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MSU Detroit Executive Forum offers insights into the business of supply chain

By Chelsea Stein
Monday, April 24, 2023

Supply chain management has been elevated to the forefront of business as the global pandemic has exposed hidden vulnerabilities and leaders have had to navigate countless disruptions just in the past three years. As home to the nation’s No. 1 supply chain programs, Spartans from the Broad College of Business are positioned for excellence, able to rise to the challenges of today and tomorrow.

“I think supply chain is a lot more respected and understood thanks to the pandemic. There is more appreciation and there are more opportunities than ever before,” said Christine Krathwohl (B.A. Materials and Logistics Management ’93, MBA ’02), vice president of global business development at FreightVerify Inc. “It’s pretty amazing the opportunities that this career and our degree from Michigan State can have, and I think the sky’s the limit if you’re getting a degree in supply chain.”

Krathwohl offered these remarks as a featured panelist at the MSU Detroit Executive Forum, alongside Brian Beattie (B.A. Marketing ’81), president of western U.S. operations at Lineage Logistics, and David Leich (B.A. Materials and Logistics Management ’88), executive director of global supply chain at General Motors.

The panel discussion, held at Detroit’s MotorCity Casino on April 12, was co-moderated by Judith Whipple, interim dean of the Broad College and Bowersox-Thull Professor in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, and Kevin Speicher (B.A. Materials and Logistics Management ’90), senior partner, Detroit, McKinsey & Company. The event also featured a presentation from Jason Miller, interim chairperson of the Department of Supply Chain Management, offering an outlook on the state of supply chain.

Whipple kicked off the event with a nod to its history: “The forum began in 1965 as a way to offer continuing education and networking opportunities to attendees, many of whom are graduates or current students of the Broad College or MSU. It has featured many senior and influential business leaders and organizations from the region.”

This year’s discussion started with reflections on changes to each industry leader’s company during the pandemic. For Lineage Logistics, a global leader in temperature-controlled logistics for the food supply chain, Beattie said everything changed.

“It took about 25 years to get supply chain to flow how it did before the pandemic,” he said, noting the importance of data science to navigate challenges with network modeling and inventory optimization. “Things were relatively balanced, and then everything stopped immediately, so we had to reinvent supply chain to get things to flow quickly.”

Leich emphasized how the pandemic exposed the great need for supply chain resilience at General Motors.

“We have 117 GM manufacturing plants around the world, 30,000 tier two suppliers, and build about 7 million vehicles per year, so we have a very complex supply chain,” he said. “Most supply chains are reactive and have tried to transition to proactive. A lot of it comes down to data and analytics. We are investing in resources and technology to go from reactive to proactive to predictive with algorithms and automating through AI.”

For FreightVerify, which provides real-time software solutions to some of the world’s largest manufacturers and suppliers, Krathwohl said the past three years have been a time of extensive growth.

“This crisis has been the catalyst for 75% of our growth,” she said, noting how her company has been able to introduce its software to automotive dealerships managing inventory, including those associated with GM, Honda and Hyundai. “With GM, we’ve had a 99% adoption rate because our software has allowed dealers to sell from in-transit inventory and optimize their total inventory.”

Each panelist touched on the topic of increased visibility, emphasizing that collaboration and building trust with partners and suppliers is the best approach to enable this.

“During the pandemic, it became more important that we had to collaborate. We pulled partners together, and now we work together more than we ever have,” Beattie said. “We’ve changed the configuration of our organization to improve supply chain every day, and we have higher levels of collaboration and trust.”

The speakers closed the discussion with advice for current students and future supply chain leaders. The resounding message was that MSU is the best place to be to gain a foundation in this industry.

“Supply chain is a really complex field, and MSU does a great job of teaching all the pillars,” Leich said. “I would also highly recommend looking for companies that have rotational programs because you need to understand procurement, logistics, supply chain, operations, and you need to know how it all comes together.”

“It’s pretty amazing the opportunities that this career and our degree from Michigan State can have, and I think the sky’s the limit if you’re getting a degree in supply chain.”

With respect to the consulting world, Speicher added how supply chain management is in demand.

“Reflecting on my own clients, folks in line for senior executive positions or those in the pipeline, a stint in supply chain is now a prerequisite, where it used to be finance.”

A special recognition was also made for Kelly Lynch, retired director of corporate and student relations for the Department of Supply Chain Management.

“I am proud that I was on the committee that hired Kelly, as he was not only an amazing colleague and trusted friend, but also, he was an invaluable resource to our students as well as to our faculty and partner companies,” Whipple said.

Lynch was an integral member of the college, served as the faculty advisor for the Supply Chain Management Association — one of the largest student organizations on campus — and was recognized with the MSU Walter Adams Advisor of the Year award in 2021. Lynch always had time to mentor students, helping them reach their career goals and encouraging them to develop leadership and other skills outside the classroom.

The MSU Detroit Executive Forum also offered time for attendees, including industry leaders, alumni, students and staff, to network and engage with one another. Take in scenes from the evening by viewing our photo album on Flickr.

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