Episode 33: Brian Fugate, Stephanie Thomas, and Brian Johnson
Supply chain leaders discuss the talents and attributes that are needed in the market. Stephanie Thomas is a professor in the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Brain Johnson, an executive with Gartner, shares his experience leading organizations to optimize their Supply Chain Organization. Brian Fugate is the Department Chair of Supply Chain Management at the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas.
00:10 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to BeEPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education, and your life today.
00:35 Matt Waller: Today, I have with me Brian Johnson, an executive with Gartner, Brian Fugate, the Chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management at the Walton College, and Stephanie Thomas, a professor in the Walton College and Supply Chain Management. And we're talking about talent and attributes of talent that are required for supply chain. So when we think about supply chain talent, what are you seeing in the market?
01:06 Brian Johnson: What we're seeing is digitalization having a huge impact in the marketplace, and because of that, supply chains are really having to have a bimodal view of how to go to work. On this first side, you have to go and do the day-to-day, you have to drive costs out. But if you're not having a second mode of operation, which is innovation-focused, really taking advantage of the technology and digitalizations out there in the marketplace, you're gonna be left behind.
01:31 Matt Waller: Stephanie, I know you teach a lot of students, you've been a logistics executive in retail in your career before you became a professor, what are some trends that are occurring that you're noticing?
01:48 Stephanie Thomas: I think some of the interesting trends are that more students are coming in knowing a little bit about supply chain management, it's actually being talked about in some places at the high school level, which I'm really excited about. I teach the integrated supply chain management course, which is usually, for many of them, their first intro into what supply chain management really is. And that's where a lot of them, the light bulb goes on, and goes, "This is a career path I could see myself in," or, "this is really cool, I wanna learn more." As a newer field, we need that to trickle down to lower levels, so that we can generate that excitement early on. So I think there's more students becoming more aware of it, and some of that is more parents being in the field, as logistics and supply chain has grown. And so around the dinner table at night, they're hearing about these issues and challenges, and I think you're starting to see a shift in the makeup of students as well.
02:49 Stephanie Thomas: I'm noticing we are getting more women interested in supply chain management and a lot more diversity from different backgrounds as well, especially, interestingly, here at the University of Arkansas, there are a number of the international students that come in. And for example, we have several students from the country of Panama. And a lot of them, there's heavy influence obviously of the Panama Canal, but they come in here really wanting and excited about supply chain management.
03:21 Matt Waller: Brian, I know as a department chair of supply chain management, one thing that you've been really doing, and I'm really grateful for, is trying to think about our curriculum.
03:33 Brian Fugate: What we've done when we look at the history of this program is logistics, transportation, and heavy retail supply chain. And those are still our core competencies, if you will, given where we are and where a lot of our students go. What we've done though, integrated a broader supply chain curriculum. To have, really to touch on sourcing, and production, and the customer-facing side. And as well as the supply chain strategy and change management, and those kinds of things. And so we have project courses that have looked at Blockchain with local companies. Students have worked on using augmented reality glasses in the transportation space to help with decisions. And so we're really trying to have our students be prepared to use all the data that's gonna become available, and the digitization to be able to do data... Not just data analytics, but make decisions off of those, and prepare them so that they're thinking strategically, they're thinking in an integrated manner across the supply chain. And so we continue to change our curriculum.
04:51 Brian Johnson: I think that will so much align to what Gartner research is saying. We just came out with the future of work 2025. And what we... One of the call-outs was is the whole idea of a spectrum of a role being changed. That historically, the idea of there are lots of little jobs is different in the future. The future is gonna require that the leadership in the supply chain organizations have a large spectrum. So your ability to start the students off well there, should pay huge dividends for them in their career.
05:24 Stephanie Thomas: That's another reason that we like the Gartner model is because it isn't as simple as some supply chain models are made out to be; it's plan, source, make, deliver, and that may be it, and might... Maybe we'll talk about a customer, but it's much more comprehensive of what the reality really is out in the supply chain world. And so it's nice to be able to look at the Gartner model and know that we're preparing our students similarly.
