It’s hard to miss the Neeley School of Business at Texas Christian University. Enrollment dwarfs almost all other majors, and its programs always seem to be in the news for garnering high marks.
But not all the programs have been basking in popularity.
The supply and value chain management program, boasts a successful track record, but struggling to find a following among students. The program focuses on the management of a product from its creation to after sale customer support.
The process is essential in a global economy, where many goods are shipped worldwide. It’s become so important that there are more openings than there are people in the supply chain field. A recent report from Gartner Supply Chain Leaders ranked TCU’s program the 19th best program in the country in educating students to become leaders in the business world. The program was also evaluated on how well its curriculum fit into the Gartner Talent Attribute Model, according to a release from the Neeley School.
A Program on the Rise
The main goal of the program, “end to end thinking” or learning the entire process of a supply chain rather than looking at only one facet of a business.
“We’re trying to get students to think about all these business activities in this big picture view, so when you think about making decisions, you’re not just thinking about your own organization, but how it affects the supply chain and how it affects the overall customer,” said Morgan Swink, professor and executive director of TCU’s Supply and Value Chain Center.
This big picture view means that students will not only have to know about the cheapest and most effective way to ship a product using math skills, but they must also be able to communicate with business partners effectively to secure business deals. This differs from more focused majors like finance and accounting, he said.
“It’s definitely a challenge, because people tend to be more left or right-brained,” Swink said. “Generally, the left-brained people are in accounting or finance, and the right-brained people are in marketing and communications. In supply chain, you have to have both. “
The school prepares students for the dual roles by having the students work in groups as much as possible, to ensure they know how to communicate with each other and cooperate as a team. And their classes feature aspects of both sides of business.
For example, students might have to complete a practice negotiation for part of a project, and be graded on their ability to properly communicate with others. But in another exercise, they will need to figure out the most cost effective way to ship a product.
“There’s a healthy mix in just about every class. You’re going to have a lot of communication activities and relationship management, like working in a team,” he said. “But you’re also going to have some math in there… We’re looking for students who are well-rounded people and can do both.”
In addition, the top students in the school will get an opportunity to participate in the executive program, where students spend a semester creating a supply chain plan for a major business.
Swink said the executive program has been a major success, and that many of the students who participate are often hired after graduation.
Swink said the program’s supply and value chain center is unique. The center helps bring students in contact with companies and potential employers through recruiting events and trips to businesses on location. Some students visited China for an up-close look of what supply-chain management is like in the real world.
“A lot of schools don’t have that,” he said. “They’ll have a program, a major, but they don’t have a center. It supports in a way that I don’t think that other programs do.”
Getting more people
Despite the success in a short amount of time (the program began eight years earlier) for the supply and value chain program, the number of students in the program is still relatively small. Swink said they currently have 70 undergraduate students, with 35 graduating a year.
“Our biggest issue is students don’t know what it is, and their parents don’t know what it is,” he said. “They know what marketing and finance is, so they tend to gravitate towards those careers, but it’s our job to draw them here.”
Currently, the executive program only takes the top ten percent of students to participate. Because of the small size, Swink said that results in only three or four students who will get to be chosen. He said multiple companies have expressed interest in the executive program, so that means more bodies are needed in order to satisfy demand.
“We’d like to grow the program, but we just need more students to be able to support it.”
In order to help get more people interested in the program, Swink said the program is launching a campaign to raise awareness around campus; first up, posters around campus mentioning the school and its successes.
There are events planned for the fall, one will give students the opportunity to speak with job recruiters and learn about the skills needed to impress employers. Swink said events like these and a greater knowledge of the program will hopefully boost enrollment.
“We’ve got 35 graduating each year, and we need to double that,” he said.
A Success Story
Andrew Conant, a supply chain major who graduated in May, now works for American Airlines in Fort Worth. Conant deals with ordering meals for the Fort Worth-based airline. After taste-testing between a variety of particular dishes from different companies, Conant will choose which company he thinks is best and begin to negotiate the price of the food. He also makes sure the order information is correct, and the food is shipped where it’s supposed to be.
Conant said the education he received did a great job of getting him ready for the workplace.
“I think the program prepared me well,” he said. “We have all the classes that have come in to my job. We took global supply chain, and I’m dealing with Europe and the duties and tariffs that are paid on the food… When I got to first start my job, they had all these terms, and they would say, ‘Oh, we’ll explain it to you later,’ and I would say ‘Well, I already know what they are.’”
Conant says he’s enjoyed his time on the job in the few months he’s been on it. It’s allowed him to travel the country and he gets to meet new contacts and friends. The best part about his job, though, is the negotiating process.
“If we’re about to buy 24,000 pieces from a company, and they’re not going to lower their price, I can say I’ll take my $2 million that I’m going to spend with you elsewhere, and they’re like ‘Whoa, wait a minute!’ That’s always fun.”