University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 74: Brian Fugate

Brian Fugate is a professor, Oren Harris Chair in transportation, and chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. His innovation in this area led to the creation of the Masters of Science in Supply Chain Management program.


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Episode Transcript

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00:07 Matt Waller: Hi, I'm Matt Waller, Dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Welcome to Be EPIC, the podcast where we explore excellence, professionalism, innovation, and collegiality, and what those values mean in business, education, and your life today. I have with me today, Brian Fugate, professor and Oren Harris Chair in transportation. He is chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management and the Sam M Walton College of Business. Thank you so much for joining me, Brian.

00:45 Brian Fugate: Thank you, Matt, for having to me. I look forward to our discussion.

00:49 Matt Waller: Well, Brian, I know you joined us in 2015 at the University of Arkansas, but you have participated as a Fulbright Scholar in the MIT program in Spain back in 2015. You've been a professor at other universities as well. Prior to going into the academic area and getting a PhD, you were a global logistics manager and engineer for Deere & Company, John Deere. And you also, earlier in your career, had experience with Allied Signal and Digital Airlines. Now, you've been doing tremendous research and teaching in the area of supply chain management. And you've also in the past served as the co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Supply Chain Management, one of the top journals in our discipline. And you also have had lots of teaching innovations throughout your career. And you've even co-developed a patent pending online teaching software application. But today, what I wanted to talk to you about, really is one of your newest innovations, as a department, and that is the Masters of Science in Supply Chain Management. It's funny, prior to this, this is being recorded during the middle of the pandemic, if you're listening to this later. And prior to the pandemic, very few people knew what supply chain management was. And in fact, if you listen to the news, you rarely hear anything about supply chain management. Now, during the pandemic, it seems like every other sentence has the word supply chain management in it. Do you see growing interest in supply chain as well?

03:00 Brian Fugate: No doubt. You make a really good point. I would say that, over the last 10 years, supply chain management has grown a lot and its interest in, and the recognition within the corporate world has substantially grown. And we saw, especially over the last five years, an increasing shortage of talent in the supply chain area of companies. And so, I would hear, as a faculty member department chair, from companies a lot seeking talent in supply chain management. And so, it was growing within the corporate world. And then now, with the pandemic, everybody does seem to know about it. My mom actually finally knows what supply chain management is now, because she's reading it everywhere. And so, it's really neat to see what's happening. And I can explain it to my kids easier now, because of the products they're not getting and those kind of things. So, its level of importance has increased and just shot up recently, which is just why one of the reasons offering this opportunity for a Masters in Supply Chain Management is so important to us.

04:26 Brian Fugate: I had heard prior to the pandemic, people in the local Northwest Arkansas area, for sure, reaching out, asking if we had an opportunity for specialization in supply chain management. It would be people who found themselves in a supply chain role at early career, mid-level manager area within a company, but they didn't have the formalized training in supply chain management. And they had learned some supply chain within their company, but they wanted to grow that and get more formalized training. And so, they would ask us if we had a Master's in Supply Chain Management. And so, that was one of the reasons we decided really a year-and-a-half ago to go down this path. And so, we're excited that we're gonna be launching that in the Fall.

05:22 Matt Waller: That's great. Now, how long does it take to get a Masters in Supply Chain Management?

05:29 Brian Fugate: The technical answer to that is it takes 30 hours of course work. And those 30 hours though can be spread out. And so you could come back and complete the degree full-time in one year or you can spread it out, because it is a part-time program for working professionals. You can spread that out. Over two years, would probably be the typical approach, if you did it part-time, but you could spread it out even longer than that, if you wanted.

06:00 Matt Waller: Well, that's great. Because I know there's a lot of people like you, you've told me before that going into logistics and supply chain jobs, and they've had no formal education in it. And so, this way they could be working and going part-time. On the other hand, if they majored in say chemistry, or art, or whatever, maybe they would think, "Well, that's a possible career for me." And they could go full-time and get it knocked out real quick. So Brian, I know that when we think about supply chain management, I know that your department has developed a curriculum model. I know it was developed primarily for the undergraduate program, but it's, from what I can tell and in looking through both.

