Dr.-Oliver-Hedgepeth

Podcast: Pursue a Career That Makes You Happy – with Professor of American Public University, Oliver Hedgepeth

By Published On: April 8, 2022

Hosts: Chris Gaffney and Mike Ogle

In This Episode:

We speak with Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth, who is a former trucking company business owner and founding director of the Army’s AI Center for Logistics. He is currently a full-time professor at American Public University, an institution focusing on teaching military students. Oliver shares his passion for the growing areas of reverse logistics and artificial intelligence.  He encourages companies to hire the military because of all the great soft skill characteristics they bring with them. He closes with a focus on pursuing a career that makes you happy because that makes everyone around you happier and more inspired.

Who is Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth?

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.
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Mike Ogle: [00:01:40] Oliver, we’re happy to have you with us today. Welcome.  

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:01:42] Thank you very much for having me here. I looking forward to our discussion.  

Mike Ogle: [00:01:47] How did you get started in supply chain? What were some of the greatest influences that got you started and helped you along the way? 

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:01:54] I’ve been working around supply chain activities in the government for a couple of decades and worked for the army logistics organizations, especially around Fort Lee, Virginia, but in Leavenworth, I was involved in what logistics is for the military, weapons logistics. 

But one of the biggest things that got me involved in supply chain was owning a trucking company. I was a silent partner, but I had all the money. I purchased nine 18 wheelers and got involved in the trucking business. And we had contracts with Coca Cola. And Frito-Lay and the military. So, I learned all aspects of the accounting business, as well as supply chain management and logistics. And we did that for a number of years. And so, I had about 10 years of personal experience owning and running a trucking company. And finally, I did get rid of my assets and sold it off because of the fuel crisis we had back in 2008, you may recall where fuel doubled. And I learned one of the supply chain lessons was if you have a contract with the federal government, it’s different than Coca-Cola or Frito-Lay. I got a contract with Coca Cola and says here’s how much we were going to pay you to deliver our Coca-Cola, big bags of Coca-Cola, syrup, juice. And if something happens and the fuel prices doubled, you could call them and say, well, can we modify the contract? And they say, no, we can’t, but then they would, but you call the U S government up and they say, well, this piece of paper we signed is good for one year. So, come back in eight months and we’ll renegotiate. In the meantime, you’re losing money on each load that you load up say at Fort Lee, Virginia, and delivered to a secret Navy base somewhere. And you’re losing money and you can’t stop cause you’ll break the contract. So, learning firsthand, what supply chain management is about.  

And then I started teaching it and I’ve been teaching supply chain management for 30 years. 

Chris Gaffney: [00:03:53] I’d love to bridge your start in the supply chain to today with what you think are the two or three kind of critical roles or experiences that set you up to be successful in your current role?  

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:04:07] Well, my current role, what has really made me more successful is understanding the service supply chain functions, sustainability. Other people may call it reverse logistics, but that is the most critical things I studied, or been involved in for the last 10 years, looking at the reverse logistics, the returns and recycling, waste management, of the things that are in supply chain and recycling those. One of the most important things that has happened, especially the last two years is sustainability in supply chain, everybody, every major company, Walmart, Target, the little teeny mom and pop store, they’re suffering with 30% of their goods that they’re not receiving, or 30% of the goods they’ve got to return, or 30% of the goods that the customers are returning. So, there’s a lot of issues here and that’s one of the focuses that I’ve learned a lot. And I think is important to know about today.

Mike Ogle: [00:05:05] A lot of our listeners, they may not know what American public university is about. Can you give us a little bit of background about the organization, who you teach and serve and possibly where graduates go?

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:05:17] Yes. Be glad to. American Public University System, APUS is also called American Military University [NOTE, American Public University System consists of American Military University and American Public University]. We have two labels we use, and we’ve been around 30 years. We started as an online institution, mainly for the military. The military would get college courses all over the country, all over the world, and they wanted to pull them all together after 15 to 20 years of service and get a college degree out of it. The military wouldn’t do it. So, we formed the university, got approval and did that 30 years ago. And we learn how to move their courses they’d taken, the three-credit course they took it a university in Frankfurt, Germany, or Japan or Montana or Memphis, Tennessee when they were in service and glued together, and all of a sudden, they’ve got two years in a college degree. And then we started teaching them the other junior, senior courses in logistics, supply chain management, and just management and business management and accounting, so they could earn a degree. So that’s what we started doing. And we were still in online, virtual, online e-learning now university, and we teach courses that give you a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree. And we now have one that’s at a doctorate level, a PhD, and we’ve got 50 students in that. And I think the first graduates are coming out June, 2022. 

