Kevin Geklinsky, director of business planning at Samsung, speaks on a panel at the inaugural Wharton Supply Chain Conference on Friday.

Credit: Meredith Stern / The Daily Pennsylvanian

Behind every breakfast burrito, iPhone 5 and a leather jacket is a supply chain.

Last Friday, the six-month-old Wharton Supply Chain Organization hosted its inaugural conference, bringing together students, faculty and senior professionals from major companies to talk about managing the journeys of different products from seed to shelf. Senior vice presidents and other leaders from companies such as Google, IBM, Boeing and Amazon.com spoke.

With over 700 attendees, the conference marks one of the largest undergraduate-focused Wharton conferences ever.

“Until now, supply chains have been taboo in Wharton,” said Wharton and Engineering senior Ridhima Parvathaneni, founding president of the organization. “There was latent interest for operations management, but no way to get involved outside of classes.”

At the end of last semester, Parvathaneni and her group dared to “not be afraid to think big and come in with a bang.” They created the conference around the idea that the combination of high quality speakers, a professional website and giveaways would be irresistible to students and faculty across Penn, and even Drexel.

And it worked. As Maria Madeira, an exchange student, said, the conference was appealing because of the “big names from big firms.”

The organization more than quadrupled its registration target as students, faculty and outside registrants from the community poured in, filling overflow rooms.

Recruiting these speakers took time and effort. The team reached out to many companies through the alumni association and faculty links.

Although Wharton is renowned for finance, Parvathaneni said the conference is reflective of an interest in operations management for which the organization is finally providing an outlet.

Indeed, the speakers showed why more students should consider supply chain management more seriously. “Without the supply chain, there is no need for finance,” Kenneth Shaw, vice president of Boeing’s Supply Chain Management, said. “The key is to understand the business you’re in and how to use finance in the supply chain as a differentiator.”

Other speakers emphasized the complexity and excitement of the industry. Google Vice President of Worldwide Operations, Jim Miller, described reacting to floods in central Thailand over a weekend by asking Larry Page for billions of dollars to secure other suppliers. Other VPs agreed that especially in the current unpredictable economic environment, the supply chain is business’ best kept secret.

Especially because of the conference’s theme, Optimize to Thrive: Incorporating Innovation to Transform your Enterprise, Wharton sophomore Claire Lee said, “I am being reminded a lot of what I’ve learned in Operations and Information Management class.”

Wharton freshman Karan Parekh said, “I know Wharton has a reputation for being very finance focused, but so far I’ve seen opportunities in other sectors such as supply chain management and public policy present themselves.”

This is exactly the attitude Parvathaneni is looking for. “The time has come for people interested in and curious about supply chain. This is just the start.”

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