MSU’s end-to-end approach
In the 1960s, MSU broke the mold of supply chain education by approaching the industry holistically. While other universities focused on one aspect at a time, MSU faculty recognized that procurement, operations and logistics — supply chain’s three pillars — are not independent processes.
“Our approach was different than what was being done at any other university,” says Miller.
Jason Miller (left) and Li Cheng are faculty in the MSU Department of Supply Chain Management, one of the top programs in the nation.
“Some people think supply chain is just logistics or just transportation; that is not true. Supply chain management is an end-to-end process that involves collaboration across different functions and multiple stakeholders, including suppliers and customers as well as nontraditional players like government bodies,” says Li Cheng, assistant professor of supply chain management.
“It’s essentially an ecosystem.”
MSU’s holistic approach extends to the classroom by looking at supply chain management from end to end and integrating topics from manufacturing operations, purchasing, transportation and physical distribution into a unified program. Students learn how to improve supply chain operations, reduce costs within the supply chain, reduce failures and mitigate risks as well as promote sustainability and ethics.
To provide an even broader perspective, classes focus on different types of industries, including hospitality, where the goods are actually a service being delivered.
“We give students a rigorous curriculum that allows them to understand supply chain management in different ways — the functional areas and the skills they need to become effective decision-makers,” adds Cheng.
Today, MSU’s supply chain management curriculum is still at the cutting edge, consistently recognized by U.S. News & World Report with a No. 1 ranking for undergraduate and graduate programs.
“The classes are practical, not just theory, so we learn how to actively think and solve problems. Plus, the professors have real-world experience to share,” says Peter Estefan, a fourth-year student in supply chain management and president of the Supply Chain Management Association, one of the largest student organizations at MSU.
Faculty work to stay on top of business trends and the challenges presented by rapid advances in technology. The curriculum now includes data analytics and big data. Understanding these tools allows graduates of the program to help their employers forecast the future with what they know about the past.
The college also offers a class on business “soft skills,” which are as important to supply chain managers as processes and data. Supply chain managers maintain strong relationships with partners and work to understand problems from their perspective while using their insights to make decisions.
“Supply chain management is 50% science and 50% art,” says Miller.