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Competition teaches students realities of supply chains

Ashlee Heirman, Dan Nguyen, Mohamed Bounaim, and Sam Samimi

Students pursuing the new supply chain management concentration for undergraduate students at the USF Muma College of Business might go in thinking that they can't gain first-hand experience in supply chains outside of a real-world internship.

But in Professor Donna Davis's supply chain management class, students learned about managing suppliers, manufacturing products, transporting goods, and generating demand -- all from within the classroom.

At the beginning of the course, students in Davis's supply chain management class learned they would be participating in an eight-week LINKS Competition, a business simulation that would be a major portion of their grades.

"The simulation is really good at teaching students the need for cross-functional collaboration, which is a critical concern for most companies," Davis said.

By the end of the course, out of three USF teams competing in separate "industries", one team took the top spot, completing the simulation as a fictional company that manufactured and internationally distributed TV set-top boxes, like the Roku. This team -- made up of students Ashlee Heirman, Dan Nguyen, Mohamed Bounaim, and Sam Samimi -- tied with the University of Wisconsin, outscoring teams from the University of Arkansas, University of Houston, and California State Polytechnic.

Each student took on a role as a member of the firm's executive team – CMO, COO, CFO, and CSCO (Chief Supply Chain Officer). To be successful, the teams had to learn how to apply supply chain fundamentals to create and deliver customer value in a fast-changing global marketplace. The simulation also required students to hone their teamwork skills.

"These are high-performing students, and they're accustomed to doing things themselves," Davis said. "The simulation forced them to rely on their teammates, so they learn valuable team skills such as how to communicate effectively and build trust."

Duy "Dan" Nguyen, a member of the winning team, said he felt proud to have won the competition in his first semester in the supply chain concentration.

"What I got out of the simulation was trusting your partner because you have to delegate some of your decisions to them," Nguyen said. "Your decisions depend on their decisions. If they mess up, you mess up."

He also said the simulation helped him realize the importance of data in decision making.

"Normally you would trust your gut," he said. "But if the data show something else, you have to follow the data."

Each of three USF teams in the class competed in an "industry" against five teams from other universities. The teams received weekly feedback on performance in a balanced scorecard that provides multiple metrics in the areas of forecasting, procurement, transportation, information systems, distribution, production, and marketing. Each team was also responsible for ordering and interpreting research studies that provided detailed reports of customers' perceptions and competitors' capabilities.

In addition to their work inside the LINKS simulation, students also presented weekly executive briefs to Davis -- a one-page summary of their performance where they received feedback on their plans before they had to lock in their decisions for the next round. Davis told her students these briefs were like the real business world, where they would need to brief an executive on their progress and to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.

Mohamed Bounaim, another member of the winning team, said the skills he gained in the class and through the simulation were bolstered by Davis's teaching.

"I think what Dr. Davis brings to each class is a real sense of what's happening in the real world," he said.