Inside USD

Getting to Know Your Professors: Simon Croom

Monday, January 27, 2014

Simon Croom, PhD, is a professor of Supply Chain Management (SCM) in the Supply Chain Management Institute (SCMI). He was named a 2013-14 University Professorship recipient, the highest USD faculty award recognition possible. The USD Changemaker Hub selected him as a faculty champion. Inside USD asked Croom about supply chain innovation, technology, his lengthy experience in a subject with global impact and about teaching a massive open online course (MOOC) at USD.

What is the most important innovation for supply chain management in the last 5-10 years?

“I think there have been two main innovations: Firstly, the increased professionalism of the discipline has seen education and research in supply chain management really move it to a central role in business management. I now get to teach or train 15 times more professional students today than in 2000. Secondly, the emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility and environmental sustainability places a firm’s supply chain at the heart of such initiatives and strategies. Responsible supply chain practice is now the most important strategic concern for modern organizations and we see that here at SCMI in the growth of our CSR programs and research.”

What drew you to this field? How has it been to teach and research a subject with such tremendous global impact?

“I started out in supply chain when I was sponsored through my undergraduate degree in supply chain management and business by Jaguar Cars in the UK as their first purchasing student. Upon graduation, I moved to run a small supply chain department and then set myself up in business running a number of retail operations. Since moving into academia at age 32 I’ve seen a major shift in the recognition of supply chain as a functional area and as a critical strategic mechanism, which has allowed me to travel the world teaching and researching and gaining amazing opportunities to work with some very cool corporations helping to improve their management capabilities and supply chain processes.”

As technology grows, how has supply chain management improved in this area and what’s next?

“Internet has revolutionized supply chain management. As we move to an era of ‘the Internet of things’ — it is forecast that 50 billion devices will be connected to the Internet by 2020 — and the growth of ‘big data’, firms have far greater visibility across their global supply chains than ever before. I started researching in the area of E-Business and SCM information in 1997 and ended up as an advisor to the UK Government, seeing a massive shift in the nature of control and coordination of government expenditure and this continues today in the movement towards ‘transparent’ supply chains.”

You’ve taught a MOOC, “Sustainability and The Global Supply Chain.” How was that experience and what are your thoughts about USD’s nationally ranked online SCM graduate program?

I’m a great advocate of learner-centric technology and was invited to help develop the Master of Science SCM degree program in 1999, which is what brought me to USD. It is great to see how far we’ve come since those early discussions and subsequent curricular developments. The recognition of the MS-SCM is naturally a great source of pride for us all in the program and a testament to the focus on academic rigor and relevance in our program. The MOOC was an interesting experiment and one that brought more than 300 students to one course, a third of whom completed the program. We are running another MOOC at present and I see the role of eLearning as vital to the future of world-class learning management and to the future of university level study. We have conducted a number of studies of the effectiveness of eLearning as a support to students’ progress and found it enhances technical skills and, with appropriate learning management — such as the introduction of learning mentors and use of dedicated learner-centric systems such as Curatr — we’ve increased retention rates, average GPA and demonstrable ability to apply learning.

What research are you working on in 2014?

I’ve always been an active researcher and have several projects to write up during my sabbatical this spring. Our work on world-class operations and supply chains has been running for 10 years and has resulted in half-a-dozen papers and a whole series of professional workshops and seminars. It also enabled us to begin focused work with a raft of corporations on enhancing their competitiveness, which continues to bring more credit for our work. SCMI also conducted a study into sustainable supply chain practices last year. As I said earlier, the area of sustainability is critical to supply chain professionals — we now run courses in the area across all of our programs here — and the response to our research has been quite astounding. I’m preparing to give talks around the US, South America and Europe this year on our study. Finally, I’ve led a four-year study into the issue of leadership personality traits that has taken on a life of its own. We received major funding and support for this project and, in collaboration with colleagues in Australia, we will hopefully be able to ‘reveal more’ this summer.

What activities do you enjoy when you’re not doing academic work?

I don’t feel I am ever ‘off-duty’ since supply chains are all around us. But, for relaxation, I love international travel, entertaining friends and family, immersing myself in music and especially boring on about Led Zeppelin!

Photos courtesy of Simon Croom

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