Delivering what the doctor ordered

When a ministry of health in Africa sought to vaccinate thousands of children against meningitis, officials turned to pharmaceutical powerhouse Pfizer. The company, in turn, tapped Jim Cafone and his team to deliver vaccine from manufacturing plants thousands of miles away.

It’s all in a day’s work for URI engineering alumnus Cafone. The vice president of supply network services at Pfizer leads a global logistics network that spans 90 plants, 300 external suppliers and 175 distribution centers connected by more than 2,100 trade lanes.

Jim Cafone
Engineering alumnus Jim Cafone ensures live-saving medications reach their destinations.

Cafone’s team delivers life-saving medication despite volcanic eruptions that close European skies to air traffic, tsunamis that devastate swaths of Japan and terrorist attacks that impede global delivery firms. Through all the challenges, they keep time-sensitive products secure and at carefully defined temperatures.

“We do far more than pick, pack and ship,” Cafone, 45, says. “We’re a team that plans for every scenario that could jeopardize delivery of vital medical supplies.”

To ensure success, Cafone leads Pfizer’s Supply Chain Transformation Initiative. The innovative program equips colleagues with the knowledge and tools required to tackle the demands of the end-to-end global supply chain.

Cafone never dreamed of such a responsibility while growing up in northern New Jersey. But engineering enticed him. As a high school senior, he applied to engineering programs throughout the Northeast. He picked the University of Rhode Island for its close-knit community and direct access to faculty.

He arrived in 1984 and found an engineering program that taught him to tackle grand challenges in a structured, yet innovative, environment. He honed his critical thinking skills, gained practical technical expertise and graduated with a bachelor’s in industrial engineering in 1988 and a master’s in manufacturing engineering in 1990.

He has since remained connected to the University. In October 2011, the University presented him with a Distinguished Achievement Award. He serves on the College of Engineering’s Advisory Council and keeps an eye on University graduates as potential employees.

“I look for the student that has a good education, work experience and street smarts,” he says. “I think URI gives you that.”
The University, he says, also provides a global perspective that he relied on when his career took him to three European countries and to locations across the United States. Now working at Pfizer’s Philadelphia offices, Cafone says the origins of his success are clear.

“The University of Rhode Island got me where I am today,” he says. “It helped me think big and drive myself further than I ever imagined.”