In so many ways, Miki Minagawa is the poster child for an online supply chain management degree. That’s because, for starters, she is the Direct-to-Consumer director at Nike Japan. In Tokyo. And with what global, accredited school is she enrolled to earn a master’s in supply-chain management? Portland State University in Oregon, USA.
Minagawa had already worked in supply chain for two decades—split between the United States and Japan—when she decided to expand and formalize her knowledge.
In her role, she is a supply chain director for Nike-owned stores, Nike Factory Outlet stores and Nike.com, the shoe retailer’s online shopping business. “Nike has decided to develop and grow the direct-to-consumer (DTC) business where we traditionally had a big business in wholesale,” she says. “Now we are having a focused team on the DTC side of the business. We sell a lot of stuff here in Tokyo to consumers. We import shoes and apparel and some equipment from factories around the world.”
Nike, which began and remains headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon (about seven miles from downtown Portland), has a formal partnership for corporate training with Portland State University (PSU). Every year, the company sponsors five high-potential global supply chain leaders to this course. Minagawa is in the second year of the online version of the school’s coursework.
“It’s quite incredible for me that, living in Japan, in Tokyo, I can earn a U.S. master’s degree,” she says. “The learning experience is amazing. And it fits my learning style. Rather than sitting in the classroom, I may learn more this way. Part of it is because English is my second language. In an online course, I can stop the lecture at any time and repeat it, if I don’t catch some words. I can also look up any word I don’t know with the online dictionary. It’s amazing that technology can make this happen.”
Some online courses and programs are solitary pursuits—the student and his or her computer. The PSU program, however, organizes its students in groups, for both the completion of projects and support.
“We have group projects in the course and we do the work via video group chat on Google Hangout, which is a similar application to Skype. We collaborate online with teammates via Google Docs,” Minagawa explains. “Time differences don’t matter. We gather in front of Google Hangout for two hours, editing a PowerPoint presentation or Word document together. I can see my friends constantly moving around, editing, typing over my words. We can chat—you know, ‘Why did you do that?’” she laughs.
“My recent professional focus has been making sure that our online web business works,” Minagawa continues. “I took a course in Reverse Logistics and we read a lot of articles about consumer return issues in online business. That was really relevant for me. Actions that the course recommended were really helpful for me to apply at Nike.”
Portland State offers both masters and bachelors level online programs in supply-chain management, delivering content and lectures asynchronous and synchronously.
“Programmatically, we teach the entire value chain and emphasize the circular economy,” explains Cliff Allen, dean of the School of Business Administration at PSU and founder of the master’s program in Supply Chain Management. “At the grad level we teach an entire course on reverse logistics and sustainability.”
The undergrad supply chain program at PSU is entirely online; the master’s program is the same except it meets in Asia for two weeks and once for a negotiations class. The graduate program is designed for mid-career students.
Daniel Wong is the academic director for PSU’s undergraduate Supply & Logistics program. He says that wherever a manager or executive goes for online education, the key is sticking with schools certified by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
“In order to be an AACSB accredited school of business, you have to have a certain ratio of faculty with PhDs, and you have to be accredited every five or six years,” Wong says. “There are a lot of other schools out there that claim they offer online, but those programs are coming from the schools that are not certified by AACSB.”
Minagawa says that Nike, as her sponsor, has been supportive of her educational needs. But, interestingly, the 17-hour time difference between Portland and Tokyo often works to her advantage.
“Most of the students want to study or collaborate after 5 p.m., PST, which is my morning office hours—8 a.m. We usually have a Google Hangout session between 10 a.m. and lunchtime in Tokyo. I often have to do those calls or attend class during office hours and my manager always supports me. He enjoys what I’m learning and hearing about what I have found out, also.”
Upon graduation, Minagawa hopes to leverage her degree in a return to Nike headquarters in Beaverton. n