The Growth Agent

Carlos Gadea, Command Medical Products, Managua, Nicaragua

WHEN CARLOS GADEA first joined Command Medical Products, he had no formal training in project management. But he quickly learned how effective it could be—and that knowledge is paying off as the U.S. company defies the tough economic times to open more plants in Nicaragua.

In its first quarter century, Command Medical Products has built a robust business as a contract manufacturer of disposable medical devices. Much of that success was built largely on double-digit growth from high-volume automated production in the United States. But the Ormond Beach, Florida, USA-based company couldn't compete when it came to high-volume hand assembly.

Looking to tap into that market, the company headed to Managua, Nicaragua, where labor costs are just 10 percent to 13 percent of what they would be in the United States. And Mr. Gadea was brought on as operations manager, tasked with the launch, staffing and management of the 1,000-square-meter (10,764-square-foot) facility.

The plant opened in September 2005 and currently employs 25 people. The workers manufacture 20 products that, although distinct, are often only subtly different—giving founder and president David Slick some initial concern that workers might confuse various models. But a strict regimen put in place by Mr. Gadea has resulted in quality and productivity that equals, and often exceeds, facilities in the United States.

Mr. Gadea built his success upon the disciplines of project management, which he learned and implemented “on the fly” after an intensive two-week basic training session with Joyce Vytlacil, Command Medical's vice president of operations. At the Nicaraguan plant, he launched a project to implement quality-control procedures aimed at ensuring his employees produced as efficiently as their U.S. counterparts.

“For each product code, we have a quality-control procedure,” says Mr. Gadea. “We train employees very carefully to follow an extensive checklist process for each product. To measure our performance, we take samples from production every hour and monitor each product against its checklist.”

In addition, Mr. Gadea implemented a meticulous record-keeping process based on individual products and production lots. As a result, the company now has a set of precise benchmarks that allow Mr. Gadea and Command Medical's U.S.-based management to measure efficiency and adherence to production standards for every product and establish parameters for optimum performance.

And now, the company is slated to open a second Nicaraguan facility. The new 2,800-square-meter (30,139-square-foot) plant is scheduled to debut in January with 50 to 60 additional employees. This time around, Mr. Gadea is making full use of the project management knowledge he picked up working on the first plant.

“The process of developing the first facility has helped to give us the know-how to do an even better job on the new plant, which has been developed even faster than the first one,” Mr. Gadea says.

For example, there were delays of several weeks in securing electricity and water service at the first plant, but Mr. Gadea discovered ways to expedite cumbersome utility processes at the new facility. And he also learned that certain necessities, such as HEPA filters for the production clean room, are not yet available in Nicaragua and must be imported from the United States.

Part of effective project management is to have a team that understands where you are and where you are going.

Mr. Gadea's experiences have sold him on project management, and he plans to steadily grow and refine his knowledge.

“Project management has been very important to our success,” he says. “There is always room for improvement, and the discipline of project management allows you to learn the ways in which overall performance of the company can be measured and improved. Part of effective project management is to have a team that understands where you are and where you are going.”

For Mr. Gadea, the destination is a third facility, which he expects to be developed within the next several years.—John Buchanan

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PHOTO BY RUBÈN FARINA

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Leadership 2009 www.pmi.org
Leadership 2009

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