“My research asks, how do we reach people where they live in an urban environment?"
Supply Chain Management - Faculty
John Bell began his military career in 1986, when he went to the United States Air Force Academy as an undergraduate student. He spent the next twenty-four years on active duty, serving as a logistics and air-craft maintenance manager. “I was stationed at eleven different bases during my time in the Air Force,” he says, “including a few years in Europe.”
For several years before he retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2010, Bell actively pursued a second career in academics after earning a master’s in logistics management from the Air Force Institute of Technology and a doctorate in management from Auburn University. “I taught night school at Georgia College, published research, and put myself in a position to have an academic career waiting for me when I retired from the military.”
While attending conferences on supply chain research, Bell met several faculty members from the Haslam College of Business. He admired the college’s nationally ranked supply chain program and the leaders in the field who were part of it. “I was attracted to come here and work with them,” he says. “I feel fortunate that there was an open position when I was ready to begin my full-time academic career.”
Bell brings his wealth of real-world logistics experience to Haslam students. “I tell stories in class about shipping materials around the world,” he says. “It helps to have experience as a practitioner, rather than just teaching them from a book.” Currently, he teaches a survey course in supply chain management that is required for all business students. “I see almost a thousand students a year from all majors within the college,” he says, “and give them a taste of supply chain.”
As a researcher, Bell’s interests center on physical logistics networks and risk management. “I like to look at where we position warehouses around the world and how we deliver goods to customers,” he says. “I spend a lot of time studying vehicle routing and how to make that efficient when we do distribution.” Over the past few years, Bell has delved deeper to focus on how urbanization affects delivery methods.
“My research asks, how do we reach people where they live in an urban environment? For example, do we drive a forty-foot tractor-trailer into downtown Manhattan? Sometimes the solution is to use smaller vehicles or deliver on foot, and sometimes it gets more dynamic.”
Growing consumer concern about fair trade and sustainability is the biggest issue in supply chain and logistics management today, according to Bell. “People are concerned about where their food is coming from and whether there’s slave labor in the supply chain,” he says. “It’s going to be a great area for research. How do we build visibility for supply chains to foster trust between consumers and companies?”
When he’s not researching, consulting, or teaching, Bell enjoys spending time with his wife, Melanie, and their children. He’s also an avid fly fisherman. “I make it back to Montana each summer to visit and go fishing,” he says, “but I love fishing— and living—in Tennessee. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”