University of Arkansas

Walton College

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Episode 16: Dan Worrell Discusses the Advent of the Supply Chain Department and Strategic Direction of Walton

March 20, 2019  |  By Matt Waller

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Dan Worrell is the Interim Department Chair in the Department of Management at the Sam M. Walton College of Business. Dan served as Dean of the Walton College from 2005 to 2012. Dr. Worrell also currently holds the Corporate Responsibility Professorship in Management. He has served in a variety of higher education administrative positions spanning over two decades. Positions have included: department chair; associate dean; and 15 years of service as a dean at three different business schools.

Episode Transcript


00:08 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. Well I'm really excited to be here with Dan Worrell, a person who's had a big impact on my life, and I was fortunate enough to be a professor here, when he came as dean. And would you mind Dan just telling me a little bit about the story of when you came here? And as a new Dean coming from the outside, what do you do?

00:53 Dan Worrell: So the predecessor dean was a guy named Doyle Williams, who had been dean for many years here. And he was ready to transition and so the college, the Walton College decided to do a national search, which meant that the process for a successor was open to both internal and external candidates. I happened to be at that time a sitting Dean at another university. So anyway, I came in from the outside as an external team.

01:35 Matt Waller: Well one thing that really struck me about your leadership is that you were able to really see opportunities and then move forward even when there was opposition and risk. And one thing that really stands out that is really the focus of our podcast here today, is the advent of the Department of Supply Chain Management. We were coming out of a recession, the great recession. Some people actually say it was a depression and the country was struggling, the budgets were tight, in the state and in the university and you were wanting to create a brand new department, which is not typically something you would think people would do coming right out of a recession. Would you mind talking about just how you saw that as an opportunity and just your thought process?

02:33 Dan Worrell: So being someone from the outside, essentially it's very analogist of what one would do in the corporate sector. You come in, and so you really don't know many if any of the players and you're not aware of the culture. So eventually, you sort of environmentally scan. And so, there's an old saying about change that you don't wanna throw the baby out with the bath water. And so technically this college, a business started back in the 1920s and I was the first double digit Dean, that is I was Dean number 10 of the Walton College of Business. So there were many great things that had been done before by previous administrations. So taking stock of what seemed to be going well and then looking for opportunities to perhaps try to move the college to the proverbial next level of achievement. So that's sort of the idea in a general sense is to get a feel for where we are and where we might be. And really I think an advantage of having been at other universities prior to being here was that I was not locked in to the existing status quo, I was willing to be more experimental and look at other, then use other alternatives.

04:14 Matt Waller: Well, one challenge with trying to form a new department, is that many times it creates concern amongst administrators. You seemed to come up with an algorithm or a process for dealing with that pretty well. Would you mind describing that?

04:38 Dan Worrell: Well, as you know, my academic discipline is management. And so there's a famous model of change by a guy named Kurt Lewin that is very practitioner oriented in that it just has three steps. In order to successfully implement change, one needs to un-freeze the existing status quo, sort of creating a bit of a disequilibrium, implement a change, that's the second step and then thirdly, re-freeze that new situation, the new equilibrium. And so that's sort of a theoretical guide post that can be very helpful in trying to do this. This is very specific to the situation that was at that time. So I came in 2005 when I joined the Walton College of Business as Dean, and there were a number of initiatives that we created under the guidelines of what we, at the time, called strategic thrust.

06:00 Matt Waller: Right.

06:00 Dan Worrell: So those were areas that we knew we wanted to try to enhance. And there were a number of those such as increase our global footprint. Enhance our research success, because we're a doctor granting business school and part of our core mission is to not only disseminate existing business knowledge, but also actively engage in the creation of new knowledge. And so I felt that there was an opportunity for us to do more globally, to do more in terms of our research impact and a third important one, of course, pertaining to student success. And outcomes there typically include either getting a great job, and or going to an intermediate step going into a graduate program. So we wanted to facilitate our student success with higher placement rates and those sorts of things as well.

07:02 Matt Waller: Those are great goals, and people want to accomplish those kinds of things, but a lot of times to accomplish those kinds of things, you've got to take risk.

