Career Solutions: Meet the Teachers

Who better to comment on the future of the supply chain than the people educating the next generation of logistics executives? Inbound Logistics profiles three dynamic professors on the front lines of logistics education.

Thomas Corsi took a curious route to his professorship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland in College Park.

His undergraduate studies at Kent State University, Ohio, and graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, focused on transportation geography. If anything, he was primed for a career in urban planning.

But Corsi opted for a less-traveled fork on the geographer’s career path, joining the Smith School in 1976 as professor of logistics and transportation at a time when business schools were typically staffed by business scholars with firsthand experience.

“I had never taken a business class in my life when I was hired by the University of Maryland,” he says. “I learned about business on the job.”

During his 30-plus years at the Smith School, Corsi has watched logistics emerge as a priority in the corporate world and as a key component of the business school curriculum.

“In the 1970s, firms regarded logistics as an afterthought,” he recalls. In the aftermath of transportation deregulation, and with the advent of new markets, logistics has risen from the backroom to the boardroom, Corsi notes.

Today, as co-director of the university’s Supply Chain Management Center, Corsi focuses on the challenges of globalization and the strategic importance of a well-managed supply chain.

For these front-and-center issues, his non-business background gives him an advantage. “Globalization is all spatial,” he says, drawing on his geographer’s vocabulary.

To help students contend with global realities and bring value to their future employers, Corsi and his colleagues strive to introduce the technology and real-world challenges that await them in the workplace. “We replicate the modern corporation’s systems and applications,” he says.

Corsi’s latest tool for spot-on replication is the real-time, continuous-play Global Supply Chain Game, which he and his Smith School colleagues developed in conjunction with researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, known for its simulation and graphics capabilities.

The Smith researchers supplied the supply chain know-how, while the Delft team created an interactive gaming environment to engage even the technophobic student.

Corsi uses this game at the beginning of his core classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Well before students delve into their first case studies, they plunge into the supply chain game, getting a taste for the complex decision-making that facilitates efficiency and profitability.

Played over a four-hour block of time, the game simulates several months in the life of an international company. It asks competing two- and three-person teams to devise and deploy strategies that create an efficient supply chain while increasing profits and expanding market share.

Along the way, each team confronts the consequences of its decisions, as well as unanticipated snafus. At game’s end, the team with the strongest financial position wins.

In actual play, each team represents a competing firm—computer manufacturers, for example. The team must decide what types of computers to make; where to source parts and sell the product; and how to transport and price the merchandise.

After making these decisions, the team must analyze market conditions to forecast sales and place orders. One bad decision, and the company can flounder.

Because of all the variables, the game does not lend itself to easy formulas or standard approaches. Once the game is over and the winners identified, Corsi asks the teams to compare results and strategies. What worked? What failed? Why? What should have been done differently? The teams usually can’t wait to test their new knowledge in another round of competition.

“The game creates excitement about the supply chain,” Corsi says. “Students gain experience operating in the field, facing a whole range of decisions. When they directly experience supply chain complexity, they understand it faster.”

What’s more, the game supports future learning. “We use the game at the beginning of the semester because all the subsequent cases and lectures then fall into place,” he notes.

It’s not uncommon for readings and lectures to lead to post-game epiphanies—”a-ha” moments when students realize they could have altered their game standing had they grasped a certain concept.

They also learn how other teams’ decisions affect their own performance. These lessons remind them they are facing a highly competitive marketplace, says Corsi.

Five years in the making, the Global Supply Chain Game grew out of research originally financed by the U.S. Department of Defense. In time, the Smith/Delft team partnered with Sun Microsystems to refine the simulation model, enhance its flexibility, and adapt it for competition.

“There were times when I didn’t think the game would take off,” Corsi recalls. But persistence paid off, and to date more than 320 Smith School MBA students have tackled the simulation.

In addition, the game is now the centerpiece of a global supply chain competition, which includes student teams from the United States, Europe, and Asia, all competing over the Internet.

As Corsi sees it, the game is the perfect complement to class readings, including The World is Flat, by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Like Friedman, Corsi believes globalization will require American companies and business leaders to adjust nimbly to ever-changing realities.

In the future, supply chain management will require executives skilled in everything from information technology and financial planning to real-time event monitoring and business intelligence.

For that, Corsi says, there’s no better preparation than hands-on experience afforded by tools such as the Global Supply Chain Game. Apart from its suitability for classroom instruction, the game may have applications in corporate education.

“We like to think the model we’re developing here is the trend of the future,” Corsi says.