The courses I teach are logistics, supply chain management, operations management, critical thinking skills, artificial intelligence for logistics. And so, I focus on the areas that I have my expertise in, in my business world, my business world of supply chain management expert and owner of a company, but also what I learned as an engineering management specialist from Old Dominion University, where I got my PhD and I learned how to solve problems, in a critical thinking sense. But I also learned how to teach mathematics to people who are afraid of mathematics, such as a logistics person is afraid of mathematics. Ways to count boxes that don’t scare the bejesus out of them. We can do that. Cause they’ve got to count the boxes and understand the numbers, understand how to measure something. That’s my area and American Public University teaches all of that. And it’s very exciting.  

We also have aged some degrees in intelligence. We have a lot of people who come from FBI and CIA, DIA [the Defense Intelligence Agency], those companies, organizations that are in the intelligence business. So, we’d have some courses to give you a college degree in intelligence management. And we are fully accredited. We stand up with any other accredited university. I’ve been there for 10 years now and looking forward to being there in another 10 or 20 more years, it’s just exciting.  

I’m going to say one more thing about American Public University. We have the only bachelor’s degree and master’s degree course offering in reverse logistics.

Chris Gaffney: [00:08:08] Well, Oliver you’re clearly well connected. And over the course of your professional and academic career, you’ve met a lot of people. So, I’d like to get your view on the idea of networking and developing your network. And how valuable has that been for you along the way? And what advice do you have for those earlier in their career, starting or continuing to develop their own network of contacts and resources to help them?

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:08:36] Well, the first thing to do is you need to join a few things. You need to join a few of these organizations that have to do with logistics or supply chain management or artificial intelligence or anything to do with the business side that you want to go into. If you want to be an accountant and make sure there are accountant organizations, but whatever it is, join one of those and go to a conference. Okay. It may cost you a thousand dollars. It’s worth it because you’ll go, you’ll see a thousand people or 500 people today who are in charge of maybe a university or may in charge of a company. You’ll meet people from Coca Cola. You’ll meet people from Frito-Lay in charge of logistics. That’s where I started out. And I advise all the younger people getting their college degrees or trying to get it, or just in the business of logistics and go to our conference and attend and listen and pay attention. But then raise your hand and ask a question. And once you get familiar with it, next year, you sign up and you say, I’ll give a lecture on 30 minutes on the best way to pack a box, label so everybody can use it properly, to pack a label on a box that’s in Spanish as well as English. And why? Why do you need it in Spanish and English? And when it says, keep frozen, how do you say keep frozen on that side so it doesn’t wind up in 110-degree tarmac in Kansas City in August and it’s being loaded onto an airplane. Give a lecture and you will establish contacts. You would establish relationships.  

I learned in my early career, learn to write and you learn to write. Write something, not for a journal, but for a magazine. If there’s a company in house magazine, write something about what’s going on in the warehouse and get your name out there. Bob Smith said this about the warehouse. Wow. That’s kinda neat. Next, learn to stand on the stage for 15 minutes and talk to 500 people about something. You’re an expert at something. And the audience is willing to listen. You get up there and speak for 15 minutes, get your confidence so that you can talk to people about a variety of subjects. Learn to talk, learn to write, but also join organizations. You will be successful if you do that, you will be successful.

Chris Gaffney: [00:10:49] Oliver, I have a lot of passion about this topic, but the points you raised are great. It’s a two-way street. It’s one thing to say, I’m building a network so that people can help me, but your key message there is you’ve got to invest. You’ve got to be willing to give, to get. So, I really liked that insight there. 

