UVA Darden Alumni Share Career, Industry Advice on a Future in Supply Chains

By Dave Hendrick

The coronavirus pandemic may have thrust issues of supply chain management into the popular consciousness, but as a panel of University of Virginia Darden School of Business alumni recently shared, the sector has always been a dynamic and rewarding space for those interested in puzzles and problem-solving.

Speaking at recent career panel hosted by career advisers from Darden and UVA McIntire, Darden alumni discussed life in a rapidly evolving sector, and how a combination of analytics, forecasting and holistic business knowledge has aided in career progression.

Rae-Anne Alves (MBA ’07), an executive at Ernst & Young Global Consulting Services with a focus on supply chain strategy, said the past year caused organizations to look at their supply chains anew. A massive component of a business that could often seem to outsiders to operate on autopilot was suddenly found to be quite fragile following the massive disruption brought about by the pandemic.

“People thought they could just push through blips, but what they call black swan events are coming more often,” said Alves, who had previous stints at Merck, IBM and Accenture, among others. “Now you have to build supply chains that are much more flexible to handle constant blips.”

Alves said efforts to add that flexibility can touch every aspect of the supply chain, with companies increasingly scrutinizing sources of supply, including “tracing things back to the ground” and leading to conversations on bringing off-shore elements back home or “near shore,” among myriad other considerations.

Rohan Gupta (MBA ’15), senior manager of supply chain optimization technologies at Amazon, joined the company in 2020, coming most recently from an analytics position at Uber. Focused largely on demand forecasting, Gupta said even coming into the position with expertise, the potential for continued learning and development was immense in what he described as “by far the most complex organization and system I have seen in my career.”

“I could be with the company for five year and still feel like a novice in supply chain,” said Gupta, who worked at ZS immediately after Darden.

Indeed, the complexity of most corporate supply chains is part of the appeal for many in the space. Taylor Holley (MBA ’04), who spent more than a decade in supply chain and inventory management at Walmart until recently taking a position as vice president of global supply chain at the furniture company Abbyson, said working in supply chain was rewarding for the analytically minded with an interest in helping to determine how all of the pieces of a whole fit together.

“The reason I love it is it’s like a big puzzle,” said Holley. “If you aren’t thinking of everything, you’re doing it wrong.”

Holley said working at Walmart exposed her to a well-evolved supply chain with cutting-edge global practices — a great starting point for someone interested in the space. At Abbyson, she is building some of those practices into a smaller company’s supply chain, where she is able to act more entrepreneurially and nimbly.

“There is no red tape,” said Holley. “If you have an idea and a reason why the company should go do it, chances are you’ll be allowed to do it.”

Francisco Erize (MBA ’05), who has held multiple positions at Dell, where he now serves as supply chain strategy senior manager, said not all MBA graduates come to the position with a strong background in supply chain, but the “broader business viewpoint” often serves them well. Conversely, Erize said narrowly focused supply chain experts sometimes lack the holistic view of the company and how it operates. For instance, if you don’t understand managerial accounting, there may be a limit to your impact and growth trajectory at a company, Erize said.

The person with the broader business viewpoint is more apt to transition through different roles at a company like Dell, said Erize, who has collaborated with Darden Professor Doug Thomas on new concepts for managing inventory, among other topics.

Panelists encouraged those pursuing supply chain roles to make sure they were able to tie their work back to broader business objectives.

Similarly, Alves said that when considering candidates for employment, while some understanding of supply chain concepts and practices was key, fundamentals of problem solving and strategic thinking were paramount traits. Alves, who said she took electives such “Contracts 101” at the UVA School of Law while at Darden, encouraged students to “leverage all aspects” of the capabilities available across the University in seeking to become as well-rounded as possible.

“The biggest thing I look at is: Can you solve a problem?” said Alves. “At end of day, supply chain is how you implement the business strategy. Can you take that big picture and make it real.”

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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