Season 1, Episode 8 - Kevin Ketels discusses the state of supply chain in 2021 and beyond

Kevin Ketels, who teaches supply chain management at Wayne State's Mike Ilitch School of Business, talks about the state of the supply chain in the region and country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Episode Notes

In this episode, supply chain management expert Kevin Ketels, a professor at Wayne State's Mike Ilitch School of Business, sits down with host Darrell Dawsey to assess the rebound of the supply chain in the region and country as the nation seeks to return to normal after the COVID-19 pandemic. Ketels explains why the country is on track to bounce back but isn't out of the woods just yet.


Kevin Ketels is a Lecturer in global supply chain management. He is the host of the annual Healthcare Supply Chain Forum and faculty lead for study abroad in Netherlands, Germany and Poland.

For nine years, Kevin served as the CEO of KMED LLC. KMED Inventory offered health care inventory management services to hospitals and pharmacies nationally. KMED Research was a clinical research site management organization that operated clinical trials in SE Michigan on behalf of many global pharmaceutical companies.

Kevin has more than twenty-five years of corporate marketing management and agency experience at companies including Dell Financial Services in Round Rock, Texas, and State Street Corp in Boston, Massachusetts.


Additional Resources


ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Today@Wayne, a podcast that engages and informs the Wayne State University campus community. With news, announcements, information, and current event discussions relevant to the University's goals and mission, Today@Wayne serves as the perfect forum for our campus, to begin a conversation, or keep one going. Thanks for joining us.

DARRELL: Welcome to the Today@Wayne podcast. I'm your host Darrell Dawsey from the Office of Marketing and Communications. And today we have a very special guest, Kevin Ketels, who is a lecturer in global supply chain management at the Mike Ilitch School of Business.

He's also the host of the annual healthcare supply chain forum and faculty lead for study abroad in Netherlands, Germany, and Poland. Kevin's also just helped MISB launch an MBA concentration in healthcare supply chain [inaudible 00:00:59]. In addition, he was twice elected to the Grosse Pointe Woods city council and has served as chair of the Grosse Pointe Woods planning commission. Welcome, Kevin Ketels.

KEVIN: Thank you, Darrell. Thank you for having me.

DARRELL: Great to have you. We've really been talking a lot about supply chain management in the last year or so, as a result of the pandemic, as a result of the outbreak. We saw some key things perhaps break down.

Around the country, we've had our fair share of struggles. I was wondering if you could kind of give me a sense of what the outlook for the rest of 2021 might be like for supply chain margin, given many of the issues we've had, particularly in key areas such as health care, food, and some of the others.

KEVIN: Sure. What we're hoping to see from a supply chain perspective, I mean, the challenges that we have are around adding capacity to vaccine production. And we're starting to see that. There's more and more facilities that are coming online and vaccine production is starting to ramp up. And we want to, hopefully, get quality control issues under control. So make sure that's added.

We've got to work for the vaccine itself and distribution to individuals. We've got to work on that, make sure we reach hard to reach populations. That's also important. From a consumer perspective, probably around food we're not seeing the same shortages that we saw before. We probably don't have exactly the same varieties as we had before. But we seem to have been caught up and get a bunch of that under the control. And the same probably goes in paper and cleaning products, we're not seeing the same shortages and we're not seeing the same hoarding that we saw before.

So I think really what we're hoping for in 2021 is to ramp up vaccine production so that we can get a larger and larger percentage of the US and global population vaccinated.

DARRELL: What were the biggest lessons learned over the last year? As far as you're concerned, I mean, what did we learn in terms of efficiencies, in terms of flaws in the system? What are the things that sort of passed the stress test of the past year, and where do we need to do better as a country?

KEVIN: Yeah. From a consumer perspective, we've done pretty good in adjusting. People's behavior and patterns changed during COVID, that they spend more time at home, they consumed more products at home versus going to restaurants, and being in offices and stuff like that. Some of those changes will probably stick around for a while. And so I think we've adjusted well there. What was the second part of the question?

DARRELL: Yeah, I was just wondering about the lessons learned from 2020?

KEVIN: Yeah. I mean, as far as vaccine production goes and how we're distributing, I mean, there's no... It's hard to look back at another example of exactly how to do this. This is very new and very fresh, and everyone is figuring this out for the first time. There are other examples of things that happened a hundred years ago, the Spanish flu, we haven't had this type of situation, and so trying to, for example, build up the capacity to distribute this many vaccines so the number of people that we have in our country and in the world, it's unprecedented, this type of campaign. So we just have to get better at managing those quality control problems and getting the vaccine produced and distributed.

