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  January 16th, 2014 | Written by

Education Summit

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When he founded the University of Denver’s innovative Intermodal Transportation Institute (ITI), Joseph S. Szyliowicz, a professor in the university’s graduate school of International Studies, said he wanted to make his program the leading academic institution in the field.

“We established ITI with a straightforward goal,” Szyliowicz would later say, “to become recognized internationally as the leading academic institution on intermodal transportation systems and to serve as a ‘think-and-do’ tank in partnership with the public, academia, government and industry.”

To accomplish that, he envisioned the field coming to the institution to create a practical, profitable partnership with the transportation industry. That partnership can sometimes be a hard sell when it comes to business people who operate on the daily edge as opposed to the semester. Jim Kramer, of ContainerPort Group, says any doubts he may have had were quickly assuaged once he took part, finding that what he learned there was “good usable information. It’s not just theory, it’s real world.”

That ability—to meld the academic with commercial interests seamlessly and profitably—has not only grown the program’s reputation but made it one of the hottest places to connect with transportation officials and gurus of all stripes. As Shannon Brown of FedEx observed: “You’ll have the transportation secretary of Canada, the transportation secretary of Mexico, not to mention all the CEOs of transportation companies here in the United States. When you bring that many people together, you can’t have anything but something great come out of that.”

ITI’s executive masters’ program not only set its sights on preparing the next generation of senior management for the transportation and supply chain industry, but also welcomed current management on campus to identify and cultivate new markets and revenue possibilities. For many companies, the greatest thing has come out of it: a return on investment.

Take, for example, the experience of one of the program’s biggest corporate supporters, FedEx, which has sent some of its senior management through the program and reaped the rewards. To complete the program, participants must initiate, execute and complete a business-improvement project. The project is jointly chosen by the student and his sponsoring organization and focuses on a major revenue growth or productivity improvement opportunity for the sponsoring organization.

In this case, that organization was FedEx. The shipping giant was looking for ways to increase revenues in areas it felt were not getting proper return on resources, especially when it came to generating high-margin revenue from all segments of its international air express network. With that in mind, the FedEx executive/student focused on the development of a business plan to create a market in Asia for U.S.-produced fresh seafood by exploiting existing capacity on international air-express flights returning to Asia from North America.

The project also identified the potential demand in China and Japan for U.S.-produced fresh seafood and confirmed that sufficient excess airlift capacity was available in the air-express network to service the potential market. It quantified the potential price levels Asian distributors and consumers would be willing to pay for the potential service, not to mention the profit projections for FedEx.

The project was actually implemented by FedEx several years ago, meaning the company got the passing grade it was looking for: ROI.

This success story is just one of many, spread out over myriad needs and transportation systems. But, says George Woodward, ITI board member, there is something that seems to connect all the work done.

“They all involve developing business-planning skills and being able to analyze and articulate solutions to complex business management issues that involve corporate organization, asset management and the productivity of human resources.”

And in doing that, the University of Denver preaches a kind of holistic education model when it comes to transportation.

“It helped me realize the whole transportation network, not just the piece I work in, which is rail,” says Tami Parsons of CSX. “It made me a better leader because I feel I’m more exposed to the global economy. I get the bigger picture now.”

Word of the program and its successes has spread quickly, so much so that in the past dozen years, in addition to FedEx and CSX, such transportation and logistical heavyweights as Maersk, Hub Group, J.B. Hunt, Schneider National, Keolis and many, many others have sponsored students.

In doing so, these organizations have recognized the value in what CSX’s Parsons was talking about: the rich rewards from being able to step back and see the whole, global picture.