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        Center for Supply Chain Innovation, Supply Chain Management

        Fusion 2024 highlights supply chain transformation, from origin to user

        May 7, 2024 By Troy Turner

        All News


        Advanced technology such as artificial intelligence will continue to grow as a game-changer in supply chain management, but accurate data to feed it, a well-qualified workforce and smart management decisions will remain critical factors in determining a company’s success, experts said at Fusion 2024.

        Auburn University’s Center for Supply Chain Innovation hosted the Fusion event, the eighth such annual gathering that brings together industry leaders, students, faculty and supply chain experts to talk about the latest trends and innovations in the field. This year’s theme centered on transformation.

        Two women speakers sitting side by side

        Meghan Nicholas (left), vice president of Walmart and an Auburn University alumna, answers questions from colleague Annie Dorsey (right) during an on-stage conversation at Fusion 2024.

        Meghan Nicholas, vice president of Walmart; Andy Moses, senior vice president of Penske Logistics; and Rich Bulger, experienced CEO and author of Going Circular; were featured as keynote speakers at the event, which took place April 25 at the Marriott Resort & Spa at Grand National golf course in Opelika.

        The Center for Supply Chain Innovation is affiliated with Auburn’s Harbert College of Business, and Fusion provides valuable hands-on education for students and professionals alike, said the center’s Managing Director Franklin Littleton and its Executive Director Brian Gibson, who emceed the event.

        The center’s mission “is to prepare students for careers in supply chain, advance knowledge in supply chain, and provide opportunities for professional enrichment for our stakeholders. Fusion delivers on all three of these key tenets,” Littleton said. “By involving the students, we provide opportunities to learn from industry practitioners and also give those practitioners opportunities to learn from each other what innovations and new concepts are emerging in the industry.”

        Walmart VP shares insights

        Nicholas, an Auburn alumna, has served in recent years at the forefront of transformation efforts with Walmart, one of the nation’s largest and most influential retailers.

        “A lot of folks ask me about transformation,” Nicholas said. “Really, it’s about how we continue to transform our entire intake operation as we think about our customers and our associates.”

        Walmart addressed this in part by designating a centralized innovation hub and specific areas for testing, such as its Dallas, Texas, market.

        “About two-and-a-half years ago, we entered into what we called instant transformation,” she said. “We faced the challenge of running incredible operations, while trying to transform at the same time, which a lot of you probably realize is a really tough challenge. So, we broke our business into two parts: run the business, and change the business.

        “We really focused our operators on, ‘how do you run an exceptional operational business, whether that is our stores, our supply chains, or our transportation businesses’... And then, ‘how do you think about the technologies and enhancements that will help our businesses run over the next 5-10 years,’” Nicholas said.

        She credited Walmart for looking so forward that it “actually has a 100-year strategy,” she said, but with the immediate goal “to figure out where we go in the next 10 years.”

        The company is using Dallas to simulate its operations in the entire United States, which includes more than 4,600 stores nationwide, she said. “We have to feel really comfortable before we put it in 4,600 stores.”

        Getting feedback on products and procedures from the company’s primary workforce, of which it refers to individual employees as associates, is a critical part of the process, Nicholas said, as is considering the many variables involved with supply chain management.

        Whether using manual or automated techniques, “there’s a lot going on in the supply chain,” she said, including the role of finding enough truck drivers to fill transportation needs. Walmart has devised its own driver-training and promotion program, which recruits qualified associates interested in the move from sales floor to driving a truck, and likely a significant increase in salary.

        Walmart reports that 90 percent of the U.S. population lives within 10 miles of a Walmart store.

        Students posing with Aubie

        Aubie, decked out in his business attire, met with students and industry guests at Fusion 2024, an annual event hosted by Auburn's Center for Supply Chain Innovation.

        More than a truck rental

        The name Penske for many Americans is most closely associated with rental trucks, but professionals familiar with the transportation industry and large-scale supply chain management know the company for much more.

        Andy Moses is the senior vice president of sales and solutions for Penske Logistics, a newly created position where his responsibilities include global sales and business development for North America, South America and Asia.

        “We like to think of ourselves as very decentralized; every customer matters,” Moses said, whether dealing with rental trucks for personal-to-professional use, leasing, logistics, managing freight, or any of the other services Penske Logistics helps provide.

        “We operate fleets of vehicles, with 10-to-11,000 drivers on the road every day, and we do different things for different industries,” he said. “We orchestrate activity on behalf of our customers.”

        Regarding transformation, Penske deals with a diverse range of issues that include talent/labor needs, various disruptions, cybersecurity, geopolitical events, aging infrastructure and union negotiations, to name a few, he said.

        “We are in a somewhat slow population-growth economy. In order to grow an economy, it takes talent to fuel that growth,” he said. “Finding that talent has been a challenge... AI is doing all kinds of good things for our business, but we’re still looking to grow and still need good talent.”

        Cybersecurity, “it’s a big worry, it’s a big concern. The bad guys are continuing to try and get one step ahead,” Moses said, encouraging students who are interested in technology to stay with it. “Anyone that’s coming along working in that area, is probably going to be in a good spot.

        “Technology is a big driver. Technology, technology, technology.”

        Other examples he mentioned included the use of artificial intelligence to study truck driver habits, risk detection, trends and additional measurables to make truck transportation safer and more dependable.

        Tapping secondary markets

        Bulger, the CEO of RecirQ Global, authored the recently published book, “Going Circular: The Evolution of Reverse Logistics as a Competitive Weapon,” which includes a study of secondary markets such as the buying and selling of used phones, clothes and other products.

        Such a concept of using reverse logistics is something that deserves more attention in business schools and professional training programs, he said, because statistics show that it can open lucrative markets not previously considered by many companies.

        “Covid rapidly changed the way people buy. Which rapidly changed the way people return products,” Bulger said, later adding, “Gen Z consumers are already checking the resale value of their clothes before they buy new. The ways people are buying and consuming are changing.”

        Fusion 2024 included panel speakers from other companies, including Amazon, Motion Industries, EY, Treeline Performance Partners, RAPA Automotive USA, GE Appliances, Greenbush Logistics, Buddy Moore Trucking, Norfolk Southern, Birmingham-Jefferson County Port Authority, TA Services and APM Terminals.

        Fusion event sponsors included

        • Penske
        • Buddy Moore Trucking Company
        • Motion Industries
        • Greenbush Logistics
        • APM Terminals
        • TA Services
        • Traverse Systems

        Learn more about the Auburn University Center for Supply Chain Innovation.