Advancing Productivity, Innovation, and Competitive Success


A History of the Grand Rapids APICS Chapter

In the early 1960s, manufacturing companies were not computerized. Each company evolved processes not likely to be found in other companies. Managers typically believed that, if you worked for a lawnmower manufacturer, you could learn nothing useful from a snowblower manufacturer. But two employees of Lear Siegler believed all manufacturing companies shared some common problems for which there may be common solutions.  Colleagues Paul Berkebile and Ed Thauer heard of a professional organization called APICS that believed the same thing. The hope that West Michigan manufacturing companies could share knowledge and solutions led Berkebile and Thauer to organize an APICS chapter. Initial meetings were held in late 1961 and the Grand Rapids chapter was formally chartered in March of 1962. Paul Berkebile was the first president and Ed Thauer was the second.

The Grand Rapids APICS chapter began with just a handful of members but grew rapidly because the area’s economy was rooted in manufacturing and larger companies like Lear Siegler, Bissel, Wolverine World Wide and Steelcase supported their supply chain personnel’s membership. In the 1960s, the APICS focus was on lot sizes. The perfect run quantity had to be large enough to make the setups worthwhile for the operations manager but small enough to minimize the accountant’s concern for inventory investment. Of course, no lot size ever satisfied either one.

By 1970, the Grand Rapids chapter’s membership had exceeded 100 and the concern over the perfect quantity of the production run was overshadowed by the introduction of MRP. MRP automated what planners had, for years, failed to do manually… back off dependent demand leadtimes through multiple levels of the bill of material. This capability subordinated the concern for precise run quantity to a concern for precise timing of the production run. APICS people came to agree that having a few extra pieces at the right time is better than a more precise quantity available late. During the 1970s, large companies continued to add to our membership and smaller companies also began to recognize the benefits of APICS membership. By the end of the 1970s, chapter membership was equally divided between members from a few large companies and members from many smaller companies. Total membership exceeded 400.

The 1980s saw Just-In-Time become the newest movement in operations management. It encouraged manufacturers to become lean and this represented an explosion of new thinking. Supply chain people who were not previously interested in APICS membership now joined so they would not be left behind as the world marched toward lean. The 1980s became the time of greatest growth for our chapter. Annual Spring Seminars brought keynote speakers from around the country and earned enough money to fund most of the chapter’s activities for the year. This enabled our chapter to fly in leading-edge speakers for our Professional Development Meetings (PDMs ), assigning speaker coordinators to manage their every concern. Brightly colored solid brass mugs were given in appreciation and flowers were sent to the speaker’s significant other as thanks for sharing him or her. In-demand speakers, who routinely turned down other chapters, eagerly accepted our invitations to speak at our well-organized, well-attended events. APICS notables like Gene Woolsey, Darrell Landvader, Steven A. Melnyk and Dave Garwood appeared regularly at our PDMs. The Top Management PDM in September, 1987 saw Frank Merlotti, President of Steelcase, address a record 352 attendees on the subject of balancing your work life with personnel life. That same year the chapter enjoyed an average attendance of 252 per PDM; one less than the previous year’s record of 253 per PDM.

In 1982, the national APICS organization initiated the chapter awards program. This program established standards for chapter performance in areas of member retention, member education, communication, financial stability, etc. Our chapter’s board of directors recognized that this program was an independent evaluation of how effective a chapter planned and executed the various responsibilities for which it was chartered. They immediately began to follow the national guidelines and won the highest award, the Gold Circle Award, for five years in a row. Five consecutive years of Gold Circle Awards raises the award to the Platinum Award level. The Grand Rapids chapter has won this highest possible award since the awards program began. No other chapter even comes close to that record.

