From his office in the heart of New England, Thomas Moore doesn't have to look far to see his competition. Scattered throughout a 120-mile radius are some of the powerhouses of his industry—the acknowledged leaders with the big names and the cachet. Yet Moore is not intimidated. He believes he's come up with something that will differentiate his organization from the competition and bring customers flocking to his doors. That something? Supply chain management.
Using supply chain management—or to be precise, excellence in supply chain management—to make your company stand out from the crowd is nothing new, of course. For 20 years, analysts, consultants, academics and, yes, even business journalists have extolled the virtues of using logistics as a potential competitive advantage: By making your logistics operations hyper-efficient, cost-effective and customer focused, the thinking goes, you'll enable your company to outperform its rivals in price and delivery every time.
You need look no further than Wal-Mart for the proof. Since the 1960s, when the late Sam Walton started tinkering with what we now call logistics and supply chain operations in hopes of giving his fledgling department stores a leg up on the competition, the mega-retailer has found countless ways to make its distribution faster, better and cheaper, with a devastating effect oncompetitors.
But Moore's mission is not to sell more DVDs than Wal-Mart or more PCs than Dell. He is no retail strategist, CMO or even chief supply chain executive. Moore heads up Northeastern University's business school. The "customers" he's looking to attract aren't holiday shoppers, but graduate students. The competition isn't Sears or Target, but schools like Yale, Boston College and Harvard, which offer what many consider to be the top MBA programs in the country.
Since he took over as dean of Northeastern's College of Business Administration last year, Moore has been on a quest to find ways to make the school stand out. Taking his cues from business, he's conducted market research, going out to area employers that hire business school graduates and asking them about their needs and preferences. What he's discovered is that they want people who can come in and help them make their supply chains more efficient.
What he's also concluded is that supply chain education remains a largely underserved market. That's not to say it's an un-served market—there are certainly business schools out there that offer well-regarded supply chain management programs. But as demand for supply chain expertise explodes (supply chain executives have become the hottest white-collar "commodity" in today's job market), there just aren't enough of them. And so, beginning this year, Northeastern's business school will roll out a publicity campaign that puts supply chain management on a par with marketing and finance as a core career track. It will introduce a new supply chain-focused MBA program, to be headed by Robert Lieb, a Northeastern professor who has taught logistics and supply chain courses at the school for years. It will hire faculty, expand programs and even arrange "corporate residencies" with area employers for its students.
All this is to say that it appears that logistics and supply chain excellence has become more than that "something" that distinguishes the best-performing corporations from the rest of the pack. It's about to become a competitive differentiator for an entity that doesn't even run a supply chain of its own. Though it may not own a fleet of trucks or operate a network of DCs, Northeastern appears to have understood one lesson very well: how to capitalize on what may be the hottest trend in American business.