07:13 Dan Worrell: Yes. So I believe that, it's essential for someone in the administrative role that can have a lasting impact is that they not only maintain the momentum that currently exists, but to attempt to keep readiness for change. So when I came in, essentially the majority of the supply chain group, if you will, were subsumed in an existing academic department, which was marketing and logistics. In one of my previous posts I happened to have a somewhat similar situation, when I was chair of a management department at another university. And in that department in addition to traditional management, folks that might be an organizational behavior or human resources or strategy or international, there were these two more focused cohorts of individuals who focused on; One group was Healthcare Administration and the other one was hospitality management. Well they were sort of second cousins or something compared to the core group. And there was a feeling in terms of the culture that they weren't as free as they should be to actually dive into their focus discipline because they had to play in this broader pond. And so when I looked at the Marketing and Logistics Department, I saw a very similar thing. I saw that the logistics faculty were expected to contribute in marketing ways even though that wasn't their home discipline.

09:16 Dan Worrell: So to me, that was a misalignment. Then in addition to that, if you look at the immediate surrounding environment in terms of key, but external stakeholders, a dean, he or she needs to look at, "Well, who are the major employers in our region? What are the major businesses in our community?" And as everyone knows the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville Arkansas we have Walmart, we have Tyson, we have JB Hunt, we have many others. But without a doubt, a common thread that runs through all of those is supply chain. So for me it became obvious that it would be very beneficial if we could sort of set this group free and enable them to become who they have today actually become.

10:20 Matt Waller: Well when I think about leadership and one model that I really like is John Kotter's model of leadership and he always says that leadership is about setting direction. You clearly did that and providing motivation. Would you talk a little bit about how you gained alignment?

10:43 Dan Worrell: Some folks that may be listening to this might not be super familiar with the academic environment, but there's a statement that we in academia move at the speed of road kill. And there's a lot of truth to that in terms of bureaucratic resistance to change. And as you mentioned before, it just so happened that during this time we were in a big economic downturn. So traditionally, there's a lot of resistance to change in universities if for no other reason, just to resist change itself. So the idea then was, "Well how can we possibly do this with an investment of very few additional resources but with the potential of a large return on that minimal investment? So the politics of it had to be that I needed to discuss with the faculty members individually one-on-one, who possibly could become a member of this new department and see if they were indeed interested. So we did have the majority of the group that was in the Marketing and Logistics Department, but we also had some faculty members in another department, information systems that were more on the operations management side of things which also naturally aligned with the concept of supply chain.

12:26 Dan Worrell: So essentially I met one-on-one, personal interviews not online or a telephone, face-to-face with each person to ask him or her if we did have such a realignment would they be in favor of this, or did they have any questions, or reservations? We weren't going to force anyone to go into this new unit, we only wanted volunteers. And that actually ended up being a good characteristic of the new culture once the department was created is that everybody bought in on the front end. So we had a lot of enthusiasm in terms of the possibility. Then those existing people also were embedded in these two departments, so we had to get the department heads of those respective two departments to also buy in. So naturally, they would have concerns about, "Well, does this mean our budget is going to be cut? Are we going to be hurt in any way? How does this affect us?" So there had to be reassurance that this would not have adverse impact on the existing units. So this is all internal to the Walton College specifically focused on those two departments. Because we are embedded in this other bureaucracy bill, we can't just implement this change. So technically, the way for us to most efficiently do this, the avenue was to actually have a reorganization of existing units, rather than the creation of a stand-alone new unit. I know that's... In effect, that's what we ended up doing, but technically in terms of moving it through the bureaucracy of this large boa constrictor.


14:31 Dan Worrell: I knew that we had to have Provost buy in who is the person that the dean directly reports to. The Chancellor, who is the head of the university here at Fayetteville. The president who is the head of the system, and the board of trustees. All of those groups, that's the whole scaler chain above the dean had to all buy into this for this to happen, you see.

14:58 Matt Waller: No wonder we don't start new departments very often.

15:01 Dan Worrell: [laughter] Oh yeah. It's like quite an adventure. So, that then is all the university players, the faculty who would be involved, the department chairs, and those existing departments, how would they be impacted, then the buy-in from the senior administration above the dean, and then the whole system and board of trustees buy-in. So all that had to occur. One of the problems was the ingrained resistance to any sort of change, coupled with the economic downturn. So how could we possibly politically position this to help our cause? And so the strategy that we came up with was to contact the senior C-level people, we're talking CEOs, presidents, these sorts of people from these major corporations.