DARRELL: Can you tell me a little bit about any role that Wayne State, MISB, may have had over the course of the last year in providing consultation? Do we have any heroic moments perhaps that we can talk about in terms of the role that we've played in working with these businesses or working with the supply chain in general?

KEVIN: What we did is we launched a concentration in healthcare supply chain management in the MBA program. And we did that this fall. But it was largely done in response to what's happening. So students have a couple of classes, new classes that were launched that they can now take and focus on this particular area because we just really believe that it's really, really important. And healthcare supply chain management is one of our areas of focus. It's one of our newer areas of focus. And it was really just brought to light by COVID.

In addition to that, we've had several healthcare supply chain forums to address issues in healthcare supply chain management. And we've done things specifically on the provider side for healthcare supply chain, but we've also looked at the supplier side like we're having... So we've looked at things like delivering services in hospitals, but also delivering the COVID vaccine from a distribution perspective on a global scale.

We've really taken a look at these issues and worked with our business community as well, or the healthcare community in sharing information. And it's helped enlighten students and I think our professional colleagues, we've all shared this information, it has been really, really very positive.

DARRELL: Great. Now, we are generally speaking in 2021, we've appeared to have turned the corner in terms of the pandemic. Things are certainly appearing to get better. I'm just wondering... Not so much worried about the pandemic itself, but once we've really got a handle on this thing, what are going to be some of the challenges facing the supply chain over the course of the next year or so? What are we looking at? I mean, there's still a lot that's going to have to be done in terms of recovery. And where does that come from?

KEVIN: Well, we might have a high percentage of US citizens vaccinated by the end of this year, but not the world. Much of the rest of the world, and certainly the developing world, hasn't really even begun vaccination. There's a lot of countries that haven't started it. And it could take years to vaccinate a global population and really get COVID under control.

So until that happens, then we're always going to have to be cognizant of what's happening. It's hard to absolutely control the borders and people will be coming in, and they'll be a certain amount of folks in the United States that won't get vaccinated and we'll still have some challenges. So I think we're going to be thinking about this for a while.

DARRELL: Is there potential for breaks in the links in the supply chain in other areas as we move forward through 2021? Are there other areas that perhaps may still be areas of concern as a result of what we've seen?

KEVIN: I mean, from the vaccine production, we still really have to ramp up production a lot. We're still looking at some of the raw materials that you use for the chemicals that are used in vaccines, and also in the organic materials, and also the packaging for vaccines.

And you're talking about the glass, which is a very specialized glass, and the plastic. And the stoppers that are used to deliver vaccines. Those materials will have to continue to ramp up and make sure we have enough, because we still have only scratched the surface on delivering vaccine globally.

DARRELL: I see. Now, outside of health care, what are some of those areas where we might want to... Where would there may be some areas of concern where we want to make sure that we've shored everything up? Are there vulnerable spots in the supply chain in other fields?

KEVIN: I'm going to say that vaccine production is going to be our biggest hotspot. You can have flare ups in other areas, but I don't think there are as many concerns. I think we've had a lot of changes in human behavior of what products people are choosing to purchase, and some of these behaviors I don't think will necessarily go away right away.

DARRELL: Let's get into that a little bit. [crosstalk 00:09:58] I think that's interesting.

KEVIN: [crosstalk 00:10:00] adjustments.

DARRELL: What are some of those areas? What are some of the biggest shifts that we've seen over the past year in [inaudible 00:10:07]?

KEVIN: FI think work from home. A lot more people are working from home. And so you're going to see less office space that will be utilized, very likely. And you see home sales are hotter. So office space is down, home sales are up. Products that you use in the home, food that you purchase for consumption at home, that type of stuff like exercise equipment at home, bicycles have increased in sales because people want to be able to exercise from home. Ski equipment went through the roof this past winter, because it was considered a more safe, outdoor activity that you can do in the winter time. So there are certain things that probably will stick around for a long time. I think we're going to be cognizant of what's going on with COVID for years.

DARRELL: Leave it to the pandemic to turn skiing into somebody's idea of a very safe [crosstalk 00:11:11] outdoor activity.

KEVIN: Well, at least safe with COVID. Safe from COVID because because you're outside.

DARRELL: I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what some of the failures have been. I'm just kind of curious. We've heard stories throughout certainly 2020, we heard about some of the concerns about perhaps the meat supply, the food supply in the country. Those problems seem to have been resolved. But I'm just kind of curious where were the areas that we sort of fell down and what have you learned as a result?

