FYI Magazine

Teaching Students to Connect the Dots

Catching Up with Gary Wilson

Gary Wilson is a professor of business administration and director of the Center for Business and Economics. Wilson has taught at Elmhurst since 1995; prior to his academic career he worked in logistics and supply chain management. Here, he talks about his interests and how Elmhurst prepares students for a rapidly changing business world.

What attracted you to the logistics field?
I knew it would be fast paced and challenging. I had worked summers loading and unloading trucks at a Sears retail store. Logistics was an area that I figured would become more important and would be needed during prosperous and even slow economic times. My college—Iowa State University—was one of the few universities at the time that offered an undergraduate degree in physical distribution. That became logistics and later supply chain management. That evolution has taken 30-plus years.

How does the Center for Business and Economics help students prepare for careers in business?
We give students real-world experience outside the classroom. For example, we have internship opportunities at companies like Kraft Foods and Kellogg Company. At the graduate level, students work on a yearlong project for companies such as the manufacturer Bosch Group. We also have students in the Elmhurst Management Program working on plans for future businesses such as an alternative energy plant in Iowa, a restaurant or even their own small business.

What is the center’s greatest strength?
Many of our faculty members are steeped in applied business practices. We also have 15 to 20 adjunct faculty members each term from all sorts of different fields. Some are vice presidents of banks, others are chief information officers or working in supply chain management. They bring their practical experience to the classroom. Members of an Executive-In-Residence board advise students, serve as mentors in areas such as finance and banking, and provide a network for students. Some also teach for us.

How have the global economy and technology changed the logistics field?
With the global economy, risk management is now a bigger part of supply chain management. You have to consider things like whether there is lead in the paint used on toys, for example. When you buy something from someone in Wisconsin, you’re not just buying from them but from their suppliers in China as well.

What skills do business students need to be successful?
People skills are more critical than many technical skills. You need people skills to work in teams and be able to connect the dots to bring the process together. You need to be skilled at problem solving, critical thinking, being innovative, and you have to be willing to take risks to solve problems.

Your wife, Allison, chairs the biology department at Benedictine University in Lisle. Is it beneficial to be married to another academic?
We learn a lot from each other because we’re both department chairs. Before we were department heads, we used to share teaching tips. Now that we’re both administrators, we learn more from each other because we’re experiencing the same things, and we talk about them all the time.

What businesses are you involved in these days?
We own five alpacas, and three more are on the way. It started as a hobby, and now it’s evolved to a breeding business. Combining the right genes to improve the quality of the animal and its fleece is as much science as it is a bit of guessing—you wait 11 months to see the results of your decision. One of our animals captured a blue ribbon at a national show in 2010. They’re wonderful animals and a lot of fun to have around, plus they’re helping us teach our 11-year-old daughter about running a small business.

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