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Friday, July 23, 2010

The Questions We Explore in Our Operations Courses

By Don Rosenfield
LGO Program Director

How does one define "operations"? Formally, the term refers to the production and distribution of goods and services.

But that answer only begins to tell the story. To enrich your perspective, these are the types of questions we examine in our operations courses at MIT Leaders for Global Operations (LGO):

  • How do businesses coordinate the flow of material from suppliers to factories to customers?

  • How do they decide what to produce in their factory?

  • How do the airlines or package delivery companies schedule their complex systems?

  • How does Disney manage waiting lines within its parks?

  • How do hospitals plan capacity and schedule their beds?

Questions such as these are important both for small companies (which must decide how much inventory to keep) and the largest companies (which manage global product and service networks).

How to Source in a Global Environment
In addition to the direct questions posed above, we also ask students to consider broader questions in our operations courses. For example:

  • Under what circumstances does it make sense to outsource? To offshore?

  • How can you develop new products and services?

  • How do you handle the challenges of managing suppliers?

Today, the most significant operations-related questions concern how to source in a global environment. Whether to offshore operations to China or India, whether to own your own production assets or outsource them, and how to coordinate with overseas companies are complex issues that lack clear-cut answers. The operations field provides a framework and approach for assessing these issues and making better-educated decisions.

Societal & Business Competitiveness
Why does operations matter on the societal level? For one thing, it is the basis of competitiveness and wealth generation. Operations represents a major portion of any society's economic activities, and understanding how to manage operations is the key to development.

Despite impressions to the contrary, advanced societies such as the United States are responsible for a significant fraction of global output in manufacturing. This is the basis of our society's high standards of living. Less wealthy countries, on the other hand, are in such a position because they have not mastered manufacturing and service skills to the same degree. For these societies to develop, they must invest in manufacturing and service operations to spark job creation and raise living standards.

If notions of societal competiveness seem too abstract, the role of operations at a business level underscores the importance of the field. Capabilities in operations are often the basis of competitive advantage in the marketplace, as numerous examples show. For instance:

  • BMW and Apple, two companies known for their innovative products, have unique capabilities in how they design, develop and bring to market new products.

  • Amazon, which aspires to be the "Earth's most customer-centric company" and offers access to an enormous variety of products, has superior capabilities in the way its technology interfaces with customers and in its distribution systems.

These examples are based on concepts of operations management — and are the types of issues we explore in our operations courses every day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

LGO Hosts Students from CLGO, China's International Engineering MBA Program

By Patty Eames
LGO Program Coordinator

This week, LGO is hosting 18 students from the China Leaders for Global Operations (CLGO) program for the first time. On Monday, students from both programs took part in a cross-cultural norms workshop led by instructor Leigh Hafrey.

Professor Leigh Hafrey, Senior Lecturer on Communication and Ethics at MIT Sloan School of Management and Professor Zhenghua Xiong, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at SJTU, with CLGO and LGO students during the Cross Cultural Communications Session.

In 2005 Shanghai Jiao Tong University established CLGO, an international engineering MBA program, with the academic support of MIT and LGO. Just like their LGO counterparts, CLGO students earn master's degrees in engineering and management, and complete a six-month internship.

Hafrey began Monday's workshop by leading a brief discussion on the importance of cross-cultural communication and the challenges of understanding different ethical and legal standards across the world. Students then broke into eight groups to review a case study focusing on a multinational pharmaceutical company.

CLGO and LGO students discussing the case

At issue: The company's Chinese subsidiary was failing to reach sales targets because unlike the competition, it did not offer kickbacks to doctors prescribing their products. Should the subsidiary's sales director authorize the use of kickbacks or stick to the company's ethical position?

The topic inspired interesting discussions, first in the smaller groups and then among the entire group. Along the way, LGO and CLGO students shared insights into the business traditions and practices of their respective countries.

A Busy Week of Activities
The cross-cultural norms workshop was just one of many activities planned for the CLGO students. Over the weekend, LGO and CLGO students took in a whale watch and a Boston Duck Tour. Among the other highlights: Tuesday's plant tours of Gorton's of Gloucester and the Staples Fulfillment Center in Putnam, Connecticut.

Pam Chuang, LGO '12, and Ethan Xu, LGO '12, are serving as CLGO Visit Committee co-chairs. Tim Hu, CLGO '12, helped organize the visit on the CLGO side. Hu was also part of a team that welcomed LGO '11 students to Shanghai in March.

