Dr. Dale Rogers, professor of supply chain management at Arizona State University, enjoys venturing off the well-worn path and investigating research questions and topics that have received little to no attention from his fellow academics.
Case in point: While everyone else was focusing on forward logistics in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Rogers was looking at reverse logistics, co-writing one of the first books about the subject. In fact, he was so early to the study of the discipline that he has since been dubbed, “the father of reverse logistics.”
Similarly, while many have studied how macroeconomic trends affect logistics, Rogers helped create the Logistics Managers Index, which shows how logistics serves as a leading indicator for the rest of the economy.
Finally, many practitioners and researchers have looked at how to cut costs and improve efficiency in the supply chain. In contrast, Rogers’ most recent book, Supply Chain Financing (co-written with Rudolf Leuschner of Rutgers University and Thomas Choi of Arizona State) discusses how supply chain management can fund the rest of the organization.
While being known as a bit of a maverick, Rogers has always been open about how much he owes to his mentors, especially the late Donald J. Bowersox, legendary logistics professor at Michigan State University. Like Bowersox, Rogers is dedicated to raising up the next generation of supply chain thinkers, including his own son Zachary Rogers who teaches supply chain at Colorado State University.
This sense of curiosity and desire to help educate and advance others is what led to Rogers being presented with supply chain’s highest honor: CSCMP’s Distinguished Service Award.
Rogers took some time to reflect on his career with Supply Chain Quarterly’s Managing Editor Diane Rand a the CSCMP EDGE Conference in September.
NAME: Dale S. Rogers
TITLE: ON Semiconductor Professor of Business at the Supply Chain Management department at Arizona State University
EDUCATION: bachelor’s degree, MBA, and Ph.D. from Michigan State University
PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: Professor of Supply Chain and Logistics Management at Rutgers University; Professor of Supply Chain and Logistics Management, University of Nevada
LEADERSHIP: Director of the Frontier Economies Logistics Lab and the Co-Director of the Internet Edge Supply Chain Lab ASU; Principal Investigator of the $15 million CARISCA Project at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana; Director of Global Projects for ILOS–Instituto de Logística e Supply Chain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Board Advisor to Flexe, Enterra Solutions, and Droneventory; founding board member of the Global Supply Chain Resiliency Council and Reverse Logistics and Sustainability Council; serves on the board of directors for the Organización Mundial de Ciudades y Plataformas Logísticas
HONORS: CSCMP Distinguished Service Award and International Warehouse and Logistics Association Distinguished Service Award
RESEARCH AREAS: reverse logistics, sustainable supply chain management, supply chain finance, and secondary markets
What first sparked your interest in supply chain management?
I was an MBA student at Michigan State concentrating in finance, and somebody told me, “There is this thing called material and logistics management, and Michigan State is the best in the world at this thing.” I thought, gee, I was a math teacher in the Lansing Public School district, which was in great decline. I would like to be in a profession where I am not at risk of being laid off, so I switched [my concentration]. And I really fell in love with it. Dr. Bowersox, who taught a class I was in, remembered me, and he brought me back home to Lansing a couple of years after I graduated. I worked for his company, and then I got my doctorate under him. That was really the beginning of it.
You were one of many prominent supply chain academics who were taught by Dr. Bowersox. How did he influence your own work?
He actually changed how I think. He was always in a hurry and was always pushing [his students] to be in a hurry with him. He could see the simple truth in a big complex thing, and he sort of taught us how to do that. In that way, he kind of taught us how to be faculty. You know, it was really kind of a thing: All of his Ph.D. students ended up being pretty successful. It is an honor to have gotten to be one of them.
Well, having a wonderful mentor…
It really matters.
It really does matter. So, one of your main areas of focus for many years has been reverse logistics. How has reverse logistics, and the industry’s attention to it, changed over the years?
I think people have begun to see that it is an important strategic variable. Over the last year, we really saw a shift in e-commerce, and returns became a more important part of managing your supply chain. Also, I think people have discovered that returns and overstocks can be quite profitable. The secondary market in the U.S.—think about [the retail stores like] Ross Stores, Marshalls, HomeGoods, and all the factory outlets—those were originally designed to be a drain for stuff that didn’t sell or got returned but those are very profitable businesses. A lot of times you can buy for very low cost, and then you can sell for less.
As an analogy, I always tell people to think back to your college experience, where you probably bought that new science textbook for—well, I am old so I was going to say $75, but it is now probably $200.
It’s like $250. I have a college student.
$250. Then you sell it back for $20, and then the bookstore sells it for $175. For the bookstore, that is a great deal, right?
A wonderful deal.
So, there is a lot of money—a lot of profit—in reverse logistics that is then transformed into the secondary market.
In what ways are we still struggling in terms of reverse logistics?
Well, there is not as many really great reverse logistics [IT] systems. There hasn’t been a lot of digitization in reverse logistics actually.
Maybe now is the time for some good innovation.
I think this is a really great time for some of the startups.
Shifting gears: Last year the book you co-authored on supply chain financing came out. Can you briefly explain what supply chain financing is?
So, the purpose of the supply chain has always been: make, source, deliver, return, and so on. But today, a lot of times, the best source of capital is found within the supply chain, so supply chains are being used to fund the organization and sometimes vice versa. For example, if you think about the Apple model, they’ve got about 10 days’ worth of inventory globally. Do they only have 10 days? No. They’ve probably got more, but they are sticking it at the supplier, so they are using their supply chain to facilitate really good financials for Apple.
How did your interest in this area develop?
Well, I was teaching at Rutgers [University] at the time in New Jersey, and we went over to Midtown Manhattan, and we visited Colgate-Palmolive. They were so nice to us. They had a supply chain finance department, and they had all their people there to talk to the old professor. They kept using an acronym I didn’t understand, “FTG.” I thought maybe that was a financial thing. I didn’t know what it was. I said, “What is that?” And they said, “Oh sorry Dale, it is ‘fund the growth.’” So, Colgate is an old company. Their stock price is not going up a lot or down. You can max out on your debt capital very easily. So, the best capital to fund growth in emerging economies is found in the supply chain. That really piqued my interest.
How are you helping to mentor and influence the next generation of supply chain thinkers?
Well, you know, one of them, [my son Zac Rogers,] grew up in my house. So maybe he is more mentoring me these days. It really is fun because a lot of the young academics have exceptional toolsets, and they can really do stuff that an old man doesn’t know how to do. It is sort of a mutual thing. I really enjoy getting to work with them. There is a lot of really bright young faculty in supply chain that are coming through. This is a really exciting time.
How do you like collaborating with your son?
That is pretty fun most of the days. He is a smart kid. He does the [Logistics Managers Index] with me, and he does more work than me on it. He knows a bunch of stuff I don’t, so it has been really fun. What a gift to get to work with your son.
You have been involved in Executive Education programs all over the world. Why are these international assignments so important to you, and how have you benefited from them?
Truthfully it is a two-way street because whenever you teach in one of those, you usually learn stuff from the class. I really enjoy getting to see the world a little bit as well. It is fun, it is profitable, and it is also a really nice learning tool for me. I have students all over the world.
Lastly, what is one of your proudest career achievements would you say?}
Well, I have to tell you, this Distinguished Service Award is a real gift. But, you know, getting to be one of the early guys on reverse logistics, that’s a cool thing, and getting to be early on supply chain financing, that is also a cool thing. Truthfully the whole deal has been kind of a blast. It is really a great job. Eventually maybe somebody is going to come to my classroom, and say, “Sorry Dale, you’ve got to go home.” But until they do, I am going to keep doing it.