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Nov 4, 2020 2020-11 Business Administration Faculty Research in Education

When the chain breaks: the increasing importance of supply chain management

Mention supply chain management and eyes begin to glaze over. It’s not a particularly sexy subject – or for most of us, even an interesting one – until we find ourselves fighting tooth and nail for the last package of toilet paper. Or hunting high and low for a soft drink that’s vanished from the shelves, thanks to rising demand and a shrinking supply of sweeteners. Since March, we’ve all cared a little bit more about supply chain management, making it an exciting subject to teach.

“COVID has really put supply chain management on the map,” said Swathi Baddam, one of the newest specialized faculty joining Gies College of Business, and a researcher who has long been fascinated by a subject that most of us take for granted. From personal protective equipment to life’s little niceties, everything we consume is part of the manufacturing supply chain, explains Baddam, who has made the subject the focus of her research.

In one recent study, Baddam looked at automotive supply chains in an effort to understand how companies resolve the problems that cause multi-million-dollar assembly lines to stop on a dime. Using data collected from 155 problems and 24 suppliers, she and her co-authors examined the communication methods that companies used to ensure that the flow of products never stops.

What they discovered was that different communication styles have differing impacts. Face-to-face meetings, while useful, tend to slow the process down, whereas frequent communication, whether it’s an email or text, can lead to a much faster resolution. They also discovered that management teams are more likely to lead to a “better” fix, because they’re more likely to implement changes, which means they have skin in the game.

While COVID has made supply chain management research more pressing, it’s hasn’t made it easier. Baddam discovered that during a new research project exploring sustainability in supply chains. The project focused on the use and effectiveness of eco-labels, which help consumers better understand where materials come from when they buy something like a shirt. She wanted to learn how labels affect the perceptions of consumers and whether they’re willing to pay more for goods that are sustainably sourced. And that’s where she hit a snag. “The COVID thing threw us off,” said Baddam, explaining that it’s hard to ask consumers whether they’re willing to pay more for sustainably sourced goods in the middle of an economic crisis that’s left millions unemployed.

In addition to her ongoing research, Baddam will be teaching two courses at Gies. The first focuses on business analytics, an area of increasing personal interest to her, while the latter focuses on business operations and supply chain. While they’re very different subjects, Baddam says there’s a good reason for students to have a good grasp of both.

“I think this area between supply chain management and operations and business analytics will become very, very important in the future, because everything will be data-driven,” said Baddam, who says that the school’s reputation in business analytics was one of the deciding factors that brought her to Gies.

Baddam, who recently completed a PhD in business administration, operations and supply chain management from Cleveland State University, says she’s looking forward to working with the diverse student population at Gies and sharing her passion for a subject that, until recently, hasn’t received much love. “I want my students to get that these things are important to business, even though they may not always be trendy,” said Baddam. With so many shortages impacting their daily lives, says Baddam, now is a great time to drive that lesson home.