Goldilocks careers in supply chain management

Multifaceted profession 'just right' for millennials

by Dottie Barnes

For those who’ve ordered from Amazon, grabbed a grande s’mores Frappuccino from Starbucks or rejoiced when their new furniture arrived on time, they’re relying on supply chain.

And some people whose business is supply chain are relying on advice from students in the Seidman College of Business.

“We are interested in how students think and how they approach problems,” said Tim Hinson, chief operating officer of BluJay Solutions in Holland. “Students ask different questions, challenge the status quo and challenge our thinking and processes.”

BluJay Solutions, formerly Lean Logistics, is a global company that offers supply chain software and services. Hinson said he approached Grand Valley about five years ago to form a partnership, at a time when growth in the supply chain industry started to explode.

“Our company was, and is, experiencing phenomenal growth, and the key to continued success is talent,” Hinson said. “The Seidman College of Business has a strong supply chain curriculum and we wanted to ensure we were getting the top talent.”

How an iPhone gets to you

graphic of supply chain

Jaideep Motwani, professor and chair of the Management Department, worked with Hinson to form a special projects course created to bring together top students to work alongside mentors from BluJay.

Students work for a full semester on a project, assigned to them by a management team from BluJay. At the end of the course, students present their findings, recommendations and solutions to company board members.

“The field is evolving so quickly that it can be difficult for companies to keep up,” said Motwani. “Our students can take an entire semester to examine contemporary problems.”

Hinson said the partnership is paramount to support his company’s future growth. “The Grand Valley partnership is one avenue we use to fill key roles in the organization to meet market demands,” he said. “The combination of new graduates working alongside industry veterans is a good one, and it has made us better.”

supply chain image

The Amazon effect

The shift to online shopping by customers — known as the Amazon Effect — has brought significant changes and created challenges for the supply chain industry.

The complete process of getting a product to the customer has many moving pieces. Motwani best explains the process to his students by showing them examples of how an iPhone or a cup of coffee gets to the customer.

“A single cup of Starbucks coffee can depend on as many as 19 different countries — from the coffee beans, to the milk, sugar and paper cups,” he explained. “I show them how the right product, price, store, quantity and customer will equal higher profits.”

Motwani said Grand Valley’s holistic integrated program gives students a competitive advantage in the workforce because it includes all three components of supply chain — procurement, operations and logistics. “Our students have knowledge of the interrelationship between the components and can become a generalist or a specialist in any of the three areas,” he said. “Our applied learning through internships and mentorship programs is also key.”

Students also have the option, at no additional cost, to attain CPIM, Certified in Production and Inventory Management, before graduation.

A supply chain advisory board, made up of faculty members and local leaders, meets regularly to discuss the best curriculum and opportunities for students. Students also have the option to attain CPIM, Certified in Production and Inventory Management, before graduation and at no charge to them.

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'Goldilocks' careers

Grand Valley has student chapters representing all three supply chain organizations: the American Production and Inventory Control Society, Institute for Supply Chain Management, and Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals.

In 2016, students formed an umbrella organization, called the Seidman Supply Chain Management Association, to sponsor larger, integrated events. Rachel Travis, a senior majoring in supply chain management and marketing, is the president.

Travis was unfamiliar with supply chain until her high school teacher explained what a career in the field would look like. Careers in supply chain have been compared to Goldilocks because the variety of duties required for the job are “just right” and suit the career aspirations of many millennials.

Travis wanted a career that would not only utilize her many talents, but impact lives and the company as a whole. She abandoned her thoughts of being an accountant and has spent the last three years at Grand Valley immersed in the intricacies of supply and demand.

“It’s a perfect fit for my personality,” Travis said. “I am a ‘people person’ and I enjoy forming new relationships, but I also love numbers, analyzing data, identifying trends and discovering ways to cut costs.”

Rachel Travis at desk

Rachel Travis is president of the Seidman Supply Chain Management Association, a student organization. (Amanda Pitts)

Travis is an intern at office furniture company Steelcase in Grand Rapids, working in logistics procurement. “I’m reviewing contracts and rates for carriers, analyzing shipments and working with sales reps. It’s exciting and takes a lot of different skills,” she said.

In April, she was one of only six students across the country to be recognized as a 2017 R. Gene Richter Scholar. The scholarship is given to the top supply chain management students in the U.S.; Travis received $5,000 and the opportunity to work with a career mentor.

Fueling the industry

Grand Valley supply chain students are being placed in companies like Amazon, Ford Motor Company and General Motors, and many remain in West Michigan.

Hinson said BluJay’s partnership with Grand Valley helps students build their skills and become well-rounded logisticians.

“We can build the talent we need to fuel BluJay’s growth and we get talented students with applied experience,” he said. “We are looking for talent to support the solutions required today and even the solutions required for tomorrow that we haven’t even thought about.

“It really takes people with a strong analytical background, creativity and the ability to understand what the demands are and come to the table with solutions. This partnership provides a wonderful service for the people of West Michigan because it allows us to keep and retain talent.”

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Supply chain challenge champions

Four students from the Seidman College of Business took first place at the eighth annual Bowersox Undergraduate Supply Chain Challenge sponsored by Michigan State University in November.

Daniel Coblentz, Ryan Davis, Scott Dion and Rachel Travis competed against 13 highly competitive teams from universities across the country.

The Bowersox Challenge incorporates a simulation-based approach to a business competition. Students must use their understanding of supply chain topics and apply it to a simulation that is designed to mimic some of the struggles experienced within the business community.

Page last modified August 16, 2017