A few weeks ago, the EMBA Class of 2016 went on a field trip for their Operations class. Because the students had a choice of a couple different businesses to visit, we asked two students who went to different locations to answer a few questions about their respective trips. Here is what Jessica Pearson (EMBA ’16) and Wes Blackwell (EMBA ’16) had to say:
- Which field trip did you take?
Jessica Pearson: Wal-Mart Distribution Center (Gordonsville, Virginia)
Wes Blackwell: MicroAire (Charlottesville, Virginia)
2. What did you learn from Friday’s field trip?
JP: How technology is improving information flow from each part of the process inside the entire Wal-Mart system of stores and distribution centers. When customers buy things at the store, the point-of-sale generates information that can later automatically create an order from that store to the Distribution Center when a product reaches a predetermined inventory level.
It was also interesting to see how cost reduction with quality standards form major cultural values for Wal-Mart. They stopped getting bananas from Chiquita when they could not meet demand and now source bananas directly from Cost Rica. This reduces the time to market for bananas and gives Wal-Mart more control on the ripening process so bananas arrive at the store at the optimal quality.
WB: First, I expected there to be a focus on “lean” operations at MicroAire. After all, we were visiting there for Operations class, but I was shocked at how focused the leadership of the organization was on taking care of their people. The President, George Saiz, hardly spoke of “lean” manufacturing techniques. Instead he talked about “teamwork” and “empowering employees.” These focus points were really evident as you walked the floor. The lowest level employees really spoke the lingo of “lean management” because their leadership had delegated to them the ability to make decisions and put better processes in place. It was just really refreshing to see firsthand.
- How did the field trip fit with your class? Or more specifically, how did the field trip help you better understand what you are learning in class?
JP: In Operations we are learning about Lean Thinking. One key concept is “gemba” which means to observe and learn. The Wal-Mart tour was a great way to go see for ourselves how a process can work, ask questions about bottlenecks (also known as capacity constraints), discover the challenges they face in delivering their products to customers and find out management’s top priorities.
WB: The field trip fit in perfectly with this class and also where we are as a cohort in our Darden journey. There were the obvious examples on the manufacturing floor of lean management techniques. A few different spaces in the factory were being re-designed and the employees were using the “kaizen” technique of analyzing their processes to improve them. It was great to see all of the employees using the kaizen terminology.
- How do you feel this exercise is reflective of how students learn at Darden?
JP: Learning at Darden is very interactive. The tour of Wal-mart is yet another opportunity to discuss business concepts in a real business setting. Meeting with the General Manager for the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Gordonsville Virginia opened my eyes to the challenges he faces in balancing employee needs with their customers (the stores) and the corporate mission to “Save money. Live better.”
WB: What really struck me was how strong the company’s leadership philosophies were evident around the factory floor. You could tell the whole plant had “buy-in” to the great things happening there. This made me really reflect on Darden’s emphasis across all courses on “leading with an enterprise perspective”. We were there for operations class, but there were some real key take-aways for other core Darden courses. This echoes the Darden teaching method and how faculty really integrates multiple topics into every class.
- Anything else you would like to add?
JP: It was also fun! Spending time outside the classroom with half the cohort gave me the opportunity to interact with people in new ways and learn more about them as people.