Most Likely to Succeed
From an undergrad learning the fundamentals to a Ph.D candidate conducting groundbreaking research, meet the students pursuing supply chain education at all levels.
A career in supply chain management draws professionals attracted to its broad scope and potential to significantly impact corporate growth.
Today's supply chain students bring diverse backgrounds, experiences, and motivations to their pursuit of logistics degrees—from professionals taking short-term certificate courses to full-fledged residential post-graduates tackling complex supply chain conundrums.
Inbound Logistics talked to five students to learn the motivation behind their career paths and how supply chain education is developing to meet marketplace demands.
Martin J. Whitman School of Management
When Eric Wadsworth entered the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University four years ago, his sights were set on a finance career. But one sophomore-level supply chain course changed his focus.
"Before taking the course, I had no idea what a supply chain was," says Wadsworth. "This class explained how finance, marketing, and the supply chain exist as one big triangle connecting the different areas of a company. It was interesting to learn how they interact."
The increasing role supply chain management plays in business also piqued his interest.
At a supply chain career fair held at Syracuse last fall, for example, attendees overflowed the room, reflecting both the growth of the field as well as the rising popularity of the subject at Whitman.
Wadsworth is one of 122 students enrolled in the undergraduate supply chain program; two years ago, only 80 students participated.
Wadsworth's sophomore-year coursework in supply chain, finance, and marketing culminated in a simulation game where teams compete to run an imaginary company. "The game was a good way to introduce undergrads to the supply chain," he says.
Enrolling in subsequent courses in supplier relationships, materials management, inventory control, supply chain management, transportation, and other related interdisciplinary topics has boosted Wadsworth's enthusiasm for his new major.
The opportunity to study issues facing real-world companies, test his team's recommendations against actual outcomes, and consider the perspectives of professors and guest lecturers from industry has helped bring theory to life.
"I find the emerging role of 3PLs, and how they can help companies expand and grow, extremely interesting," Wadsworth says. "But the most profound realization is learning how competitive a company can become with a properly managed supply chain."
In 2006, Wadsworth completed a summer internship in the global supply chain department of a medical device company, where he handled international order inquiries and managed the daily shipping report.
He has also passed an exam toward fulfilling professional certification in production and inventory management. Wadsworth's interest in the supply chain extends outside the classroom.
After a semester conducting additional supply chain coursework in London, he returned to Syracuse and revived the Franklin Student Group, a dormant supply chain club. He also worked with the Association for Operations Management to bring speakers and tours to the Whitman School.
As a "numbers guy" who also minors in math, Wadsworth hopes to bring his financial acumen to his future supply chain career. But he feels the degree itself opens doors.
"What I've learned here will allow me to work in supply chain management in any industry," he says.
The Certificate Earner
Penn State Smeal College of Business—Supply Chain Leadership Certificate program
Sometimes education is useful not just for finding ways to change a supply chain, but also to confirm that best practices are already in place.
Silvia Moreno, sector procurement manager for Tyco Electronics' aerospace and defense division, enrolled in an executive-level supply chain certificate program across the country from her office in San Jose, Calif., to gain such assurance.
Moreno is well-versed in materials purchasing and procurement. Tyco's government contracts are planned out years in advance and often call for procuring highly specialized components that might be available from just one supplier.
A departmental repositioning, however, threw those practices into question. "We aligned all business units into one purchasing and procurement group to gain more leverage," she explains.
This move allowed the units to combine purchasing power to negotiate better rates and terms from suppliers. "But it also made us question whether Tyco's supply chain was properly aligned and performing at optimal levels," she adds.
To gain more insight into supply chain theory and other industry best practices that might apply to Tyco, Moreno, who holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from the College of Notre Dame, investigated executive-level education programs.
Several colleagues recommended the Supply Chain Education program at The Smeal College of Business at Pennsylvania State University, located near Tyco Electronics' corporate office in Berwyn, Pa. Moreno enrolled in the Supply Chain Leadership Certificate program, one of several executive curricula offered.
The program requires several four- to seven-day visits to the Penn State campus, each preceded by in-depth analysis of case studies. Because students attend the sessions on their own schedules, classmates differ from one session to the next.
"It's intense," Moreno says of the program, in which students meet for a full day, followed by dinner with professors, then a group homework project.
Moreno's initial class covered supply chain management basics, followed by a second program on managing change and a third on lean processes.