05:51 Matt Waller: Gartner recently published some research that showed that one of the biggest impediments to success in moving forward with the digitization in business is talent and capabilities, but I know there's many other things that they've identified.
06:12 Brian Johnson: Well, last year at our annual conference, Dana Stiffler, who's one of our major analysts on people, she put up what the requirements are gonna be for the future for a role. And she went into the territory of Chicago, and when she got down to it, only a handful of people even qualified for that role, and the price was so expensive. So the action item that she told the executive crowd there was, "You have to think of new ways to develop, to build. You're not gonna be able to just go out and hire people. You need to have avenues that are bringing these people into your organization and able to develop them." And some of those, we just did a research on internships, and how to manage an internship to grow talent. Obviously partnering with schools is a big part of that, but it's all part of the idea of not just going out and buying talent anymore, you have to be responsible for making your own talent.
07:05 Matt Waller: And one thing that we've done in our undergraduate program that's really interesting, students don't have to pick a major until their junior year now. It used to be they had to pick it a lot earlier. But now, in the freshman and sophomore year, the students are learning lots... All the areas of business. And then when they're junior, they can make a decision about what they wanna major in. And the third biggest major in the college is supply chain management, and it's the fastest growing.
07:40 Brian Johnson: But aren't you seeing the success of chief supply chain officers now taking the CEO role in so many organizations as one of the major drivers, I think, of people understanding that if they wanna be an executive in the leadership of companies in the future, that one of the best pathways to that is through the supply chain because it goes from finance all the way through. It gives them a full view of the operation of the business, which I think sets themself up well to be in a leadership role, if that's their desire.
08:14 Matt Waller: Absolutely. I mean, another alumnus that we're proud of is Doug McMillon, who's the CEO of Walmart, and he often says logistics and supply chain are things he pays a lot of attention to. He thinks it's a critical success factor for Walmart. And almost every time I hear him speak about strategy or the direction, you hear that come up.
08:41 Stephanie Thomas: Well, I think at the student level, a lot of times, for supply chain majors, it's been kinda hard when nobody knew what you did or what you were going to do, so you had this little bit of an inferiority complex. And when the CEO of Walmart is talking about logistics and supply chain, you're like, "See, I'm doing something really cool." And so I think that's great when you see executives kind of elevate awareness about the field, and that definitely does trickle down to the student level.
09:09 Brian Fugate: A core principle, some of the core principles that we teach and that we train, and you have to do as soon as you start your first job and throughout you career, is managing those cross-functional silos, right? So maybe not breaking them down, but ventilating those silos, and as well as doing the same thing across companies. And so you have to get really good at process integration, you have to get good at relationships, at personal relationships, company relationships, and dealing with those conflicts, and how do you execute a new supply chain implementation... Some initiative that you're doing. And so they end up working across the company, so they do get that full review so...
09:52 Stephanie Thomas: Well, and I think, talking about the cross-functional, when you look at the work that's being done in the McMillon Innovation Studio, where you have a lot of cross-functional teams and you have students representing all different parts of the university, not just business students, coming together. And the reality is, out in the real world, we work with people in all different areas, not just in supply chain or just in sales or just in manufacturing. And so for the students that get to participate in those projects, this is a great opportunity to work with people that may not think like you, approach problems like you, have the same content knowledge foundation that you do, and how do you work together in that type of environment and still try to be successful?
10:35 Brian Johnson: And what we've seen at Gartner, is one of the major contributors to that, is the ability to challenge the status quo. And so as we build those teams that you guys are developing, no longer is it just show up and do your job. It's like you challenge the status quo because that's what the organizations need to succeed today.
10:57 Matt Waller: Stephanie, I know you've done a number of things to help our college move towards encouraging women to consider supply chain as a major. Would you mind talking to that a bit?
11:11 Stephanie Thomas: That's kind of an area that I have found a passion for. It started when my husband was actually in his PhD program and he had some young female students that would come to him and ask him questions, and he was like, "I can give you an answer, but I don't have the same perspective that my wife would. So call her, set up a time to have coffee." And so before I even transitioned into academia, I was already kind of mentoring students because I could see there's a need. Actually, I had one female one time tell me that going to class, because it was heavily male focused, was like going to a fraternity party. You were either hit on or ignored. And so it kind of drove me to, "Okay, let's change that." The great thing about the Walton College is that all business majors do take supply chain management.
