ISyE Undergraduate Karan Agrawal: On Supply Chain and Founding APICS at Georgia Tech
Karan Agrawal is a third-year student in the Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). Originally from Bengaluru, India, Agrawal wanted to attend a top-notch institution in the heart of a big city, and Georgia Tech was an obvious choice. Enrolled as a mechanical engineering major when he first arrived, by the end of his first semester at Tech, he realized he wanted to gain broader business and technical skills which can be directly applied to real-world problems, and that triggered his switch to ISyE.
Having served as student body president in high school and on executive boards of leading organizations like India Club at Georgia Tech and Presidents’ Council Governing Board, Agrawal wanted to get out of his comfort zone and kick-start a new initiative on Tech’s campus. Recipient of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers’ 2018 Excellence in Leadership Award, in the following interview, Agrawal discusses his passion for supply chain, and how, in January 2017, he founded Tech’s premier supply chain organization: APICS at Georgia Tech.
Your ISyE concentration is supply chain. How did that particular field come to pique your interest?
I love thinking about product lifecycles. For example, I am an avid consumer of Blue Donkey Coffee, and I am curious to know how those coffee beans in Brazil translate into the cold-brew coffee in my hand. Every product has some sort of supply chain, and figuring out how different processes gel together to deliver the final product interests me.
Does your interest in supply chain have a particular focus?
My overarching interest is on the project/product management side. While interning at Cummins in Indiana last summer, I worked on their supply chain capability team to help change their strategy from site deployments to functional deployments for implementing ERP tools for regional warehousing and sourcing of diesel engines. The most enriching part of the experience was the ability to interface with different teams globally like the deployment team, the testing and quality team, the data management team, the sourcing team, and so forth to make the end-to-end process robust.
With project management, you don’t have to pigeonhole yourself into one role. You’re working with different teams to make the product more efficient – and thus more valuable in the marketplace.
You founded the student chapter of APICS at Tech a little over a year ago. What motivated you to do this?
For the last 23 years, Georgia Tech’s ISyE program has been the best industrial engineering program in the world. Arguably, one of the most important branches of ISyE is supply chain. I realized there wasn’t a group on campus that was propagating this interest among students. Additionally, I I wanted to expose students to supply chain early in their college career. Hence, I had an urge to start an initiative where we breathe and bleed supply chain. APICS at Georgia Tech is the result of that.
Why APICS? I realized that APICS is the No.1 certifier for supply chain across the U.S. I approached Supply Chain & Logistics (SCL) director Timothy Brown, and he mentioned that APICS is the executive sponsor for Supply Chain Day. I realized that there was no better time to ask APICS to support a student chapter at Tech.
With more than 75 members and a reach of over 1500 people on campus in just a year, it has been an incredibly rewarding experience to start this club. And we now have a strong brand to grow APICS rapidly in years to come.
What sorts of activities does APICS at Georgia Tech engage in?
To put it briefly, we engage in anything supply chain-related on campus from mentorship to professional development initiatives. We started off by hosting an alumni networking night, where we invited ISyE alums across all concentrations to share with students about how their ISyE education aids them in their respective careers. We partnered with SCL to manage logistics for Supply Chain Days each semester. We hosted one of GT’s first-ever program management nights, where we brought in representatives from companies like Ernst & Young, Microsoft, and HD Supply to talk to students about how project management differs across industries and to engage our participants in live case studies. We have additionally connected with APICS Atlanta to do talks for our members on what’s hot in supply chain today.
What are your goals for APICS in 2018, especially since this is your last year at Tech?
Realizing that the brand of APICS at Georgia Tech is growing rapidly, one of my biggest goals is to push the new executive board to think about how we can provide more niche supply chain-related events to boost membership. For example, one idea is to partner with HackGT or a consulting firm to either do a supply chain-related hackathon or a case competition.
I will be serving in an advisory fashion this year, and I am excited to see how the new leadership team will scale the organization.
What are some lessons you’ve learned from starting a new student organization at Georgia Tech?
The biggest lesson I have learnt from starting this organization is to think big and to not be afraid to take risks. There were times during the year when we got creative and hosted a couple membership nights and had just four or five people show up. Each failure motivated us to keep trying harder, and instilled in us the spirit of never giving up.
Secondly, I learned that it’s not so much about the events we plan; rather, it’s about the people we work with and the people we serve. One of the most meaningful instances was when one of the executive board members told me that being a part of APICS was the reason he got his first co-op at Johnson & Johnson. Being able to create more leaders and helping others fulfill their dreams has been one of the biggest takeaways for me as president.
Looking back, I can say this was by far the best decision I’ve made in college. I came from 8,000 miles away to attend Georgia Tech, and I wanted to make a strong impact on campus. And APICS at Georgia Tech has been the perfect platform for me to do that.
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