Linking learning and experience in supply chain management

Dr. Zac Williams

Dr. Zac WilliamsStrategy, collaboration and hard work, with the end goal of delivering the best value to consumers. This is the essence of successful supply chain management—and while it may not be easy to fully grasp these concepts as a new college student, a few courses and hands-on involvement in the industry can be life changing.

Imagine graduating with not only a great job offer, but the real-world experience and confidence to enter that job and make an immediate contribution to your organization.

The Western Michigan University integrated supply management program and Center for Integrated Supply Management are committed to just that—developing students into professionals who can apply the concepts they have learned about integrated supply functions to innovative value chain networks.

With one year at the helm as director for the program and center, Dr. Zac Williams says WMU prepares students for careers in supply chain management more successfully than many other programs in the nation. Here, Williams reflects on the program and center’s past work, as well as WMU’s plans for the future as a leader in supply chain education. 

How has prior experience in logistics and supply chain prepared you for your role as director?

The biggest factor is being able to build relationships with the business community. In my classes, we engage with the human side of supply chain. Relationships come in many different forms, but being able to offer opportunities and collaborate with business partners is something I have done frequently in the past. I’ve been working hard on this since coming to WMU.

How would you describe WMU, the Haworth College of Business and the integrated supply management program? What makes us distinct?

WMU and the college of business are both having important discussions around who we are going to be moving forward. Education is going to look very different soon, and WMU is moving the needle and leading the way by developing innovative ideas and programs. The Center for Integrated Supply Management is working very hard on developing experiential learning opportunities that will position us uniquely as well. 

Also, our Haworth College of Business and integrated supply management alumni set us apart. They are extremely passionate and want to be involved with the program. I would like to continue to build on these great connections to make strides for the undergraduate program. The more we can partner with the business community, particularly alumni, the better for students. My phone and email are constantly pinging with alumni who want to engage.

How do the program and center prepare students for careers in the supply chain industry?

It could be argued that our students are more prepared than students from many supply management programs. Our students take more courses in the discipline—nearly double the credit hours—than a lot of other schools. Particularly in terms of manufacturing and sourcing, our students are highly prepared. We also have a strong emphasis on internships and early engagement. It is not uncommon to have freshmen and sophomores involved in internships, externships and co-ops. This is key in the career development process. 

After your first year as director, what would you say are the biggest opportunities for integrated supply management at WMU?

Engagement with the business community. We need to continue working hard on developing solutions to provide expertise to business partners. There is a strong appetite from the business community to work with us. That can extend beyond hiring students.

The program has traditionally been supply focused. There are a lot of great supply chain opportunities on the demand side. There are opportunities for the program and for our students in those areas as well.

What are the biggest challenges?

Like most places, funding is the issue. The factors that make us great are also costly. Student case competitions are a good example. We have competed well in the past and we compete frequently. They get expensive between registrations, travel, etc. Other examples are mentorships and our tutoring center. These vital resources provide great value to students, so it’s important to grow support in these areas. 

What would you like to accomplish as director?

I want WMU integrated supply management to be seen as a thought leader in the supply chain domain. The program is in a great spot—the accolades that have accompanied the program are a true testament to what has been accomplished. We are consistently ranked in the Gartner top 10 programs for undergraduate education. We need to think big and continue on that trajectory.