It was in the ‘80s that our chapter began the annual Company of the Year Award, the Member of the Year Award, and chartered its first student chapter at Ferris State University. It also started student scholarships, college endowments and was an ongoing sponsor of the Grand Rapids Junior Achievement program. By the end of the 1980s, the Grand Rapids chapter was the eighth largest chapter in the country with over 800 members. Steelcase alone had 60-plus members. The seven chapters larger than Grand Rapids were Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Boston. Chapters in major industrial areas like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Indianapolis and St. Louis could not match our membership numbers.

In 1986, many years in advance of the national organization’s creation of the Basics of Supply Chain Management course, Darrell Vande Hoef, Deb Walters and Deb Smith developed the 5-Day Basics Class.  Also in the 1980s, Darrell Vande Hoef, Harris Neely and Randall Schaefer developed the 3-Day Planner’s Seminar. Membership education was popular and going strong.

Later in the 1980s, our chapter teamed with Michigan State University to hold the world’s first Tooling Management Conference. Randall Schaefer from our chapter and Professor Steven A. Melnyk from Michigan State University selected vital topics in this emerging field and scoured the country to find experts to speak on them. The two day conference attracted attendees from around the country and the written proceedings were quickly dispersed around the world.

Also in the late 1980s, the national APICS organization began to roll out formal courseware to help members prepare for CPIM exams. Grand Rapids was one of the first chapters to offer these classes, with veteran chapter members as instructors. Randall Schaefer taught the MRP module and edited math errors as he went along (gross requirements were 10, 5 were available, so the net requirement was… 3(?), that sort of thing). National APICS made every correction and sent a letter of thanks to our chapter.

By this time, the Grand Rapids chapter had become a “go to” chapter when other chapters were having trouble. During these years, our presidents routinely took calls from chapters around the country needing help with member retention, advanced planning, fiscal integrity, etc. Our annual agenda for the Summer Planning Session, during which the current board of directors closes the current year and the new board plans the upcoming year, became the standard for APICS boards of directors everywhere.

The Grand Rapids chapter had a national impact on APICS and this motivated our Board of Directors to create the Paul Berkebile Award. Named after our first chapter president, this rare award is given to a chapter member who has made major, long-standing contributions to APICS and APICS education beyond the local chapter. In the nearly 30 years since its creation, the Paul Berkebile Award had been presented only six times:

  • Cecil Bradshaw for spreading the APICS gospel nationwide through consulting and PDM presentations to APICS chapters and for multiple presentations at the annual international conference
  • MSU Professor Steven A. Melnyk PhD for spreading the APICS gospel nationwide through consulting and PDM presentations to APICS chapters, multiple presentations at the annual international conference, publishing textbooks used by colleges to teach operations management, publishing articles that introduced leading-edge ideas like tooling management and green manufacturing, authoring the Back to Basics feature in APICS magazine and co-developing the world’s first tooling management conference
  • Randall Schaefer for spreading the APICS gospel nationwide through consulting and PDM presentations to APICS chapters, multiple presentations at the annual international conference, publishing articles on operations management, authoring the Lessons Learned feature in APICS magazine and co-developing the world’s first tooling management conference
  • Deb Smith for spreading the APICS gospel nationwide through PDM presentations to APICS chapters and multiple presentations at Regional events, publishing articles on operations management, service on the National Nominating Committee, National Field Judge for Chapter Awards, judge for the Fogarty Award, APICS book reviewer, member of the APICS TEAM Workshop Committee, many years on region staff, Region 14 Student Paper Competition judge, co-developing the first 5-Day Basics Class, Tooling Management Conference committee.
  • Darrell Vande Hoef for spreading the APICS gospel nationwide through consulting and PDM presentations to APICS chapters, publishing articles, co-developing and instructing the first 5-day Basics Class, developing and instructing the 3-Day Planner’s seminar.

