CONQUER YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN (feat Donnie Williams)

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Show Notes

What can we learn from Walmart?

Our friend, Donnie Williams, is the Executive Director of the Supply Chain Management Research Center at the University of Arkansas. He also happens to have a background as a Construction Project Manager!

His background provides incredible insights into how big businesses use logistics and supply chains to gain a competitive edge. He also walks us through how we can map our own supply chain!

Grab your coffee and settle in, there’s a lot of good stuff in this one!


Construction Junkie - best podcast of the year 2020

Related Links

The Sam M. Walton College of Business

Donnie’s LinkedIn

Staple Yourself to an Order - Harvard Business Review

SCMR - Research Summaries


Tyler: Hey guys, Tyler here. Before we get going, I wanted to ask a favor. We were selected as a contestant in Construction Junkie’s Best Construction Podcast of 2020. In order to win this thing, we need your votes. So go into the show notes and you should see a link to All you have to do is go to the link, scroll all the way down to the bottom, and you should see a list of podcasts. Select ours, pretty please, and put your name and your email in, and that will cast a vote for us. There is also an option that you can select to opt out of his emails, but if you like construction related content, give it a go. Hey, what do you got to lose? You can always cancel it later. Thanks for voting for us. Thanks for being here. We appreciate you guys. Enjoy the show.


Tyler: Welcome to the Construction Brothers Podcast. I'm your host, Tyler Campbell, and with me like he is every week: my brother, Eddie Campbell. 

Eddie: Hello, Tyler. 

Tyler: Hello, Eddie. Well, we got an awesome show for you today. We are going to be talking supply chain management with Donnie Williams. But first things first, I would like to bring something to your attention. 


Interview: (10:47)

Tyler: Well, Donnie, thanks for joining us today, man. Can you tell us who you are and what you do?

Donnie Williams: Yes, I'm Donnie Williams. I'm a Clinical Assistant Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas. I'm also the Executive Director of the supply chain management research center that works to connect our industry partners with our department, working with our students and our faculty to really explore all things about the supply chain world. But in here in Fayetteville, Arkansas, I’m up here near Walmart haven. So it’s kind of the retail capital of the world, so I get to play in the sandbox a lot.

Tyler: Heck yeah. So you started your career in construction, and then you transitioned over to logistics. So what attracted you to logistics and why should we pay closer attention to it?

Donnie Williams: Well, so I was the project manager at Georgia Southern University at the time. As a project manager, my responsibility was to oversee new constructions, renovations that were happening with our academic buildings on the campus there. During that time, as a manager, I felt like I needed more education so I was getting a master’s. I'd considered a PhD previously, possibly one day maybe wanted to be a professor, work with college students, teach a little bit, you know, give back in some capacity that way. I remember taking an operations management class in my master's program and we were talking about logistics, and as we were going through logistics and, you know, logistics gets into a lot of the movement of our products through a supply chain and how we need them at the right place at the right time in the right quantity. So there's all these R’s that they kept talking about and I'm like, well, this is what I do every day just about. If you think about what a construction project is, it's really a phenomenal feat of all these different products coming together to one location and being put together by experts in each field, whether it’s my plumbers, whether it's my electricians. But I've also had people on the planning front end of that and then people in the management of that, if I'm looking at my architects and my engineers and the project managers and the general contractors that are putting all of that together. And so I just really saw a microcosm in what I was doing every day as I was studying about logistics and supply chain in my master's program. That really just sparked a lot of interest in me, and when I actually did decide to go ahead and pursue that career path of becoming a college professor and get a PhD, then logistics just made the most sense for me. I really enjoyed the thought process behind it. I enjoyed the collaboration that it takes from so many people to actually see it execute, which is something that we experience every time on a construction project, right? There's so much collaboration that has to come into play. And I really enjoyed knowing that there was something new to deal with every day, like there was a different problem every day that you could dive in and work with. All those things really came together for me. And I think looking at it, a lot of my research—we can talk about this later if you want to—but a lot of my research gets into how do you think about managing people through these processes, through these challenges? And that's what I was doing as a project manager, how do you manage people and how do you manage people who are all experts in what they do? Don't necessarily want to be told what to do, but you have to lead them to accomplish something together. And there's really a lot of great fulfillment in that. I think you guys know that at the end of the day, when you see that final product standing there, it's just a lot of pride and a sense of accomplishment because of everything you're able to do with so many collaborators in place.

