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SCM World Top 25: Leaders in Learning

by Kevin O'Marah

We are about to publish a short report ranking both the universities that teach supply chain to kids and the associations that train and certify professionals. The methodology is as simple as pie: supply chain practitioners were surveyed on which institutions of each kind were their top three as “markers of talent”. The idea was to get a business leader’s view of where the best supply chain learning is available to the future leaders of our organisations.

Full disclosure: I am not 100% impartial

Let me say right up front that I have allegiances in this game. I am a senior research fellow at Stanford University and went to business school there. I have been an advisory board member of the University of Wisconsin’s Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management for a number of years. I also have a son who is a supply chain major at Michigan State University. And in the association world, I was a director at large for APICS a few years back.

Fortunately, my opinions are largely left out of this analysis since the sole data source is the 331 respondents who took the time to type their answers in at the end of our annual Chief Supply Chain Officer Survey last year.

The top 10 associations and top 15 universities

Our method for rank ordering the institutions in these two lists is a simple weighting, with three points awarded for a #1 selection, two points for a #2, and one point for a #3. The original questions, which are repeated exactly as survey respondents saw them in each table, offered no definitions of “marker of talent”, relying instead on instinctive understanding of the idea.

Keep in mind that respondents were not offered a drop-down menu, so no biases were built in via pre-defined shortlists, and that answers had to be manually typed into a free text field – meaning that respondents really had to want to cast their votes. The results are below:

In terms of association certifications (eg, APICS, ISM, SCC) as markers of supply chain talent, please name your top 3, where 1=most valuable




In terms of universities/business schools as markers of supply chain talent, please name your top 3, where 1=most valuable




Behind the Numbers

However carefully one scrutinises the lists, two takeaways should dominate the discussion: first is that business wants cross-functional supply chain knowledge rather than narrow technical skills. And second is that the scramble to provide it is suddenly heating up. Leadership on these lists is up for grabs and the best institutions will need to move quickly to stay in the hunt.

Cross-functional skill development emerges decisively from both the academics and the associations. The top universities, especially Michigan State, Penn State and Arizona State, all make a point of fighting through entrenched interests in more classical subject areas, including operations and marketing to cultivate a holistic view of supply chain.

Stanford, despite not actually granting supply chain degrees, manages this well within the business school, especially for students willing to dip into the outstanding engineering departments on campus. MIT offers similar breadth and depth, but takes Stanford one better by at least offering a 10-month master’s in supply chain and logistics.

As for the associations, most have relatively narrow historical focus areas, but all seem to be converging on a common end-to-end view of supply chain. From my perspective, the SCOR model of the Supply Chain Council is probably the best-unified picture of the elements that comprise modern supply chain, and yet its institutional health is questionable. APICS, for all its obvious dominance at the top of the list, struggles with different challenges, especially keeping its intellectual property up with the times.

Who will move up and who will move down? These rankings are not exactly scientific and, unlike those produced by US News & World Report, do not draw on any kind of complicated formulae that can be gamed. It really is a simple beauty contest. And beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. The beholder in this case though is the employer.

Game on.

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