Change Agent

As Leslie Pagliari sees it, constant change is the only constant facing logistics educators.

An assistant professor in the department of technology systems at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C., Pagliari is coordinator of the school’s undergraduate logistics program. Her job is to prepare students for never-ending, all-encompassing, head-spinning change.

“The ideas we teach students as freshmen will be obsolete by the time they become juniors,” says Pagliari, known to her students as Dr. P.

Coping with unplanned obsolescence turns a professor’s life topsy-turvy. How do you prepare students for a future that defies predictability?

Pagliari does it by embracing the few certainties that characterize the field: The technology in use today will be quaint and outmoded tomorrow. The workforce that greets you this week will look vastly different next week. And the conditions shaping business operations could change dramatically with one international crisis.

So how can a scholar keep up with, if not stay ahead of, non-stop change? Pagliari, who has a Southerner’s gift for easy exchange, insists on building and maintaining personal ties with the companies that hire her graduates.

Her courses—which range from freshman-level Introduction to Distribution and Logistics to senior-level Distribution Research—feature the requisite case studies and textbook readings. But they also incorporate on-site visits to the front lines and guest speakers from all facets of logistics.

Pagliari counts on these delegates from the trenches to supply lessons in Reality 101, lessons that not only instruct her students, but also keep her in tune with the latest industry developments.

Face-to-face contacts, along with ongoing research, ensure that she doesn’t fall back on old classroom tricks.

“Some professors teach a supply chain class the same way year after year,” Pagliari says.

They hammer home spreadsheet analysis and insist on a mastery of certain software programs. Pagliari incorporates these into her syllabus, too, but she also trains her students to scan the horizon for approaching trends, technologies, and market demands.

Pagliari, who hails from the North Carolina foothills, came to her current post after earning her undergraduate degree and a master’s in occupational safety and health from East Carolina University (ECU).

A job with Procter & Gamble, as well as on-site experience associated with her continuing studies, landed her in numerous manufacturing and warehouse/distribution settings.

With these experiences under her belt, Pagliari decided to pursue studies that would marry her long-time interest in safety and health with her emerging interest in logistics challenges.

Mixing online classes with periodic residencies at different businesses, she earned a PhD in applied management and decision sciences, with an emphasis in engineering management, from Walden University, Minneapolis.

Pagliari no sooner finished her doctoral course work when her old alma mater offered her the opportunity to help convert its undergraduate logistics concentration into a full major. The proposal was too intriguing to pass up.

Since the program’s launch in the 2002-2003 academic year, the number of ECU logistics students has grown from 80 to 185. Each semester, the department graduates about 40 students, most of whom are hired before the ink dries on their diplomas.

“We have more job requests than graduates,” Pagliari says.

Many of these graduates refine their classroom skills on the job, then return to ECU for graduate degrees that prepare them to assume leadership roles. This leads to the kind of two-way knowledge exchange—professor to student and student to professor—that Pagliari considers essential for the development of the logistics field.

With ECU’s undergraduate enrollment on the rise, Pagliari is working on curriculum enhancements that ensure her students’ preparedness for change and even for catastrophe. She’s currently developing a syllabus and conducting research to support a class on security risk analysis and logistics.

Scheduled to debut in 2007-2008, the course will be taught in the undergraduate program and eventually become part of the graduate curriculum.

The course stems from Pagliari’s interest in the safety and logistics challenges the business community grappled with in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

To prepare, she’s studying the way various companies respond to changing homeland security regulations regarding everything from transporting oil and gas to warehousing chemicals. How do they track the location of hazardous materials? How do they know if a shipment has been hijacked? How do they respond if a worst-case scenario materializes?

She’s also examining the logistics challenges that face the public-health sector. In collaboration with North Carolina’s health agencies, Pagliari has analyzed possible responses to a hypothetical radiation scare. This opportunity drew on her relish for solving logistics puzzles and her interest in the human side of her discipline.

The study explores the logistics of communication, especially in a state with a swelling population of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

How should the relevant health and government agencies communicate with all sectors of the population? And assuming the agencies will need to coordinate response, where should they post translators, dispatch health care workers, and distribute medicine?

In addition to keeping the curriculum current and change-sensitive, Pagliari also wants to diversify her student population. Currently, female students account for less than 25 percent of all ECU logistics majors.

As Pagliari sees it, women are missing out on a career that plays to their strengths: problem-solving, listening, and big-picture thinking. Unfortunately, she says, too many women think logistics is only about warehouses, and overcoming these perceptions is not easy.

“It takes me twice as long to interest a female student in this program as it does a male student,” she explains.

