In recent years, research into global supply chains has focused on

the fields of logistics and operations, information systems and marketing. What has been largely missing? Analysis of the “people factor” as a source of competitive advantage.

But this past fall, the journal Human Resource Management turned a spotlight on the topic, thanks to Clarkson School of Business faculty members and HR experts Mary E. Graham and Sandra L. Fisher. Associate professors of organizational studies, the two led a team of guest editors in producing an entire special issue devoted to the rich and largely untapped possibilities for research in this field.

supply_chain2In their introduction to the issue, the editors observe that two blind spots account for a “paltry” amount of previous scholarship: organizations typically fail to grasp that successful supply chain management actually rests on the performance of the people involved; and HR scholars, despite learning much about ways to improve human performance, rarely consider implications for supply chains.

Both Clarkson professors like to ground their teaching in empirical research and had been disappointed in the lack of HR scholarship related to supply chain management. They also note that the University’s collaborative academic environment — which encourages cross-disciplinary perspectives — spurred their awareness of the scholarship gap. 

“This is one way in which Clarkson is pretty unique with the size of the business school — and how interdisciplinary our supply chain curriculum is,” explains Graham. “For us, HR and supply chain management is a natural fit. But we’ve spoken to many colleagues in HR and organizational studies faculties and often they don’t even really know what supply chain is.”

For the special issue, the editors wrote an introductory paper outlining three areas of research intersection between human resource management (HRM) and supply chain management: intra-firm use of HRM to support supply chain functioning; inter-firm use of HRM to inform supplier selection and development; and inter-firm alignment of HRM systems. “Our intent was to develop a framework that calls attention to research needs regarding HR and supply chains and that motivates others to conduct research on this important topic,” says Graham.

The publication has also spurred potential collaboration with industry. Graham and Fisher received an unexpected call from Clarkson alumnus Anuwat (Nan) Raviwongse ’93 (E&M), director of Analytics at Manpower Inc., who has been researching the use of supply chain models for management of temporary workers.

“One of the linkages I was looking for was the relationship between human capital, contingent labor, and business value drivers,” he says. “From our very first meeting we’ve openly shared ideas and brainstormed collaboration opportunities.” 

“This type of collaboration is an ideal outcome of the project,” observes Fisher. “It allows us as researchers to apply what we’ve learned to develop new models with partners in industry.”

To celebrate the successful completion of the special issue, the guest editors hosted a reception during the 2010 Academy of Management Meetingsin Montreal.

The Table of Contents and paper abstracts for this special issue can be accessed at

The journal is Human Resource Management, September/October 2010 issue.