16:05 Dan Worrell: We're talking, Walmart, Tyson, JB Hunt, FedEx Freight, companies like these to ask those C-level executives who hired our graduates by the way, if they felt a stand-alone supply chain department would be useful for them in terms of relationships with faculty that would be in that area, executive education in that area, and probably most importantly, new human capital for them, that is new employees that we would be generating with this focus on supply chain. Well, end of the story is we obtained all the letters that we asked for that strongly supported the creation of a stand-alone supply chain department. So in effect these executives were carrying a lot of the water for our initiative. And these companies were also large donors to the university. I had a very important footprint for the success of the university as a whole. So that was very effective in getting buy-in throughout the entire senior administration chain of command.

17:32 Matt Waller: Well, when you look at something like that... First of all, have you ever started a new department prior to that?

17:42 Dan Worrell: I had done reorganizations before but I can't recall creating a new standalone department. I had created new centers and those sorts of things before other places. And certainly had worked with the business community before to help facilitate objectives of various colleges of business.

18:08 Matt Waller: Well, prior to the formation of this department, we graduated about 50 students a year. And of course now they're graduating, I don't know what the number is but well over 200. It's now out of the 10 majors in the college what was a small fragment of one department is now the third largest department of the college. Based on number of degrees awarded.

18:43 Dan Worrell: Right. Matt, I had a note here that the effective date for the formal beginning of the stand-alone department was July 1st 2011. And at that time there were 100 majors in Logistics in the Walton College, and there were four doctoral students. That was pretty much it. So you probably know the numbers today. How many majors are there today?

19:13 Matt Waller: Oh gosh, it's huge. But just looking at number of students graduating, it went from around 50 to well over 200, around 250 I think it is. So based on the number of students produced, it's gone up about five-fold, in that short period of time. And you would think, well, wouldn't that cause problems... If you have that many students wouldn't placement rates go down? Placement rates went up.

19:42 Dan Worrell: Yes.

19:42 Matt Waller: We're placing most of the students before graduation. And even for students... Of course, there's a lot of supply chain jobs in North West Arkansas. But in so many businesses now, especially in consumer package goods, even if you're talking about sales, a lot of times they're hiring supply chain majors into sales positions in those companies, 'cause a lot of sales really has to do with supply chain logistics. It's become very quantitative, not just, it sounds like you're trying to convince someone to buy more cheerios for example, there's a lot more to it than that and it's data-driven. And a lot of the impediments to sales growth, are things like out of stocks. And that's something that can be addressed. But again, I think... And then of course there's a lot more faculty in the department now, it's grown. Philanthropy to the department's been phenomenal. Since I've been dean in three... The past three and a half years counting my time as interim dean, the largest gift we have received was $7 million to the supply chain management research center and that doesn't count other philanthropy.

21:07 Dan Worrell: One thing we should probably mention, since you're saying since you became Dean, was that another important thing in the initial creation of the supply chain group as dean, I had to identify someone who could be the initial department chair, and that had to be someone that was respected by all of the faculty and someone who had the goods to accomplish the job and that was you my friend. [laughter] Matt Waller was the first department chair of the new supply chain group.

21:45 Matt Waller: Well, honestly, thank you for giving me that opportunity. I really had not contemplated something like... 'Cause I never thought we would have our own department. But I remember, you really encouraged me to do it and I know you had confidence in me, and I knew you had a lot of experience, and had dealt with a lot of departments yourself. I said, "Well maybe I can do it, I'll give it a shot." But yeah, thank you so much for that opportunity. It really showed me, 'cause I didn't know I would like administration so much, but as soon as I became department chair, probably within six months, I realized, "Oh I like this." And I loved working with the faculty and the students and the staff and the other department chairs and I just, I'd never tried anything like it, so I didn't know. So thank you for the opportunity.

22:45 Dan Worrell: I think for many faculty who go to the dark side of the enterprise that is they drift over to administration. That it really is an opportunity to practice some of the concepts that we teach. And it can be very fulfilling and eye-opening as well. [chuckle]

23:06 Matt Waller: Well that is so true. So Dan the other amazing thing to me of course, I know you had some family members that had health struggles. So after seven years of being dean, you really had to go back and help your mother and your wife. And you went through some very difficult times with them and have come through quite well. And your wife was a lovely person. I personally enjoyed visiting with her and getting to know her. And you are as active as a faculty member and an administrator as you've ever been now and you're working on research, you're teaching and amazingly you're interim department chair. Which I know we needed an interim department chair 'cause we wanted to do a national search, and we didn't want anyone in the department to be left out. So we didn't wanna make someone interim department chair that would then constrain the process and you agreed to do it, which I know you didn't want to at first, but you went ahead and did it, and I'm grateful for that. Well what... How is it? You've got so much experience even as dean and now you're interim department chair.