Eddie: You live right there in this retail center right next to Walmart. And Walmart gets a bad rap, right? A lot of people don't like Walmart, but you've gotten close to its epicenter and to its processes, and you're very intrigued by it. So like what changed your mind on Walmart and how you think about them? 

Donnie Williams: You said that nice, Eddie. I think a lot of people don't like Walmart. I've had so many interesting, interesting discussions around this and you know, Tyler and I had talked about this previously a little bit. I wasn't a big fan. I didn't really like to shop at Walmart that much myself before I moved here. There aren't a lot of other alternatives and to be completely transparent, I shop primarily for groceries at Whole Foods now, but I still go to Walmart. I order from Amazon and stuff. But I think the things that I've learned from Walmart are exceptional. And it started actually in my master's program, I was in a leadership class there, and this was at Georgia Southern, and I just happened to choose Sam Walton to do my leadership report on. I read his autobiography, and so I got to learn a little bit about what made Sam tick and why Walmart became what it was. A little bit of Sam's history, and I think this is what really attracted me: Sam had a vision. He knew why he was doing what he was doing. Sam grew up poor in the dust bowl, in the Great Depression, and he watched the poverty and it was in this area that I live now. He was in Southwest Missouri and the Northwest Arkansas area. It was the dust bowl. I mean, we all know about that, the poverty and everything coming out of the Great Depression. His goal was, how can I raise the lifestyle of the poor? And so, well, if I know that's my goal, that's going to set in motion a lot of things that come after that. So Sam knew why he was doing what he was doing. So Sam's lesson was this: If you know your “why,” then your impact will be so much greater. It's not just knowing what you're doing, but it's knowing why you're doing it. And this was Sam, this was how Sam ran his business. And if you come to Bentonville, you get to go into Walton Museum and you can read the whole story and what a disaster his first Walmart opening was with watermelons exploding everywhere in the sun and people coming in and tracking watermelon juice. After seeing this, even some of his business partners were like, what? But he knew why he was doing it. If I could just raise the lifestyle of the poor, give them access to goods that they have not had previously, then it can be a service. And here's the thing that I found through Sam's book, and then talking to a lot of people who are former Walmart employees on the corporate side and current Walmart employees. He was a servant leader. He loved his people, and he worked hard for them, but he expected them to work hard. And what he really worked hard with was how do I help raise the lifestyle of the poor? And in order to do that, there's a certain process, there's certain mechanisms that I have to operate with as a business leader to be able to accomplish that “why.” And so I think people see some of the decisions that business leaders make and they really don't understand the “why” behind that. And sometimes— You know, and Sam always had that out front. We want to be low prices. That's who we are. That's our target market. If you're interested in low cost, you need to come here, and that was out front from the beginning. I think that's why they get a bad rap. In order to be low cost for everybody, you have to be kind of ruthless with how you operate your business. Sam was really brilliant with this. So he really took out a lot of the bloat that businesses operate with at that time. And he was just brilliant. But his people loved him. I think that's a testament to what a great servant leader he was.

Tyler: That is so cool, man. Let's get into some of that bloat though. So what did Sam do to lower his prices? 

