Understanding the complex world of supply chains

Michael Gibb

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An operations management expert from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business gave a City University Distinguished Lecture on 11 December 2013 titled “Productivity, Supply Chains, and the Structure of Firms” at City University of Hong Kong (CityU).
“Success in today’s global economy depends critically on the performance of complex supply chains interconnecting firms across industries, regions, and cultures,” said Professor John R. Birge, the Jerry W. and Carol Lee Levin Professor of Operations Management at Booth.
“[But] despite their prevalence and importance, the overall productivity of a supply chain and the value of a firm’s supply chain connections are not well understood,” he said.
Professor Birge’s expertise lies in the study of mathematical modeling of systems under uncertainty, especially for maximising operational and financial goals using the methodologies of stochastic programming and large-scale optimisation.
He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a recipient of the Medallion Award from the Institute of Industrial Engineers and the Fellows Award from the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.
In his lecture, he outlined a series of possible explanations accounting for challenges involved in trying to evaluate how these global supply chain networks function in terms of productivity, and offered several models that can be used to describe their function and performance.
The talk focused very much on how supply chains act as a vehicle for allowing firms to mitigate and distribute risk, and also how they enhance the overall operational efficiency of a business, in particular by sharing the financial burdens of distributing goods and service.
In his opening address, Professor Arthur Ellis, Acting President, said the topic of the talk had a universal application. “We all depend on the global supply chain as a means of acquiring everything from the food we eat, the smart phones we use to the clothes we wear,” he said.
“It is a complex phenomenon especially in today’s interconnected economy where what happens to a manufacturing industry in one nation can impact the lives of workers, customers and investors thousands of miles away,” he added.


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