Your company manufactures a leading paper towel. The raw material epichlorohydrin is necessary for the product’s Wet Strength Resin (WSR), therefore, making it essential for production. What happens when your primary epichlorohydrin supplier encounters an unexpected maintenance issue that could impact product distribution?
That’s the issue students in Gary Page’s Specialty Topics in Supply Chain Management class attempted to resolve for Georgia-Pacific’s fall semester case competition at the Harbert College of Business. Students received the case in August, developed a written plan of action – complete with budgets and deliver schedules – and made 20-minute power point presentations before judges, including corporate representatives, on November 11.
Seniors Matt Nichols and Sean Fiery said Georgia-Pacific’s best solution was to break down the potential length of the supplier maintenance issues into four scenarios (ranging from one to four weeks) and provide alternative EPI supplier options for each scenario.
“Our final recommendation was that we would source from an outside supplier to make around 15,000 dry pounds of epichlorohydrin, which with a one-week lead time would replenish the inventory on-hand at the Eugene WSR Production Plant,” said Fiery. “This production plan would use the three weeks of inventory on hand while it is being produced and transported after which the levels will be above normal but return to normal once regular shipments from the main supplier come back after the two-week shutdown.”
“Each option allowed Georgia-Pacific to have continuous production and to never experience a shortness of the chemical supply,” added Nichols.
For their efforts, Nichols and Fiery earned first place and received $2,500 from Georgia-Pacific. Second place and $1,500 went to Gary Goldsmith, Jonathan Pratt and Melissa Wright, while Brad Hosking and Taylor Wilson took third place and $1,000.
“They showed an in-depth understanding of the business issues and the overall impact on the business,” Page, instructor and Executive in Residence at Harbert College, said of the top teams. “They took the requirements of the case and elevated the thought process and recommendations to the overall impact on the business. That’s one of the things we try to teach our students, but that often only comes with experience.”
Nichols, from Birmingham, believes case competitions make students better future professionals because, “they give us real life examples to work with.”
“In the classroom, we go over problems and situations that can arise in industry and these problems have textbook answers and resolutions that we learn about,” he said. “However, working on case competitions, shows the reality that we don't learn in the classroom: there isn't a simple, textbook answer when a problem arises.”
Fiery, from Hanover, Pa., agreed.
“Most of the competitions give the students a set of guidelines or the actual problem as if it was a true business setting, but it is the students’ job to determine what information is important or not important,” he said. “This is challenging for students, because it is not just given to us and requires us to do our own outside research which again is a very normal part of a real job. Once you have all of the information, it is important to learn how to analyze all of the data and find answers or paint a picture with the data to truly understand the problem at hand and its solution.”
Page sees such competitions as enhanced job interviews.
“They want to see the top talent and go after them and this is a way to do it,” he said. “They create the problem and the best students emerge to the top and they go hire them. It’s a lot better than pinning it all on a one-hour interview. Corporate hiring of the new college graduate has evolved significantly.”