This is the second part of a recent conversation with Lee Buddress, the operations management instructor for the MIM program. Here he talks a little about recent developments in supply chain and operations management, and the type of skills and experience required for those who are interested in careers in supply chain. (For the first part of this conversation please see here.)
You’ve mentioned before that sustainability has been one of the biggest developments in Supply Chain in the past several years. What has led to the increased focus on sustainability ?
Yes. Sustainability and supply chain risk, those are the two hot topics. Risk, as in continuity of business. For example, what if your major supplier or a key critical component is in Japan and they have an earthquake and your supplier is now out of business? What do you do? The collection of major natural disasters in the last year or year-and-a-half has really caused people to rethink a lot. First the Japanese earthquake, then we had the big floods in Thailand, then we had Superstorm Sandy, and the consequence of that was people were scratching and scrambling all over the place to try and keep their facilities operating in the face of significant part shortages from all over the world. So, the whole idea then is, “Let’s rethink how we do business, in the face of what appears to be a procession of ever increasing risks to our long supply chains. As we begin pulling our parts from all over the world, the length of our supply chains dramatically increases the risk from storms at sea, to natural disasters, to labor shortages, to political unrest, to changing legal environments.
For sustainability, clearly global warming and its consequences have been big factors in increasing the emphasis on sustainability and sustainable operations, but the other piece of it is that people are finding out that it actually can be profitable. In Europe for example, most of the manufacturing companies have ISO 9000 registration, which is a quality process registration, but the companion piece to that from sustainability is ISO 14000, and that has become, in many cases, the first cut of supplier selection. If I’m a company that has ISO 14000 registration and we have a significant focus on sustainability, then I want my suppliers to begin thinking the same way. So the pressure then begins with the first cut of supplier selection, and says, “You got it? Fine, come talk to me. If you don’t have it, then tell me when you do.” So that’s part of how it begins to appear in the supply chain. The companies that are environmentally conscious are beginning to put pressure on the companies they do business with to develop those same focuses. There’s another piece to sustainability though, and that is the social responsibility piece. There are lots of different motivations for that, not the least of which is keeping off the front page of the newspaper. So, totally aside from the fact that it’s the right thing to do, to treat your people fairly, pay them a decent wage, give them decent working hours, and gender equity and all the other things that go along with social responsibility, the other piece of it is that customers and the general public are demanding it. When it shows up on the front page of the newspaper, it’s a huge black eye.
What kind of skill set does a person need to have in order to work in supply chain?
There are expectations from recruiters. One, that you’ll be thoroughly proficient in all of Microsoft Office, with an emphasis on Excel. That you will be proficient in analytical analysis, because there’s a fair amount of that that goes on. I mean, when you look at a supplier and you have to decide between supplier A, B, and C, there’s a whole lot more than just a warm fuzzy feeling for one or the other of the suppliers that needs to be done whenever you sign a long-term contract with a supplier. So, a certain amount of analytical skill is necessary. It’s absolutely critical to have good people skills too, because a big part of the job is managing relationships between your organization and all the other ones outside that you work with, whether those are suppliers, or carriers or people who are managing your third-party logistics activities,or people who are representatives of your customers who want to come and see the machines work and watch their product being built. So the interaction, the people skills are pretty important.
Language skills are always extremely marketable. Cross-cultural skills and understanding are also extremely marketable. You know, the way business is these days, if it’s not already all international, it’s rapidly heading that way. So, it’s not going to be long before the whole supply chain field is the core of a company.
What other courses are part of the MIM Supply Chain specialization, beyond the basic Operations Management course?
The two courses that you would take in the summer are the Global Sourcing class, and the Global Logistics class. And the fourth course of the sequence is the Integrated Supply Chain class, and that’s very largely a case class which allows people to take all of the knowledge that they’ve acquired in the first three classes and bring it to bear on actual business environments. Part of the reason we do that is because when you guys graduate, you’re going to be going to work for companies, and the companies are going to say, “OK. You’ve got a Master’s degree in this stuff. Here’s this huge mess. Fix it.” So the course gives you the opportunity to fix some messes in a non-costly environment.
What career opportunities are there within the supply chain field?
Depending on what a person’s interests are, you can go all the way from being involved in purchasing and supply management, dealing with global suppliers. You can get into transportation and logistics and third-party logistics. You can get into production planning and control, there’s always an opportunity there. Several of our former students are working at what used to be Sun Microsystems, and is now Oracle. There always seems to be more opportunity available than students to fill the opportunities. Since we’ve started the undergrad supply and logistics program, we’ve always had 100% employment [after graduation] since we started it 15 years ago. So there are lots of good jobs.
The bottom line is, for people who appreciate a highly predictable lifestyle…. accounting is for them. If however, you like to be in the middle of where the action is, supply chain is where it’s at. I tell my students two things. Number one is, in supply chain, you’ll never have a dull day. You may tear your hair out half the time, but you’ll never have a dull day. Number two is, in supply chain, two days are never the same. There’s always something different going on. Always. And that’s what makes it fun.
Josh is a full-time student in the Master of International Management program. After graduating from the University of Oregon with a degree in Japanese, he taught English in Tokyo for 3 years, before moving to China and teaching at a university in the city of Zhengzhou. Inspired by his experiences in Japan and China, he was drawn to the MIM program because of its regional focus on Asia, as well as for Portland State University’s reputation as a leader in the field of sustainable business. He is studying Chinese in the MIM program, but tries to keep up his Japanese whenever he can.