Supply chain at W. P. Carey: A continuum of thought leadership

Part one:

The W. P. Carey Department of Supply Chain Management was ranked number 3 among undergraduate supply chain programs in the recently-released U.S. News & World Report survey of business specializations. In fact, in six out of the past seven years the department has been in the top five, slipping to number six just once. The reason for the high marks is simple: ASU’s supply chain program has been and continues to be a key player in the development of the discipline, starting long before the supply chain concept coalesced from its component parts.

It’s an interesting story, going back to the 1950s, when logistics expert Martin Farris joined the young university. A few years later, Hal Fearon brought procurement to the business college. Operations followed. These three were long-standing and distinct fields of inquiry at many universities, and companies usually separated them into different departments as well

But by the late 1980s, managers and scholars had started to think of the three as connected — part of a continuum that had the potential to drive value if viewed as a whole rather than disparate parts. An idea was emerging that an integrated approach could better deliver products and services to customers and profit to stakeholders.

In response, the W. P. Carey School took a step that was both emblematic and practical. In 1998 the Department of Business Administration was renamed Supply Chain Management — a move that recognized the revolution that was underway and that enabled academics and business partners to focus on the new approach. It would be a few years before all of the disciplines that comprise supply chain management would be united in that new department, but a stake had been driven into the ground: ASU would be a leader in this new field.

Fast forward to 2012. The supply chain management discipline continues to evolve. Technology advances are enabling companies to track, analyze and use data in ways never before possible. Even the supply chain concept itself is morphing. Companies increasingly talk about delivering value, and the relationships making up the chain are being viewed now as more web-like than linear. And the cutting edge ideas that drive change continue to develop at the W. P. Carey School.

In this series, KnowSCM will share the department’s story: Part One is a windshield tour of 50 years of scholarship.


Roll the clock back to the late 1950s. It’s post-war Phoenix and the metro area is beginning to grow. In nearby Tempe, Grady Gammage was president of the new Arizona State University. A hard-fought battle to elevate the institution’s status from Arizona State College to Arizona State University had just been won, and former departments were beginning to ramp up as colleges within this new framework.

When Martin T. Farris arrived at the new university sometime around 1958, the College of Business Administration had only recently been formed. An economist, Farris was interested in transportation, distribution and logistics. He was the first of what would become a strong core of logistics researchers at the school. The value of his work to the field and to the university is reflected in his 1988 appointment as a Regents Professor — the highest honor ASU can bestow on a faculty member. In fact, Farris’ book, Domestic Transportation: Theory, Practice and Policy, was long considered one of the the seminal textbook in logistics. His co-author, David L. Schrock, arrived soon after Farris, as did logistics scholar David Vellenga. Both Schrock and Vellenga went on to leadership positions in other business schools.

The three started as transportation experts, but in time developed a broader perspective that included warehousing, and an early focus on cost shifted more to customers. Vellenga was first in the group to think of logistics on a global scale.

The next major player to arrive was Hal Fearon, a purchasing and materials management professor from Michigan State University. It was 1961; Fearon and his wife were up for an adventure living in the desert, and the plan was to move back to Michigan in two years. Two years stretched into a lifetime, and the Fearons are still residents of Tempe, Arizona.

When Fearon arrived the class on purchasing was being taught by the chairman of the marketing department. Fearon was allowed to take it over, and the student enrollment grew. The purchasing faculty also grew, to include Ross and Robert Reck — brothers, and Graham “Rip” Rider, a retired Air Force general.

Early on, Fearon began compiling the Arizona Purchasing Managers Index, a report that was issued monthly for some 40 years. Fearon understood the importance of connecting research to industry and companies to students. So in 1989, he took advantage of an early retirement offer and refocused his time on establishing a new research center: CAPS Research (Center for Advanced Purchasing Studies). The center, also affiliated with the Institute for Supply Management, recently celebrated 25 years of industry-relevant research.

The three pillars

By the 1980s, the department of purchasing, logistics and operations had been formed. Operations expert Willam Ruch was the department chair when Sue Siferd, professor emerita of supply chain management, was hired. “They had the vision to recognize that an area existed outside of a pure economics department and also aside from a management department, focusing on the strategies and application of transportation, logistics, purchasing, and operations,” Siferd said.

