Giving Supply Chain Its Due

The line snaked out of Dhirubahi Ambani Auditorium in Huntsman Hall, up toward Baker Forum, full of students willing to wait for the inaugural Wharton Supply Chain Conference. The demand for seats was so great, in fact, that attendees filled two overflow rooms during the conference’s first panel. More than 600 people had pre-registered.

“We believe the conference was so successful because of the excellent speaker list, great giveaways and larger than expected turnout, especially by MBAs, engineers and Wharton freshmen,” said Jacob Dinkel, a Wharton senior and vice president of business conference for the Wharton Supply Chain Organization, the student organization that put on the event.

The aforementioned first panel on “high technology” featured the vice president of worldwide operations for Google, the vice president of global operations for IBM and the director of business planning for Samsung. A later session on e-commerce featured high-level representatives from Amazon and Zappos.com. And an afternoon panel titled “Innovate to Thrive” starred big names in the manufacturing space: DuPont, PepsiCo, Boeing and AstraZeneca.

Attendee Jade Rodysill, WG’98, senior director at Accenture, was surprised by the “very senior” people who spoke on the conference panels. These are business leaders, he said, who typically do not offer themselves to established conferences, let alone first-time student events.

“It’s a testament to the [Wharton] brand,” he said.

Accenture had become aware of the conference in its planning stages and offered its involvement (Rodysill’s colleague moderated a panel)—in part as a recruiting opportunity but also because of the importance of supply chain issues.

For Rodysill, the better way to categorize supply chain is as “operations”—not just making products but delivering service. With the iPhone 5, for instance, it is equally important that the phones arrive in time to the Apple Stores in enough quantity for all the buyers waiting in line, Rodysill explained.

In his day as an MBA on campus, students were more interested in operations, Rodysill said, wondering if perhaps the conference attendance was a sign that the pendulum was swinging back in that direction.

Dinkel suggested much the same in explaining the genesis and success of the conference.

“Maybe the Penn community is hungry for something other than finance and consulting,” he told Wharton Magazine.

“For those who want to learn from industry leaders, understand the backbone of great companies and possibly start the next great company, we wanted to provide such a conference.”

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