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:11:06] Yes. You can’t just sit back and say, okay, company send me somewhere so I can meet these people. And they say, well, we don’t have budget for you to go to a conference. Well, they pay you a nice salary, put together five-hundred dollars or a thousand dollars and do it. Now there will be some free ones. I worked in the Washington DC area. There are free government sponsored conferences going on or lectures where experts around the world are brought in to talk about a subject. Come and listen to them and then get up and shake their hands or again, meet other people. That’s a good way to do it without spending too much money, but just tell your boss, I need to be off next Tuesday. I’m going down to this site and you’re going to listen to it. You may listen to a contract being read. You’ll find out how contracts are made, how they have been approved. 

Go to at least one of those paid conferences and you invest, just like going to college and investing in your education. You must invest in your education. If the company will pay for it. That’s good. But if they want you do it, because you will reap the rewards for your life. And even later you’ll be surprised how many people will want to talk to you.

Mike Ogle: [00:12:13] You’re talking about some of the advice as far as networking to both professionals and on the academic side, but given all that industry and academic experience, if you just focus on the students for a moment, how would you advise them today to prepare themselves for a supply chain career? 

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:12:29] The world is changing. The definition of supply chain and the definition of logistics is changing. This pandemic. The last two years has modified what it means to be in supply chain business. You need to learn about it. Also understand and learn and read about artificial intelligence.  You don’t need a college degree in it. Artificial intelligence is smart machines. A lot of you are aware of this already. You’ve got a car. I just bought a 2021. It talks to me. If I put in groceries in the back seat and then get home and turn the car off, it reminds me get the package out of the backseat. 

Learn about how these smart technologies are changing your life, but also helping people do their job in the warehousing. When you look for the next job, you want to use your experience and some education to get a better job paying job. You want to move up to the next level of management or go to another company, learn about this machine intelligence that’s out there. Learn what it’s helping people do. Read about it. Go visit it somewhere. Look at what’s happening to Amazon. I worked with Amazon and they’ve got a lot of little robots that are running around moving boxes. If you look at an Amazon organization, you see a few people working around, but you see a lot of automation running around. Automation is here to help you. Automation may replace you in a job, but there’s going to be a better job and better pay in one, working with automation. So, learn about automation too.

Chris Gaffney: [00:14:24] Now, Oliver, you’ve got a lot of time working with the military, in the military, around the military, and military runs some of the largest and most sophisticated supply chains in the world. And it’s clear to me in industry that there’s a growing focus on helping veterans post-career and getting them plugged in and to leverage their experience in industry. What’s your perception on how far we’ve come and tapping into that resource? What’s worked best. And then what do we need to do to make that process of getting that talent pool into the industry?

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:14:59] Well, the last 10 years, I’ve taught over 7,000 people. My students for the majority part are military. Companies out there, they’re not just willing to hire military, they want to hire military. You may be a little afraid to apply for a job at some company, because you don’t think you have the expertise. You do have the expertise and they know it. Plus, they’re looking for military because you’ve been well-schooled in how to follow rules and regulations. You understand how things break and you know how to fix them. You understand how to do actions that won’t break. You understand how to deal with people. A military person is a great person to deal with people. The companies today are hiring more military, I think, than I’ve ever seen in the last 30 years. 

My six or seven thousand students, they’re getting that college degree in logistics, getting their bachelor’s degree because, if you’ve got that college degree, you’ll get a higher salary. If you’ve got your just experience, that’s good enough. You’ll come in and get a nice salary, a nice job, but it won’t be that higher paying job. You get that college degree, the companies say, you know, they spend enough of their own time to go and invest in that time while they’re raising their children, raising a husband or wife, the grandmother. Working at the same time to get a college degree, they know you’re trying to get better. The military is really being hired today, more so than ever before.

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:14:59] Well, the last 10 years, I’ve taught over 7,000 people. My students for the majority part are military. Companies out there, they’re not just willing to hire military, they want to hire military. You may be a little afraid to apply for a job at some company, because you don’t think you have the expertise. You do have the expertise and they know it. Plus, they’re looking for military because you’ve been well-schooled in how to follow rules and regulations. You understand how things break and you know how to fix them. You understand how to do actions that won’t break. You understand how to deal with people. A military person is a great person to deal with people. The companies today are hiring more military, I think, than I’ve ever seen in the last 30 years. 