Donnie Williams: Well, I think first, as I mentioned, you know, he learned from J. C. Penney. Sam learned a couple of things. One, you don't outpace your infrastructure. And so when you think about that, the fundamentals of business—if you were to look at a map of how Walmart grew, you would see that he had his first store in Rogers, Arkansas. And then as he built and expanded, he had a small circle that he did. But he built the distribution network. So Sam decided, how can I extract costs out of my supply chain? Well, he learned that there is overhead. If I pay middlemen along the way, their profit margins, along with the cost of their service, then that's going to increase my prices. This is a little bit different from what had been happening at the time. Traditionally in business, you know, if you go back to even Henry Ford and the Model T, they were what we would call fully vertically integrated. So they owned everything from the mines all the way to the dealerships. And that's kind of how businesses liked to operate as much as they could. Then there kind of was a movement toward, well, no, let's outsource the things that we don't do well to other people, and that's still a good business principle. We teach this, focus on your core competency and do that well. Well, Sam decided, my core needs to be my infrastructure because I need to keep my costs low. Every supply chain professional in the world, they watch Walmart. Walmart became the gold standard. He owned his own trucking fleet and he owned his own distribution network. Now, what did that allow him to do? He could buy in bulk. We all know what buying in bulk does for us. We go to Sam's Club or we go to Costco or something like that. We should get a lower cost per unit of whatever product we're buying, ‘cause we're buying more of them. Sam would negotiate with the suppliers that way. He had this space now through his distribution network to hold this inventory and distribute it out. And he could also, because he owned his own trucking fleet, once it came into Walmart's supply chain, they had no greater cost than what it actually cost them to actually execute. That's a huge competitive advantage that he had with Kmart and Sears and some of the other retailers that were operating at that time. By doing that, getting rid of that bloat, focusing on their internal infrastructure and processes, they were just so much better at providing customers with the products they needed at a lower price. And that was the competitive advantage.

Eddie: I want to follow up on a phrase or a couple of words that you mentioned that are really a hot button right now in construction, and that's “vertical integration.” There are companies out there—Katerra, Skender—different companies that they are now billing themselves as a vertically integrated construction company. And I feel like construction had that same movement, like kind of over into construction management and farming things out. Now we're moving back into more vertical integration. So do you hear or see any of this over in the construction realm? I know we're talking Walmart now, but with your construction background, do you kinda make that cross application where you're like, man, this would work for construction?

Donnie Williams: Sure. I'm not aware of any particular companies like the ones that you just mentioned. I've been out of the construction area for about 12 years now. But before that, you could see, even during that time, you could see some of that starting to happen. I think ideally what I've seen the trend towards is people vertically integrating their core competencies. And so, what is it that we say, this is what makes us different than everybody else? That I want to have as much control over as I can because that's what I do better than anybody else? I can't give you a construction example, but let me give you one from Starbucks. So Starbucks, I really appreciate the way they run their supply chain as well. One of the things that they did in 2008, they were getting a lot of bloat. Like their operations costs were outpacing their revenue, and as we all know, that's a recipe for disaster as a business. This is a multibillion dollar company, right? But they grew so fast that they were like, okay, our costs are expanding. We're losing our core competency of what it means to be a great service experience for the customer. So they came in and revamped their supply chain. There's a great article out there at Supply Chain Quarterly that's free to read about this. What they did is they came in and looked at how we're going to restructure, and what they did is they started with the baristas. And they asked the barista, said, you know, where are your pain points? You know, what are we not doing well? And this is really critical. The people you talk to, to be able to do this, are the frontline people. Who's actually working with the customer. And I think we lose sight of that. We lose sight of that. We're in business for a customer. And if we can serve that customer, well, then that's just gonna help us all the way up supply chain. Now I can map that all the way up through, and once they identified some of the problems that they're having, they were having late shipments all the time. So they weren't able to give the customers the products that they wanted because of the late shipments. And so as they tracked that back up, they realized, Oh, they had a lot of gaps. They had a lot of carriers that weren't meeting their metrics that they needed to, their performance metrics were down. They didn't have distribution centers in the right place. They didn't have manufacturing places in the right place. And so that caused a lot of changes in kind of how they thought about their products. So what they decided to do, then, is let us focus on what we do the best, and that's our experience for our customers and our coffee. And let's take control of that as much as possible. So what they started doing was they started buying farms. The coffee bean farms that they were sourcing from, they said, let us buy that, that way we can control the quality and we can extract some costs down and we can make sure that we treat these farmers really well. And it was just on their coffee that they vertically integrated. Everything else that wasn't necessarily their core competency, they were outsourcing to someone else. And so I think Loblaw started doing a lot of their food products at that time. And then you've got their paper products and various things like that. They're going to outsource that stuff because it's not the core part of who they are, but that core part, I want to vertically integrate because that's what we make our money on. That's what our customers expect from us. And so by doing that, I've kind of seen this kind of movement back to vertical integration in that. But only in one part, one segment of our business, in our product lines. And that really helps you kind of serve your customer well, make sure you're staying true to who you are. And then it allows you to then really focus on putting people in place that can manage those things that you're outsourcing and making sure you've got quality. 