24:37 Dan Worrell: Yeah, that's kind of hard to explain. There's an old joke that deans age in dog years, which would mean a multiple of seven for every year you've been a dean. And I was a Dean at three different business schools for 15 years. So maybe my willingness to serve as this interim department chair is the function of having so few brain cells remaining.


25:07 Dan Worrell: But I was happy to help you and the department and I'm proud of the change that has occurred. Again, not that there weren't wonderful, things going on before, but I think the trajectory that I was a part of from 2005 to 2012 as dean and then there was a person who followed you as dean for three years and now currently is the dean at the May School of Business at Texas, A&M, so he certainly went on to great things and now you're dean. And so I think we've generated a lot of administrative success. Just as an aside my two associate deans, one is currently dean at West Virginia, and the other is dean at the University of South Florida.

26:02 Matt Waller: And they're both very successful.

26:04 Dan Worrell: Yeah they're both very successful in all the criterion that you would judge a dean by. So the Walton College, I think has a strong history and it's continuing under your stewardship to do great things.

26:22 Matt Waller: Well I know you have a real orientation towards mentoring people. You mentored me as the department chair, really before the department chair. 'Cause you actually, I was just a faculty member when you were dean but you really started mentoring me when we started the China EMBA program. And then as we started preparing for the new department you were teaching me really how to gain alignment in this boa constrictor as you call it. [chuckle]

26:55 Dan Worrell: Yeah. It is personally rewarding for me to facilitate to some extent other people's success. And so you referred to the China thing. As we previously mentioned at the start of our conversation this morning. One of the strategic thrust pertain to doing more globally, and at that time, 2010-ish, 2007, 2010, a lot of the corporate involvement in China was really accelerating. And so our concept was, "Well why can't we be involved? And so you were a key player and actually lived in China with your family for this sort of custom MBA program that we had for folks focused on supply chain actually in China. And that was very rewarding in many ways and led to our growth with other international programs over time.

28:06 Matt Waller: Yeah. That was an amazing time. And I know of course, Walmart really wanted it. We had, even though it was a single cohort executive MBA type program, we had several of the top senior people from Walmart China, save the CEO of Walmart China. And we had senior people from Procter & Gamble, Kimberly-Clark, Maersk and other companies, the head of global procurement for Dillard's who would fly over to participate. And one thing that was really interesting about that program was, to your point, we developed a network that was phenomenal. And those people that were in that program, some are with the same companies, some aren't, but they're all in senior positions in global companies, which helps us to this day.

29:08 Dan Worrell: Yeah. So it gave our faculty exposure in that market. It's as you say it aligned us with people who were moving in their careers into more senior positions and that's helped us with job placement, it's helped us with our fund-raising initiatives. It's been very successful.

29:33 Matt Waller: It has and I'll never forget. So we would... This program was a year and a half and students would come in and classes would start on Fridays and end on Monday nights, and we did that once a month for a year and a half. One thing was really unusual about the program, and I remember you were a big proponent of this, was that each student in addition to, having to get their, do well in their courses, they had to have a project and we eventually came to this idea that they had their project had to get at least a minimum of two million RMB in economic value add, EVA, to get the degree. And I remember that, RMB is the currency for those of you who don't know. But I thought that was really neat because it was a way to prove the ROI to the companies because it was expensive, the tuition was expensive, the travel. 'Cause we would meet in different parts of China. Sometimes we met in Shanghai sometimes we met Shenzhen, we met in Beijing, etcetera, etcetera. And so all these students were having to fly all over the country and some are coming away from United States, and it was well worth it. There's no question, but the neat thing about your idea of having this ROI for each student was, it was clear, it was worth it. 'Cause we had have C-level sign off on each student's project.

31:18 Dan Worrell: And some of those dollars generated were very substantial, as I recall.

31:22 Matt Waller: Huge. [chuckle] Way beyond two million dollar, big. But these are big companies and so it was amazing what they could do. And to this day, we're still very in close contact with these companies and people. But a lot of times, I think, if I remember correctly, when we first started talking about this Dan, you wanted our faculty to become more globally-minded and globally-aware.

