The transcontinental railroad is one of the greatest projects in American and Utah history. With its completion — the final spike famously being driven at Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869 — the railroad brought the country together. The May 11, 1869 edition of the New York Times announced: “The long-looked-for moment has arrived. The construction of the Pacific Railroad is ‘un fait accompli’ (an accomplished fact). The inhabitants of the Atlantic seaboard and the dwellers on the Pacific slopes are henceforth emphatically one people.”

The transcontinental railroad also made it easier for goods and services to flow across the U.S., in a process that, now, is called the supply chain, said Stanley Fawcett, director of Weber State University’s Jerry & Vickie Moyes Center for Supply Chain Excellence and endowed professor of supply chain management. “The transcontinental railroad connected a nation and brought people together to do things that were impossible before, like getting oranges to Utah from California. Today, the supply chain is a great connector, much like the transcontinental railroad was.”

Join us, as Weber State and community historians share a brief history of the transcontinental railroad in honor of its 150th anniversary and as WSU supply chain experts and alumni talk about what supply chain is exactly, how WSU is preparing the next generation of supply chain professionals, and what the future holds for the discipline.

Amy Hendricks, Allison Barlow Hess and Jaime Winston, MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS

The Past

As mentioned, the transcontinental railroad connected people, goods and services. Sometimes, it did so in surprising ways. For example, the railroad helped the Knudsen family, who lived in the marshes of Brigham City, develop quite a business, according to WSU history professor Kathryn MacKay

“The family would hunt ducks. Kids and women would pluck the ducks. Then they would pack them in ice to ship to Chinese restaurants in San Francisco and elsewhere,” MacKay explained. “The railroad connected little Brigham City in this amazing network, shipping something that was particular to this area to faraway places. Who would have thought?”

The transcontinental railroad changed America and northern Utah, especially Ogden.

Brigham Young donated 200 acres of land to the railroad companies on condition the depot be located in Ogden. The city grew in a grid that radiated out from the train station. The money started to flow as enterprising businesses developed around the needs of the train and its many passengers. 

“Within a year, the population of Ogden more than tripled and within a decade was a thousand times more. You just had all these people converging,” said Sarah Singh BS ’97, WSU Special Collections curator. “You not only had the rails, and everything involved in the rails, but you also had to feed passengers, house them and give them places to shop. Ogden just expanded and grew after that.”

The trains unified schedules across the country, demanding increasingly sophisticated logistics. People and goods had to arrive at their destinations on time to meet the next train, the stagecoach, the boat or the restaurant owner, waiting for a shipment of iced duck from Brigham City to feed hungry patrons. Instead of taking six months or more and $1,000 to cross the U.S. by stagecoach, all it took was a week and $150.

The Wild West

Ogden’s wild west reputation also came from the trains and the demands of international travelers who changed from the Union Pacific to the Central Pacific in Ogden and were looking for diversion while they waited.

“Ogden had a police force before the railroad — but the problems associated with saloons and houses of prostitution — really those things came in after the railroad — because certain transcontinental travelers expected to be entertained that way, and there was money in it,” said historian Val Holley who wrote 25th Street Confidential: Drama, Decadence, and Dissipation along Ogden's Rowdiest Road.

“Those establishments made money for the city as well. The city charged fees of saloons and other vicious establishments and then in some cases did regular monthly arrests of prostitutes and then let them go after they paid fines. Doing so, on a monthly basis, allowed the city to accomplish projects like graveling and sprinkling streets to keep down the dust. Money could get things accomplished.”

The Present

Today, logistics is part of a complex system known as supply chain management. A fairly new area of business — the term supply chain management came into existence in the early 1980s — it has roots in three sectors. “There’s operations (that’s the production, or the ‘what we make’), supply (that’s the sourcing, or all the buying that goes on) and logistics (that’s the moving of the products),” explained Fawcett.

James Taylor BS ’09 is vice president of LSI in Layton. He defines supply chain management as, “The management of end-to-end relationships, from the creation of the product to the final delivery.” Taylor leads his company’s largest supply chain contract — the sourcing, supply, quality and delivery of landing gears to the U.S. Air Force and the Defense Logistics Agency (the contract applies to aircraft no longer under the original equipment manufacturer’s control). He uses the contract as an example of supply chain management:

“It starts with geological mineral deposits that are mined and processed into refined materials/metals,” Taylor said, explaining that, with respect to this program, LSI is a program management organization, not a manufacturing facility. “It’s getting that metal to a forging house, and then taking that forging and getting it into a machine shop, then machining that forging into a more usable form, then taking that form and getting it to a chrome plater, who then sends it to a grinder, who then gets it back to the chrome plater, then back to a computer-automated designer, and then back to a machine shop again, and finally to the government.”