Eddie: It feels like your “why” and your core competency, you're going to be just right there. They should be linked together, right? 

Donnie Williams: Yes. Yeah. I actually think a company should do this every day. I actually do this running the research center that we have. Why do we exist? What's our value? Why do we do what we do? If I don't understand that, then I just, I can get pulled in so many different directions. I can try to be all these things and all these different people. And I really lose who my identity, not only as a company. But then I think this is why you have executives at companies burn out, too. Burnout is just a condition of not knowing why you're doing what you're doing every day, and you lose sight of that. And it's generally because people just, they lose track of their value. And when you lose track of your value, you really don't know why you're doing what you're doing anymore. And that just becomes a challenge to kind of work through and get up and go to work every day. And so I think there's a lot of things you can do to alleviate that, but that primary thing is, man, know why you're doing what you're doing. If you can get that, that's the most important thing. Everything else will fall in line there. And I think that's both personally and professionally as we run our businesses. So let me ask you, Eddie, what are you seeing in the construction industry?

Eddie: Last week, we interviewed Pete Kobelt with Katerra. So they're like, mass timber is going to be our core competency as far as a builder. Like we're going to do this mass timber thing really well. Now we're vertically integrated in that, we're going to house design, we're going to design to that mass timber. We're going to service the customer from kind of the cradle to grave type of construction process. This isn't going to be a design-bid-build type of methodology. This is going to be bringing it all together, design, build it, control processes, and really get a hold of that core thing. 

Tyler: They started buying manufacturing plants for that specific thing, right, so it was exactly what you talked about, is they're buying manufacturing plants so that they can control the material that their core competency revolves around. 

Eddie: Yeah. They know strategically, we're going to put that manufacturing plant in, you know, product rich places. That's the Katerra thing. There are others that are doing things with it, but they're hitting—it's vertical integration, it's sustainability—it’s hitting all these buzz words that people are talking about.

Donnie Williams: Well, and I think what's important with that: So if you just think about the laminated beams and everything that they're talking about is that laminated products— I'm not as familiar with them as a company, but these are sustainable products that they're talking about. If I as a business owner am thinking about the supply chain in general, and we see this in every supply chain, so if there's a problem in lettuce, and Walmart sold it or Kroger sold it, well, where does it originate from? Right. So they're wanting to track that and make sure that we've got technology in place that we can look at it and say, okay, this stuff is actually safe now, we know it's a quality product. If it's Nike with the shoes, you know, and child labor in Asia and people want to know, Hey, what's happening in that supply chain? And I think, you know, if you even look at right now with what's been happening with COVID-19 and the PPE equipment, and people are like— I've never heard the term supply chain mentioned so much in the news in the past 10 years, as much as I've heard in the last three months. Because all of a sudden people are aware of, man, these supply chains are problems and there are supply chain problems in our medical field, in our pharmaceuticals, in our PPE equipment. And so people want more transparency now, I think in general, in what's happening in their supply chain. So I think you're going to actually see more and more of this where companies say, people care about the source. And when we say people care about the source, what they're really saying is, we care about the supply chain. I want to know where that wood was actually extracted, right? Did it come from a tree farm in the U.S., did it come from Canada? Did we import it from somewhere else? What kind of processes did it goes through to become the product that we can trust today? And I think that's pretty, I think that's a trend that we're seeing across industries and I think you're gonna absolutely see it, I think that's a differentiator for a company like Katerra. I'm just kind of looking at the projects that they've been doing. Now, you can see it's beautiful buildings, and it's something that they're going to say, we know where the structure, the infrastructure of this building came from all the way through. It's what we do better than everybody else. I think that's a real selling point for them. And I think it's where we're seeing, and we've seen this for years now, where companies—all the way back to Walmart, right—I can get a competitive advantage by understanding my supply chain and being able to share what's happening through our supply chain with our end consumers. To me, that's the real power of thinking about vertical integration, is that I know what's happening now. I'm not outsourcing it. And it's not things that are happening somewhere that I really don't have my finger on, but now I can share that all the way through my sales force. I can take them to those places where we're building and manufacturing, and they can understand that process. That's going to make my sales people believe even more in our products and our services, and that's going to make them more effective as I try to articulate what our real value is.