The diversity of executives attending the program provides students with new supply chain insights and perspectives. In her most recent class, about half the students were from the U.S. Army, and they shared their unique approach to a highly complex and multi-faceted supply chain operation.
Together with the coursework, the program has shone new light on the diversity of supply chains across industries.
"I learned how critical the supply chain is to consumer goods," says Moreno. "We studied a retailer that uses creative distribution and warehousing systems. Unfortunately we can't copy them."
Unlike commercial supply chains, aerospace and defense companies are stymied by limitations. "We're locked into certain contracts, and can't negotiate terms," Moreno says.
So far, Moreno's supply chain executive education has impacted her job in two ways. First, while many ideas are not applicable in a heavily regulated industry, she has picked up some best practices that might be useful within Tyco's operation.
Second, Moreno has confirmed that her operation's supply chain is correctly aligned. "Now I understand when people bring ideas in from the commercial supply chain world," she says.
Moreno advises those pursuing executive-level supply chain operations to "keep an open mind and embrace the knowledge you can acquire by interacting with people from different backgrounds," she says.
The Career Changer
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Masters of Logistics (MLOG) program
Graham Whittemore didn't give a thought to supply chain management when he pursued a bachelor's degree in biological engineering.
But as he learned more about the field during his tenure at two semiconductor companies, he decided to quit his statistics job and devote 60 hours a week to studying all things supply chain.
Statistics skills led Whittemore to a job at Axcelis, then to Fairchild Semiconductor as a process engineer—all the while completing master's of engineering coursework remotely at the Rochester Institute of Technology, New York. As satisfied as he was with his statistics work, he wanted more.
"I enjoyed what I was doing, but I wanted the opportunity to advance my career and learn about the supply chain," says Whittemore.
Whittemore decided a full-immersion residential program would be the best route to meet his goals, so he researched leading supply chain master's degree programs, ultimately choosing the Masters of Logistics (MLOG) course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The choice came at a price—in addition to paying tuition, Whittemore had to surrender his job and salary to undertake the nine-month program.
The MLOG program demands a lot from students. Most exceed the minimal 90-credit requirement per semester and spend hours hanging out in the supply chain lab, a meeting place to work on group projects and mingle with fellow MLOG-ers.
The core curriculum starts with basic analytical skills, adds fundamental theory, applies theory to practice, and caps it off with a strategic perspective.
MIT's programs focus on producing professionals who are equally familiar with sophisticated data analysis and complex management issues. It also builds in flexibility for students to focus on specific interests.
"I didn't realize all the opportunities and the ability to forge your own path," Whittemore says. "This program is what you make it. If you have an interest in supply chain and the program is not satisfying, it's your own fault."
MIT's MLOG is closely aligned with a sister program, the MIT-Zaragoza Master's of Engineering in Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Zaragoza in Spain, dubbed ZLOG.
ZLOG students spend three weeks at MIT studying alongside MLOG students, then Whittemore and his 35 colleagues travel to Spain for lectures and tours of European supply chain facilities, enriching their international perspective.
"The real-world exposure is invaluable," Whittemore says. "Because it's MIT, there is a lot of math and quantitative work, but the school also recruits speakers from industry."
Such real-world orientation has also given Whittemore perspective on supply chains far different than that of the semiconductor industry, demonstrating that velocity and cycle times are unique to each industry.
The diversity and varied experiences of fellow students is also eye-opening. "In this program, the average age of students is 30, so we can take advantage of individual experiences," he says.
Unlike many programs, the MLOG supply chain thesis consists of research projects sponsored by companies. Whittemore's research for Cardinal Health has sent him to Iowa and Chicago to study hospital operations.
He is also considering positions with consulting or high-tech firms, but hasn't ruled out returning to the semiconductor industry—albeit in a different area.
Supply chain management is widely considered to be a new route to the corner office, a fact not lost on MLOG-ers.
"That is an inspiration to everyone in the program," Whittemore adds.
The PhD Candidate
Georgia Institute of Technology
Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Marco Gutierrez's pursuit of higher education took him from his hometown of Hermosillo, Mexico, to Arizona for a bachelor's degree, then to Atlanta for a master's degree at the Georgia Institute of Technology.
But that's nothing compared to the traveling he has done for his PhD work—to Africa, Central America, and soon, the Sudan, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
Gutierrez knew he wanted to continue studying supply chain management after obtaining his master's degree. Because of his interest in disaster relief, he got involved in a new focus area at Georgia Tech: humanitarian logistics.
Because the field is so new, much of Gutierrez's research requires analyzing real-world conditions in the field. Two years ago, he began an internship with the relief organization CARE.
