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J.B. Hunt-UA Partnership Is Key Supply Chain Link

3 min read

It was standing room only Aug. 11 in Million Mile Auditorium on J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc.’s Lowell campus.

J.B. Hunt’s newly minted president, Shelley Simpson, shared the stage with Matt Waller, dean of the University of Arkansas Walton College of Business. The two corporate and academic leaders were there to announce that the university’s Department of Supply Chain Management was going to be named for J.B. Hunt.

“We believe Walton College is the right partner,” Simpson said. “We think this is a game changer for J.B. Hunt and the University of Arkansas. This is the very first [step] to where we are headed.”

The transportation giant gave the school another $1.5 million — bumping its total gifts to more than $7 million since 2014 — so the university naming it the J.B. Hunt Transport Department of Supply Chain Management came as no surprise. The department was founded in 2011 by Waller, then a professor, and a fellow UA professor, John Ozment.

From the start, Waller relentlessly sought partnerships with transportation companies to help build and strengthen the fledgling supply chain program. He found a ready partner in J.B. Hunt and Simpson, a fast-rising executive who was president of the Integrated Capacity Solutions segment at the time.

Waller was the department’s first chairman before being named dean of the College of Business in 2016. Simpson earned a series of promotions — chief marketing officer, president of highway services and chief commercial officer — before being named president of the entire company earlier this month.

The Supply Chain Management Department has been a resounding success in its short life. The global research firm Gartner has ranked the undergraduate program the best in North America since 2020 (rankings are made every two years). The graduate program is No. 2.

Waller joked that whenever he emails the Supply Chain Management Department he always addresses the message “Dear National Champions.”

“To think that we got to where we are today is pretty remarkable,” Waller said. “We couldn’t have done it without our industry partnerships and collaborations, especially J.B. Hunt.”

Waller said partnerships with J.B. Hunt (and others) are more important than the No. 1 ranking, and he’s pleased that the university is “becoming Supply Chain U.”

“I’m thankful we are ranked No. 1, but if I had to choose would you rather have industry collaboration or the No. 1 ranking, I would pick the collaboration.”

For J.B. Hunt, the partnership has tangible benefits as well. The company gets to work with university professors to devise curriculum — and who knows better what undergraduate students need to learn than the company that will be hiring them after graduation?

Simpson said it’s no surprise J.B. Hunt is the No. 1 employer of graduates of the supply chain management program, as well as the No. 2 employer of Walton College graduates.

“I would love everyone to come work for J.B. Hunt when they graduate, but that’s not going to be the reality,” Simpson said. “They are going to go work for our customers, our vendors, people we do business with. It will set in motion that we are the leaders in this space, not just in the work that we do, but in helping them create a more efficient supply chain. That is really important.

“Whether you work at J.B. Hunt or anywhere in the supply chain, we just want to continue to progress forward and have a more efficient supply chain. It helps both of us.”

Simpson said the importance of the supply chain has become apparent in recent years. Even with the best minds working on it, there are still inefficiencies and sustainability issues the industry must improve.

“For northwest Arkansas when you think about having an industry giant like J.B. Hunt and an industry giant like the Walton College come together to solve supply chain problems, it changes the way we can go to market together,” Simpson said. “It has become a household term. We can tackle real world issues together.”

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