This past June, many former PhD alumni, faculty, and emeritus faculty reunited to celebrate a milestone—the 25th anniversary of the Supply Chain and Operations Department at the Carlson School. From small beginnings, the department has seen tremendous growth, both in itself and in how supply chain is perceived and appreciated throughout the business world.

When Professor Roger Schroeder came to the Carlson School in 1971, he was part of the management science department. “There was no operations management program. We did not have a required core course in the undergraduate or master’s program and no research was being done,” he says.

In the mid-1970s, Schroeder and Professors John Anderson and Tom Hoffmann decided to change all that. They formed an operations management group within the management sciences department and created their own core courses and electives as well as a research program. In 1977, Professor Art Hill, who later served as an associate dean of MBA Programs, was the first faculty hired to join this small group.

“We started using empirical research to study actual operations in industry. This research was aimed at understanding how managing operations in different ways could lead to higher actual performance,” says Schroeder, who became the first chair of the department. “We worked with many Minnesota and national companies to collect and analyze data related to how they were managing their operations and the results they achieved.”

Anderson, who served as a department chair for several years, says they began with a predominant focus on intra-firm issues, and over time has increasingly added emphasis on inter-firm issues as well—consistent with and helping to drive the emerging world view of supply chain operations and management. “Our emerging department has focused on a broad range of issues relating to operations management—strategy, design, control, technology, analytics, quality, continual improvement, and innovation—whether at the domestic or international level,” he says.

Operations management became successful enough that it split out of the management science department 25 years ago to be its own entity—the Department of Operations and Management Science. The new department consisted of eight full-time faculty members and three jointly shared with the Department of Information and Decision Sciences.

The department continued to grow to become a national research powerhouse with its faculty widely recognized by international awards, research grants, and publications in top journals. “We have faculty continuing to press the frontiers of data analytic methods and more specifically, statistical experimental design,” Anderson says. “Professors Chris Nachtsheim [who served two stints as department chair and was an associate dean for faculty and research] and William Li are leaders in this field of endeavor.”

In the last few years, the department changed its name to the Department of Supply Chain and Operations to reflect the growing interest in supply chain management in addition to traditional operations. It pioneered an undergraduate case competition that draws top talent from around the country and has built a strong, vibrant PhD program. The department’s full-time faculty now number 13 to manage its ever-increasing responsibilities.

Fall 2016 will see the launch of a new program, a specialized, one-year MS degree in supply chain management. The program was developed in close consultation with the department’s corporate partners on the supply chain and operations board of advisors and will help develop supply chain leadership talent for which there is a growing demand.

The current chair of the department is K.K. Sinha, who holds the Mosaic Company–Jim Prokopanko Professorship for Corporate Responsibility. “The department has become increasingly recognized and respected for real-world, problem-driven, and theoretically grounded research,” he says. “This is evidenced by the active, engaged, and enterprising scholars who have made the department their intellectual home.”

The strengthening of the scholarly fabric of the department is evidenced by its fourth-place ranking in research productivity based on two decades of research output. PhD graduates of the supply chain and operations department are routinely placed as faculty in major business schools and MBA and undergraduate students focusing on supply chain management are highly sought after by major companies and consulting firms.

“Such accomplishments have transformed the department into a vibrant nexus of an engaged learning community of students, scholars, industry thought leaders, and practitioners at the forefront of the supply chain management discipline and profession,” Sinha says.

We asked several former students to reflect on their experiences in supply chain and operations:

Witnessing the evolution of supply chain
John Charnes

John Charnes, ’89 PhD, had a fairly technical dissertation: “Statistical Analysis of Multivariate Discrete-Event Simulation Output.” Computer simulation models provide output in the form of several related measurements occurring over time, and Charnes’ dissertation dealt with a sophisticated statistical technique to extract the most information from the data.

After graduating and spending many years in various roles in academia, he later served as senior vice president in the Global Portfolio Strategies group at Bank of America. Today, he is semi-retired and lives in Fort Myers, Florida, doing consulting and training in the areas of data visualization and statistical risk analysis. He is also the author of Financial Modeling with Crystal Ball and Excel.

Being in the field so long, Charnes has seen many changes come over the discipline of supply chain.

“Operations management (OM) had been around for quite some time when I started graduate school, but the field of supply chain management (SCM) came into being after I graduated,” he says. “In the 1990s, we took the OM and logistics knowledge that had up until then been applied to different silos within business enterprises and applied them to entire business processes.”

