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Power of Maroon: Leadership Spotlight, Kirby Easterling

Kirby Easterling, Executive-in-Residence (Sarah Bucknam/C&M)

Kirby Easterling, Executive-in-Residence in Management for the School of Business, is featured in this ongoing series designed to allow EKU leaders and others in prominent positions to discuss their roles, as well as campus issues.

Easterling, who joined the Department of Management, Marketing, and International Business, at the beginning of July 2014 to prep his classes, began working “officially” when the fall semester started in August. The “very proud” three-time EKU graduate holds dual bachelor’s degrees in accounting and economics and a master’s degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance. He also holds a master’s degree in global supply chain management from The Pennsylvania State University. Prior to joining the EKU faculty, he held positions at Corning Incorporated, Lexmark International and Hitachi Automotive.

After a long career in industry, what are you enjoying most about teaching at EKU?
After a 22-year corporate world, I found myself at a unique point in life in that I could choose what I wanted to do next. I love my former company (Corning Incorporated) and colleagues, but really wanted to “pay it forward,” specifically at EKU. One of my former EKU business professors, Dr. Bertee Adkins, had a profound impact on my life, and still continues to provide me sage advice. I have a very deep appreciation of the life-long impact a professor can have on a student — either positively or negatively. The timing of EKU launching a Global Supply Chain Management program and the planned conclusion of my six-year international assignments in Japan and Singapore could not have been a better fit. There are many things I love about teaching at EKU, but engaging with the students is easily at the top of my list. I love being around students who are striving to improve their skills, competencies, and knowledge — and I think they know that and can sense my sincerity and willingness to help in any way. I am also very fortunate in that my colleagues in the MMIB Department are outstanding and a pleasure to be around. And I think it’s extremely special to be teaching at the school at which I was an aspiring student 25 years ago!

Why is global supply chain management such an explosive field in the area of international business?
There are a few reasons why Supply Chain Management has and continues to be very hot. Globalization is a major reason, as firms are buying raw materials, manufacturing products, and shipping their goods all over the world at unprecedented levels, and supply chain management is at the forefront of making that happen. Just prior to joining EKU, I had an opportunity to travel extensively to India, Cambodia, and Vietnam. My perception of those countries was skewed heavily by what I had seen on the news and TV. However, I was pleasantly surprised in that those countries are really developing (physical infrastructure and individual competencies) and, as economies and disposable incomes grow, consumers are demanding the same products and services that we in more developed countries enjoy. Without the major pillars of supply chain management, those customers could not be served. A second major reason is that top executives are correctly assessing that effective supply chain management is often a quicker path to improving profitability than simply selling more product; point being that supply chain management effectively done can often lead to cutting costs quicker than commercial organizations can go out and generate additional sales. My previous employer, Corning Incorporated, correctly recognized this opportunity and for the past few years the “acquisition” of supply chain talent has exceeded literally all other functional areas across the entire company. In fact that was exactly the scope of my last job — launching and staffing a new supply chain hub for Corning with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

What impact do you hope to have on our students and the program?
I really believe we are on the cusp of greatness at EKU. There are so many exciting things happening on campus — new facilities, lots of new programs, a willingness to be creative and think “outside the box,” etc. What most people don’t know is that EKU’s new bachelor’s degree program in Global Supply Chain Management is the first amongst the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s eight public universities. To use a business term, we are ‘first to (the) market’ in our state. We recently succeeded in having EKU’s GSCM program added to a very prestigious listing of universities offering supply chain management degree programs. When prospective employers or students click on “Kentucky” on the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) website, only one school is listed, and that’s EKU! To be a part of a new program launch is tons of work and also tons of fun. I take great pride in knowing that I’m helping students prepare themselves for a successful career — regardless of their business major. I think many EKU students relate to me as I’m originally from Pike Co. in rural eastern Kentucky. I had a student from southeastern Kentucky tell me last semester, “You know, I didn’t think people from our area could actually lead big companies, live overseas, travel the world…but looking at what you’ve done, I think I’ve been underestimating what I can accomplish if I apply myself.” That statement is perhaps the most rewarding of my entire professional career. It doesn’t get much better than inspiring someone that they can do more than perhaps they had originally expected of themselves. I like to talk to students (individually and in groups) outside the classroom in sharing things that we maybe don’t focus enough on in college — professionalism and the need for effective career. These things are highly important regardless of whether you’re an education major or a business school major.

What insights from your own vast experience in global supply chain management have you tried to share with your students?
My students are constantly telling me that they appreciate the unique perspectives I bring to teaching. Not only are we fully diving into textbook material and case studies (staples of business school!), but I supplement heavily with “real world” examples gathered from my 22 years working with three Fortune 500 companies across three different industries — things that worked well, as well as things that didn’t. One of the things I’ve really been emphasizing — to Supply Chain majors as well as Business School students in general—is that they’re entering into a world where not everyone acts, looks, talks, and has the same values and beliefs as they do. Literally every company — except for maybe the traditional small “mom & pop” company — has some degree of a global supply chain (maybe a supplier or a customer in another country), and teams that are executing those supply chains are very diverse and spread across various regions and time zones. The other element I really emphasize is “concept integration,” meaning that aspiring professionals have to be able to link all elements (ex. Marketing, Finance, Supply Chain) holistically and not think of them independently, as is often the case in normal coursework.

According to a recent article in Fortune magazine, the logistics industry, even though it’s growing rapidly, still has a recruiting problem because it’s either misunderstood or invisible. Explain.
This is a great question. In fact, I recently gave an update on Eastern’s new Global Supply Chain Management program to Richmond Rotary (business leaders across the county), and at the end of my presentation one of the business leaders came up to me and said, “All those areas you talked about that encompasses Supply Chain Management, we do them — but we don’t call it Supply Chain.” The term “Supply Chain Management” is fairly new actually, really becoming widely used just in the last 10 years or so. In fact, when I first started my career, there was little to no concept of an integrated supply chain — just individual departments maximizing their own self-interests with minimal regard to impacts throughout the organization. But the Supply Chain profession is making great strides. One of the biggest aids in helping people understand the function is the creation of the Supply Chain Operating Reference (SCOR) model. This model calls out the main pillars of a Supply Chain (Planning, Sourcing, Making, and Delivering) and also specifies the deep integration between the various elements from the initial supplier to the final customer — which is what we now call Supply Chain Management. By the way, the industry leader that approached me after the Rotary event is now highly interested in having some of EKU’s Supply Chain majors do internships at his company!

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Published on March 08, 2015

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