  • Wendy Kremers for exemplary service to APICS at the local Chapter, Region/District and Association levels of leadership and for outstanding contributions to furthering the APICS Body of Knowledge. Wendy was a pioneer in teaching "Lean" concepts to the Grand Rapids local and Northern regions. She was the guru and master not only for our area but for many areas of the U.S as she taught these concepts for anyone who asked for assistance. Wendy also volunteered (15) years of her career leading APICS as a Grand Rapids Chapter President, as a Regional volunteer with (2) of those years as Region #14 Vice President and on the APICS Association as a member of the National Nominating Committee, TEAM Workshops, International Conference Committee and as Co-Chair and Chair of the 2005 and 2006 International Conferences. Wendy also served on the APICS Association Board of Directors as Executive Vice President and Vice President Educational Development. Wendy presented at local and Regional events as well as at International Conferences and for APICS in Paris, France. 

During the 1990s, industry was pushing for a complete integration of all activities in manufacturing and distribution environments. From marketing, product life cycle planning, accounting, human resources, information technology and supply chain, manufacturing was to be one unified symphony of efficiency.  This greatly expanded the body of knowledge APICS members needed to know. By 1990, our chapter had become a showcase of effective management and an example for providing superior education to its members. But we needed to expand our PDM topics to serve the broadened educational focus.  We located speakers and offered PDMs on new topics like team building, change management, product life cycle management, global competition, career management and more. Introduction of the new CIRM certification program brought demand for review course offerings on broad, enterprise-wide topics.

In the early 1990s, the chapter began a concerted effort to increase support for the northern region, offering occasional PDMs and CPIM review classes to members living and working up North. Members from Reed City to Traverse City found PDMs and classes in Cadillac more convenient than driving to the Grand Rapids area. We hope we can offer more in the future.

Also in the ‘90s, the chapter introduced in-house education classes. These classes allowed companies to bring APICS courses into their facility at a fraction of the cost of sending employees to the same evening classes held at a conference center. These in-house classes could better focus on the challenges faced by the host company; the instructor could take more time with local issues and all questions would be pertinent to the host company.  Our chapter also began offering more seminars developed by experienced chapter members to supplement the classes developed by the international APICS organization, including topics such as cycle counting, capacity management, and managing obsolescence. During this decade, the chapter discontinued its annual flighted Spring Seminar; single-topic seminars and certification review classes were more popular at the time.  

The 1990s was not a decade of membership growth but it was a time of increased chapter maturity. We expanded our offerings in both classes and PDMs as APICS expanded its interest in operations management and supply chain issues beyond manufacturing.  At the same time, we discontinued activities that were relevant to a new chapter but less relevant to a mature chapter.

By 2000, manufacturing was moving offshore and Michigan was hit harder than most states. Since the turn of the century, a severe reduction in manufacturing activity caused a severe reduction in our membership numbers. Companies that remained often cut costs by no longer supporting APICS membership for employees below the manager level. Other manufacturing-based professional organizations also suffered loss of members. Our chapter began to format more of its PDMs as joint meetings with those other organizations. Groups representing the purchasing function, accounting, quality assurance, industrial engineering and project management routinely scheduled joint meetings with APICS. This fit perfectly with APICS’ goal of exposing members to functions other than supply chain.  Globalization and sustainability topics of this decade also resonated well with the broader audience.

When the international APICS organization rolled out the new CSCP certification program early in the decade, our chapter organized both public and in-house review classes to support this expansion of the body of knowledge.

This was also a time to forge new relationships; the APICS chapter board of directors acted with other West Michigan based professional organizations, MSU and The Right Place to develop the annual Midwest Supply Chain Management Conference. This has proven very successful in exposing our members to issues of general business/economic concern as well as supply chain management.

Today, the Grand Rapids APICS chapter continues its mission to provide premier supply chain education to its members and continues to be a leader among chapters worldwide. We have confidence that the future will include many more successes that will add to our chapter history.

This history as told by:  Randall Schaefer, CPIM & Debra L. Smith, CFPIM, CIRM, CSCP with Berkebile update by Dan Braun, CPIM, CIRM, CSCP.  Randall and Deb welcome your input and the addition of information to continue the legacy.