This month, unLTD’s Ash Birch heads to Sheffield’s The Broadfield pub to grab a bite with Michael Parden, the new Managing Director of B Braun, who was appointed on 1st May 2023 after a twenty-year journey from the very bottom rung of the company’s ladder…
Hi Michael. Congratulations on the new role. Can you start by telling us about your experience of growing up in Sheffield?
I love Sheffield. I feel very fortunate and privileged to have been born and raised here. I’m one of five; my mother is from Crookes and my father is from Hoyland Common. My grandfather was a minor, on my dad’s side. He was in the pit when he was 13 but left to become a footballer for Sheffield Wednesday and was in the last Wednesday team to win the equivalent of the Premier League, in 1930.
My father was a quantity surveyor and my mother taught shorthand and typing. They met at a dance and got married in 1964. I’ve got an older sister and two older brothers, and then there was a six-year gap to when me and my twin brother James were born, in 1975.
As the youngest of five, it was always expected that I’d follow in the footsteps of the rest of my family who are all lawyers, bankers and accountants. I went to University to read law and I hated it. I love law but was eager to leave and pursue my career. Every holiday, I used to work on building sites in Sheffield for a friend of my father. It was a bit of a rite of passage for my family, but I loved it and I learned so many skills.
After my final year at University, I carried on working for the builder because the idea of getting up in the morning, going into work and then doing what you want at night gave me a good sense of freedom. I didn’t want to become a lawyer. To me it was a really pivotal moment in my life.
One of the first jobs I ever had, in the first summer holiday in 1994, was on the Parkway site of B Braun’s original building. I met some people there that I met 10 years later when I started working for them, so I’ve got a long connection with the company.
How did you go from building sites to working for B Braun?
I met my wife, who’s from intake, in 1999 and, as much as I loved being outdoors, solving problems and building things, I realised I’d got to do something with my career. And that simple story started with B Braun. I think it was probably late 2000 when Peter Mitchell, who lived in the village and was the former MD of B Braun, said we’ve got this new contract called the GP contract. The contract required them to decant boxes of needles and syringes into smaller boxes that could be delivered to GPs. He asked me if I wanted to do that for a bit? I did it for about five months – I used to go to bed dreaming about packing boxes all day.
It was in April 2001, when Hans Hux, who ended up being my hero boss, was being shown around the facility by Peter Mitchell. He was showing him a new packing machine, which would do the job of me. So, I’m thinking, I’m going to have to do something else. Within an hour, Peter Mitchell called me across the office and said, we’ve got this new computer system called SAP and I need someone to take control of that and I think you might be able to do it.
That was it. On 22nd of May 2001, I started work as the Operations Assistant to the Manufacturing Director – I didn’t have a desk. To cut a very long story short, I got to grips very quickly with the new system, 16 months later I was made the manager of the technical services business, eight months after that I was made General Manager of the entire site, so I had about 160-170 people working under me.
Do you feel like those experiences helped you in your career progression with the company?
“I started at the bottom. But there’s nothing wrong with that because you get to see everything.”
I had to go through an extremely intense selection process for the Managing Director role. Me and another candidate were sent to Hamburg to a third-party objective assessment centre, that’s normally reserved for board members and the German army. The report that came back said that I scored higher than anybody on empathy, and I think that’s part of the reason why I got the job, because leadership is about empathy. You’ve got to understand people.
Had you always held ambitions to head up the company?
I remember when I officially joined B Braun, the HR Manager came down to an induction and asked what would you like to do in a few years? I remember, very clearly, saying ‘I want to be Chief Executive.’ I’ve always wanted it, and as a consequence of that, every opportunity, every challenge, I went for it. I worked hard and took on challenges within the business that other people would have shied away from.
Did you ever think about moving away from B Braun?
No. Never. It hadn’t come up until twelve months ago, when it became clear I’d be having my first job interview in 20 years and there would be serious competition for the job. The question came up in interview; what are you going to do if you don’t get it? I’d invested my life into the company, so I said to them, as I’ll say to you now, ‘I’ll deal with that, if it happens.’ Thankfully, it didn’t, but it went through my mind.
What challenges have you encountered since taken the role in May?
Part of my career history with B Braun has been in areas that have been extremely difficult. That’s given me a great deal of resilience because I’ve seen how bad things can get. I do feel very thick skinned and we haven’t had any serious challenges yet. We’re a great business, we’ve got a very diverse portfolio, we’ve got great people, we’ve got an excellent sales and marketing operation, we’ve got great results, and one of the most enlightening things over the last couple of months is that we’ve got markets that are begging for us to enter them. Having a view across the organisation, gives you a very clear outlook of who we are as a company, and what it is we do for people. It gives you positivity. There will always be issues, but we can get through them.
How have things changed over the years you’ve been involved?
We’ve moved from a sales and marketing operation with just products, to products and services, and now we’re in a different phase and that’s products, services and direct patient care. That wasn’t the case when I started.
Do you think that’s the right approach for health care in this country?
Yes. The NHS can’t do everything. The unique thing about B Braun is that we’re not held by short termism or shareholders. The Braun family are still in charge. As a result, our portfolio is extremely diverse, but that says to our partners and our customers that we’re in it for the long term. We have a very different way of doing things.
For example, we create parenteral nutrition, which is basically injecting liquid food into patients’ veins. We provide the nursing service to deliver it as well, which is a massively growing business because of the push to keep patients out of hospital and get them home. We’ve created the entire supply chain. That’s something that we can be proud of.
What is your vision for the future of the company?
One thing I’m very proud of is that when I joined, we had 150 high paying manufacturing jobs in Sheffield, and we’ve seen that go, but now we’ve got 150 high skilled jobs in aseptic preparation manufacturing. We’ve created that in Sheffield because of the way we’ve responded to the market.
“We need to grow in other areas but the main vision for me, particularly in Sheffield, is that I want people to crawl over broken glass to come and work for us. I want us to be the premium employer in this region.”
How do you hope to achieve that?
Employment competition is high, so we spend more money. We’ve upped the wages, we’ve changed the benefits package, we’re building a case for why people should come and work for us. If you work for high reward, is should be high reward. B Braun will fail without its employees, but they won’t fail without us. We’ve got to instil that loyalty. I’m an example of starting at the lowest paid job and made it to the top. I came out of university and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to do it at B Braun, and I did. And B Braun will let you do it.