October 04, 2004
UCLA Grants Tenure to Kumar Rajaram of UCLA Anderson School of Management
Los Angeles — Kumar Rajaram of the decisions, operations and technology management faculty at UCLA Anderson School of Management has been granted tenure by UCLA and thereby promoted to associate professor. Receiving tenure is the central rite of passage in any academic career and represents a demonstration of excellence in the roles of researcher and teacher, as well as significant service to the community.
Reflected throughout Dr. Rajaram’s work is his conviction of the importance of effective operations management to the success of any business. As he always reminds his students, “Without operations, there is usually no corporation.” Most major industries involve process-based operations, and Dr. Rajaram recognizes that organizations today are confronted with considerable challenges from increasing intricacy in day-to-day operations due to increased competition, product variety and globalization in sourcing, production and distribution. In addition, keeping up with rapidly advancing technology can also contribute to the complications.
“I concentrate my research efforts on creating mathematical models of complicated systems to help companies handle the world’s growing complexity,” Dr. Rajaram says. “My emphasis is on equipping them with rigorously derived and tested knowledge to make practical improvements to their business practices, however elaborate they may be.”
Conducting studies in the United States, Europe and Southeast Asia, Dr. Rajaram investigates large-scale industrial processes, as well as retail and entertainment operations management. He has analyzed about 20 extensive manufacturing systems for food processing, petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries in more than 10 different countries, and his findings have been published in the top academic journals of his field. Dr. Rajaram’s methods have achieved an average upturn in capacity of 20 to 50 percent without additional investment in new technology. His approach has three stages: design, plan and control.
“The first step is always the critical component of simplifying and improving the company’s core process itself,” says Dr. Rajaram. “I am always searching for ways to get more for less, because if the organization had unlimited cash, there would not be much need to improve operations.”
A prime example of the impact of Dr. Rajaram’s process work is the outcome he achieved for Cerestar, Europe’s leading manufacturer of starch-based products. Since these products are commodities with market-defined prices, the only option to increase profit margins is reducing costs and increasing outputs. In addition, new competition made it necessary for Cerestar to quickly boost production capability to maintain its dominance in the market. The company decided to collaborate with Dr. Rajaram and his research team who developed a new paradigm known as Robust Process Control, which focused on increasing capacity by reducing and managing variability. Dr. Rajaram says, “Many of these manufacturing processes were over designed in terms of capacity to cope with operational variability. If down side variability is reduced, this immediately leads to higher capacity without any new investments in technology.”
First applied at Cerestar’s flagship refinery, the framework was ultimately rolled out to a total of eight refineries in six countries. The improved refining processes provided an additional 20 percent average daily throughput with a 50 percent decrease in variation and reduced consumption of supplies and utilities – all of which saved Cerestar more than $11 million annually and avoided major investments in new facilities.
The Cerestar project’s success motivated manufacturers in areas as diverse as petrochemical and pharmaceuticals to look closely at their manufacturing processes and apply these methods. This has resulted in significant increase in productivity for different types of manufacturing processes in several industries. For his successful efforts, Dr. Rajaram was named as a finalist for the prestigious Franz Edelman Award for Achievement in Operations Research and the Management Sciences.
Retail operations management is another area where Dr. Rajaram has applied his techniques, developing ways to better balance supply with demand for products with extremely short life cycles and highly unpredictable demand. The decisions he considers can be very complicated, involving the issues of product testing, assortment planning, pricing, replenishment and inventory management, as well as sourcing considerations.
“Not so long ago, retail companies had a few stores with limited product variety and knew who there customers were, but with expanding globalization and technology, they may now have thousands of stores, ten’s of thousands of globally sourced products and almost limitless potential customers from all over the world,” says Dr. Rajaram. “The result can be mind-boggling difficulty in deciding what is wanted and how best to supply it, so that customers get this product at the correct price, quantity, time and place.”
Determined to tackle areas of business that most shy away from, Dr. Rajaram focused on the fashion industry, probably the most notoriously unpredictable with the particularly tricky task of tracking trends in taste. Nevertheless, balancing supply with demand in this industry is even more vital as profit margins are wafer thin. Undaunted, he developed models that have been applied to large fashion retailers from Europe and North America, securing substantial growth in earnings at these sites. Most recently, Dr. Rajaram has been selecting subjects for study from the entertainment industry, including theme parks and motion pictures.
Improving operations management is also a theme in Dr. Rajaram’s classroom. He teaches the operations and technology management course in the core curriculum of the full-time MBA program and the Fully Employed MBA program (FEMBA) at UCLA Anderson, as well as various Executive Education and doctoral level courses on operations management and models for operations design, planning and control. Constantly finding new ways to challenge himself and his students, they describe his teaching style as dynamic, rigorous and practical.
“I aim to provide my students clear tools to use in their jobs so that they can achieve observable benefit,” Dr. Rajaram says. “I consider operations to be inextricably tied to the company’s strategy. In fact, operations management is the execution of strategy by developing and running the required processes. Therefore, for strategy to be effective, it is essential that organizations understand their operational capability and compete with this.”
The faculty of UCLA Anderson has also recognized his achievements in instruction, awarding him the Dean George W. Robbins Assistant Professor Teaching Award and the Citibank Teaching Award. They have also honored his scholarly endeavors with the Eric and “E” Juline Excellence in Research Award.
The collegial atmosphere at UCLA Anderson is one of the things Dr. Rajaram values most about his association. He considers himself fortunate to have so many supportive colleagues who constantly encourage and inspire him in his research and teaching endeavors. Although he recognizes the benefits of being located in Los Angeles, one of the great centers of business activity, he feels that it is the supportive and nurturing environment at UCLA Anderson that motivates him to keep it as his home base of operations while he continues his crusade to improve operations for the global business community.
About UCLA Anderson School of Management
UCLA Anderson School of Management is perennially ranked among the top-tier business schools in the world. Award-winning faculty renowned for their research and teaching, highly selective admissions, successful alumni and world-class facilities combine to provide an extraordinary learning environment. Established in 1935, UCLA Anderson provides management education to more than 1,500 students enrolled in full-time, part-time and executive MBA programs, doctoral programs and executive education and management development programs.
UCLA Anderson’s faculty includes outstanding educators and researchers who share their scholarship and expertise in such fundamental areas as finance, marketing, accounting, business economics, decision sciences, operations and technology management, human resources and organizational behavior, information systems, strategy and policy.
Recognizing that the school offers unparalleled expertise in management education, the world's business community turns to UCLA Anderson School of Management as a center of influence for the ideas, innovations, strategies and talent that will shape the future.