and drone footage on a rooftop in Bern which was exciting! We’re really hoping to start performing at gigs again next year.
Whilst I find music to be a creative outlet, to balance my daily MedTech work I actually have a second hobby that keeps me busy outdoors. We live in a farmhouse in rural Emmental and have a small woodland on our land. I enjoy cutting the firewood and driving my truck, as well as the other physical farm and renovation tasks – living in an old wooden house means I’m always fixing things! I find that working in the woods, getting muddy, and being physically exhausted in the evening after the farm work, all balances the clean, regulated MedTech work that I enjoy during the business week.
Looking ahead, what’s your goal for the next career chapter?
My family is a constant inspiration because I’m dedicated to giving my children the best start in life. Helping to give them everything they need in their backpack to set them up for a successful life motivates me to continue working.
Professionally, I want to continue to collect experience within the MedTech field, to become a “complete” consultant, bringing positive benefits to customers by having end-to-end knowledge. Put simply, utilising my experience and energy to help solve problems in the shortest possible time is my ongoing aim.