Eddie: How do we start mapping our supply chains then?

Donnie Williams: So there's a great Harvard Business Review article from about 20 years ago now. It was called “Staple Yourself to an Order.” I love this particular article because it's one of the places where I can actually integrate my wife's career as an artist in with what would we do in supply chain. The basic concept is this: Let's just say you get an order from a customer. What happens to that order? And then as you begin to track that all the way through your process, and if you think about everything that we do, everybody that touches the project is handling the customer. Now what happens—so if I start with the customer and go back, once they come in the door, what am I doing with them? How am I handling it? That's you mapping your internal processes, right? And so those internal processes create triggers. Somebody comes in and you're going to sit down with that customer. You’re going to say, what do you need? You're going to kind of go through that process. And once you do that for your own team, you're going to be handling those projects over to different team members, right? What's that process of doing that? Are we communicating clearly? Are we making sure that I don't have two people working on the same thing that we have overlap there? If I have overlap, I have bloat, right? Or maybe there's a gap in our communication or our handing off of that customer. Now that customer is being dropped and I'm not handling them anymore. As we go through that internally, now I'm mapping that. I actually encourage people to get in a room and start drawing it. Draw your processes, right? As soon as I start drawing my processes and I start identifying, well, who's responsible for this part of the process? Now I'm getting a clear understanding of, for better or worse, either we've managed our processes well, we've thought about them, or we've reacted and we've just tried to get people to kind of handle that particular process. While we do that internally, then we can do that externally as well. Well, alright. If something triggers and we need a product, who are our suppliers, who are we talking to? What intermediaries are we going through? And I start tracking that, where are they located? By understanding where they're located, now I can start looking at risk factors. What are things that may cause a problem in me being able to get those particular products to me so that I can deliver them to my customer on time? And the way we talk about this, is we start thinking systemically. I'm not just looking at what's happening in front of me right now. That's not what I'm managing. That's what we do from a task perspective, that's what we're doing today. But from a supply chain perspective, somebody who's a supply chain professional or thinks about this like this is going to think systemically, well, what's happening way over here? And how's it gonna impact me here? I know Tyler and I were talking about this, and he asked me, do I give examples for my students of this happening? And at a very basic level, this happened at Georgia College while I was teaching there. A couple of years ago, there was a strike at the L.A. ports. The longshoremen all said, we're not doing anything until we can negotiate and the management come into play so we can get what we feel like our value is. And so they just shut down. They didn't just shut down for a few weeks. They shut down for nine months. And so for nine months, and there was not one container being unloaded at the port of L.A. And I knew about this ‘cause I had a student who worked for him at the time, and I was talking about this problem. And he said, this is what's happening here. There was a custom home, it was a beautiful custom home being built by a builder. And the cabinet maker was waiting to put a solid surface countertops in that had been ordered from Asia. Well, those countertops were sitting on one of those containers in one of those ships sitting in the ocean and they couldn't get them. They couldn't finish the home for three months because of the delay, the systemic implication that we had of a disruption in L.A. that had been going on for nine months. And so when you begin to map out that process, you begin to map out your supply chain, you can then look at risk factors that may come into play. Well, how likely is it that the port could shut down? Longshoremen go on strike all the time, unions go on strike all the time. Generally it's not nine months worth, but it can happen, it can put the waves in there. Can I create mitigation strategies to begin to think about, well, how would I work around those? Or maybe I source from somewhere else, because I know I've got to hit this deadline. And that lead time for those particular products are really going to cause problems for me. But then you begin to think about, well, mapping the supply chain is pretty complex. So how do you do that? ‘Cause I've got so many products and if you're building a building, how many products are in a building? Thousands, right? And so, well, which ones do I map? Well, you map the ones that are, you do easy fruit first, right? And so the low picking fruit, I want to do those first, something that's really core to what we do. I map that supply chain first. And then I think about, what kind of risk factors do we have in play here? Am I single sourcing this? If I'm single sourcing this, then I'm going to have a real big issue if something happens with that source. And so maybe I need to bring in another source or at least have a plan B in place so that I can do that. And I think in the construction industry many times, well, we don't go past the wholesaler. We may know that there's different products out there, but we just rely on the wholesaler to help us get what we need without really understanding the supply chain that is happening via, you know, upstream from the wholesaler.

