Supply Chain Majors Get On-the-Job Experience

“We get academia’s finest to stick their noses into our business and give us recommendations,” said Thomas Proell, vice president of global supply chain for Alcon. 

January 22,  2018

By Elaine Cole

Each year, junior supply chain majors apply for five coveted spots to work for Alcon for two semesters. If chosen, they’ll spend one semester mapping a supply chain to improve the process, and a second semester working at the eye care corporation three mornings a week as consultants. 

“They get to know true examples of our corporation to provide innovations and ideas to serve our customers and patients better,” Proell said

Hannie Tran, Ben Ommen, Chad Hummel, Niklas Ax and Anika Sutter were chosen out of dozens of applicants.

Their first project was mapping the supply chain of two contact lens product lines across the United States, Saudi Arabia and Germany. They toured plants and warehouses and met with dozens of people to determine how they interact with the products and each other. 

“To get what we needed, we worked backward to the first step so we could ask the right questions to the right people to get the answers quickly,” Tran said. 

“We asked a lot of whys and got a lot of ‘Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.’” Ommen said. “You can’t do that in today’s business world because you’ll get behind on the curve. In large companies that have been doing things a long time, having someone come in with fresh eyes to see how things work and make recommendations opens up a lot of minds to how things need to change.”

“Some people didn’t know what the other half of the chain is like, so now they could see and understand their impact along that chain,” Hummel said.  

It’s serious business, complete with confidentiality agreements.

“It’s a big step from formulas and textbooks,” Proell said. “At Alcon, they really help customers and patients in a real way, beyond what they usually see in pure classroom examples.” 

And that’s just the first semester. 

“After that first presentation and everyone saw what we were capable of, in the second semester people started asking us about our project and we felt more like part of the company,” Ax said.

Throughout the second semester, the team worked at Alcon 8:00 a.m. to noon, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This time they focused on the surgical side of Alcon’s business, specifically the custom surgery packs that support thousands of doctors. They dealt with intricate data complicated by the fact that different departments had different names for the same functions. 

“It not like having it all laid out for you and the teacher knows what you are doing and what your objective is,” Sutter said. “Being able to take all this data from all these different people and put it together in way that we can understand it, define it and project it back to others so it is usable, that is a skill I will definitely take into the work force.”

The Supply Chain Student Executive program started 10 years ago and is led by Laura Meade, professor of supply chain practice. “It gives them a head start against all the other entry-level supply chain talent,” she said. “They know the holistic approach. They know the questions to ask.”