Charnes says the reason for this stemmed from the proliferation of computer and internet technology that was taking place at the same time. Also, SCM became its own field within business schools as it was realized that the entire process—from extracting raw materials from the ground to turning them into consumer products—needed management from a holistic point of view.

“Now the field is evolving along with the information technology used at the various stages within the entire supply chain,” he says.

Opening up opportunities 

Brian Wong

Since receiving his MBA with a focus in SCO in 2001, Brian Wong says opportunities opened up wide for him. 

“I was not only able to get into supply management, but also ascended into the vice president role in an $8 billion organization,” he says. Since 2008, Wong has been vice president of global supply management at Pentair.

Wong considers those in supply chain as problem solvers and drivers for continuous improvement.

“Large, mature companies typically struggle to grow sales organically. As such, they rely on us to optimize and to gain efficiencies in global supply chain and operations management,” he says. “At Pentair, we have proven over the last 14 years that we can achieve efficiency and productivity by driving continuous improvement in operations and supply chain. When we grow through acquisitions, we ‘transplant’ these best practices to the acquired businesses and subsequently achieved acquisition synergies.”

Case competitions gave him the edge
Nicolas Caretta

Nicolas Caretta, ’11 BSB, was initially drawn to SCO by a course that taught how applied statistics could be used within operational environments.

“It felt natural for me to understand how math could be used to drive effective supply chain decisions,” he says. “After taking a few courses in SCO, I realized that I enjoy learning about process improvement, operational planning, and project management techniques. It also helped that the faculty within the department brought a huge amount of industry experience and practice into the classroom. This allowed me to better envision myself as a future supply chain leader.”

As a student, Caretta was very involved in the supply chain case competitions, having competed in the local competition for three years. In his senior year, his team grabbed first place. “These were easily one of my favorite out-of-classroom learning experiences,” he says.

Having dual degrees in supply chain and operations management and entrepreneurial management, Caretta found a position at Target soon after graduation. Since then, he has supported and led many of Target’s global supply chain transformational efforts.

“I’ve learned that as a supply chain leader, you need to have a strong sense of adaptability,” he says. “The environment and business priorities are constantly changing, and effective leaders embrace ambiguity and uncertainty with a sense of openness and excitement. It is also important to understand the business environment from all levels, broad scope at a 50-thousand-foot view, as well as critical details at one thousand feet.”

Jumping into the flow 
Caitlyn McCarthy

As a newly minted supply chain and operations graduate, Caitlyn McCarthy, ’14 BSB, is ready to jump into action. Since the summer of 2014, she has been at Polaris in its two-year, rotational Operations Development Program. So far, she has had roles as a materials flow analyst, production supervisor, and a buyer.

McCarthy was well acquainted with the field while growing up, as both of her parents worked in supply chain.

“I chose supply chain because there is so much variability and ability to make improvements at a company,” she says. “You get to put your hands on purchasing, logistics, quality, materials, and so much more, that there is a large opportunity to make a difference.”

In her junior year, she participated in her first supply chain case competition. She liked the experience so much that she ran the competitions when she was on the executive board in her senior year.

“I thought the competition was a valuable learning and networking experience,” she says.

Her biggest takeaway from the SCO program and what she will remember the most is the importance of fluidity: “Things are always changing and being adaptable is key,” she says. “You need to be open to new ideas and thoughts about a process.”

The field is still a work in progress
Mikko Ketokivi

As a student, Mikko Ketokivi’s goal was to develop a theory of manufacturing strategy, or at least the rudiments of one. His thesis is titled “Toward a Theory of Manufacturing Strategy,” with an emphasis on the “is.”

"I think that now, 15 years later, I’m still working on this theory,” he says. “Maybe it’ll be ready by the time I retire.”

After earning his PhD in 2000, Ketokivi returned to his native Finland and spent 10 years on the faculty at the Helsinki University of Technology. In 2010, he left there to become a faculty member at IE Business School in Madrid, Spain, where he is currently professor of operations management and organization design.

Ketokivi says he has noticed that those in his field now view operations management more broadly—more interdisciplinary—than when he first started working on his thesis. As for what the future of the field holds, he’s not entirely sure, but he knows what he would want to happen: “I would like to see even more integration with strategy, general management, and organization theory,” he says.

This story appeared in the latest issue of the Carlson School Magazine. For more on students, faculty, and alumni, check out the magazine.