06:50 Matt Waller: There is a lot of similarity, but you, it sounds like you have come up with a philosophy around how you design your curriculum, would you mind speaking to that a little bit.

07:00 Brian Fugate: You know different programs would look at this differently but we really look at supply chain management from the broader perspective, both strategic and operational, and so making sure the recovering end to end supply chain management that is cross-functional it's also gonna include both the relational and the analytical types of courses, and so the framework we tend to adopt and most programs adopt is what we call the score model where there's a planning function and with integrated business planning, and sales and operations planning, and then there's the sourcing function that we cover and the production or make function that you cover, and then the distribution logistics function that you cover. And so, that score model is kind of the foundational part of our program and so our courses make sure we cut supply chain across each of those but then we're also connecting it to corporate strategy, and looking at supply chain strategy and how that fits into corporate strategy and then we are really big on making sure that our curriculum is very applied, so in our courses we'll have projects with using data that we apply various analytics techniques to it as well as projects that we're working with companies to impact those companies. So that's really the way that we look at supply chain management from a broad perspective.

08:36 Matt Waller: When I think about supply chain management, you have got to be really strong at relationship management. A lot of times people think supply chain management is a super quantitative field, and I know that supply chain managers sometimes use really quantitative tools, but a supply chain manager is a manager, a leader, really. What do you think about that?

09:00 Brian Fugate: I agree completely. And so, our students in our program and I think a successful supply chain manager is going to be quantitatively capable of looking at data and making decisions out of that data, but they're not gonna necessarily be data science people, but they're gonna know enough to be able to work with those individuals and communicate with the individuals who have skills and those tools and techniques that you talked about. But The supply chain manager's job is really to put it all together. Okay, given this function in this area and the decision that this tool spit out how is that gonna impact another function? What are the trade-offs? If the decision comes out and says that we need to reduce inventory in a certain area, what's that gonna do to sales and so they're gonna be able to work across the functions and the areas more strategically and pull together those tools and techniques, when needed, but also understand the business side and what the business case of decisions is gonna be.

10:09 Matt Waller: Normally to get into a program like this you have to take a standardized test called the GMAT, that it stands for the Graduate Management Admissions Test, but many applicants are unable to take tests like this, so we've made an exception for now to where you don't have to take that and instead you guys are using video interviews using Zoom. And I know that's very unusual for a program like this, but in some ways, I think it might be good because I have to admit I've always been a little questionable about some of those standardized tests because they have questions that if you study enough, you can learn to do those kind of questions, and if you're fast you can get through them quickly. But that doesn't mean you would be good at leading or helping to gain alignment amongst people or casting vision or even managing a budget, for that matter. And this is a business school, it's not a science or something like that. There are scientific elements to it for sure, but if you're in the business school, you're about managing and leading and those kinds of things problem solving. What are your thoughts about that?

11:36 Brian Fugate: Yeah, I agree with that Matt I've never seen studies, but I've heard about studies that really show that the standardized test scores are not good predictors of success in a program or in the business world, at least. And so I think what you described I would agree with, and so I think this is actually a good experiment for us waiving the GMAT and the GRE and conducting these more in-depth interviews. So I think it's a good experiment to see is that something that's gonna impact us longer term on how we look at admissions and what success is. The other thing I was thinking of that I wanted to mention in terms of what you just got at is we've also been doing interviews and surveys with the market to better understand what students are looking for and what businesses are looking for. And it's just the thing while we are launching this new program, we're also learning on how we can ahead and make it better. It's just part of part of our philosophy is continuous improvement to our programs. And what was interesting that I found so far in the results is the number one.