My six or seven thousand students, they’re getting that college degree in logistics, getting their bachelor’s degree because, if you’ve got that college degree, you’ll get a higher salary. If you’ve got your just experience, that’s good enough. You’ll come in and get a nice salary, a nice job, but it won’t be that higher paying job. You get that college degree, the companies say, you know, they spend enough of their own time to go and invest in that time while they’re raising their children, raising a husband or wife, the grandmother. Working at the same time to get a college degree, they know you’re trying to get better. The military is really being hired today, more so than ever before.

Chris Gaffney: [00:16:23] I’ve had good experience with that. I think what we’ve learned is, if you’ve already got some folks with military experience in the organization, you can use them to help folks assimilate and make that transition. And I do think you need to give people some advocates to make that transition. But to your point, I think a lot of companies are now seeing that as a valuable source and are getting a bit more structured about how to do it and how to get these folks on their team.

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:16:47] I think people in the military, they might not know about it. I hope they’re listening. Please reach out there. You’re going to be surprised in a positive way, what’s out there for you, the jobs that are there for you, high paying jobs.

Mike Ogle: [00:16:59] Is there anything that the students get at your university to help them through the transition process or to plan for it better?

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:17:08] We’ve got advisors that help our military. We have a wonderful program of advisors who will bring you in. They will advise you not only to be a student, but also how to take certain courses based on your expertise or your dreams, your vision. You’ve got a vision and you’ve got goals. They will listen to you and advise you to take certain courses and get a certain degree, whether it’s a two-year degree or a four-year degree or the topic. They’re not just an advisor. They’re a mentor. We have a lot of military who’ve hired to be the advisor and counselor for you as a military person. It really is a great place to be if you’re military.

Mike Ogle: [00:17:44] And how about the transition on the way out? At the end as well, to be able to help people make that transition into just regular civilian jobs?

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:17:54] That’s why a lot of our advisors are military, as I said. And they went through that transition part, that two years where they advise them and when they get ready to apply for a civilian job, don’t just send your resume that shows all the medals and all the awards and all your military backgrounds. They teach you how to rewrite your resume. They teach you how to understand what’s going on and they really do hold your hand. Here’s how to go for the interview. They’re really your counselor. They’re more than just a college degree. They’re more than just a college factory. They are there to really enhance the next level of your military life to reach that next goal where you’re going as a civilian.  

Mike Ogle: [00:18:33] As your students have been out there going into industry, there’s a lot of things that they end up seeing that, that keep changing, of course. And over the 30 years of teaching, you’ve certainly seen a lot of change in supply chain and the way that industry works. But if you were trying to tell somebody, right now, what are two or three of the biggest influences that you would say you need to be aware of as you’re starting your supply chain career?

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:18:58] First, understand what artificial intelligence or machine intelligence is because you may not have had that exposure in your military career. You may have seen it. You may have seen some robots running around or some drones flying around, but it’s more than that. Artificial intelligence is part of the tools in your toolbox of how to manage people, how to move a box, how to be a supervisor. But that’s one of the big things happening right there, it’s understanding the machine technology that’s around you. That’s probably the most important.  

Next, right now, I guess we call it the service or sustainability supply chain. Understand reverse logistics. The Reverse Logistics Association, RLA. Look at what they do. Read some of their publications, understand sustainability, understand the service supply chain, how things come back. There are jobs out there. And how to reduce waste or do other things like that. And what do you do with a box that comes back? What do you do with the packaging? Do you use plastic? Do you use cardboard? What kind of plastic do you put things in? How do you package something? That’s a big issue today because there’s a great deal on environmental protection that the whole country’s after. We don’t want to waste a lot of things we want to reuse things. So, understand that aspect. The hard thing is what happens when it comes back and you’re in charge of a warehouse. You’ve got to have a plan before they come back. So, understand AI, understand reverse logistics or sustainability.