And that’s the simplified version.

“Supply chain management is really about looking at the bigger picture,” Taylor said. “How do we best manage the different players that are involved in the creation of these products? How do we better form relationships? How do we look at the process more strategically? How do we create the greatest value for the organizations we work for?”

In addition to managing the chains, Taylor has to understand the technical aspects of the parts his company is supplying. “We are held to extreme measurement tolerances,” he said. “We like to explain it by telling people to imagine taking a hair on their head and splitting it 500 times. That kind of technical knowledge wasn’t part of my supply chain education, but my supply chain education taught me how to learn. Knowing how to learn has helped me understand those technical aspects.” 

Taylor is also an adjunct professor in WSU’s supply chain management program, a program that has a reputation for not only being demanding and grueling but also for producing successful professionals who make contributions to their companies from day one. 

The supply chain program features a unique curriculum that challenges the whole brain, Fawcett says. “It’s art and science. It’s right brain, which focuses on creativity and collaboration. It’s left brain, which focuses on analytics. We introduce new students to the basics, then we raise the bar with each course. We take students out of their comfort zones. Some don’t like it, until they get a job with a starting salary of $60,000 or more,” he said, grinning.

Jordan Robinson BS ’08, MBA ’10 is another adjunct professor in the program. During the day, he is a program manager for the U.S. Air Force. At night, he teaches Supply Chain Management 3600, Transportation and Logistics. An alumnus of the program, he notes key differences in the curriculum from when he was a student. 

“The concepts, the theories, the applications are much the same,” he said. “The biggest difference is the teaching approach. The curriculum gets the students involved in the learning, the discussions, the concepts. It flips the class. Students do their readings and assignments before class, so when they are here we can identify any misconceptions and clarify concepts. 

“As they progress in their courses, students are required to become more and more involved, through discussions, presentations and projects. By the time they get to their capstone course, the students are leading most of the class. That’s ideal because studies show that the act of teaching helps you retain 90 to 95% of the information you’re presenting; whereas, if you attend a lecture, you only retain about 5% of what’s conveyed.”

Robinson says getting students out of their comfort zones prepares them for their careers. “If the first time you’re challenged is at your job, that’s a dangerous thing. At that point, you don’t have the chance to fail. Weber State’s supply chain management program ensures that students graduate as critical thinkers. That way, if a supervisor walks in and says, ‘I need you to do this for me,’ chances are you’ll know how, but even if you don’t, you’ll know how to figure it out. Those are the students industries are clamoring for — students they don’t have to spend thousands of dollars training, students who have learned to think.” 

A Brief History

1971: Weber State began offering a logistics degree — one of the first of its kind in the nation — in direct response to the needs of Hill Air Force Base. 

2005: The John B. Goddard School of Business & Economics revised the program, again as a direct response to the needs of industry, and began offering a supply chain management (SCM) degree. At the time, Weber State was one of two universities in the state to offer the degree program. 

2016: The drive to create a nationally recognized supply chain mangement program received a significant boost from the owner of Swift, a multibillion dollar transportation company, the founder of which is Weber State alumnus Jerry C. Moyes BS ’66. His $5 million gift created the Jerry & Vickie Moyes Center for Supply Chain Excellence, which houses the SCM program. 

The Future

Much like the transcontinental railroad linking New York to the California Coast, WSU’s supply chain management students gain the knowledge to link the present to the future, drawing connections between industry trends, global events and news, and new technology to tomorrow’s business landscape.

One of those fortunetellers, Vic Rosen, who just graduated from Weber State in spring 2019, currently works as a supply chain management analyst for Boeing, and has his sights set on climbing the ranks at the aerospace industry giant. Once he lands his dream job, he says he’ll continue scanning the business world, constantly thinking about what’s ahead. 

“Dr. Stan (that’s what students call Fawcett) preaches scanning,” said Rosen, adding that he’ll examine trade publications, The Wall Street Journal and The Economist, and any major events that impact job markets and all types of industries to get a clearer picture of how they will affect supply chains.