13:02 Brian Fugate: Soft skill that potential applicants asked for and companies asked for was leadership, more important than analytics, and even any of the content areas. And so, I think what you're getting at is accurate, in terms of what the market wants, and it really fits in with how we've designed our program.

13:22 Matt Waller: One thing that made me think about that was, of course John Kent and David Dobrzykowski have been working on that temporary supply chain for masks and PPE for Mercy Hospital and other places. It was kind of need to see some professors jumping in to that.

13:39 Brian Fugate: That's right.

13:40 Matt Waller: When he first told me he wanted to do it, I was sort of nervous, but I said, "Be careful what you promise. A lot of people are trying to get these temporary supply chains set up, and they're failing, there's been articles about it in the newspapers." But one thing I knew about John Kent, he isn't gonna give up too easily.

14:00 Brian Fugate: That's right.

[laughter]

14:01 Matt Waller: And I thought that's the kind of person you need on a project, like I said. And sure enough, they've delivered millions of dollars worth of PPE just as volunteers, contracting with manufacturers and other countries. But I think that one of the reasons John's been so successful is he didn't quit. He just kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing, and it got through. So, sometimes when you hear about these failures of temporary supply chains, I always wonder, maybe they didn't have someone who was a good manager. There's different kinds of leadership and management and some of it is, especially on the management side, being on top of things, having grit. I would encourage anyone who's listening to this that feels like grit is one of their strengths, regardless of what they majored in or what their experience is, if they've got grit, which Dr. Duckworth defines as passion and perseverance, I think if you've got that combination of passion and perseverance, supply chain's a great thing to go into.

15:17 Brian Fugate: That's right, yeah. And it obviously, grit great for any part of life and any part of the business, but for supply chain, it comes in especially important, because it is so complex. When we ask people to describe supply chain, ask students at least, one of the things, the most common response is, they say it's like a puzzle. And it's an over-simplified example, but it really is. You're trying to pull together all these complex parts that are all over the world and pull them together in a coordinated way. And so, it can become overwhelming. And so, if you don't have grit, it's gonna get really, really hard to pull off. And so, I think that's, and certainly if you're of that type, I think you'd fit our program very nicely.

16:05 Matt Waller: Brian, what if someone wanted to have some sort of emphasis, or concentration, or specialization within the Master's of Science and Supply Chain Management, are there any options for that?

16:19 Brian Fugate: Absolutely. That's a good question. When we designed the program, we wanted to give that option, because again, supply chain's so broad. You can go in so many different directions and in so many different industries. We wanted to provide the opportunity for a student who wanted to specialize and focus in a particular area that they could do so. And so, we designed it to have specialized track to complement the core supply chain courses that we offer. So, some example concentrations that the student could choose is business analytics. So, in that, they're gonna dive into analytics, decision support analytics, data mining, and data management systems type things. And that certainly compliments our supply chain, predictive analytics, and other analytical courses that we have. They can also specialize in ERP, and then one of the more exciting ones is the blockchain specialization, where they're gonna get some ERP fundamentals, but then take deep dives into blockchain given how important we see that now and in the future of supply chains.

17:27 Brian Fugate: They can also, another big area is supply chain finance. So, they can dive in and learn how to speak CFO speak. So, that when they're doing their projects, trying to make the business case, they can do that better and they can see directly how supply chain decisions impact the finance side of the organization. So, there's just a few of the concentrations, but we felt that was important in designing this program to give that flexibility for students to choose.

17:56 Matt Waller: Well, Brian, thank you so much for talking with me today about the new Masters of Science and Supply Chain Management and congratulations to you and the department on creating this really innovative program.

18:09 Brian Fugate: Well, thanks for having me, Matt, this has been a good conversation. We're excited about the Masters program, so thank you.

18:18 Matt Waller: Thanks for listening to today's episode of The Be EPIC 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 Be EPIC Podcast, one word, that's Be EPIC Podcast. And now, Be EPIC!