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Friday, October 5, 2012

Supply chain interview

DEPARTMENTS Dialogue [A CONVERSATION WITH AN INDUSTRY LEADER] Educating for the global economy His long career as teacher, author, editor, and mentor of future supply chain professionals earned Dr. James R. Stock CSCMP's 2011 Distinguished Service Award. THE SUPPLY CHAIN PROFESSION has many college and university educators who put heart and soul into teaching. Even among such a committed group, Dr. James R. Stock stands out. And that, in large part, is why the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) bestowed its 46th Distinguished Service Award on the University of South Florida professor. In handing out the award, CSCMP President Rick Blasgen said, “The accomplishments he has achieved through teaching, authoring textbooks, conducting research, editing journals, and educating supply chain professionals have left and will continue to leave an indelible mark on the supply chain profession.” Stock began his teaching career at the University of Notre Dame in 1975, long before supply chain management had emerged as a distinct discipline. He recognized that teaching traditional distribution management would not be sufficient in itself to prepare students for careers in a global economy, and he foresaw that what would come to be called supply chain management would have to become a part of the university curriculum. In addition to the Distinguished Service Award, Stock has received the Armitage Medal and Eccles Medal from the International Society of Logistics and a 2006 Rainmaker Award from DC Velocity Magazine. He has published six books and over 150 articles, monographs, and proceedings papers. He has also served as editor of the International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, Logistics Spectrum, and CSCMP's Journal of Business Logistics. In a recent interview with Editor James Cooke, Stock discussed the current state and future of supply chain education. How has teaching supply chain management changed in the past decade or so? One must remember that SCM (supply chain management) as a concept is less than 30 years old, originating in the literature in the mid-1980s. The first SCM courses began appearing in the 1990s, and initially they were slightly expanded logistics management courses. As they developed, they expanded to incorporate many non-logistics components such as manufacturing/production, sourcing, marketing, and many others. Thus, in terms of most business-related disciplines, the field is relatively young and, one could say, still immature from a developmental perspective. Commensurate with the expanded concept of SCM, the teaching of the subject has also expanded to include a variety of topics never covered in traditional logistics classes. Topics such as lean management, Six Sigma, lifecycle assessment, the “perfect order,” and others had to be included in a course on SCM. This required that teachers have the knowledge and expertise to include those topics in their classroom lectures and discussions. It also allowed for more collaborative teaching to occur, which meant that faculty from MIS (management information systems), finance, production, operations, and marketing could participate in the presentation of materials from their disciplines as they related to SCM. How much influence does industry have on what's taught in the classroom today? In the logistics and supply chain areas, industry has a great deal of influence on what is taught in the classroom. Historically, logistics and SCM faculty members have ongoing relationships with various businesses, which they then weave into their classroom presentations and discussions. Faculty read many of the professional trade journals that are sent to people in the field. Those periodicals include case studies, interviews, and so forth, which are very practitioner-oriented. So, through the reading of those materials, faculty members are able to utilize examples of companies and processes that are relevant to the teaching of logistics or SCM. Additionally, when companies recruit on university campuses, they meet with faculty about the jobs for which they are interviewing, and they discuss the types of students they want to hire—skill sets, personal characteristics, computer expertise, previous experience. Thus, industry has both direct and indirect influence on what is being taught in today's college classroom. Are supply chain executives pressing you to teach certain subjects? In a few instances they are, especially if they have a very specific need for a particular skill set or knowledge. Generally, however, supply chain executives are looking for potential hires who are problem solvers, people who can see the “big picture,” and those who possess both specialty and generalist knowledge. Of course, speaking and writing skills will always be in demand, because they never cease to be important elements of a successful career. Recognizing this, faculty members attempt to include topical material and teach pedagogy that will develop these skills in the students that take their classes. How can the profession attract the best young minds into the field? There are a number of ways the professionals can influence young people to consider logistics or SCM as career fields. First, they can provide paid summer internships that provide real-world experiences for future supply chain executives. Second, they can be involved in university career days, fairs, and programs where students have the opportunity to hear from the practitioner and can also raise questions and concerns about the logistics or supply chain fields. Third, practitioners can be “guest lecturers” in classes relating to logistics or SCM. Students always love to hear what's happening in businesses, and what better way to hear than to have practitioners share their stories with them? Fourth, logistics and SCM professionals can make their voices heard with college administrators who influence the funding and hiring of faculty members within colleges. It is difficult to graduate students in logistics or SCM if there is no, or insufficient, faculty available to teach those courses. Finally, companies can consider offering scholarships to logistics or SCM students based on scholastic achievement and interest in pursuing careers in the field. Such scholarships do not have to be large—typically $1,000 or less for each scholarship. The best students love to apply for such academic scholarships because of the prestige and status that they bring to their résumés. What types of companies are recruiting supply chain graduates these days? We have seen more logistics or supply chain service companies interested in graduates. For example, 3PLs (third-party logistics companies) and 4PLs (fourth-party logistics companies) have consistently been looking for graduates interested in pursuing careers in various areas such as transportation, warehousing, information systems, and consulting. Additionally, depending on the location of the university, recruiters may be looking for students with interests in retailing, manufacturing, or government. How important is a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree to a successful career in supply chains today? MBAs are good to have for middle and senior management positions. For entry-level positions, a bachelor's degree is sufficient for most positions. Business experience continues to be a plus, even if that experience is not in logistics or SCM. A good approach for many students is to obtain the entry-level position, work for a few years, and then obtain the MBA as a part-time student, often taking night or online courses. Many universities are very creative and offer courses online, evenings, Saturdays only, or concentrated into courses lasting one to four weeks, rather than an entire term. In sum, obtaining an MBA is a good idea for almost every logistics or SCM person, but not necessarily right away after obtaining a bachelor's degree. What advice would you give someone entering the profession today? While the present economy is a difficult one, it is not really much different from previous periods when economic conditions were better. Just as the attributes of cost and service have been important in the past, and will continue to be important in the future, so too will personal traits such as oral and written communication skills, computer and information technology expertise, the willingness to work hard, being a team player, and having a concern and empathy for the customer and others be important in the hiring and promotion processes of companies now and in the future. I tell my students that if they want a challenging career—one filled with change and new things almost every day—and a desire to be able to significantly influence the well-being of companies and their customers, then logistics or SCM is for them. It is a career that offers personal satisfaction and good financial rewards for those who do their jobs well. δ

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