The operations faculty was growing. Dwight and Vicki Smith-Daniels were hired a year before Siferd — Dwight bringing a project management perspective and Vicki the services operations view. Thomas Callarman, now on the faculty of a China Europe International Business School (CEIBS), recalls that he and Ruch introduced the idea that supply chain management comprises integrated processes across disciplines and companies. Tom Hendrick was a prolific CAPS researcher during this period. In 1990 Lisa Ellram — an engine of respected research — came on board, followed by Joseph Carter — now the W. P. Carey associate dean at ASU’s West Campus and vice provost of the university. A few years later Phillip Carter, also an operations leader, joined the faculty. He is now the executive director of CAPS Research.

The arrival of Arnold Maltz in 1996 boosted the school’s traditional strength in logistics. M. Johnny Rungtusanatham played key roles in the W. P. Carey School’s executive education and online development, was hired. Thomas Choi, later to head up a research center, also arrived at this time.

But before all of the pieces would be assembled into the department of supply chain management, many of these scholars would be dispersed to different departments. With the dissolution of the purchasing, logistics and operations department, some faculty members became part of the decision information science department. That unit was also disbanded and faculty were relocated to accounting, marketing and management. Some became part of the new department of business administration — chaired by a remarkable scholar, Larry Smeltzer, who had shifted his research focus to health care supply chain management mid-career. Smeltzer’s research colleague, Eugene Schneller, carries on that work today. Business administration also gathered in legal and ethical studies, business communications and real estate.

Throughout the churn, the school continued to offer purchasing, logistics and operations degrees. But a new concept about the way products move from idea to customer was being formed. It was as if the academic community, like industry, was trying out various models for understanding the changes that were beginning to happen in industry. And so the stage was set for another new department: a structure that would stand, and allow the scholars in the three pillars of a new discipline work together.

Supply Chain Management

When Joseph Carter became chairman of the department of business administration in 1997, he noted that housing unrelated disciplines in one department meant splitting the time and attention of the department chairman. He recommended that the business administration department be renamed and refocused on supply chain management. This necessitated more moves, as business communications, legal and ethical studies and real estate relocated.

By 1998, the change became official. The new department included (among others) Carter, Lisa Ellram, John Pearson and Phil Carter from the procurement side; from logistics came Arnold Maltz and Norm Daniels. Several years later, the operations faculty moved over from management, bringing Craig Kirkwood, Don Keefer, Rungtusanatham and retired department chairman William Verdini. Kevin Dooley, who leads one of the department of supply chain management’s four research centers, was also in that group.

At that point the new Department of Supply Chain Management was made “whole,” as Carter puts it. Recently, it expanded again, adding healthcare supply chain expert Eugene Schneller and his research consortium.

John Fowler, current chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management, was a faculty member in the Department of Industrial Engineering at ASU when the new department was formed. “Several of my engineering colleagues and I had a good laugh at the time because we thought the name change was an attempt to cash in on the latest buzz word; we thought there would be another name change after a couple of years. We were obviously very wrong! The faculty in the department at that time, particularly Joe Carter as chair, deserve a lot of credit for their ability to forecast the future."

The stepping off place

With the new department established, the W. P. Carey School was positioned to drive that stake into the ground — as a place that makes contributions to an important new discipline. Today it is even more than that: the faculty includes the leaders who are developing frameworks that are fundamentally changing the way academics and companies think about supply chain.

The faculty has grown, and new scholars have brought advanced thinking in e-commerce, modeling and analytics to an already busy and respected academic community. In the next edition of knowSCM, we will discuss the current SCM faculty.

The department is also home to four research centers, providing the structure that supports projects in the emerging areas of inquiry.

CAPS Research, now led by Professor Phil Carter, is 25 years old now -- a research anchor for industry. The Center for Supply Networks, led by Professor Thomas Choi, reaches for the horizon studying supply networks and sustainability as complex adaptive systems. Kevin Dooley is academic director of the Sustainability Consortium, and Eugene Schneller heads the Health Sector Supply Chain Research Consortium.

In Part Two of this series, knowSCM will survey the work currently underway in the department and the profession. Part Three will take a look at what’s ahead — in research, industry and education.

“Twenty years ago, when I said supply chain management nobody had a clue what I was talking about,” Joseph Carter says. Today, the demand for academic research in the area is strong, and companies are eager to hire graduates. “Over the next 20 years,” Carter added “supply chain management will evolve in ways we are only beginning to imagine.”

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