31:53 Dan Worrell: Yes.

31:54 Matt Waller: And China is a very important trading partner with the United States and with the State of Arkansas, for that matter. And I remember you said, "This is a way that we can have real growth and globalization."

32:12 Dan Worrell: Yes, and so this is just a tangent, but we talked about the success of the two associate deans. And so, one of the other strategic thrust that we had was diversity initiatives. And so there were many things that we did but why not diversify and affect the CEO'S office, which is the dean's office as well, to lead by example. And so in the dean's office at the time when we restructured, one of the associate deans was from North Africa, from Tunisia, the other major associate dean was from Mexico, and the Chief Financial Officer was a woman. And so, all of a sudden, we had a diverse senior leadership team that was not the case prior. And I think symbolically, that was important in signaling that diversity strategic thrust.

33:21 Matt Waller: Absolutely.

33:22 Dan Worrell: And we did similar things on research, and if we tie like research back to supply chain or diversity. So we have in the supply chain department, we have a Brazilian woman, we have a German guy, we have, what, somebody from Netherlands, is it now?

33:41 Matt Waller: Yep.

33:42 Dan Worrell: So very globally diverse group. And the research-wise, just the status of the supply chain department now in terms of its national ranking, it's in the top ten.

34:00 Matt Waller: Yeah, and in fact, I know while I was department chair, I was also editor-in-chief of journal business logistics, which is our top logistics journal, and the current department chair, Brian Fugate is editor-in-chief of journal supply chain management or top supply chain journal. That sort of thing, I think, helps the reputation as well. But I think that it would've been fortunate and that we've been able to hire really good faculty members that are well-respected in the country. And not only are they productive researchers, they're also very well-trusted by their colleagues throughout the discipline. And I think as a result of that, they have senior positions. So for example, Remko, Professor Remko Van Hoek, is the Chair of the Board of CSCMP which is the main professional organization in the discipline which is pretty amazing that he's got that position. So, even currently, if you look at the faculty, they're all, they're not only good researchers and teachers, they are great researchers and teachers, but they're also leading in all kinds of ways, providing service to the discipline.

35:28 Dan Worrell: So, if we reflect back a bit on some of the things we said in terms of a broader mosaic and you think about, well, how can these sorts of change initiatives relate to more of a broader strategic plan? So, the lens through which we were viewing the possible creation of the supply chain unit was based upon a broader scope of strategic initiatives. And so the fact that we created this stand-alone supply chain group touched so many other key points. It touched enhanced research. It touched globalization. It touched diversity. It touched student success in terms of employment. It won on all those multiple dimensions. And when that's the case, that's a strong indicator that you should go for it, and take that risk. Even though there's all this bureaucratic resistance, that's tough economic times, it's well worth the risk.

36:40 Matt Waller: Well, I'm glad that you put your... You practice what you preach as a management professor paid off. Thank you for taking time to visit with me about this. It's really encouraging.

36:54 Dan Worrell: Well, thank you, Matt.

36:56 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 podcast. Be sure to subscribe and rate us. You can find current and past episodes by searching beepicpodcast, one word, that's B-E-E-P-I-C podcast and now, be epic.


Matt WallerMatthew A. Waller is the dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business, Sam M. Walton Leadership Chair and professor of supply chain management. He is also the host for the Be EPIC Podcast for Walton College.


Walton College's EPIC values -- Excellence, Professionalism, Innovation and Collegiality -- are the heart of Dean Waller’s podcast. Since the beginning of the series, Waller has interviewed business professionals, industry experts, CEOs and Walton College students to bring listeners first-hand accounts directly from the entrepreneurial world.


Waller is an SEC Academic Leadership Fellow and coauthor of “The Definitive Guide to Inventory Management: Principles and Strategies for the Efficient Flow of Inventory across the Supply Chain,” published by Pearson Education. He is the former co-editor-in-chief of Journal of Business Logistics. His opinion pieces have appeared in Wall Street Journal Asia and Financial Times.


Waller received an M.S. and Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University and a B.S.B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Missouri.

Walton College

Walton College of Business

Since its founding at the University of Arkansas in 1926, the Sam M. Walton College of Business has grown to become the state's premier college of business – as well as a nationally competitive business school. Learn more...

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We're sitting down with innovators and business mavericks to discuss strategy, leadership and entrepreneurship. The Be EPIC Podcast is hosted by Matthew Waller, dean of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. Learn more...

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