"For a long time, 'LGO' has just been three letters. It wasn't so tangible for us," said Hu. "Now we are able to visit MIT and find out what the best engineering university in the world is really like. So getting a better, more detailed impression of this program and this university is our first priority.

"This is also an opportunity to network and establish friendships with LGO students. And so far, everyone with LGO has been very hospitable and friendly."

Tim Ji, CLGO '12, had been looking forward to this trip for a long time. "We spent 24 hours getting to Boston, and normally I would be exhausted," he said. "But because this trip is so exciting, I didn't feel so tired. I'm really enjoying my visit. I had heard that the American culture is quite different than ours, and now I'm getting to learn about this by interacting with American students."

Andrea Gentiletti, LGO '12, shared his Chinese counterparts' enthusiasm.

"I'm looking forward to making some contacts with the CLGOs," said Gentiletti. "It's interesting to see how the same things I'll be doing in business are put into perspective in a different culture. So there is a personal aspect as well an aspect of cultural discovery."

The CLGO students will stay in Boston until Thursday, when they will head down to New York. They will then visit Washington, D.C., before heading home.

Learn more about LGO's global engineering business management activities, or visit our page with MBA program FAQs for more on the LGO program.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

LGO Students Develop Business Leadership Skills with Outward Bound

By Leah Schouten
LGO Admissions and Career Development Coordinator

The Class of 2012 on the Thompson Island dock

On June 4, MIT and the Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program bid farewell to the Class of 2010. Graduation time is always bittersweet. As one class moves on, we welcome another talented, diverse and ambitious group of students.

LGOs begin their academic journey with The Universe Within, a required week-long course that is part of an ongoing two-year business leadership curriculum. As part of this first week of class, LGOs spend a day on an Outward Bound adventure that covers the theory and practice of leadership, encourages reflection on personal practice and experience, and provides a solid leadership foundation for the 24 months to come.

After arriving on Thompson Island via ferry, the 48 class members broke off into their eight cohorts — the teams they would work in throughout the LGO summer program. I joined Team 3 for the day to get an insider's perspective on how the group formed its own identity through a progression of outdoor activities, experiential learning exercises, and physical and mental challenges.

In the morning session, our team had the task of conquering a 60-foot climbing wall. With support and encouragement, every student on Team 3 climbed the wall — some were even bold enough to do it blindfolded!

Jason Chen, MIT LGO ’12, takes on the wall blindfolded

The afternoon session was less physically rigorous and more geared towards creative problem solving. Teams were given a specific goal for an activity and time to plan and strategize.

Teams then worked together to reach the goal and followed up with guided discussion and debrief. What went well? What didn't? How did the team work together? Where did the team fall apart? It was quickly apparent that each team featured different leadership styles and personalities, and groups were challenged to navigate these differences with inclusion and respect.

Throughout the day, I was struck by how the team members helped each other to build confidence, trust and resiliency. Every task and activity required intense communication and thoughtfulness and relied on listening skills, following directions and collaboration to succeed.

It was remarkable to see the level of cooperation and trust among LGOs, who had only known one another for days. Whether belaying a climber, providing a helping hand across a tightrope, offering an encouraging word or singing the ABC's (three times over) while trying to balance atop a large wooden plank, every person contributed.

Team 3 and 4!

At LGO, business leadership development and practice opportunities do not end at the conclusion of the The Universe Within. Spanning their 24 months at LGO, on internship and in the classroom, students cultivate leadership skills through skill development, practice and reflection. They also learn what it takes to balance detachment with involvement and to combine commitments to innovation and action.

Throughout the program, LGOs have opportunities to put their business leadership skills and classroom knowledge into action. All students go on a 6.5 month internship at an LGO partner company, where they address a significant industry need. They are also involved in LGO program management through a variety of committees, participate in case competitions at Sloan and go on domestic and international plant treks. The possibilities are endless.

Despite not being able to lift my arms for nearly a week, I genuinely enjoyed and valued this time spent with the 2012s. I can't wait to see how they continue growing closer as a class, developing their business leadership capabilities and helping one another face whatever challenges come their way.

Brian Hendrickson, MIT LGO ’12, gets lifted by his classmates

To learn more about LGO, please visit our page with MBA program FAQs. Or, find out about MBA internships available through the LGO program.
formerly MIT Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM)