Sunday, March 29, 2009

Amherst as the Center of the Universe and Powerful Women

On Friday, March 27, 2009, the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter had the pleasure of hosting Professor June Dong. Her talk on supply chain disruptions generated numerous questions and brought issues such as traceability in food supply chains to the fore. In addition, she emphasized that the framework today that needs to be captured is that of supply chain versus supply chain competition. She also identified how the work that we had done regarding the Nagurney-Qiang measure could be applied to identify the most important nodes and links in supply chains and the impact of their "removal." What a pleasure it was to host one of our former PhDs -- Dr. June Dong received her PhD from UMass Amherst in 1994 and is a Full Professor at the School of Business at SUNY Oswego. She has held the prestigious Chow Fellowship and various appointments in China.

One brilliant female speaker would have sufficed but we were being "spoiled." Late that afternoon, Sheila Bair, the Chairperson of the FDIC, spoke at the Isenberg School. As I had mentioned in an earlier post, she is a colleague of mine and on leave from the Isenberg School. The Flavin auditorium was filled and even retired faculty and numerous students attended. Along with Dr. June Dong, and another colleague, Jennifer Taub, we found seats towards the front of the auditorium and enjoyed Sheila's presentation immensely. It was on-point, articulate, and punctuated by jokes from her recent experiences. The Q&A was dynamic, illuminating, and very interesting. In my discussions with Taub and Dong we came up with that toxins in food supply chains that Dong had remarked upon in her talk (from the infant formula poisoning in China to the salmonella in the peanut plant in the US) are similar to the toxic financial assets that Bair had talked about. Nothing like network theory to help to identify similarities and differences between applications!

Yesterday (Saturday), as we were catching our breaths from a week that included a PhD dissertation defense, distinguished speakers, and deadlines for proposals to book chapters and paper revisions, we decided to have dinner in downtown Amherst. Sitting in Amherst Chinese Foods, which is owned by Dr. Chang, who also runs his own farm in Whately, my daughter looks out of the window and exclaims: "there is Sheila Bair with her daughter and some friends and I think that she is coming to this restaurant." Indeed, that was the case. Sheila Bair owns a home on Main Street in Amherst and it was a delight to see her and her daughter the day after her presentation at the Isenberg School.

As we left the restaurant we chatted and strolling back to our car I heard a "Hello Professor Nagurney -- how are you?!" Lo and behold, it was one of my undergraduates who had taken my Transportation & Logistics class last semester. He was standing in front of his place of work (yes, we do have a wine/liquor store in downtown Amherst). I informed my family that this student was a Commonwealth College student at UMass Amherst and last semester traveled to St. Andrews, Scotland, to visit his girlfriend. Later in the evening, I pick up my New York Times and there is an article on and photo of Dr. Louise Richardson, the President (first female) of the University of St. Andrews! The article noted that she was one of seven children and that she had received her PhD from Harvard and had been a faculty member there. However, it missed that she had been Executive Dean of the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University where I had been a Fellow in 2005 -- 2006. I know Louise from my time at Harvard and she is an expert on terrorism and just a delightful person with an accent that sings!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Good News and the Isenberg School of Management

What a day it was! Yesterday, one of my doctoral students, Patrick Qiang, at the Isenberg School of Management (ISOM), successfully defended his doctoral dissertation entitled, "Network Efficiency/Performance Measurement with Vulnerability and Robustness Analysis with Application to Critical Infrastructure." Patrick gave a terrific one hour presentation on his dissertation and his committee consisted of Professors June Dong, Ana Muriel, and Sanjay Nawalkha. His concentration is in Management Science. It was great to see so many of our doctoral students in the audience supporting him. Patrick is an Associate of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks as is Professor June Dong. Last night we celebrated with a lovely dinner at La Piazza in Amherst, Massachusetts.

The above speaks to one reason why I love the Isenberg School of Management -- our outstanding students, from the doctoral and Master's students to the undergraduates. Speaking of undergraduates, one of my advisees, who has a double major in operations management and economics stopped by my office the other day to chat. The work ethic exhibited by this student, which is characteristic of many of our students, is amazing. Not only is he a double major, but he also is a Resident Assistant in a dorm, plus he even works at Staples in his "free" time. What touched me most during our conversation was when he talked about his dreams and that he loves the Isenberg School, UMass Amherst, and the town of Amherst so much. I told this wonderful student that many of the faculty stay at the Isenberg School because we also really love what it stands for and the amazing people -- from students to faculty to staff and alumni that make up the school. The Isenberg School has always been willing to take risks and to think "out of the box."

