From Public Education to Procurement: MS SCM Online Key to Ron Wallace’s Successful Career Transition

April 14, 2023

This story is the first in a new series, Mapping Success, which shares how the Global Supply Chain Institute and UT’s supply chain management education programs impact the lives and careers of students and professionals in the industry. 

Nearing his 40th birthday, Ron Wallace (MS SCM Online ’22) was considering a career change but wasn’t sure exactly where to start. After graduating with a history degree from Morehouse College in 2002, he had spent nearly two decades in public education.

Wallace, a husband and father, had dedicated his first career to working with and supporting young people. And he was ready for a job with more flexibility, so he could spend more time at home with his own children. He asked around, figuring out what kinds of jobs people in his network enjoyed and whether any of his skills could cross over to another industry.

“In talking with people, I realized that I really enjoy logistics and data,” Wallace says. “I like communicating with people and looking at opportunities to improve workflow. But, most of all, I like being in a position where I’m a problem solver trying to help and support others.”

Enter supply chain management, a field in which Wallace knew he might be solving problems a hundred times a day. Once settled on the discipline, he built a checklist of what he’d need to bridge the gap in experience. He decided to return to school and sought out a flexible, accelerated program that would welcome a nontraditional student. Wallace also wanted to ensure the program would be housed inside a university with a strong reputation, which would make certain that he was acquiring the skills most sought out by industry from an institution held in high regard by practitioners.

Google led Wallace to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Master of Science in Supply Chain Management Online.

“I filled out a request for information, and somebody called me immediately,” Wallace says. He was taken aback by the response time.

“The customer service was incredible,” he says.

“In every phase of the application progress, I felt supported. That continued into being a student. I had an academic advisor helping me enroll in classes and a career counselor helping me to figure out exactly the kind of job I wanted and how to demonstrate my value to employers.”

Wallace was already comfortable leading teams and communicating and collaborating with diverse groups of stakeholders; he had refined those skills as a public educator. “In supply chain, you’re making changes and improving workflows and processes within the workplace,” he says. “You need to be good at building relationships with people to do that. People still matter.”

Wallace focused on building his math and data skills. Once in his classes, he made an impression as an astute and curious student who was always prepared with questions and generous in sharing his perspective.

“Being curious is such an underappreciated but essential leadership quality,” says Alan Amling, a lecturer and Global Supply Chain Institute Fellow who taught Wallace in SCM 565 Supply Chain Information Management.

Amling spent nearly three decades in leadership at UPS and often spoke about logistics business models with Wallace, who had taken a job as an outbound manager for FedEx to supplement what he learned in the classroom. In that role, Wallace co-managed a team of more than 20 employees transporting freight from the company’s Indianapolis hub to its Chicago market.

Besides growing his depth of logistics knowledge, Wallace became interested in analysis, operations, and sourcing after taking courses with professors Wendy Tate and Thomas Goldsby, who also serves as co-faculty director of GSCI. After classes, he’d discuss what he learned and his professional ambitions with Tyler Orr, who as GSCI’s career coordinator works to provide MS SCM Online students with resources and opportunities throughout their time in the program.

“Ron consistently followed through on our conversations,” Orr says. “He didn’t expect me to find him a job. Instead, he recognized his need to apply himself to find the right opportunities while working with me to learn how to market himself, improve his resume, and tell a compelling story about who he is and how he could add value to a company.”

During the immersion portion of the program, he took advantage of face-to-face time with classmates and professors to soak in conversations. He beefed up his LinkedIn presence and networking and was quick to ask for advice from Orr and his professors when preparing for job interviews.

Two months before graduating, Wallace was hired by American Health Network, a part of Optum, as a sourcing and procurement manager. He now works with nearly 50 physician’s offices in Indianapolis, Columbus, and New Albany, Ohio, helping doctors find medical equipment and supplies at the best prices and ensuring they arrive promptly.

“When working in the healthcare industry, it is important that innovations and changes in the supply chain maintain or improve the patient experience,” Wallace says. “Your bottom line has to be improving the well-being of an individual person.”

In only two years, Wallace has gone from public educator to supply chain professional on the rise. He credits UT’s MS SCM Online with helping him map the way to a new career and future success.   

“When you pick UT, you know you’ll have support and camaraderie,” he says. “The classes are engaging and interactive. You suddenly watch the news and current events come alive. You know you’re part of a profession that is impacting the world.”

How his life has changed:

“I have a remote job now. I get to wake up and have breakfast with my kids every morning. That’s the value. A huge part of what I was looking for was to be home and be present, which I couldn’t get in a previous career. I don’t know where that fits in when you sit down and do your taxes or look at your paycheck, but it’s a huge benefit for me.”

Favorite aspect of the program:

“The part of the program I took most advantage of, from an academic perspective, was the immersion program. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet my classmates and talk to professors face-to-face. I enjoyed all the simulations and case studies, just finding real-world applications for my learning.”

Advice for others considering the program:

“You bring value to the table. Even if you’re making a career change late, there is still value there. You’ve still got tricks up your sleeve. I was concerned: ‘Am I relevant to new jobs? What do I bring to the table?’ And then I realized a lot of my skills transferred. It was a matter of returning to school to add new skills I’d need to succeed.”

How the program helped him land a job:

“I got the job with Optum by looking at message boards. The things that helped were starting a LinkedIn page, shaping my resume, asking questions to professors and preparing for my interviews with them. I was polished when I got to the interview with my current employer. I knew what to say. And I also knew how to think in that space.”

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