September 17, 2013

Big Ideas: LaDonna Thornton

LaDonna Thornton
Sometimes a life-changing conversation happens with a complete stranger on an airplane flying from point A to point B. Such is the case for LaDonna Thornton, assistant professor of management in supply chain management at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business Administration. She was at a career crossroads and didn’t know which path to take – should she start her own business or apply to a Ph.D. program. The answer came from the person sitting in the seat next to her.
“I attended a conference for the PhD Project, which promotes the benefits of a Ph.D. for minority students,” said Thornton. “I met the qualifications for the program, started by the KPMG accounting firm and needed to decide if I wanted to go forward in the program. While flying home, I sat next to a Ph.D. adviser from the University of Tennessee, and he explained the benefits a Ph.D.”
Thornton earned her Ph.D. at Tennessee and was mentored by that same professor. Her success was more rewarding due to the fact she found supply chain management by chance while studying at The Ohio State University.
“I was an operations management major, and some of the classes overlapped with the logistics and transportation classes. Taking into account the factors for delivering a product from point A to point B is like solving a puzzle which is one of my strengths. I ended up with a major I enjoyed,” she said.
She started her career in logistics at Cardinal Health, a multinational health care industry services provider that applies vast resources, knowledge and expertise to assist health care manufacturers and patient care providers with safe delivery of care. During her tenure at Cardinal, she was an operations development associate, distribution supervisor and transportation manager. It didn’t take her long to figure out the importance of managing the people in the supply chain.
“The most important thing I learned at Cardinal is it is not simply a process, there are people involved in the process,” she explained. “You either have heroes or those that wreak havoc. You have to know how to manage all of them for the supply chain to work.”
Thornton landed in the right place at CBA and will teach supply chain courses this spring. She wanted to work at a university where supply chain was a part of the management department. It was an added bonus the transportation industry is a major part of the economy in Nebraska.
“It makes perfect sense to have a supply chain management major in the business college when the state is a major player in the transportation industry,” she said. “I was ecstatic the University of Nebraska had this program and for the opportunity to be a part of the faculty while it is growing.”