10 questions for two grads about their Master of Supply Chain Management
LaNice Bynum Arnold and Lennika Bynum Campbell earned undergraduate degrees in fashion merchandising from Howard University and spent five years growing their careers in New York’s retail industry. But, in 2016, the twin sisters decided it was time to pursue a greater quality of life and more job security. Rather than pursue a broader MBA, they returned “home” to Richmond to enroll in VCU’s specialized Master of Supply Chain Management program.
Now employed at UNFI (United National Foods, Inc.) as category managers, the sisters oversee a variety of grocery products representing more than $150 million in combined sales volume. We sat down with them, five years after their VCU graduation, to learn how MSCM degrees changed their trajectories.
Why did you decide to pursue a MSCM degree?
Lennika: In Macy’s executive leadership program, I had an aptitude for merchandise planning. But I wanted more job security, so I started researching how my current position might fit in other industries. That’s how I learned about supply chain management and started researching different schools. I knew having specialized knowledge in supply chain would enhance my industry expertise and credibility, and advance my career.
LaNice: I wanted a graduate program that fit with the current career that I had. I decided to go into supply chain because my role involved a lot of vendor and manufacture interaction.
Why did you select VCU?
LaNice: We searched for supply chain programs and were very excited to find one in Richmond.
Lennika: We looked at schools in Arizona and North Carolina, but when LaNice and I attended a supply chain information session, the professors were very friendly and gave us great information. We left feeling like they were interested in our success, and knowing that VCU was our first choice.
How long did it take for you to earn your degree?
LaNice: We both completed the degree in one year. My first semester, I was a full-time student – four nights a week – and that was very manageable. I was fortunate to get a full-time job as an analyst with Supervalu (now UNFI) before I graduated and so my second semester was a bit more challenging. I had to be grounded and focused. Lennika was hired at Supervalu two months after me.
How did the MSCM degree help you?
LaNice: It really set me apart from other job candidates. In my current role, it’s important to understand supply chain and how it relates to every position, especially when I am working closely with my counterparts in transportation or manufacturing.
Some people think, “I’m too old to start a master’s program.” But if they feel passionately about it, this degree can propel you forward. It enabled me to break into this specialized industry, to show I was versatile and that could be a forward thinker.
Lennika: My master’s gave me confidence in my strategy-building skills and my ability to develop long-term plans. I know I’m fully capable of doing the analytical work. It also helped with my presentation skills and learning how to communicate with different individuals and audiences across different teams.
What did you like most about VCU?
LaNice: VCU professors are amazing because they have a great deal of industry experience. We also had relevant guest speakers. It was an in-depth learning experience, and the coursework was very challenging. Because all of the students had work experience, the professors made every class relatable to a variety of job fields so we understood that these were processes you could take anywhere.
Lennika: My classes were small and that gave me the opportunity to know my professors, ask questions and better learn the curriculum. They helped me during my independent research project and wrote recommendations for me when I was applying for jobs. I attended two career development classes and, in a networking class, I learned how to create that elevator speech and successfully deliver it.
Everyone in the program came from different backgrounds, not just transportation or manufacturing. Some students were getting their MBAs or degrees in real estate or accounting. That diversity facilitated ongoing conversations about what these skills or processes looked like in the real world.
You can study for a master’s at most universities, but it’s really important to consider the relationships that you will have with professors and classmates. VCU feels like a family. There’s a lot of camaraderie and a desire to understand students’ needs and wants as far as education, career and life. VCU stood out because of the emphasis they put on your life beyond the classroom.
Describe your job today.
Lennika: As a category manager, I’m responsible for the development and success of pricing, promotions, product placement and product assortment over specific departments or categories in a grocery store. I put together strategies to help sell products to retailers and, ultimately, we help them achieve sales performance with their customer groups.
LaNice: I manage ready-to-eat cereals, the #3 department for the region with a sales volume of $75 million as of last year. Our sales volume is projected to be $100 million this year. Lennika manages several different categories, including canned and dried beans, rice, canned vegetables, and canned fruit.
How did your master’s change you?
Lennika: I loved the program because it enhanced skills I already had. I learned forecasting models and how to use different statistical and scientific ways to manage processes and people. VCU taught me how to analyze data and insights to determine trends and ultimately use that to make a strategic plan.
I looked into companies with supply chain roles before moving back to Richmond and learned about Supervalu. Once I was enrolled in the MSCM program, I began applying for jobs. Without my degree, I wouldn’t have been considered for position.
What do you enjoy about supply chain management?
Lennika: Right now, the world is going through so many changes that impact our lives, and supply and demand. It’s important to study supply chain management so we can learn how to drive efficiencies, take advantage of opportunities, and better manage through a changing environment.
LaNice: Given how the world has evolved the last couple of years, supply chain is definitely something people are investigating more. There are so many areas of operation where people can collaborate. Supply chain affects everyone’s day-to-day life. Supply chain specialists are needed to facilitate collaboration among stakeholders representing transportation, staffing, and warehouses.
What kind of people excel at supply chain management?
Lennika: This is a great career for someone who is curious about operations and business, likes to tackle challenges and wants an exciting career. It’s never boring. It attracts people who are problem solvers, analytical, and detail oriented. You need to think broadly and be able to draw conclusions from data. It helps to know how to build relationships since you collaborate with many different people.
LaNice: I’d recommend this for someone who is dedicated to understanding how things work and likes to question the “why?” behind things. It’s great if you want to be more involved in process improvement functions in the workplace. Day-to-day challenges include strategy building, collaboration, providing insights and digging into problems.
What’s next for your career?
Lennika: Right now, I’m working on getting my Lean Six Sigma certification. My long-term goal, in 10 to 15 years, is to become a chief merchandising officer. I’d love to work for a major retailer – building sales-driving strategies.
LaNice: My current role has been very rewarding. This job enabled Lennika and me to gain firsthand, industry knowledge. Now that we’ve become more expert, we mentor and train new category managers and serve on task forces. I want to stay within category management. In the next year or two, I’d like to become a senior category manager or director. Staying within consumer-packaged goods would be very exciting.
Investing in a VCU Master in Supply Chain Management today is a decision that will pay dividends throughout the lifetime of your career. Visit the VCU Master of Supply Chain Management webpage to learn more, request information or a meeting, review the curriculum and degree requirements, or apply to our program.