Eddie: My dad has said to me that in the design-bid build-world of construction, the general contractor is essentially bidding to become a monopoly on that project. And that really rings true with what you just said, even for the owner, the construction user, thinking about the single source nature of how they're sourcing their building would be a good process for them to go to. And I'm not maybe talking about a real base-level user of construction. I mean, the Googles, the Amazons, the serial constructors of the world, this would be a beneficial thought, I would think.

Donnie Williams: Sure. Yeah. And I think the forward-thinking companies are doing this. They're thinking about this. It can be detrimental if you really don't think about it ahead of time. You know, there's a lot of commodity products that kind of work with construction. But it does pay to actually think about that and think about, well, what happens— You know, it's just risk communication strategies. Every day somebody is in business, they're at risk, right? Understanding what those risks are and taking time to think about them will really help you map your supply chain a little bit better. And asking those questions, right? Well, so what happens if we can't get this product? What happens, you know, if there's a disruption somewhere along the way? What happens if China shuts down their exports right now because of Coronavirus and all of a sudden 80% of the world's supply of fabrics to make PPE or gowns or stuff like that, we can't get out of China because they shut it down? Well, okay. Maybe we need to rethink this a little bit. 

Tyler: That was one of the talking points that we covered when we had our conversation before, was reshoring a lot of this manufacturing, and your thoughts on that were pretty interesting as well. 

Donnie Williams: It depends on which day you asked me that. (laughter)

Tyler: (laughter) Well, specifically, I was referring to automation. So when we reshore, we're going to have to automate more. 

Donnie Williams: Well, I think, you know, for better or worse, people don't understand generally that the U.S. is still the largest manufacturing country by output in the world. We're only behind China. So we are still a production country. We still manufacture goods. We manufacture a lot of goods. But you probably won't see a huge uptick in jobs that are related to manufacturing because, one, labor is really expensive, right? Here, compared to Asia and some of the other places that we can go to—Vietnam, Mexico, Central America. But what we will also do, is technology is rapidly advancing. And so a lot of the jobs that would be what we would call “frontline jobs” are going to be automated. We just have the technology. It's engineering, it’s smart business sense to do that, right? If I can get a return on investment and I can increase my output with lower inputs, that's just smart business decisions. And so those jobs are going to be in the management areas, or they're going to be in the technology areas. That's what's going to happen with manufacturing. You’ll have some frontline workers, but not nearly something that I think would make a significant bump. In nearshoring, you know, we've talked about nearshoring and reshoring. Nearshoring is probably more likely, or we'll come to maybe Mexico and set up a plant there or Central America or something like that. But the problem is, you know, people want supply chains just to remove their manufacturing capabilities. I don't think we realize how much skill is necessary to do manufacturing. And it's not a skill that we've really developed over the years. And you guys know this, the trades need talent, and we don't have enough talent going into the trades for welding and electricians and all these things that we see. Well, that also hurts manufacturing, ‘cause those are trades that are actually executing on the factory floor. We need tradesmen that can do those things. A good example of this, if you go out to Bogart, Georgia, just outside of Athens where there's Caterpillar plant there. I used to take my students on a tour of that plant. You guys need to go do a tour of that plant. You will just absolutely love it. They do them all the time for whoever wants to come out there. It's a state of the art plant. And on one side they're actually fabricating. They're bringing in the raw steel plates and stuff that they're making the bulldozers out of. They're doing the mini excavators and mini bulldozers there. And as they're bringing them in and they've got these big automated welders, but they have a lot of welders on the floor, too, that are tacking everything in place and then making sure. Well, the welders are, as great as the welders are, they're never going to weld as good as those robots. They're just not going to be as consistent over time. They don't need as many trained welders because the robots are there doing it, but they still need that talent in there to be able to execute it.

Tyler: As you're talking, I'm thinking about Tesla as well. They've kind of got that same mentality where they're, you know, they're very heavy on the automation, but they still have people on the front lines working with the robots, making sure everything goes together well.

