George Zsidisin discusses the resilience of global supply chains on ‘St. Louis on the Air’

George Zsidisin

George Zsidisin is the John W. Barriger III Endowed Professor and the director of the Supply Chain Risk and Resilience Research Institute at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. (Photo by August Jennewein)

It’s likely most people never gave a second thought to supply chains before last March.

“This was America, the land of bounty,” “St. Louis on the Air” host Sarah Fenske told her listeners during last Wednesday’s show. “There would always be a chicken for every pot and 85 different kinds of toilet paper. As long as you had the money to buy them, they could be yours.”

That all changed with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which interrupted those supply chains in ways often impossible to ignore. Health care providers struggled to get the personal protective equipment they needed to safely treat their patients, and empty shelves awaited shoppers in some parts of the grocery store.

Fenske welcomed University of Missouri–St. Louis faculty member George Zsidisin onto the weekday talk show on St. Louis Public Radio | 90.7 KWMU to discuss the newfound attention supply chain management has received in 2020 as well as how the pandemic has reshaped supply chains for the future.

Zsidisin is the John W. Barriger III Endowed Professor and the director of UMSL’s Supply Chain Risk and Resilience Research Institute, which aims to be to be the premier global institute for advancing knowledge and practice in mitigating risk and creating resilience in supply chains.

“People think it’s all trucks, trains and airplanes,” Zsidisin said when asked to discuss misconceptions about supply chain management. “Those are absolutely critical parts of connecting organizations for the flow of materials. But I think many people don’t really truly appreciate the detail of the information systems necessary for helping manage supply chains, the data analytics that have been used, especially in the last 10-15 years.

“I think the part that people don’t truly understand is that as a business function it really touches upon all the other business functions in the company.”

Companies are challenged to anticipate customer demand and ensure production is always ready to meet it. Sudden spikes can put pressure on even the best-laid plans, and companies don’t have the capacity to keep up.

That certainly happened in March, when products such as toilet paper and paper towels were suddenly in very short supply.

“I really thought what occurred with COVID-19, when it was first happening in March, would be much more devastating from a supply chain perspective than it was,” Zsidisin said. “If you think about it, yeah, we were missing the toilet paper, paper towels. We had the shortage of pork for a period of time. I don’t know if you remember that. And there have been periods of some items here and there that have not been available. But for the most part, firms, I think, have been pretty darn good in adjusting their processes, adjusting their supply chains and reconfiguring their supply chains.

“I will tell you I have never ordered so much online in my life before COVID-19. So, in many ways, this has been a catalyst. We’re actually advancing our supply chains and specifically those called the last-mile supply to the very final delivery.”

Zsidisin fielded several insightful questions from “St. Louis on the Air” listeners during the approximately 30-minute segment.

To listen to the full conversation, click here.

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