Chris Gaffney: [00:20:29] Oliver, I think that’s again, great perspective and advice. In the space of artificial intelligence, I went and got a younger employee to be my coach. And he said, the first thing you could do is read a $6 book and the book is called Prediction Machines, and it explains artificial intelligence in very simple terms for supply chain folks. I’d advise people, that’d be a good place to start. And I agree with you that the world of reverse logistics and reverse supply chains is a world of opportunity.  

Now you talk to us about some of the courses you teach in problem solving and critical thinking. And I’d love for you to tell us about a large problem or challenge that you faced somewhere along your career, and how did you sort through it and what did it teach you about your own problem solving skills?

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:21:17] One of the problems that I have been trying to deal with is how to recycle plastic, plastic bottles. I worked with the milk company up in Anchorage, Alaska. I was working with them and they had a big problem with what to do with recycled plastic bottles. And we worked for about 10 years, I worked with him on that, the major problem and how do you deal with it is the waste management aspect. And I learned a great deal about the supply chain, where the bottle caps come from, where the bottles come from, where the printing came from, where the ink was on the paper. It was amazing to find that there are so many things that impact your decisions to recycle. How do you tear something up and use it for another purpose? And we worked hard to try to find various ways. And we did finally work with several organizations, artists. There were a bunch of artists and they found out how to turn plastic bottles into clothing. We worked with some chemical companies and how they turned to plastic bottles and reground those things. And today you can go to a store and buy some clothing that feels pretty good, and it’s made from recycled bottles.  It’s really good looking. It feels good, it doesn’t wrinkle. But that was the biggest thing I was trying to do is learn how to do that. 

Recycling again, that was the biggest one. I really loved it. Recycling is fun and returns and returned products. Again, that reverse logistics just, wow. All over the place. That was my biggest exciting adventure.

Chris Gaffney: [00:22:47] Obviously you have a wealth of experience. So, if you have to offer a few tidbits of advice, navigating a career as you navigated it, what would be the most precious one or two pieces of advice you would offer for our listeners?

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:23:03] I would offer to the listeners to ask yourself what makes you happy? If you just want to get a paycheck? Well, there’s lots of jobs. Go get it. But what job, what career will make you happy? Because if it makes you happy, that’s your identity. And you can tell people later, Hey, look at me. Look for the vision. You will find that there are many opportunities out there. Identify that goal, a vision that makes you happy. That’s my advice to you before you even start that college degree. 

If you’re in the military, for example, you want to have a good second career, but what do you really want to do that make you happy. In the military, you were told here’s what you’re going to do. Well, now you tell yourself what you want to do, you deal with people in a different and more friendly way I think sometimes, listening to them. And so, I just find that goal, that vision, you’ve got a vision, where you want to be in 10 years, you’re getting ready to get out this year. What do you want to be in 10 years, but say where you want to be and then look at those steps and then make some actionable steps. And then take those steps. It may be a college degree, it may be a certificate in how to manage artificial intelligence, robots in a warehouse, and then go take that certificate at the local community college. Yeah, it’s a small course. You’ll find that it’s very interesting. And there is a way to turn it into a paycheck and make you even happier. And have fun along the way. You want a job that gives you fun. When you come home at night, you don’t wipe your head and sweat and say, God, thank God I’m off work today. I don’t want to go back tomorrow. You want to come home and say, honey, let me tell you how great it was today and be excited while you’re eating supper saying, wow, look what we did. That’s what you want to do. 

The next thing is to talk about reverse logistics, sustainability logistics, and that’s really where the jobs are. I’d say the next 10 years. Boom. Okay. Look at what’s happening because this sustainability exploded returns. Companies went nuts trying to find out how do we deal with all these shoes coming back and dresses and other garments. Even food. So, there’s food. A bruised apple. It used to go to a landfill. Let me tell you food reverse logistics is there too. So that’s my most exciting thing. Look at reverse logistics.

Mike Ogle: [00:25:27] Oliver, thank you for a great conversation and your insights about supply chain careers.

Oliver Hedgepeth: [00:25:32] Well, thank you very much. This has been the most exciting topic. And I really love talking to you about this and there’s so much going on in the world, in these areas. I’m glad people are interested in it.