At 23 Tom Mentzer was in line to run General Motors’ Parts Division in Detroit, a huge opportunity for any recent engineering grad. And although he had always excelled in his studies, Mentzer realized it wasn’t the moving parts but instead the movement of parts that fascinated him.
"I was really more interested in how the parts got there," Mentzer says. "All these parts came from all over the country, all over the world, and they ended up in our hands."
This month Mentzer, the Harry J. and Vivienne R. Bruce Chair of Excellence in Business professor in the Department of Marketing and Logistics, joins the inaugural class of UT Knoxville Chancellor’s Professors, a new designation that is the highest permanent academic honor on the campus.
Growing up in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, he began pitching in at his father’s trucking company as a teenager. That’s when he became interested in the idea of supply and demand and all the steps that go into completing that process.
After leaving General Motors, Mentzer earned a master’s degree in marketing and a doctorate in both marketing and logistics from Michigan State.
In the 30 years since writing his dissertation on supply chain demand, Mentzer has become one of the country’s leading scholars in marketing and logistics strategy.
Mentzer does not take the term scholar lightly. "A student will read and study everything out there on a particular topic," he says, "but a scholar is someone who contributes to the body of knowledge in a field."
And contribute he has-with more than 190 papers and articles as well as nine books published. His writings and classrooms lectures are born out of his research. A scientist has his laboratory. Mentzer has the business world.
"Architecture students design things," Mentzer says. "Medical students work with patients. I work with companies because they’re my laboratory. Working with businesses is the only way to really test ideas and theories in my field."
And that’s what he’s happiest doing-researching, writing, teaching.
Tom and his wife, Brenda, a reading teacher in the Oak Ridge Schools, have two daughters: Ashley, a preschool teacher in Knoxville, and Erin, a logistics analyst who also lives in Knoxville.