Supply chain management is a much-buzzed-about business field, but not everyone knows what a career in supply chain looks like.
The Wisconsin School of Business can help you make sense of it all.
WSB is home to the #10-ranked graduate-level supply chain program in the country and a knowledge center dedicated to supply chain education—the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management.
The Grainger Center was founded in 1991 and has been a leader in the field in the decades since, educating professional across all industries.
Grainger Center director Jake Dean (MBA ’09) and alumnus Scott Hughes (MBA ’16) sat down to discuss the changing nature of supply chains and the type of dynamic careers available to supply chain graduates.
How would you describe supply chain?
The easiest way to describe supply chain is the flowing of a goods and services within an industry. Supply chain management describes the decisions that you make within an organization that impact the whole organization. You can start from the very beginning when you’re manufacturing a product or a service and then all the way to the actual delivery, ensuring that the product or service upholds its quality and satisfies the end customer wants.
Why is supply chain so important today?
Supply chain management allows companies to gain competitive advantages. If you think about the messages companies are promoting, they’re really enabled by supply chain. Quick delivery, high quality, and easy returns are all at their core supply chain promises.
Why should students be excited to study supply chain?
Students should be excited to work in supply chain because they really get to enable the capabilities that allow companies to compete and to win. Graduates working in supply chain have a direct ability to contribute to a company’s ability to have success in a market.
Our students are excited to join in a field that is constantly innovating. Supply chain management is always evolving, and there’s a lot of opportunity to make a big impact on the direction of your company. Supply chain management also focuses on working in teams, which really helps you become a well-rounded professional with collaborative skills to achieve goals for your organization.
The easiest way to describe supply chain is the flowing of a goods and services within an industry. Supply chain management describes the decisions that you make within an organization that impact the whole organization.
—Scott Hughes (MBA ’16)
What kind of careers are available in supply chain?
The career opportunities in supply chain are very broad. Supply chain professionals work in areas related to logistics, IT, human resources, finance, analytics, and marketing. You don’t have to stay in one area. If you select one of those, you can easily move to different areas of supply chain later.
If you’re involved in the supply chain function, it means that you’re interacting with various functions within your organization. This gives you opportunities for career growth and allows you to learn about the different priorities within your company.
What kind of companies recruit for supply chain?
There’s a supply chain in pretty much every company in every industry, in every geography. We have companies that recruit from a retail perspective. We have companies that recruit from an industrial distribution perspective. One of the really interesting things has been tech companies like Amazon and Facebook. Now they have supply chains that deliver customer products, but they also have such a large data infrastructure that they have a supply chain set up basically to serve their own internal hardware needs. And so we’ve seen some of our graduates go to those types of companies recently. It’s still all the supply chain activities, but it’s for an internal customer as opposed to an external customer.
Students should be excited to work in supply chain because they really get to enable the capabilities that allow companies to compete and to win.
—Jake Dean (MBA ’09), Director of the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management
What kind of impact do you make coming into a company in a supply chain role?
One of the things you bring to a company as a supply chain professional is an ability to see a really big picture. Supply chains are never inherently within the walls of one company. Supply chains always expand backwards and forwards on a number of different levels. And so the ability to take that level of thinking where you don’t necessarily have control over something, but you still want to influence it to be able to meet your own business goals. That is a skill that our students and our alums can apply in any sort of business setting.
What kind of people succeed in supply chain?
People who are successful in supply chain like to solve problems. The field of supply chain is growing all the time. That’s why if you ask 10 different people what supply chain is, the people who actually know what it is will probably give you a bunch of different definitions. But that’s great because people can have impact in a number of different areas on a business from a supply chain perspective.
What excites you about the future of supply chain?
It’s a constantly expanding discipline, which is constantly solving problems and enabling customer promises that nobody was making even in the short, recent past.
If you think about some things that are going on in the market, a lot of things we used to traditionally view as products have become services. So if you think of music streaming like Spotify and Apple Music that replaced a CD or record or tape that you used to bring in your house and own. Now the ownership model is different, the payment model is different, but Spotify still has a supply chain. Facebook still has supply chains. All the service models that are becoming increasingly prevalent, they are all backed by supply chain thinking.
Another thing is supply chain has become the business discipline that has been tasked with sustainability issues. When a company looks at its operations and asks where it is spending most of its energy or where it has its biggest carbon footprint, all its energy, resources, and transportation exist somewhere within the company’s supply chain.
That’s something that many of our employers are focused on. That’s something that many of our students are focused on. So it’s really nice to be able to be in a discipline that it’s focused on that.
The Wisconsin School of Business supports supply chain education through the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management. The School offers a full-time MBA specialization in supply chain management, a one-year master’s in supply chain management, and an undergraduate certificate in supply chain management.