Remembering Don Bowersox: Educator, Energizer, Communicator

We recently got word of the passing of Donald J. Bowersox. To say that Don was one of the founders of the modern supply chain movement is no exaggeration. His record of accomplishments speaks for itself.

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We recently got word of the passing of Donald J. Bowersox. To say that Don was one of the founders of the modern supply chain movement is no exaggeration. His record of accomplishments speaks for itself.

First and foremost, Don was an educator—and not just in the classroom setting at Michigan State University where he taught for four decades, but wherever he met people in the logistics (and later supply chain) community. It could be an industry seminar, an executive education program at Michigan State, a talk to corporate executives, or just at a coffee break somewhere. Don wanted to communicate with you; he was a teacher who also wanted to learn.

One of Don’s long-time goals was to help the broader business community understand the true potential of logistics and SCM. And he fostered this understanding through books, papers and articles (he had over 200 to his credit) and through professional associations. In fact, Don was a founding member of the National Council of Physical Distribution Management, which became the Council of Logistics Management and now the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP).  Don was a “star” at the annual CSCMP conference, having served as the organization’s second president and being honored with its Distinguished Service Award.  I’ve attended 20 or so annual CSCMP meetings over the years and I can’t recall a single one is which he was not featured in a keynote or workshop session.

As a young editor at the then-Traffic Management magazine one of the first books I read was Don’s Logistical Management. This book, like just about everything he wrote or spoke about, explained new, sometimes difficult, concepts in easy-to-understand terms. As much as anyone I’ve known, he had that knack of demystifying supply chain management for the student and practitioner alike.

When I was breaking into this field as a young editor, Don was more than generous with his time—and not just with me, but with the other writers at competing publications.  Anytime we were looking for some meaningful insight on a particular logistics topic, we knew we could go to Don. And we knew that, more often than not, the comment would be candid and colorful.

And when we launched Supply Chain Management Review back in 1997, Don was one of the very first people to step forward and say what can we do to help get this publication off the ground?  The very first issue of SCMR, in the Spring of 1997, featured an article by Don titled “Lessons Learned from the Word Class Leaders.” Don also served on the magazine’s first Editorial Advisory Board.

Don was justifiably proud of the logistics and supply chain program that he and his colleagues built at Michigan State. Anybody with even a passing familiarity with the education scene knows that the school is consistently ranked among the world’s top supply chain programs.  Don’s dedication—and the dedication and energy he transmitted to his fellow professors, researchers, and students—is part of the enduring Bowersox and Michigan State legacy.

Don served briefly as dean of MSU’s Broad School of Business in the early 2000s. I remember asking him how the job was going and how it compared to classroom teaching.  He said the new job was fine…if only he could get rid of his two biggest administrative headaches: meting out parking spaces and football tickets.  Somehow, I think his heart was always in the classroom.

Don’s loss is a great one to so many people…to his friends and family of course, to all his former students, to the many supply chain educators he nurtured, to anyone who has benefited from membership in CSCMP, to the many companies and practitioners that have put his ideas into action, and to all of us covering the supply chain scene who benefitted so much from his openness and friendship.


About the Author

Francis J. Quinn
Francis J. Quinn currently serves in the dual capacity of editorial director of Supply Chain Management Review and Editor-at-Large of Logistics Management. Frank has been covering the transportation and logistics scene for close to two decades, having served for many years as editor of Traffic Management Magazine. He also has written a special supplement on logistics for Business Week and was a principal contributor to the book Supply Chain Directions for a New North America, prepared for the Council of Logistics Management by Andersen Consulting. Frank holds an undergraduate degree from Boston College and a masters degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. His service experience in the U.S. Army includes tours of duty as a magazine editor in Washington D.C. and a military intelligence officer in Saigon, Vietnam.

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