It is 2015 and a young woman sits in her high school classroom in Willoughby, Ohio, thinking about her college plans. Friends to her left talk about Case Western Reserve University, while friends to her right chat about the University of Cincinnati. It’s almost Halloween and she reaches in her pocket for a mini–Almond Joy candy bar. She eats it and thinks, “maybe biomedical engineering and a career in prosthetics” would do. With scholarship aid, she soon discovered that her college career would take her over the mountain to West Virginia University.
Michala Luck began her freshman year in 2016 in the engineering program and took another look around.
Reflecting on both her interests and options, she realized that industrial engineering and global supply chain management had several similarities.
Although switching majors also meant losing an engineering scholarship and a potential move back to Ohio, Luck took a leap of faith.
“I needed a landing pad that was ready for me. A place that was going to amplify the excitement that I had and be a launching pad for everything I didn’t know I wanted to do,” she said.
Fall 2017, Luck walked into the John Chambers College of Business and Economics advising center, met Professor Ednilson Bernardes and never looked back.
Luck got into the Global Supply Chain Management program a semester early as a sophomore based on college credits received as a high school senior.
“One quote that I love is, ‘Ambition is not a dirty word.’ You cannot wait for opportunities to come to you, you have to go after what you want.”
Once that GSCM door opened, Luck saw the potential of the program by transcending beyond the classroom and experiencing real-world opportunities with her own two hands.
Her studies did not interfere with her desire to delve into extracurricular activities, either.
Luck was in WVU’s service sorority Omega Phi Alpha, was a co-founder of Global Business Brigades, founded the American Production & Inventory Control Society Student Chapter and the Sigma Chi Mu Tau National Supply Chain Honors Society, and WVU’s first Supply Chain Management Association where she served as president.
“I would tell students to be ready to work really hard. I don’t think that’s something I had to do until I came to college.”
Hard work was just the beginning.
“Spring 2018, I took my first semester of supply chain courses and Dr. Bernardes said they needed a student to be a production control co-op at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing plant in Buffalo, West Virginia, and thought I would be a great fit. At that time, I didn’t have a summer internship lined up and I had just studied the Toyota production system in class, which is the foundation for so many supply chain companies. So I decided to go and learn from the best.”
Not only did doors open for Luck once she found a major to be passionate about, but it was professors like Bernardes and John Saldanha who went above and beyond for students like her to succeed both in and out of the classroom.
“Their interests and their dedication in making the students better, making me better, got me to where I am today.”
Today, Luck is a process lead for The Hershey Company’s Stuarts Draft plant, the company’s largest production facility.
She is one-third of the management team: line lead (production manager), reliability lead (maintenance manager), and Luck, the process lead (continuous improvement manager).
“I’m a 22-year-old woman in manufacturing, I don’t fit the demographic, but both my major and my leadership studies minor set me up for this exact moment.”
The engine that could
Before arriving in Putnam County, West Virginia, for her first internship at Toyota in 2018, she had no clue what the inside of a car engine looked like. A fast learner, she spent the next eight months being the project manager for the Corolla engine. So if you get a 2020 or newer Toyota Corolla, she played a part in that engine.
Then Spring 2019 arrived and so did the hardcore GSCM classes.
After more studies, research and networking, Luck landed another big-time internship at Walmart. She became the first WVU student to intern for Walmart eCommerce, where she spent a summer in New York City at their Jet.com office serving as inventory management and operations intern for the Walmart.com sporting goods division.
“Out of about 350 total interns scattered throughout the country, I ended that summer being the top-ranked supply chain intern for all of Walmart.”
From auto-manufacturing supply chain to eCommerce distribution, Luck now had two of the best experiences from two big companies under her belt.
“Toyota came from my relationship with professors and Walmart came from an application I submitted through LinkedIn, which shows WVU definitely has the credentials to stand among the crowd.”
When Fall 2019 came, Luck sought a new experience to kick off her senior year.
She discussed her options with faculty and staff, took advantage of the Chambers College Center for Career Development (CCD), attended the Career Fair and got involved with the Young Professionals Network.
That September, she landed a full-time job at ABB, a large engineering firm outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, and was signed on for the rotational development program.
Then, COVID-19 reared its ugly head and had other plans.
More than just luck
In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the world, altering life as we know it.
It led to shifts in business and, unfortunately for Luck, a global hiring freeze at ABB. Luck received a call from the hiring manager rescinding her job offer.
Everything she had worked for was gone. Or, at least that is what she thought at the time.