Donnie Williams: That’s right, and that’s the trends in manufacturing. That's the trends in distribution is that there's autonomous robots in there. So if I'm thinking about Amazon, they own the company Kiva. They bought it out. Kiva are little robots. And they look like vacuum cleaners almost, and they will pick up the shelves and they're controlled by satellites within the warehouse. And the robots are constantly moving around the floor and they're bringing these shelves to the pickers, the workers. And so the workers don't have to go up and down the aisles to pick things. The Kiva robots bring it to them. They pick what they need off that shelf and it goes on and then the robot will dock itself, recharge itself when it needs to. And then the worker never has to move the entire day from that one little spot, everything's brought to them. They put it in a box and ship it off. And so there's all kinds of robots and technologies and things that are happening. I think Kroger's got almost a fully automated picking system just around Cincinnati, I believe, where the robots are on top of a grid above the floor. It just scans and goes all the way across. And it does all the picking and packing of boxes. It's kind of a thing that I talked to my students about. It's like, please don't ever stop learning. You know, please don't ever stop scanning. I had a colleague, Rod Thomas, who said this to me in our PhD when I was getting my PhD. And I thought, man, this is absolutely true, is that it is incumbent upon every individual to understand what skills I need to create value and to make sure that I don't stop learning. Because once I stopped learning, then I'm going to see myself out of opportunities to continue to make a difference in either society as a worker or whatever it may be.

Eddie: You know, you may come back and just repeat what you just said, but I got the megaphone question for you. So we have this special megaphone that we like to use to give everybody a voice in the whole construction community. And so if I gave you a megaphone and 60 seconds to speak to our industry, what would you tell them? 

Donnie Williams: I think I would say to the construction industry what I would say to every industry, and it's actually a hashtag I put on everything that I do with my LinkedIn, and it's “never stop learning.” And I think that works across all industries, all professions. But in today's world, I don't think it's ever been more crucial that we think about how do we learn, how do we continue to learn, and how do we continue to reinvent ourselves? Yeah. And then I would say to the construction industry, I think this is really important for construction industry, as I think about what I remember: Keep that customer in mind. I think we lose focus on that—think about every building that you're building, everything that you're doing, like I'm the user of this building. And I think that really helps you kind of align yourself to what everybody, particularly in a service industry, and we've got to think the construction industry is a service industry because it's constantly delivering products for a customer. And so I'm serving that customer there. And if I keep that in mind, that will deal with a lot of things, like unethical construction practices or cutting corners or the things that we all know are there in the construction industry, because we're chasing clocks, right? So we've got these deadlines. We gotta be finished by —. But what's more important, finishing by the deadline or doing the job proper? And so that I can actually deliver a quality product to the consumer. And we all know this. If I do something that is not right and it gets caught, then I've got to take the time to go back and redo it again. And so you actually hit your deadlines more often if you just go ahead and commit to doing it right, and keeping the customer in mind that I'm delivering a quality product to the customer. That's what I would say. Never stop learning there. 

Eddie: Well, where can people go to learn from your work and research? 

Donnie Williams: Well, the easiest place to find me is on LinkedIn, Donnie Williams. That's pretty straightforward. I think it's Donnie Williams comma PhD. There's a lot of Donnie Williamses out there. Another place they can go is, if you want to look at some of the research that we do out of the research center, the scmrc.uark, and that’s U-A-R-K dot E-D-U. That's the research center that we run. And so check us out. I'd love to have you stop by if anybody's got any questions or, want us to help them with some research or something like that, or want to tap into some of the things we're finding. Let us know. 

Eddie: Donnie, it’s been a pleasure, man. 

Tyler: Heck yeah, man. 

Donnie Williams: Hey, it's a lot of fun. Thank you for having me.


Tyler: Hey guys, thanks for joining us today. I wanted to take a second and point you at a couple of things before you go. Number one, make sure that you go check out our website, it is We're constantly posting new blog updates on there and thoughts of things that we're seeing in the industry. And then also, make sure while you're there, go check us out on social media. We are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. We're constantly asking questions there, trying to get people involved and engaged, and learn more about what's happening in the industry so we can keep bringing stuff to you that's relevant. And also, share it with somebody. If there's something in here that you thought was valuable, forward it over to your friend, let them know about the show. Again, that's going to help us out a lot. And finally, please leave a review. If you found this interesting or helpful at all, you could help us out in a big way by just hitting a review on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher. So thank you so much for joining us this week. Have a good one.