In addition, professors share their own research into the future of the industry. 

Fawcett, along with Amydee Fawcett, assistant professor of supply chain management, and scholars from Miami University and West Virginia University, wrote a 2018 research article in the journal Production about emerging technologies. “To begin to explore how supply chain design will evolve, decision-makers need to identify and evaluate the game-changing role of emerging disruptive technologies,” the article states. 

Possible game changers mentioned include artificial intelligence, automated (self-driving) vehicles and even materials-science innovations, citing General Motors’ plans to build Silverado trucks with carbon fiber, a material lighter and stronger than steel and aluminum.

RaeLynn Smith BS ’17, global indirect purchasing process manager for Autoliv, an automotive safety supplier listed in the Fortune 500, says she’s already seeing the emergence of artificial intelligence in the manufacturing industry. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, that’s a decade out.’ If I saw it tomorrow, I wouldn’t be surprised,” she said. “We’re going to have machines able to predict their own failures; they’ll be able to order their own parts.”

Prior to climbing the ranks to her current role at Autoliv, leading a supply chain management team with members in Romania, Poland, Mexico and China, Smith says she had one of the lowest positions in the indirect purchasing sector of the company. 

“I went from homework to global process manager in about 15 months,” Smith said. “The program at Weber takes you probably a decade ahead, if not more, in best practices and emerging practices. It teaches you where the industry is at, and where you need to take it.”

While Smith continually scans the supply chain industry to forecast what’s next, she also takes time to remind herself of what she already learned. “Every book I had in Weber State’s program is sitting at my desk right now,” Smith said. “I reread every single one of our textbooks. In fact, I’ve had people in the organization come and ask me if they can borrow them, because they’re like, ‘How do you know this,’ and I’m like, ‘Let me show you.’”

Supply chain alumna Melanie Webber BS ’06, planning supervisor for production control at Autoliv, participates in the university’s supply chain management advisory board. One reason WSU graduates thrive at Autoliv, she says, is because they understand one of the company’s foundational principles: lean manufacturing (minimizing waste in a manufacturing process). 

“We try to eliminate as much waste as possible,” Webber said. “Talking with Weber State graduates, they’re some of the ones that understand that concept the best.”

Like Smith, Webber sees information technology (IT) merging with manufacturing at an increasing rate, specifically when it comes to transportation; communication among manufacturers, customers and suppliers; tracking products; and maintaining inventory.

“If a supply chain student can get an IT background as well, that would be huge, because technology can do a lot to solve problems,” she said.

However, Webber’s main token of advice to future students is to prepare to be challenged. “Anybody who’s thinking about going into it definitely should pursue that opportunity,” she said, “but know that it’s very challenging, not only Weber State’s program, but the industry as a whole, so make sure you’re ready for it.” 

Smith’s advice to future supply chain management graduates: fill the gaps.

“You’re not supposed to fit in. In fact, if you look at yourself and think, ‘I’m a good fit for this company,’ you’re not going to climb. The gaps are begging for us,” Smith said. “Find the job where you’re like, ‘Holy cow! What did I land myself into? This is a big hole,’ because I know these supply chain students have the skill set to get out of that hole. And when you do, you will be a hero, and in 15 months, like me, you will be promoted.” 

Join the Club

As supply chain management majors prep for the future, they can network with professionals, develop skills and support their peers through two student organizations.

Supply Chain Cats

Run by supply chain management students, Supply Chain Cats supports what’s taught in the classroom by offering face time with professionals in the field. Networking opportunities often include representatives from professional organizations including:

  • Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals;
  • Institute for Supply Management;
  • American Society for Quality; and
  • APICS, the leading provider of supply chain, logistics and operations management research, publications, and education and certification programs.

Recently, the club hosted its Supply Chain Skills Challenge, a competition that allowed supply chain students from universities around the world to showcase their knowledge and ability to think critically and present persuasively.

Achieving Women’s Excellence (AWE)

AWE helps women studying business develop skills and qualities to succeed.

Amydee Fawcett, assistant professor of supply chain management and faculty advisor, initially planned for the club to support women in supply chain, but opened it to all business majors to help them succeed in the business world, which is male dominated. 

Run by students, the club offers charitable and educational opportunities, and is crafting a mentorship program with local professionals.