KEVIN: That's a really good question. We talk about this a lot in class. For example, when we think of the strategic stockpile that's managed by the US government. It contains things like PPE and equipment and so forth. A lot of that equipment and PPE wasn't really good anymore. A fair amount of it wasn't useful.

And so the question is, how prepared are you for a hundred years event? The US government hired certain facilities to be able to produce vaccine in the event of an emergency like this, but we saw challenges in getting them started up because we don't have the available expertise to staff these places.

And so the question is, how much do you spend every year to maintain for a disaster that can happen five years, 10 years, 25 years, 50, 100 years? In 50 years, are people going to still be thinking about the possibility of a pandemic, right? As bad as this one has been.

And so the question is, how much balance do you need and how big and how fresh those stockpiles need to be? Certainly, we're probably going to be thinking about this in the next five, 10 years, because this will be really fresh, but how much preparation do you have for these types of disasters in the future? I think we're going to be looking back and studying and analyzing and trying to figure out what that balance is.

DARRELL: Okay. Now, one of the things I think is interesting is that I think for most of the country, we weren't really thinking about supply chains, supply chain management, it was not the sort of thing that you just worry about over your cornflakes in the morning most times. But certainly this is something that we've had to think about much more consciously as a nation.

And I'm just wondering, as a professor, as an educator, are you seeing as a result of this more students who are coming into business schools who are interested in this or students who may have gone into business school with another area of interest, and who are shifting that interest to supply chain management, what does this mean educationally?

KEVIN: That's a good question. With globalization, there has been a lot more focus and emphasis on supply chain management because you have products being built and shipped all around the world. And it's become more in focus. But with COVID in particular, it's really become a very, very important area of focus. And there's a lot of sensitivity to this.

We've been able to share with students and tell them that supply chain management is a very, very strategic, important component of many, many businesses. And this has been very acute during COVID where it doesn't matter what industry you're in, all kinds of stuff has been happening the last few years in COVID and with tariff wars and surges and demand for products and the Suez Canal getting blocked, and you have hundreds of ships that are backed up all around the world.

These types of things have really brought to the forefront, the importance of supply chain management in the world that we live in now, and that expertise and that experience, and that ability to be very flexible in how you operate. And so you need those supply chains, folks who can figure out, "Okay, we've got to move in a different direction, and we still have to offer this product and this service to our customers. But we got to figure out a different way to do it." So it's really highlighted supply chain management as a discipline.

DARRELL: Can you give any hard numbers, any quantitative sense of how the interest in this has grown, how participation in it has grown? Do we know what that looks like?

KEVIN: Well, over the last several years, we've seen a very large increase in interest in supply chain management as a major in Mike Ilitch School of Business. I mean, that's probably our classes are half full and-

DARRELL: That's the best indicator, I suppose.

KEVIN: Very good sign, yeah. We graduate a very high number of students in supply chain management, and a lot of students have jobs before they graduate, because there's very, very high demand for students with these skill sets.

DARRELL: Okay. Are there things that maybe we should look for? We talked a little bit about the MBA program being developed, being launched. What else may be sort of on the horizon, or at least in your ideal sense, what are some other areas where we may see Wayne State moving towards?

KEVIN: Well, I think in Thailand, we'll develop deeper relationships within the health care supply chain industry and work connections. And so we certainly look forward to that. We've got a lot of really interesting programs that we're collaborating with industry groups on and helping our students connect and get those job opportunities when they graduated. And I think we'll continue to do that. We're really, really enjoying it. And I think our industry partners are appreciating this focus that's coming from Wayne State.

DARRELL: Okay. Wonderful. Well, Kevin, I know you're a really busy guy, so I don't want to take up too much more of your time. But I do want to give you an opportunity to talk a little bit about maybe something we may not have touched on. Is there something in particular you want to address, you want to speak to? Is there anything you want to say just in closing?

KEVIN: No, I appreciate the time, and if anyone has any questions about the programs or classes we have in health care supply chain management, feel free to reach out and I'll be happy to share. Thank you for the time, Darrell. I really appreciate it.

DARRELL: Okay, Kevin. Well, I really appreciate you taking the time. This is a tough subject but you make it very interesting, and I'm appreciative of that. So thanks for joining us on the Today@Wayne podcast and we look forward to talking to you real soon.

KEVIN: Thank you.

DARRELL: All right. Take care.

KEVIN: Take care.

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