The journey of a consumer product from raw material to store shelves used to be a simple one. Factories in the U.S. made the products. U.S. companies shipped them, and consumers like us bought them in corner stores and big-box retailers.
Everything changed with unilateral trade deals that began proliferating in the mid-1990s, making it cheaper for companies to manufacture and sell abroad and lengthening the supply chain. Products now regularly journey across oceans and pass through different cultures.
“Supply chains have become much more complex,” said Anthony Ross, Rockwell Automation Endowed Chair in Supply Chain Management at UWM’s Lubar School of Business. “At the same time, consumers became much more sophisticated.”
The Lubar School of Business has offered responsive, high-quality programs meeting the needs of major U.S. industries for 50 years. To meet the challenges introduced by global markets, the recently reaccredited school dramatically expanded and improved how it teaches supply chain management, collaborating with Rockwell Automation, the world’s largest company devoted exclusively to industrial automation products and software.
“Our goal was to educate people in the science of the supply chain, to address the increased complexity and responsiveness that’s now required to compete in the global economy,” said Lyman Tschanz, a 1981 Lubar graduate and vice president of manufacturing at Rockwell.
In 2010, Rockwell Automation provided a $2.5 million endowed supply chain grant to Lubar to establish the Rockwell Automation Endowed Chair in Supply Chain Management. The goal is to strengthen the supply chain program to attract the best and brightest students and supply chain researchers from around the world to Milwaukee.
The grant enabled Lubar to recruit Ross, then a professor at Michigan State University, to become the first endowed chair. Early success led to the formation of the Supply Chain Management Institute.
A growing demand for supply-chain expertise
Five years in, about 400 Lubar undergraduates study supply chain management, four times more than at the time of the grant. Graduates earn an average starting salary of $45,000, up from $38,000 when the program was much smaller. They’ve fanned out through the world, and many of the recent grads are working at Rockwell Automation.
With more than 700 UWM alumni working at Rockwell Automation’s Milwaukee headquarters, UWM is a key university from which Rockwell recruits new hires with business and engineering degrees. Many belong to a “Panthers at Work” alumni group at Rockwell Automation that’s supported through the UWM Alumni Association.
Nicholas Johnson, a 2014 Lubar graduate in supply chain management, supervises 44 employees as production supervisor for a Rockwell Automation office in Richland Center, Wisconsin. He credits Lubar for preparing him for the job and early promotions.
“I had many opportunities within the school and throughout the community,” said Johnson, who joined a student group focused on supply chain management and interned with Rockwell Automation. “At times, this breadth of opportunity challenged me to perform outside of my comfort zone.”
Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Wisconsin heeded the call of Lubar’s supply chain researchers to involve local businesses in students’ research. In 2012, faculty members helped Goodwill Industries study optimal locations for its warehouses to streamline delivery of products to its network of stores.
“We saw the value throughout the whole organization but starting with donated goods,” said Vicki Holschuh, senior vice president and chief retail officer at Goodwill.
Researchers also worked with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin on sourcing health care products and sorting out which products are better kept in stock versus buying directly from suppliers as needed. Another project provided a comprehensive modeling of coal inventory management for We Energies.
Consumers probably don’t notice it, but Lubar’s research in the supply chain management field speeds cereal and rubber bands to them at a far lower cost. And with alumni holding key positions in corporations like SC Johnson, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Rockwell Automation, Harley-Davidson and Johnson Controls Inc., the school’s influence will continue to grow.