For example, a few years ago, the then Dean, Dr. Tom O'Brien, appointed Sheila Bair as the Dean's Professor of Regulatory Policy and Sheila had an office two doors down from me for about 2 years. As everyone knows now, Sheila Bair is Chair of the FDIC, and has been identified as the second most powerful female in the world, after Angela Merkel. Sheila Bair will be speaking today at the Isenberg School after Professor June Dong gives her presentation. Dr. Dong received her PhD from UMass Amherst in 1994. As you may have heard, Sheila will be one of three recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award at ceremonies in Boston in May. Congratulations to the ISOM family!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Learning from Students, Getting a PhD, and Travel to China

Next Thursday and Friday will be very special. On Thursday, March 26, 2009, Patrick Qiang is scheduled to defend his doctoral dissertation, "Network Efficiency / Performance Measurement with Vulnerability and Robustness Analysis with Application to Critical Infrastructure." I have had the privilege of chairing Patrick's doctoral dissertation committee at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. Patrick will be my 14th doctoral student to graduate. Of special note -- a member of his dissertation committee is Professor June Dong who received her PhD in 1994 from UMass Amherst and is now a Full Professor at the School of Business at SUNY Oswego. Professor Dong will be speaking in the UMass Amherst Spring 2009 INFORMS Speaker Series the following day. Her talk will be on supply chain disruptions. Professor Dong was also a PhD student of mine and her journey from China has been amazing. In a sense, she took me back to her home, when I visited Shanghai in August 2006. I had the very special honor of being a plenary speaker at the Fudan Management Science Forum and was also on the Fudan Management Science Prize Committee. My Chinese hosts could not have been more gracious. What made the trip even more special was being with Professor June Dong who showed me where she had gone to school in Shanghai, where her family had lived, and provided me with a wonderful education on her city.

To obtain a PhD is a lengthy and difficult process. To have had students such as the ones that I have had the privilege to teach and to work with, makes the years of effort most worthwhile! What could make a professor prouder than having students succeed and "fly on their won wings!"

Monday, March 16, 2009

New York Times -- Retraining B-Schools

In a recent article in the New York Times, "Is it Time to Retrain B-Schools?" it is argued that business schools need to seriously reexamine their curricula and foci. Clearly, this stems from the economic/financial collapse and the reexamination of important values, social issues, as well as, ethics. The article also emphasizes the need for business education to promote "relevance." I must say that it was precisely "relevance" that attracted me to be an academic at a university-based business school, since I recognized that in business research and education interdisciplinarity is essential. The NYTimes article also appears to criticize "technical" approaches to business problem-solving and perhaps that is a misunderstanding -- business problems can gain an immense amount of insights from technical approaches but these require appropriate methods and methodologies and not just a quick and simple approach. Hence, business scholarship and research are ever more important today as is the education and mentoring of PhD students in business. The article also goes on to highlight that B-schools should be emphasizing environmental research. We have been doing that since the early 1990s! For some articles on supply chains, risk management, and environmental issues, we refer you to the publications page of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks.

As for societal relevance, let me add the following. Last year I had the distinct honor and privilege of convening the conference, "Humanitarian Logistics: Networks for Africa," under the sponsorship of the Rockefeller Foundation and its Bellagio Center Program. The conference took place May 5-9, 2008 at the Foundation's Center on Lake Como, Italy. You may ask, what is the relevance of a B-school professor being engaged in such an activity? It was a high-risk endeavor but life and research-transforming. I brought together researchers and practitioners in humanitarian logistics and members of NGOs and the United Nation's International Telecommunication Union. Invited speakers were from the continents of Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. The logistics of getting the speakers together, in itself, was a challenge, due to visa issues, for example, of several African conferees. And then, Cyclone Nargis hit in Myanmar/Burma, and our representative from the World Food Program had to be rerouted but, nevertheless, relayed information to us from the field! The faculty at the conference included faculty from top B-schools in Europe as well as from top engineering schools in the US. The insights and experiences of our African scholars and practitioners provided a serious reality check for all.

