By Betsy Vereckey
12 April 2019
This summer at the Tuck Advanced Management Program (AMP), Professor Brian Tomlin will teach a session on supply chain management, a topic incredibly relevant for executives, given the speed of digital transformation and the current geo-political climate. Tomlin is a foremost expert in the field and is widely known for the real-world impact of his research, as well as for making complex topics accessible to business students.
Tomlin has deep professional experience in the field. He started his career as an engineer with General Electric in Ireland and in the U.S. He went on to earn a PhD in operations management from MIT Sloan and then worked as a strategy consultant at Boston Consulting Group in London and in Boston. He is a past president of the Manufacturing and Service Operations Management Society, the premier academic society in the field.
Here in this Q&A, Tomlin discusses his research interests and goals for his AMP session. Tomlin has been teaching at Tuck for a decade and is Tuck’s William and Josephine Buchanan Professor of Management. He received the Teaching Excellence award from the class of 2018, and his Operations Strategy course is one of the most popular at Tuck among MBA students.
What about the operations field fascinates and excites you?
Operations lie at the heart of how businesses deliver value to customers, and managing the competing tensions between cost and quality of service is a fundamental challenge that requires both a focus on your current business model and the potential of new and emerging models.
Much of my past research has focused on risk management in the supply chain. More recently, I’ve been studying “Industry 4.0,” that is, the idea that we are at the dawn of a new industrial revolution brought about by the emergence, advancement and convergence of a number of technologies (such as the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, and 3D printing) that enable an almost real-time connection between the physical and digital worlds. These technologies are likely to have a profound impact on operations and supply chain strategies.
What will you be teaching to AMP participants?
I will be teaching a half-day session that examines global supply chain management, identifying and exploring tradeoffs, and strategies for designing and managing a supply chain to balance costs, risk, and service levels. We will spend part of the session in small teams working on a supply chain simulation and the remainder broadening out from the simulation to discuss intelligent strategies for managing supply chain tradeoffs. I am particularly excited about AMP because of the impressive set of experiences the attendees will bring and because Tuck’s personal scale enables a rich and valuable classroom conversation.
Why is this topic especially relevant today?
Supply chain management is always relevant but perhaps it is now more salient to the general public because of the current global political climate. For example, Brexit has highlighted how much we all rely on the efficient flow of goods through supply chains and has elevated the importance of risk management in the eyes of executives.
How do you make the material accessible to those who might not have an operations background?
This is always a challenge in operations because by its nature it’s a fairly complex system, regardless of what industry you’re in. I always try to map what I’m discussing to examples and contexts that are accessible, regardless of executives’ existing knowledge. For participants who don’t know anything about operations, it’s gratifying to give them the language and the framework to understand the world differently. For participants who come in with a lot of prior knowledge, I try to help them see how it might apply or not apply to other contexts; not all industries are the same and not all operations challenges are the same.
What do you hope AMP attendees walk away with?
I hope the attendees come away with a deeper understanding of supply chain tradeoffs and intelligent strategies for managing these tradeoffs. For some attendees, what they learn might map directly into their current jobs. For others, it might give them a better understanding and language to interact with people who do face those challenges. For another subset, it may just give them a wider business perspective from what they currently have.
What do you like about teaching?
I love the interaction and joint learning with the participants. That’s what great about teaching and doing research. Research is a good forcing function for you to stay current with what’s going on and to bring it to the classroom. And in the classroom, you learn things from executive participants that help inform your research. It’s a nice, virtuous combination.