That will change once more women, her students among them, permeate the field and spread the word. In the meantime, Pagliari says, “you don’t hear much about females in the field.”

Present company excluded.

The Softer Side of Logistics

In the spreadsheet-fixated, technology-focused world of logistics, Mark Barratt is a self-described heretic.

At Arizona State University in Tempe, where he is an assistant professor of supply chain management, Barratt ventures into touchy-feely territory. He extols the importance of cultural awareness and preaches the virtues of collaboration—all, he insists, in the name of preparing students for a radically different future.

If his students are to have productive careers in an increasingly competitive marketplace, they certainly need to master the latest software and conquer the art of managing inventory. Just as important, they need to understand how people think and behave in foreign countries, says Barratt.

And they need to embrace the possibilities of collaborative partnerships, both inside and outside their organizations, and up and down the supply chain.

“Sometimes my students get sick and tired of me rattling on about collaboration,” he says, but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm.

Barratt traces his affection for the softer side of logistics to his graduate school days in London. He grew up in England and worked for several years in the legal profession, specializing in property conveyance.

“I decided I wanted to do something more honest for a living,” he jokes, so he enrolled at Cranfield School of Management, not sure specifically what he wanted to do.

A few chance encounters with one of Europe’s leading logistics professors, Martin Christopher, captured Barratt’s imagination. Christopher’s maverick approach to logistics—a topic that seemed downright uncongenial to eccentricity—inspired Barratt, and for the next five and a half years, he immersed himself in logistics studies, particularly the possibilities for maximizing efficiency through collaboration.

“At the time, collaboration was a dirty word,” he explains. Dirty word or not, collaboration has become an imperative in today’s world. But that doesn’t mean collaborating is easy, particularly within organizations, notes Barratt.

Too often, when logisticians analyze supply chains, they fall back on models that stipulate how people will behave: Person A in Department B will provide data to Person C in Department D, who will then activate Plan E. Neat as that scenario appears on paper, it seldom corresponds with reality.

Savvy logistics professionals need to understand organizational behavior and develop strategies for dealing with it, he says. To illustrate this point to MBA students, Barratt asks them to look in the mirror.

“I ask: How many of you trust all your colleagues 100 percent?’ Maybe one person will raise their hand,” he says. From there, they analyze how the models fall apart when trust is eroded and the possibilities for collaboration are derailed.

Collaboration outside the organization is just as essential for supply chain success, Barratt says. To achieve maximum efficiency, players up and down the chain have to pool resources and focus on outcomes desirable to all.

That may mean sharing information once regarded as a trade secret. It certainly means win-win deals and numerous partnerships with outside players, he notes.

European and Japanese companies are adopting this model with relative ease, but too many American businesses cling to a competitive model that prizes short-term advantage—deals that squeeze suppliers or place unreasonable burdens on carriers, he notes.

“It scares me when I hear companies still perceive collaboration as unnecessary,” Barratt says. “I don’t think they will be around in 10 years.”

Nor will they be viable if they fail to prepare for the challenges of the human side of globalization.

In his undergraduate and graduate global logistics classes, Barratt tells students they will spend much of the semester talking about cultures. Most of his students are dumbfounded.

“Half the problem,” he says, “is that we don’t even know culture is a business issue.”

At the beginning of his class, Barratt typically asks how many students speak more than three languages, and how many have traveled to more than 10 countries. Few hands rise, and those that do often belong to international students.

To illustrate his point about cultural awareness, Barratt draws upon an anecdote from his own experiences.

On a recent trip to Bahrain, he witnessed a business encounter involving an American, an Australian, and a Bahraini. The American was informal and talked assertively about business deals. The Bahraini, Barratt recalls, was clearly uncomfortable with the American’s casual manners and the hard-driving nature of his business talk. He was more at ease with the Australian, who adopted a formal approach and mixed business talk with conversation about family.

“Students need to grasp the cultural differences that exist throughout the world,” Barratt explains. “If you understand what happens in these countries, then you can do business with them.”

With that in mind, Barratt urges his students to take internships in Hong Kong, to travel the world between semesters, or to volunteer with a nongovernmental organization in Africa and study how aid is distributed.

Many students catch his contagious curiosity, but others hesitate to leave their comfort zones. Too many remain mired in the assumption that people everywhere want to do business with American companies, that the American tradition of innovation will secure U.S. companies a permanent advantage, he says.

As Barratt sees it, that’s a prescription for obsolescence, a mindset that invites stagnation. “The rest of the world,” he says, “is not sitting around waiting for America to lead the way.”

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