If one believed in fate, Donald J. Bowersox's career at Michigan State University (MSU) might be cited as an example of its power. In a 2007 interview with James Stock, a professor at Florida State University, Bowersox talked about how he might easily have gone off to Stanford for a master's degree, or to Indiana for his Ph.D., or even to private industry for one of several enticing jobs.
Instead, the graduate of a Lansing, Mich., high school received his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees from MSU, and then—outside of short stints in industry—spent the next four decades at the school as a teacher, researcher, and writer. It was there, beginning with a doctoral thesis that eventually became a seminal text in logistics, that Bowersox grew into one of the intellectual giants of what we now call supply chain management.
Bowersox, an eminent supply chain academic and the last living founder of the National Council of Physical Distribution Management (NCPDM), the forerunner of what would become the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals, died July 4 at his summer home in Traverse City, Mich. He was 79.
Bowersox was being treated for a recurrence of cancer and had begun a regimen of chemotherapy, according to David J. Closs, chair of the department of supply chain management at the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management at Michigan State University, where Bowersox taught for 40 years. Closs said Bowersox's system reacted negatively to the treatment.
Over his career, Bowersox established himself as one of the leading thinkers in distribution and transportation management. He wrote the first college textbook on physical distribution management, the first of some 17 books he authored or co-authored. He also wrote more than 250 journal articles (including a 2007 piece titled "SCM: The Past is Prologue" that introduced our sister publication CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly.)
He was also a regular speaker at CSCMP's annual conference and other meetings. George Gecowets, the retired president of CSCMP (at that time known as the Council of Logistics Management), recalls that he always scheduled Bowersox's sessions for large meeting rooms, as they were always among the most popular at the annual meetings.
At his retirement from MSU in 2006, Bowersox was awarded the title of University Professor and Dean Emeritus at MSU. His decades of experience included management stints at Nabisco Brands, Ryder System, Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad, Tri Valley Growers, and American National Can, among others. He also worked at several consulting firms, including Mercer Management Consulting and Norbridge Inc. He also worked at Awake! Consulting, a firm that helps supply chains cope with the impact of oil price volatility. Bowersox served as a senior turnaround consultant and executive coach at Awake! In addition, he served as a pilot and radar specialist in the Air Force in the years after the Korean War.
Bowersox was elected NCPDM's second president in 1964 and was the recipient of the organization's second "Distinguished Service Award" in 1966. The executive committee changed the organization's name from NCPDM to the Council of Logistics Management in 1985, and then to its present name of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals in 2005.
Bowersox remained active in the field after his retirement. In 2008, he co-authored a book on supply chain management, Start Pulling Your Chain, with former Limited Brands Executive Nick LaHowchic. At last fall's CSCMP annual conference, he joined his sons in a presentation titled "Supply Chain the Discipline: Past, Present, and Future."
A memorial service is scheduled for July 10 at the Michigan State Chapel from 1 pm to 3 pm.
Editor's Note: This article is an updated version (posted July 8) of the original article, which appeared on July 7. It contains more information about Bowersox's influential life.