Rod Franklin, academic director at Kuehne Logistics University, was kind enough to participate on the jury panel of the 9th Payload Asia Awards in 2022. In an interview, the professor shares his origin story into academe, as well as insights on supply chain trends and making a career in logistics.
Can you give us a brief background of your academic career?
I started out as an engineer. I received my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and went on to obtain a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford. I worked for several years as a design engineer for General Motors, but decided that being a technical engineer, at least from a career perspective, was not what I wanted. I was accepted at the Harvard Business School so I left GM and obtained my MBA there. I worked for several years after this running manufacturing operations for an oil field services company, consulting, and ultimately moving into high technology with Digital Equipment Corporation and Entex Information Systems. At this time I felt I missed the world of academics, so I went back to school and obtained my doctorate in management at Case Western Reserve University. I was also changing careers at this time and I moved into logistics where I ultimately ended up at Kuehne + Nagel. When the Kuehne Logistics University was being planned I was asked if I would be interested in becoming a professor there and running the Executive Education portion of the University. I was ready to get back into academics, so I said yes and the rest is history.
With respect to my teaching and research, I lecture in the areas of logistics and supply chain operations, data analytics, management science, and critical reasoning. My research focuses on using game theory and Internet concepts to develop collaborative business frameworks for what is becoming known as the physical Internet.
What are the different graduate courses on offer at Kuehne Logistics University, particularly for budding supply chain professionals?
KLU offers full time Master of Science programs in Global Logistics and Supply Chain Management and General Management. It also offers two part time Master’s programs; our part time MBA and our part time Sustainable Management and Operations program. KLU is a research university and offers PhD programs in management. We focus on humanitarian, maritime, general management, and supply chain topics in these programs.
What’s a common misconception on studying logistics and making a career out of it?
There are several misperceptions concerning a career in logistics. The first is that if you study logistics you will become a truck driver or a warehouse worker. There is nothing wrong with either of these professions, but logistics and supply chain management are far more than these tactical operating professions. In fact, with customer-facing organizations today not manufacturing their own products, the management of their supply chains is really what used to be called operations management. It is much more complex than inhouse operations management since you are managing third parties that have their own strategies that most likely are not in alignment with your company’s strategy. It takes significant knowledge of operations and collaboration skills to manage these relationships. Truth be told, a career in logistics and supply chain management means a career in operations and it provides a path, in knowledgeable companies, to the “C” level.
Do you think the pandemic has somehow changed the public’s view of the industry?
I believe that the pandemic made people aware of the importance of supply chain operations. However, I do not believe it has influenced career selection in individuals. Operations management is difficult and not really “sexy.” Young people today like the buzz of startups and the world of finance. These are the highly promoted career paths that both the press and, unfortunately, career counselors promote to them. If we are to get more young people interested in careers in operations, particularly supply chain and logistics operations, we are going to have to make the profession more appealing. We are very poor marketeers.
Which trends do you foresee will reshape supply chains and the way we transport and deliver from origin to destination?
This is a topic I talk about quite a bit. There are several trends that I believe will have a significant impact on how future supply chains operate and on the world of consumption in general. The first of these is the obvious advance of digital technologies. These technologies are enabling AI, big data, robotics, autonomous operations, etc. All these areas impact supply chain operations and will, therefore, cause significant changes in how supply chains operate.
A second trend that will have a major impact is the environmental impact that humans have on our world. This impact goes beyond global warming to the plastics that are now polluting our oceans and water supplies, the waste we generate, and the deforestation that our ever-growing demand for food is causing. All these factors will create challenges for future supply chain managers.
A final trend that I see creating challenges in the geo-political changes we are seeing today. These changes call into question the globalization model that has taken hold in everyone’s mind over the past thirty years. I expect that these tensions will lead to trade wars and a change in how supply networks are constructed. This will evolve over time, but the era of “free trade” appears to be coming to an end.
In your opinion, what are the key skill sets to build a successful career in logistics?
With digitalization becoming so important in all aspects of our lives, I believe that a good grounding in technology will be required for everyone in the future. In addition, an analytical mind is helpful in understanding the complexity of supply operations and arriving at solid, fact-based decisions. Finally, being able to work as part of a team, to collaborate and feel comfortable doing so, is an extremely important skill today.
For companies that are looking to hire the next generation of top talent, what are the key factors or aspects that they need to consider to attract these professionals?
Young talent wants a challenge, they do not like routine. They also do not like to feel that their advancement is driven by “time in grade” thinking, but by performance. They are impatient, so companies wishing to both attract and retain these individuals need to be clear about the career paths available to their new hires and not hold back individuals that exhibit drive and capability. They also need to ensure that these individuals are continually being educated since the world is changing so rapidly. These are the key factors I see in hiring and maintaining young talent today.