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Mary Holcomb

Holcomb and one of her me granddaughte’s during an afternoon outing in Cades Cove.

Holcomb and one of her granddaughters during an afternoon outing at Cades Cove.

Mary Holcomb is the Gerald T. Niedert Professor of Supply Chain Management and the Charles and Dorothy Duggan Faculty Research Fellow in the Haslam College of Business. She has taught supply chain management at UT for 25 years, but her history with the university goes back even further. Her bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are all from UT, and except for a two-year faculty position at Iowa State University and some intermittent corporate work, she’s always called Rocky Top home.

Why this field?

Holcomb was drawn to the field of supply chain management because of its incredible range of applications.

“Over the course of my career I’ve worked for a railroad, I’ve worked for General Motors, and I’ve done multiple projects involving operations for Milliken & Company,” she said.

The work has allowed her to do all kinds of things. For instance, when she was at Burlington Northern Railroad, she worked on car designs, studied the intersection between operations and marketing, and even built car models.

“[Working in supply chain] is just a phenomenal situation. I tell people I’m still trying to decide what I want to be when I grow up,” she said.

Outside interests

Holcomb loves landscaping and gardening—and she sees a surprising parallel between supply chain skills and landscaping.

Holcomb used to live on 10 acres where she gardened extensively.

“Since we moved, we only have a half acre, so we have to be very selective in terms of what goes into that. Hardscape has to come first.”

She likens the art of landscaping to the way a company structures itself—starting with critical pieces like manufacturing and distribution facilities and then building out.

In landscaping, she says, “we’ve learned that things like shrubs, the gazebos, the barn—those things have to be in place. Then you add all the things to it that make it flow.”

Much of Holcomb’s family lives in the Knoxville area, and she spends as much time as possible with her children and grandchildren.

Favorite spot on campus

She likes places that integrate the natural with the urban world. The Humanities and Social Sciences Amphitheatre and the hidden gardens near the Claxton Education Building are two of her favorite spots.