Tennessee Alumnus

Best in the World

UT Knoxville’s logistics and supply chain management is a global leader

By Lola Alapo

In March 2000, Coca-Cola built a factory in the village of Plachimada in the state of Kerala, India. Within two years of opening, villagers began complaining that the company was taking too much of the shared water supply, creating severe water shortages and contributing to pollution. They led protests and filed lawsuits against Coca-Cola, which led to the eventual closure of the factory in 2004.

John Bell, UT Knoxville assistant professor of supply chain management, often shares this case study with his students.

“Don’t be that guy at Coke who spent $16 million to open a plant, only to have it shut down,” he says.
Bell is a faculty member in the university’s logistics and supply chain management program, which ranks first worldwide in research productivity, according to the International Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management.

Supply chain is the flow of products, associated services and finances from suppliers to customers, and the faculty, housed in the College of Business Administration, has built an international reputation by helping companies improve their practices.

They have studied the processes of some of the nation’s leading companies, including Dell, Walmart, Pilot Corp., Bush Brothers & Company, Brunswick Boats and Alcoa Inc. They are continually researching best practices to advance the industry, preparing students to be better managers and reaching out to partners around the globe to help address worldwide supply chain issues.

“It used to only be about cost,” says Ted Stank, Bruce Chair of Excellence in Business and professor of logistics and supply chain management. “Now, it becomes a strategic element. We’ve seen firms compete not just about the product but how fast and well they can get it into your hands.”

UT Knoxville’s undergraduate logistics major produces the most graduates of any College of Business Administration program and is growing faster than any other program in the college. Ninety percent of graduates are placed in a job within four months of leaving the university, Stank says.

To address industry demand, the college in fall 2013 will change the name of the marketing and logistics undergraduate program to marketing and supply chain management.

Logistics major or not, every student who comes through the college gets a taste of the curriculum.

“One of the things that separates us from other programs is that we have found a way to teach supply chain management to every business student, regardless of their major,” says Terry Esper, William J. Taylor Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management. “It connects to all other subjects.”

Esper notes supply chain management controls 60 percent to 80 percent of a company’s cost.

“Most entrepreneurs have a great idea and product but have no idea how to keep it on the shelf,” he says. “Most have way too much inventory or run out too quickly.”

Faculty members tackle subjects including sustainability; balancing financial goals with social and environmental goals; returns management, or what happens to goods when they come back; and best practices for creating a world-class supply chain.

The college also offers an MBA supply chain management concentration and a full-time MBA supply chain/logistics program.

To help bring together academia and industry, the college recently established the Global Supply Chain Institute as an umbrella for all its supply chain offerings. One of those is a biannual forum for U.S.-based corporate leaders, professors and students to share ideas and discuss issues. The Supply Chain Forum has 52 member companies and brings together more than 150 participants.

Last year, the institute began hosting a yearly Global Supply Chain Forum, drawing leaders from international business giants such as Caterpillar, Procter & Gamble and Honeywell. It also has formed strategic partnerships with institutions in Paris, Singapore, Budapest and Rio de Janeiro.

In January 2013, the college will launch the new Global Supply Chain Executive MBA program, which will have a heavy international focus. Participants will take courses in Knoxville as well as four, one-week residencies studying in Paris, Budapest, Shanghai or Singapore, where they will be taught by partner faculty. The program will be offered through the college’s Center for Executive Education.

The international ventures make the university a player on a larger stage, says Paul Dittmann, the institute’s executive director. “We’re expanding our UT brand into a global brand,” he says.