"Logistics is a big challenge in emergency response," says Gutierrez. "After a tsunami, earthquake, or other disaster, a lack of coordination among different operating units creates bottlenecks in delivering supplies."
Gutierrez is trying to help CARE address the issue by assessing its overall supply chain—the strategic plan, operations, and enabling elements. In another study, Gutierrez worked with Georgia Tech peers on a warehouse pre-positioning network, determining how best to stage relief stockpiles around the world.
Gutierrez's research helps assess logistics practices within countries so relief logistics match local requirements and practices. His work is also helping build a knowledge base in humanitarian logistics—an area that currently lacks substantive research.
"People involved in emergency response don't necessarily have time to document best practices, and are not paid to establish systems and share their expertise with other organizations," Gutierrez explains.
Developing a PhD dissertation in such a wide-open discipline is both a blessing and a curse for Gutierrez. A lack of literature provides little foundation to build upon, but the untapped potential and rewards of conducting research that directly impacts the human condition makes challenges such as this worthwhile.
That's why Gutierrez says his PhD work, now in its third year, has been a much different experience than the more traditional research required for his prior degrees.
Gutierrez plans to complete his PhD degree work by the summer of 2009. Then he hopes to explore opportunities in a relief organization such as CARE, academia, or consulting. He is drawn to the challenge of tackling complex problems.
"I started in manufacturing, which is a narrow function," he says. "I like supply chain management because it requires a holistic systems approach. You have to consider so many different factors when working to improve supply chain performance."
The Distance Learner
California State University, Long Beach
Center for International Trade and Transportation (CITT)—Global Logistics Specialist program
When he made a sales call on the Port of Long Beach, Calif., in his role as a consultative sales executive for Hewlett-Packard (HP), Steve Edelman met someone who changed his life.
During the meeting, Marianne Venieris, executive director of the Center for International Trade and Transportation (CITT) at California State University at Long Beach, mentioned the Global Logistics Specialist (GLS) designation.
A former engineer for the U.S. space program, Edelman had an extensive background in enterprise system design, but had just embarked on a self-guided supply chain education after learning about HP's pioneering works.
With a master's degree already under his belt, Edelman was intrigued by Venieris' description of Cal State's supply chain-specific post-graduate program.
"Cal State Long Beach had two things going for it," Edelman says. "It is affiliated with the Port of Long Beach, and its rich curriculum satisfied my educational goals."
That the GLS program is based in California and Edelman lives in Maryland was, surprisingly, not an issue. In fact, some of Edelman's fellow students are participating in the distance-learning course from as far away as India, the Philippines, and Pakistan.
Students participate remotely in a series of five modules. They share in discussions, complete exercises with fellow students, and learn from a virtual faculty. The work culminates in a capstone project in which students work together to develop a cost-reduction solution for a fictional company's supply chain challenges.
"Earning a certificate requires a rigorous process, including an oral presentation and a written report," says Edelman, who has dedicated many evenings and weekends to the effort since starting the program in July 2007.
The distance-learning process itself presents some challenges.
Students rely heavily on their Internet service providers to stay connected; but even more vexing is finding a time for students to "meet" when they're spread across time zones from the U.S. West Coast to the Philippines.
"We miss the personal touch—looking into someone's eyes when speaking to them, for example," Edelman says.
The real key to succeeding in a distance-learning program lies in possessing an insatiable appetite for information. While students participate in mandatory discussions, they're also strongly encouraged to post their thoughts on what they've learned and respond to others' posts.
Edelman's current learning experience is quite different than when he earned his undergraduate and master's degrees at traditional universities.
"I got my on-campus education when I was in my 20s," he says. "Most students in the distance-learning program are in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. As students grow older, I find they have greater curiosity and insight."
Edelman hopes the experience will trigger a new career direction as he seeks to apply what he has learned.
"I entered into this program believing that most companies implement innovative supply chain methods, but I have since learned that many are only in the early stages," he says.
"Some hesitate to cross departmental boundaries, form multi-disciplinary teams, and encourage more intimate sharing of information with trading partners. Changing that mentality is a challenge."
Edelman wants to help companies address these issues by combining his new education with the skills he acquired pursuing a professional certification in executive leadership coaching from Georgetown University.
"It isn't who I'm working for, it's what I'm doing that matters," Edelman adds. "I want to focus on the interaction between people, process, and technology in the supply chain to produce cost savings. That's the real magic for me."