Students follow Target supply chain from Ames to China

Kelly Mcgowan

Twenty-six students representing every major in the College of Business are spending their spring breaks tracing the life of spatulas and other kitchen wares backward along their supply chain from the aisle at Target in Ames to the factory in Shenzen, China and every step in between.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to fry an egg the same way again,” said Steven Sapienza, senior in supply chain management.

Students enrolled in the three-credit International Live Case course, Supply Chain Management 428, took tours of the Ames Target store and the company’s regional distribution center in Cedar Falls, Iowa before they departed from Minneapolis last week for the next steps of their journey.

The trip will take them through ports, warehousing facilities and a factory. Stops include Long Beach, Calif., Yantian, China and Shenzen, China.

“I’m a nerd for ports,” said Nicole Cottington, senior in supply chain management.

Cottington said that she looks forward to seeing the immensity and interaction of the ports.

Scott Grawe, assistant professor of supply chain and information systems, and Frank Montabon, associate professor of supply chain and information systems, are professors of the course and co-directors of the trip.

“In a supply chain, part of the issue is [finding out] how what happens in one spot affects what happens downstream in the next location,” Montabon said.

Students will use the unique perspective of having seen the entire supply chain for their final presentation, in which they will recommend improvements on the process to members of Target’s senior management team in Minneapolis in April.

Montabon said that Iowa State students who have seen target’s entire supply chain now outnumber Target employees who have done so.

To some extent, Target implemented five of the ideas presented by last year’s students from this trip, Grawe said.

“When you come in with a fresh perspective and see the bigger picture, you can sometimes see things that you don’t see when you are focused in on one specific operation,” Grawe said.

He said that students move from one stop to the next with a set of questions and a “thirst for understanding” about how the process works.

The inception of the program idea happened over a beer. Grawe was in the Twin Cities chatting about Iowa State’s College of Business with an old boss from his career at Target.

“I made the comment, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if we could get all of our students to see your entire supply chain from end to end?’” Grawe said. “And then we got to talking and said, ‘Why couldn’t we do that?’”

Qing Hu, associate dean for graduate programs and research in the College of Business, had connections in China, and Grawe had connections with Target, which made it possible for the idea to become a reality.

“The idea came up about six months before we actually went live with it,” Grawe said. “We turned it on right away, and it was fantastic.”

Of the students who participated last year, two Iowa State alumni have been hired at the Target distribution center in Cedar Falls.

One Iowa State alumna, Leslie Bourland, is working on the corporate level and is organizing opportunities for this program to see the inner workings of the corporation.

“Ideally, a lot of our students are going to be interacting with different parts of the world as part of their job,” Montabon said.

Cottington is one such student. She will be working in supply chain management with John Deere, and she said that she sees this experience giving her a competitive, professional edge.

Montabon said that this behind-the-scenes global experience can benefit a wide variety of majors in and out of the College of Business. This trip was open to all majors with the prerequisite of Supply Change Management 301.

The directors hope to expand opportunities like this by offering more trips with other companies in the future.

The last few days of the program will be spent in Beijing visiting cultural attractions, including the Great Wall, Olympic Park, Tiananmen Square and others.

Updates on the trip can be found on Twitter with the hashtags #IowaStateSCM and #SelfiesWithMontabon.