No conference that I have participated in to-date moved me more nor challenged me more. By the end, we all recognized that different perspectives to pressing issues of humanitarian logistics, both quantitative as well as qualitative, are essential, with lessons learned and best practices obtained from experiences in the field. The approaches to resolving problems in humanitarian logistics are years behind those in corporate settings, especially regarding supply chains. Where, however, is the risk higher or the uncertainty greater than in humanitarian logistics while the need to provide essential services and provisions the greatest? Where is the need for cooperation greater? Where is the need for forecasting events greater than in those scenarios that affect humans' lives and the fundamental resources and infrastructure?

So I say back to the New York Times, look more deeply, and you will see that some of the toughest problems surrounding humanity and the new world order are being recognized and studied in B-schools!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thank you, Vienna, and the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration

The four days in Vienna have come to an end. The majesty of the Hofburg Palace with its state rooms, the beauty of the works of art in the Leopold Museum and the Albertina, the echoes of the music in the apartments of Beethoven and Mozart, are now embedded as memories. Vienna is a European capital in which time seems to have stood still. I managed to find the apartment where my mother lived with my uncle in the mid-1940s while they were students at the University of Vienna and the Technical University of Vienna, respectively. I saw the church where they had worshipped and where my uncle fell in love with my aunt only to see her again as refugees in New York City. What struck me most about this glorious city was the elegance -- of the architecture, the shops (from stamp collector shops to all sorts of specialty shops, including marvelous chocolate stores, and leather, hat, and clothing stores), and of the people. Music could be heard most everywhere that we walked.

It was safe to stroll through parks at night. The city was so clean and the transportation infrastructure simply fantastic! As we had seen last summer in Paris, there were bike rental units set up on the streets, the colorful trams flowed quietly and in a timely fashion, and our taxi driver to the airport showed up dressed in a suit and tie! I inquired of many that I met about the impact of the economic crisis and was told that Vienna and the Viennese are conservative; "we value what we have, and we are not (yet) feeling any effects of the global slowdown."

Against this magnificent backdrop, in a city of highest culture, and a center for the arts, literature, music, science, and psychology/psychiatry, I gave my invited lecture at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. The title of my lecture was "Synergies and Vulnerabilities of Supply Chain Networks in a Global Economy." Professor Manfred Fischer, my esteemed host, along with his assistant, Mr. Thomas Seyffertitz, made the wonderful arrangements for my lecture and visit. I very much appreciated their attention to detail and the specialness of the formalities. For example, Full Professors are assigned seats in the lecture hall with name tags and sit in the front of the room. The speaker is escorted by the host once everyone is seated and then introduced.

Time, indeed, "stood still." My lecture was to begin at 5PM and did so shortly therafter. When I next glanced at my watch it was 7PM! The questions that I received from the audience were brilliant and will generate further research. I was also so pleased to see so many females in the audience, which included faculty, students, and researchers from business specialties, from transportation, engineering, and statistics.

The innovations at Professor Manfred Fischer's Institute are amazing -- from an MBA with a specialty in infrastructure management to a new Master's program in supply chain management that will include different specialties, including a GIS (Geographic Information Systems) one. The dinner that followed in a local "pub" allowed for a continuation of the discussions and conversations in which we identified similarities/differences between business education in the US and in Austria (notably, in Vienna). We also discussed the importance of scholarship and adding to the scientific literature through one's research and the value of collaborative research. To see Professor Fischer's office filled with journals and his numerous books and articles is to be inspired!

I cannot thank my hosts sufficiently for the outstanding warmth and hospitality extended to me. Also, to see how Vienna "works" in 2009 is to have hope for the world. It is time to value what truly matters and "lasts."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Leaving Innsbruck, Austria and the Train Ride to Vienna

We left Innsbruck, Austria yesterday morning. The Innsbruck train station was rebuilt in the past couple of years and houses wonderful food stores with premade sandwiches and pastries, a post office, newsstands, and is decorated with large oil paintings. The taxi drove us from our guest house in Old Town directly into the station at the boarding level. The Austrian announcer apologized that our train to Vienna arrived two minutes late but still left on time. We had a compartment for 6 with a sliding glass door and our compartment mate was a gentleman who was traveling by train to Istanbul. The journey to Vienna took 5 hours and en route we saw mountains, snow, forests, green valleys, beautiful homes and the train stopped in Kufstein, Salzburg, Linz, St. Poelten, and Vienna. We were pleasantly surprised to have a dressed up waiter knock on the door of our compartment to ask whether we would like the coffee or the cappuccino that he was carrying on a tray.

