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A Brief History of the Founding of the Supply Chain Resource Cooperative (SCRC)

The following is a transcript of the speech I gave to individuals who attended our SCRC 20th Anniversary Event this past April 2019.  It covers a bit about what motivates our team and how this organization evolved to what it is today…

“In 1999, I came to NC State, leaving the cold north of Michigan State behind me. My good friend, Cecil Bozarth, was key in convincing me to come here.  I had just made tenure at Michigan State, was actively involved in a lot of research and some great networks, but Cecil convinced me that there was something unique about this place, that would be the perfect place to do something new.  Plus, my wife, Sandi, who is a math professor at the College of Charleston, wanted me closer, as we were having our first child.

I liked the idea of doing something new.  I’ve always been passionate about the idea that business professors should study the problems that are facing business people. That may sound somewhat unoriginal, but believe me, I’ve seen a lot of work and research that has very little to do with the real-world problems that face supply chain executives.

Cecil was of the same vein.  We had gone to school together at UNC, sharing the same office, and he also did a dissertation that was empirical in nature, going out to study how managers made decisions.  As you know, we lost Cecil last year, and I still miss his whistling and Georgia drawl in the hallways.

I had also seen how someone else had put together a group of people from industry to focus on learning from one another – Bob Monczka at Michigan State was really my mentor at that time.  By watching him, I learned how faculty can bring a rigor to studying business problems, that isn’t always present when people are making supply management decisions.  We can act as third parties, and in some cases, shrinks, to listen to peoples problems and put some perspective on them.  After awhile, you start to hear the same problems, and the same solutions.

I pitched this idea to Dave Nelson, the CPO at Honda.  Dave was always a visionary, and he immediately saw the benefit of what we were thinking about doing.  Our dean at the time, Jon Bartley was supportive.  And our faculty was on board, and they let me have some precious time that could help to  make this happen.

So now we had faculty, and we had executives who wanted to learn and improve from one another? But one critical ingredient was missing:  students.

Students bring so much to the SCRC, and we would not exist without them.  Students bring a naiveté to a problem and aren’t afraid to ask the so-called ‘stupid’ questions, that are sometimes the most obvious questions that no one wants to ask, (like why the king isn’t wearing any clothes).  I also believe that if you can’t explain a concept in the simplest of terms to a beginner, than you really don’t know very much about that concept.  So it forces us as educators to reexamine our assumptions, our beliefs, and our mindset, by being able to explain it to students.

The essence of what we do are projects, focused on a problem that needs to be solved.  Our partner companies give us those problems – and as you know, if you start with a really good research question, you will get a great project where you really learn something!  Students bring a mindset where they will challenge your view of the world looking at these problems. They will look at things differently, and bring tools, technologies, and points of view that are different from your own.  It is often this “new perspective” that breaks us out of our old molds, and forces us to re-imagine what something might look like from a different point of view.

Students also bring skills that are outside of the traditional business realm.  What makes NC State so interesting is that we are truly a cross-disciplinary program.  In many of the schools I visit, the business school is viewed as a silo, who are out of touch with the other professional disciplines on campus.  Not the case here.  We regularly interact with students and faculty from industrial engineering, manufacturing and civil engineering, textiles, agriculture and life sciences, computer science, mathematics, political science, even poultry science, and communication.  This is part of the culture of this institution, and if you don’t believe me, then come by the gallery walk tomorrow, and see for yourself.

Students also eventually graduate, and when they do, they go to work, in the companies that we are seeking to work with.  They then become our best advocates, promoting the skills they learned on projects, bringing new opportunities to the table, and continuing to work with new students but now on the other side of the table.  We are always thrilled to see where our students end up, and where they go to work…often all over the world!  And the best marketing, as anyone knows, is word of mouth – and they are marketing our program like crazy.

In the end, the essential element that makes our program unique, is the relationships that we build.  I went to a jazz concert at UNC last night with my daughter Simone (who is with us this evening), and saw Brandon Marsalis play with the UNC school of music, playing old Duke Ellington hits.  Watching this jazz ensemble play swing and the incredible variety of music that Duke Ellington and Billy Strayer composed got me thinking about what we do here at the SCRC is like playing jazz together….What I watched is how the players all had different instruments, were playing off one another, each bringing their unique interpretation of the notes set in front of them.  In effect, all of our partners are musicians in a jazz orchestra, playing different roles, in different industries, but all playing to the same music, which in the end works together to create a unique blend of voices and instruments that just works!  And what binds them is their relationships, the knowledge of one another.  They look at many different types of music, and each bring their own interpretations and cognitive biases to the table, and some may go off and improvise for awhile, but that is what makes it so interesting and unique.  And every project we do here, although they may all look at things like market intelligence, cost modeling, inventory analysis, business process analysis, or whatever is unique.  And we’ve completed close to 700 of these projects, and we never stop learning with every one we do.

That is something that really sets us apart.  We have visited other business schools.  A lot of them are bigger then us (MSU, Penn State, ASU).  A lot are more famous (Harvard, MIT, Tennessee).  But none can compare to the unique set of capabilities we carry out with our partners – and the relationships we have with you and the work we do is what makes us so unique.

Let me mention one essential player in the jazz band:  the drummer and bass.  This are the people who keeps the beat, and holds the whole thing together.  In this case, that would be Troy Pinkins, and the people who have come before him – Steve Edwards, and Clyde Crider.  They are the people who patiently deal with my somewhat ADD personality, and make sure the band comes together and makes great music!

Knowing all of the people in this room has been an honor and a privilege, and I think we are making great music together.  Let’s continue creating music!”