“The pandemic was shocking the world, but I also knew at that time that the world runs on supply chain and needed the best supply chain now more than ever.”
When others saw paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies and bottles of water flying off the shelves, Luck saw an opportunity.
“I rented a car and drove back from Florida, moved off campus, and went to live with my boyfriend (who was a process engineer for Procter & Gamble) in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. While I was there, I saw two-mile lines of semitrucks outside of P&G warehouses waiting to fill up on paper towels, toilet paper, bleach, all of the cleaning products that P&G makes, so even though I wasn’t working – I was finishing up classes – I was hearing it and seeing the realities of the pandemic through his eyes.
“What got me through it was knowing I could do something to help.”
ABB cutting her job before it began was a blessing in disguise.
Luck took to LinkedIn with an honest, heartfelt post about how the pandemic caused her job offer to be rescinded, and how she was lost and looking for a meaningful job.
And. It. Went. Viral.
Later that evening, Luck received a LinkedIn message from the chief supply chain officer at Hershey.
“He said that he saw my LinkedIn post, thought I would be a great candidate for Hershey and asked if I had time to interview the next day.”
Twelve hours later, she had a Zoom interview with Hershey and received a job offer on the spot.
Today, she is one of three managers who leads the four production lines for Almond Joy, Take 5, Mounds and Mr. Goodbar.
“What is cool about Almond Joy, Take 5 and Mounds, is that we are the sole source of those three. Each one of those candy bars across the world comes off my production lines. If we don’t get it out the door, there won’t be any to enjoy.”
And since Hershey produces food, Luck was an essential worker, on-foot at the factory while others shifted to remote work during the pandemic.
“I wear cargo pants with more pockets and more chocolate stains on them than you can imagine, and I don’t think I would want to work from home even if I could.
“Our coconut comes from the Philippines, the chocolate comes from Africa, the milk comes from Pennsylvania, the almonds from California. Supply chain is everywhere and products are placed in specific places for consumers not by accident.”
So the next time you see an Almond Joy at the grocery store checkout line, you may think of Luck.
Rooted in GSCM
Reflecting on her days at WVU, Luck praised the ever-evolving GSCM program to guiding her to where she is today.
“While it is a growing program, you take courses in order and with the same group of students. You get to know your classmates well and, on top of that, the impact I was able to have as a student through the variety of experiential learning programs was extremely special.”
One of her favorite memories was working with West Virginia’s Department of Agriculture (for the GSCM 430 technology course) to optimize the school lunch program for kids in the state of West Virginia. Luck and her classmates took what they learned in the classroom and made recommendations to a group that acquired better quality food to students throughout the state.
She will also never forget when a cold call turned into a dinner invitation.
In early 2020, Luck called Mon Health Medical Center in hopes of setting up a meeting so that she and other students could learn about supply chain systems in healthcare. Instead, the president and CEO of Mon Health System invited her and the students to dinner with Mon Health leaders.
And what is a professional dinner without a professional wardrobe?
Luck received the Young Professionals Network (YPN) scholarship (a $1,000 reimbursable scholarship) to be used towards any professional development endeavor, such as grad school applications, study abroad funds or a professional wardrobe.
“I went shopping and I outfitted my entire professional wardrobe either from the clearance section at New York & Company or at local thrift stores, and I owe that to YPN scholars.”
Eye candy for the future
Today, Luck sits in her office looking at her big jar of Reese’s Pieces and reminiscing on her time at the Chambers College.
She takes a few and says, “maybe being a professor would be nice.”
“I realize that for as much as a launching pad as WVU was for me, I could be that for other groups of students.”
Even though Luck will not be a student once Reynolds Hall opens in 2022, she has plans to return to campus to see the new Wehrle Global Supply Chain Lab – which she played a part in fundraising - and to give back to students through experiential learning projects, guest speaking opportunities, business events and more. She’s already been asked to provide a guest lecture for GSCM 470 in Spring 2022.
Her future is just getting started.
She is currently working on her micro-masters through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), planning to pursue a master’s in supply chain management through MIT or Arizona State, and aiming for a Ph.D. at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
“Everything that happens behind the scenes is supply chain management and I think I would make a great chief supply chain officer one day.
“There is so much I want to learn and there is no specific end goal other than I want to have a well-rounded career and give myself the best shot I can, and then hopefully teach global supply chain management at the college level. I think that is the best way I can give back.”
Luck’s hardworking spirit will never fall short on anything she puts her mind to.
It’s true. She has a pretty sweet job and big plans for her future, but she believes “it is everything I am capable of and excited to do.”