The rocking of the train had many of the passengers drifting in and out of sleep. Wouldn't it be wonderful if more travelers in the US could experience and take advantage of such train/rail travel?!

We arrived in Vienna on time and after a short taxi ride made it to our hotel. Our room on the 11th floor has a balcony with a view of the Stadt Park with the famous gold statue of Johann Strauss.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Back to Innsbruck, Austria

The trip to Innsbruck via Frankfurt was terrific. Lufthansa left Boston Logan airport on time and except for the fact that I was in the middle seat and we had some minor turbulence, the flight was great. Luckily, I had wonderful traveling companions in the neighboring seats, a female who works in Executive Education in design at Harvard and a supply chain/quality expert from Analog Devices. The conversation that I had with them left me up-to-date as to some of the goings-on at Harvard and on supply chain challenges in the semiconductor industry. The Lufthansa flight landed early in Frankfurt and after a 2 and a half hour layover we proceeded via Tyrolean Air through the Alps (what a view) to Innsbruck. A lawyer couple from Brookline that we had met in Logan that was going skiing in Innsbruck was on the same flight.

The hotel that we are staying at in Innsbruck has been a guest house since the late 1500s. Having spent over 4 months on a Fulbright here in 2002 one would think that few would remember us. That was not the case -- even in our favorite Greek restaurant they remembered that we like ambrosia (yogurt, honey, and walnuts) as an appetizer! We visited our daughter's former school Volksschule Hottinge that now has a big gym built for the children, from grades 1 through 4. Now there is an afterschool program. In 2002, children needed to be picked up around noon which would play havoc with dual career families who did not have an opa and oma (grandpa and grandma) to help out.

We visited our neighbors on 96 Schneeburgasse and were greeted with hugs by the daughter and two children. Flowers (this is March 6, mind you, and we are surrounded by the Alps) were blooming in the garden. The Weiermair villa, which we had rented on 94 Schneeburgasse, is now replaced by a large condo complex.

Of course, we also stopped by the SOWI Business School and got to see my former secretary who was there with her 150 pound plus Newfoundlander dog and tiny dachsund. We even got to see Professor Richard Hule, who had been one of my hosts while I was on the Fulbright at the University of Innsbruck. Would you believe, he was wearing a UMass t-shirt that I had given him years ago! Life is filled with serendipitous moments such as those.

Tonight we hope to visit one of our favorite restaurants in Innsbruck which is on top of a mountain and is a farm restaurant.

Innsbruck is thriving with lovely small shops busy with customers, and children and pedestrians filling the streets. When I asked how the economy is doing, I was told several times, that people here do not ask for / need as much as in the US, and they appreciate what they have. I think there is some special wisdom here.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Was it Only a Year Ago -- My "Second" Fulbright

Today is March 1, 2009, and it feels that March is coming in as a lion with a lot of snowfall expected in New England!

In my last post I wrote about my first Fulbright, which took place in Innsbruck, Austria, and began in March, 2002. In 2005, I was awarded a Distinguished Chaired Fulbright in Canada but could not accept that and a Science Fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard so I declined the Fulbright in Canada. Wanting to experience another Fulbright adventure, I applied for a Senior Fulbright Specialist Award in Business Administration and was informed last year by the Italian Fulbright Commission that I was granted the award. My "second" Fulbright took place last March at the University of Catania in Italy. Catania is located at the base of the volcano Mt. Etna, which periodically still erupts, and is on the island of Sicily. My host was Professor Patrizia Daniele of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science who is also a Center Associate of the Virtual Center for Supernetworks.

As part of this Fulbright, Professor Daniele and I organized a workshop on "Complex Networks -- Equilibrium and Vulnerability Analysis with Applications," which brought together scientists from different disciplines -- mathematics, physics, computer science, and operations research/management science. It was a terrific event and we were especially pleased that so many female scientists spoke and participated. In addition, I had the wonderful experience of teaching a class at the University of Catania and in interacting with colleagues in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.

Evenings we would spend promenading down the main avenue, Via Etnea, in Catania which was filled with families walking, shopping, and having treats such as gelato and wonderful Italian pastries. Catania has cobblestone streets, magnificent architecture, shops with beautiful Italian made crafts, and is located on the Mediterranean Sea. Photos that were taken capture, in part, the beauty of Catania and the warmth of its people. The hospitality of Professor Patrizia Daniele and Professor Antonino Maugeri was tremendously appreciated.