Meet the Faculty: Supply Chain Management Professor Rick Pennington
Dr. Rick Pennington is an Associate Professor in the College of Business at Bellevue University. He is Program Director of the Supply Chain Management program, focusing on supply chain, quality management and operation management.
I know you’re an Associate Professor and Program Director and that you focus in supply chain, quality management and operations management. How are those three areas related to each other?
Supply chain management (SCM) moves products from Point A to Point B or provides services to consumers. SCM professionals think in terms of SIPOC (Suppliers-Inputs-Processes-Outputs-Customers). Quality management (QM) is the ability to provide the products and services to the consumers at the right time, at the right place, at the right price, and as expected (no damage and working). QM will use continual improvement processes to improve the organization's processes. Operations management (OM) can provide consumers with a low-cost product and high-quality services. QM and OM are a part of the SIPOC.
What exactly do Bellevue University students who study supply chain management learn? What skills do they master and gain exposure to and experience in?
SCM students study theoretical business practices. The professors in the program have varied professional experiences and discussions with students. Students on campus have the opportunity to visit manufacturing facilities to learn about topics covered each week. We also discuss the current trends or disruptors in the supply chain. The last 18 months have provided an excellent example of why companies need to consider risk management throughout their organizations. We discuss globalization in class, and the impact e-retailing has made on our supply chains.
Skills include public speaking, financial analysis, risk analysis, and Six Sigma. We also introduce students to professional societies like ASCM, ISM, and ASQ. The topics learned in class can be applied to attaining professional certifications with each organization after sitting for examinations.
If you listen to the news at all, you know that there are serious disruptions in the global supply chain. How would you describe what is happening right now?
It is interesting, several years ago, when I started teaching full-time with BU, my dad had asked what I was teaching and then asked, “What is a supply chain?” For me, this was ironic because he had worked as a truck driver in a previous career. Today, everyone hears about supply chains and the disruptions occurring. Communication is a crucial factor. Companies are increasing the use of technology to improve communication. Consumers and manufacturers can locate products in real-time using phone apps and blockchain technology.
The increased globalization of companies has affected our supply chains. As consumers, we expected a low-cost product with high quality and delivered on time. Globalization provides low-cost and high quality, but on-time deliveries are taking a hit. Many of my students are purchasing components and commodities for their employers. Each has mentioned the difficulties in buying enough products and delivering the product on time.
Why are some companies and industries more impacted by supply chain disruptions than others?
The impact is occurring to supply chains that rely heavily on offshoring. It is easy for people to say, “Bring the work back to the USA." There are two key reasons this will not happen immediately: 1) lack of employees, and 2) increased consumer prices. There is a shortage of employees throughout our supply chains, including manufacturing, trucking, hospitality, and health care. Companies investing in technology or process improvements will see economic and efficiency improvements to their organizations. We often talk about removing waste from processes in our classes.
As companies have difficulty hiring, they must consider how to entice the new employees. Improved benefits, increased wages, and flexibility are vital considerations. Each will come at a cost to the organizations. Companies are seeking specific margins and profits. The cost will be passed on to the consumers more often than not.
Bellevue University has a unique 2+2 program with students from Guangzhou, China, who are studying supply chain management. What unique experiences and perspective do those international students bring into the classroom and the program?
The GCC students are different from the online cohort students because they lack real-life experience. What the students bring is their perspective from China as consumers. There are two competitive markets we discuss: Apple vs. Huawei and Amazon vs. Alibaba. The GCC students taught me about China's same-day delivery services, which were already occurring in 2017. Similar services by retailers in the U.S. are beginning to emerge now.
Before the Covid pandemic, factories and retailers were providing tours of their facilities. The GCC students were writing about each of the experiences. The tours are a great way to explain the concepts further in class.
The students also bring their culture to Bellevue University. My family and I have been fortunate to attend the Nebraska Chinese Association events. Many of our students have participated in the events and always enjoy explaining their culture to us. This understanding of culture can be beneficial in the classroom when we talk about demographics.
You had a successful career at Valmont, a Fortune 1000 company, before you became a full-time faculty member in the College of Business. Can you tell me what you did and how that experience informs your teaching today?
I have nearly 30 years of experience in production, engineering, and quality management. I spent seven years assembling, stamping, bending, and galvanizing steel parts on the production floor. From this perspective, I can provide students with real-life experience about what to expect from the ground level of the organization.
I was responsible for new and improved line processes and designing production systems using CAD technologies as a manufacturing engineer. The improvements were based on safety improvements, new product development, expansion needs, efficiency improvements, and cost improvements. The processes were designed for manufacturing facilities around the world, including the US, UAE, China, Brazil, and Spain.
The first task I had as a quality manager was to learn the details about ISO-9000, a global family of standards used by companies to verify their quality system. I managed a small group of employees to ensure the system's compliance, improve processes, and reduce costs. I was responsible for implementing a QMS (Quality Management System) utilized by three facilities in Nebraska. Externally from the company, I worked with suppliers and customers. I would travel around the U.S. to visit with each. Networking and building relationships was a key experience in my corporate background. This experience solidified my understanding of the importance of a supply chain. Suppliers are the beginning, and the customers are the result of our products; in between were the processes in our facilities worldwide.
The supply chain management (SCM) field is growing, challenging, and fulfilling. If students want to impact their current or future employer positively, then SCM is the way. SCM affects every part of an organization."
What would you tell a prospective student considering a career in supply chain management?
Don't wait to decide to enroll. The field is growing, challenging, and fulfilling. If students want to impact their current or future employer positively, then SCM is the way. SCM affects every part of an organization, and that is what I tell all of my students. No matter what their career is, they will apply what they have learned in class to their role. Many of our students be promoted by their current employer while in the program or shortly after completing their degree. Companies like Walmart, Conagra, Valmont, and Amazon recognize our students.
Bellevue University is well known for being an innovator in higher education. Does the University’s approach and culture impact your Supply Chain Management program(s)? And if so, how?
I wanted to come to Bellevue University because of the Real Learning for Real Life idea the school was marketing to students. This approach was critical in my education and my career. It was important for me to continue this in the SCM programs. Many of our faculty have worked for one of the companies noted earlier and bring their experiences into the classroom. Faculty will bring the real world to the classroom through videos, webinars, networking opportunities, and field trips. Zoom has added another option to bring in presenters from around the country.
The school has a student chapter of ASCM. The chapter has had presenters from Werner Enterprises, Phil My Bin, Valmont, and Conagra; the presenters have been from Mexico, China, and the U.S. Other experiences included how to have an elevator speech ready and drone technologies.
What is the most gratifying part of your role at Bellevue University?
In the role as a Program Director, I have two most gratifying items: One, my impact on global supply chains by engaging students in discussions and providing field trips to local businesses, and two, working with a great group of adjunct faculty and assisting them in their success with their students.
Each student will use their knowledge around the world in various industries. Watching students from the business programs fulfill their education dreams and walk across the commencement stage is what I enjoy. I especially enjoy hearing from former students. Each has a unique journey. Promotions, new careers, and attending graduate schools worldwide are the various journeys.
Working with the adjunct faculty and hearing about their success with students is gratifying. The program is about the group of faculty being positive role models for the students. Students can appreciate the faculty experiences presented. Faculty will answer questions about how to succeed in their specific career. Some faculty will write recommendation letters for graduate schools. And some faculty will recommend career opportunities within their workplace when they recognize a student who might fit in the role and the organization's culture.