Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Supply Chain's First Academy Friday

By Kirsten Olson
First-year MBA, 
Supply Chain Academy

The eight of us were sitting around a long table at Nick’s English Pub waiting for our academy director Prof. Carl Briggs to show up.  Carl lost the bet, so he would be paying the tab.  Carl loves “putting skin in the game” and told us whoever showed up without either a business card or a recruiter in tow would pay for the whole group.  Normally that wouldn’t be a difficult task, except we only had 30 minutes to change out of our coal plant tour clothes and into business formal, haul across town to crash a job fair uninvited, get the cards, invite recruiters, and return to the Kelley Building for “Executive Speed Dating.” Success in hand, we were ready to rack up a huge tab for Carl.
My Work Shoes

Rewind 12 hours.  It was our first Academy Friday and the Supply Chain Academy was getting an early start, a very early start.  Carl told us to meet in the parking lot behind the undergrad building at 6am sharp.  None of the other academies were meeting this early, which was a small point of pride for Carl.  I was a couple minutes early, trying to get used to my brand new steel-toed boots.  Carl was already there setting up a table with coffee and donuts to welcome the 8 new Supply Chain Academy students.  I handed him the waiver promising that my estate wouldn’t sue the school if during the tour I died, or was maimed, or lost my keys.  My academy peers began to arrive one by one.  I knew a couple of them, but most I hadn’t officially met, and quickly realized that I was the only woman in this year’s crop of Supply Chain students.  Should make this interesting, I thought.

Prof. Kyle Cattani pulled up in his sporty, little SUV.  With only 8 students it was easy to arrange transportation with two vehicles.  You’d expect the Supply Chain Academy to be efficient with logistics.  Prof. Cattani is one of my professors in the Kelley Integrated Core, so I took the opportunity to ride with him to the plant.  During the commute to and from the plant I learned a lot about my professor, chiefly that even though he’s brilliant at managing operations, he struggles as much as anyone at managing his 3 high school aged kids, “My daughter doesn’t see the difference between arriving to school on time and arriving 3 minutes late.”

Sometime between Bloomington and Bedford the sun rose and we arrived at the Hoosier Energy coal plant to an unusually cool, rainy September morning.  As we got out of the vehicles, Carl seemed a little disappointed.  “I was hoping it would be hotter than this.”  I thought it felt rather comfortable, but would later learn why he was disappointed.

Before the tour could start, we were given a brief safety overview with borrowed hard hats, safety glasses, and ear plugs.  Roger Reynolds, our tour guide, gave one final word of advice, “If you’re afraid of heights, don’t look down.”  Mr. Reynolds and Carl seemed to be in on some inside joke the rest of us didn't get.  

Prof. Cattani asking his 534th question.
We entered the factory and immediately took the elevator to the 9th floor.  (Prof. Cattani was disappointed we weren’t taking the stairs; he and Carl have a daily competition to see who can accumulate the most steps on their pedometers.)  When the elevator doors opened, the temperature jumped from 65°f to over 95°f.  Surprise!  Carl chuckled, reminiscing how hot it had been when he visited earlier in the summer.  As we stepped out onto the walkway, I looked down.  It was over 180 feet to the ground.  Okay, got over that

The plant became progressively hotter as the tour continued, and Carl was clearly enjoying it.  All of us were sweating, including the South American students, when we reached the hottest part of the plant.  “You see those pipes?” Mr. Reynolds shouted over the plant noise. “If one of those cracks, there’s no point in running.  We’ll already be dead.”  

Prof. Cattani was also enjoying the tour.  I thought I asked a lot of nerdy questions during class, but Prof. Cattani definitely outscored me on the nerdometer.  

Carl arranged for the tour to end at a specific exit of the plant. “Look at the ground,” Carl said.  “See all these little steel balls everywhere?  Take one, or take a couple.  These balls are used to grind the coal into coal dust.  They start out 150mm in diameter and through grinding coal eventually end up about the diameter of a quarter.  Once a year during a scheduled maintenance shutdown, the balls are removed and sorted with the larger balls returning to the grinder and the smaller ones going to recycling.  Why is it important to grind the coal?  Why not just leave it in lumps?”
“To make it more useful.  To make it burn more efficiently,” Brian answered.
“Right.  Okay, another question.  How much should an MBA get paid?”  Some numbers got mentioned, most in the 6 figure range.  “Why? Why get paid that much?”
“Because you add more value than that to the company,” Caleb ventured.
“You see, you all are the coal, and this academy and I are the steel balls.  You have the potential to add real value to a company someday, but not in the form you are now.  I’m not here to give you useless encouragement.  I’m here to push you and be hard on you so that in two years you transform into something useful, something companies will fight over.  Hang onto these balls, and in 2 years I’ll trade you something for them.”  We don’t know what that something is yet, but all of use made sure to keep our balls. 
Later at Nick’s, after Carl finally arrived, we were brainstorming slogans for Supply Chain Academy t-shirts.  Everyone was throwing out ideas until Jeferson interrupted, “We don’t need a slogan.  We already have one.  The Supply Chain Academy has balls of steel!”

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