Supply Chain Reaction

Panos Kouvelis inspires in students a passion for manufacturing and management

“The role of the professor is developing students,” says Professor Panagiotis (Panos) Kouvelis, “and that’s what I’ve enjoyed most in my career. It’s very rewarding to use my knowledge and my experience to help people develop their aspirations and professional dreams.”

Kouvelis, the Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management, has worked to advance the Olin Business School and its students for nearly 20 years. In addition to his classroom teaching and research, Kouvelis serves as director of the Boeing Center on Technology, Information and Manufacturing (BCTIM).

A Partnership for Students

The BCTIM was founded in 1997 as a research center designed to foster interaction between industry and academia. The center helps its corporate partners develop strategic supply chain management and provides an annual consulting project completed by a team of Olin students under close expert faculty supervision. In addition, the BCTIM and its partners sponsor seminars, conferences, and faculty and doctoral research.

“It’s a very fruitful interaction,” Kouvelis says. “We facilitate executives talking with other executives, as well as executives talking with our students and with our faculty. At the same time, we give back fresh ideas and new theories that are immediately applicable to the corporate setting.” The interaction with corporate partners often leads faculty and students to discover new avenues of research.

“Most important,” Kouvelis says, “our students receive tremendous value from our partnerships with corporations. The projects they work on tend to have relatively high stakes, which allows them to see firsthand the organizational issues of managing a large, complex corporation.”

Passion and Preparation

Kouvelis is perhaps best known at Washington University for his work in the classroom. Students continually recognize him as an exceptional instructor and have bestowed the Reid Teaching Award on him 12 times. Kouvelis believes that students respond to his own excitement: “When you’re passionate about a topic, I think that comes into the classroom,” he says. “It generates energy, and it helps students become more interested.”

Kouvelis is certainly passionate about his research area, supply chain risk management—the study of the complex fabric of risks that business leaders face. These risks can range from extreme weather events to major accidents to financial crises, in addition to the normal business risks of coordinating supply and demand through effective supply operations. He has written dozens of articles and three books on the subject, most recently his Handbook of Integrated Risk Management in Global Supply Chains.

“What I find most fascinating about supply chain risk management is that it can affect all aspects of life very quickly,” Kouvelis says. “It affects our food, our clothes, and the prices we pay.” Kouvelis is intrigued by potential supply chain problems, how companies can plan for them, and how recovery can be managed. It’s a complex field for students to understand, because every supply chain involves many players with disparate objectives, and effective management requires transparency and collaboration. Yet it is a critical area of study, because the field is full of possibilities for both researchers and future business leaders.

“Companies are aware of the risk,” he explains, “but the systematic approach, organizational processes, and hedging tools they need to manage it effectively are not fully implemented. Creating an effective and comprehensive culture of risk management is an organizational challenge faced by many corporations. The extraordinary growth of global trade has taken the multitude and magnitude of risks to a new level of significance and has put supply chain risk management at the top of executives’ priority list.”

Kouvelis hopes he’s preparing students who will manage these issues effectively as executives. But more important, he hopes he’s preparing students to think critically, creatively, and clearly. “That’s what will stay with these students,” he says, “the ability to narrow down a problem, to think about its causes, and to be very creative in coming up with or finding solutions. That’s what we hope we do in our classes and our programs.”

“What will stay with these students is the ability to narrow down a problem, to think about its causes, and to be very creative in coming up with or finding solutions.”

— Panos Kouvelis, PhD,
Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management