12:01 Stephanie Thomas: So sometimes it's not until you get into your upper division classes that you realize, "Oh, wait. There's not as many people like me," and in some cases, start to have a little buyers remorse of, "Am I doing the right thing?" And that's where we have a student organization called WISE, which stands for Women Impacting Supply Chain Excellence. And that's where organizations like that can kind of be very helpful because there's a place and a group that you can go to and say, "Okay, has anybody else felt this way?" It's really fun to get to advise an organization to help see students, male or female, become more confident in their decision to go into this field, because the opportunities really are endless.
12:43 Brian Fugate: Maybe, Stephanie, you're also involved in... I know you're involved in research in this space and doing some studies with CSCMP, as well as working closely with AWESOME, and you'll have to tell us what that means. And our students, you've got them engaged in that as well.
12:58 Stephanie Thomas: Absolutely, there's a study that was out of Ohio State for 20-25 years, started by a lady named Martha Cooper, that looked at at the industry level of what are women doing in supply chain management. Originally, it was in logistics. And as the field has evolved, so did the study. And when AWESOME and Gartner came along and put their emphasis on the women in supply chain research Terry Esper and Hannah Stolze and I kinda stepped back and said, "They're gonna do this a lot better than we can, but let's see if there's something else we can look at." And so this past year we reconfigured the survey to have a focus on students.
13:43 Stephanie Thomas: And so for the first launch we had 18 universities that had students that responded and a lot of it was trying to replicate a lot of what had been done at the practitioner level, but then it was also to dig a little deeper into: Why are students coming into supply chain management? What do they like about it? What do they not like about it? What are they seeing as the challenges and opportunities? And to see if that's consistent with what's going on in the industry. And it was amazing, we had a 50-50 split of, I think it was like... I think we ended up with 650 respondents and half male, half female. But you also saw a number of Hispanics, we did have African-Americans, we had a lot of Asian-Americans, so there was some diversity in the mix too, which I think you continue to see a lot of those different ethnic background to grow as well, and I think a lot of universities are focusing on that.
14:43 Stephanie Thomas: But the interesting thing from some of the findings are how, at the student level, a lot of what's going on with the students, male and female it's no difference in how they're responding to certain things or how they feel about the field. The main kind of interesting one was that the male students were much more confident in their decision to be a supply chain major than the female students. And the other organization that Brian mentioned was AWESOME, which stands for Achieving Women's Excellence in Supply Chain Operations Management and Education. And it's an organization, started by a lady named Ann Drake, and it initially started as a focus on executives, senior level executive women and it kind of gave them a group to belong to. It's a great opportunity for them to see that there is a whole world of strong supply chain leaders that happen to be women out there at a very critical point in their learning. And then they come back and tell all their friends about it, and those stories just kind of roll on, that helps energize the kind of next generation of leaders coming on.
15:58 Brian Johnson: Several years ago at Gartner, we started women in supply chain, having breakout sessions for them and specific venues just for them to talk in. It seems like the voice is definitely getting louder and louder in the marketplace, but it's also opening up to the men that are in supply chain understanding what it is. So they've kind of said, "Hey, when we have a woman in supply chain session, let's not have it just be women," like it needs to be everybody needs to be in the room. And so that mindset of changing, we've seen certainly accelerating a lot over the last few years.
16:32 Stephanie Thomas: Well, interestingly this year with the student organization, the WISE organization we have several male students that have joined this year, and some of them just said, "I just wanna learn more and I wanna support my female student partners that I'm in groups with and project," which is great because I think that's setting that foundation that hopefully eventually one day this is a conversation that we don't even have anymore.
17:01 Matt Waller Thanks for listening to today's episode of the BeEPIC podcast from the Walton College. You can find us on Google, SoundCloud, iTunes, or look for us wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to subscribe, and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching BeEPIC podcast one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast and now, be epic.