Jayashankar “Jay” Swaminathan has served in just about every academic role at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School you can imagine.
“UNC Kenan-Flagler is a great place, and I have great colleagues,” says Swaminathan, the GlaxoSmithKline Distinguished Professor of Operations. “The School is a reflection of who I am and my desire to make a positive impact.”
He is an internationally recognized thought leader in productivity improvements and innovation in global operations and supply chain management. Among one of the youngest to be recognized as distinguished professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler, he earned his PhD and masters degrees in industrial administration from what is now the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business and his bachelor’s degree in computer science and engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.
Arriving at UNC Kenan-Flagler in 2000, Swaminathan took on his first key leadership role as chair of the operations area. He recruited and mentored top faculty, helping build the area into a powerhouse. As senior associate dean of academic affairs, he revamped the tenure and promotion process and helped raise the School’s research productivity.
He went on to lead key global initiatives. As director of the Global Business Center, he contributed to enhanced global experience opportunities for students and faculty. As associate dean of the Global OneMBA Program, he helped make enhancements and led the search for a new partner school in China – Xiamen University School of Management. He also aided in revamping the UNC Kenan-Flagler portion of the program so students can take electives from other OneMBA partner schools.
With China and the U.S., the biggest players in global supply chain, Swaminathan was keen to develop the UNC-Tsinghua Dual Degree EMBA Program. He helped formulate the original format, courses and assignments. “It has high potential to have high impact,” he adds. “It can frame the next generation of leaders of global supply chains.”
Now his mission is to promote research in the area of globalization across all disciplines as faculty director of the Global Commerce Initiative of the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise. He is engaging with faculty and building a stronger foundation between the Business School and the rest of campus.
Swaminathan continues making his mark in other ways, too. He revels in working with PhD students on research projects, many of whom have gone on to be top professors in operations and are having a profound impact on institutions around the world, he says.
He also makes a difference in the classroom. He teaches Global Operations, a core course in the Global OneMBA Program; Global Supply Chain Management, an elective for Executive MBA and MBA@UNC students; Global Logistics for the UNC-Tsinghua students; and Operations Management Models in the PhD Program.
With a desire to provide students with memorable experiences, Swaminathan prefers giving them the chance to test theories and roll up their sleeves to get to work. “I’m a firm believer in learning by doing,” he says.
Swaminathan wants students to realize how they can apply what they learn in the classroom to the workplace. With this goal in mind, he aims to stay on the cutting edge of industry, he says.
He is also a champion of conducting practical research that he shares with students. Swaminathan writes one to two case studies per year based on his own experiences because firsthand knowledge makes the discussion richer.
“I want my students to experience more than a textbook course,” he says.
Bringing his research into the classroom, Swaminathan demonstrates his interest in productivity and innovation in operations. Much of his research has focused on the electronics industry, retail and responsible operations. Swaminathan worked with UNICEF to help lead major changes in the global supply chain delivery of Plumpy’Nut, ready-to-use therapeutic food in Africa.
With social responsibility as a priority, Swaminathan is now looking at how firms can leverage their supply chain to reduce their carbon imprint.
In the arena of innovation, he is getting more involved in 3-D printing and its influence on business – specifically how it relates to the supply chain and production.
Many inside education and operations have recognized Swaminathan’s work. In 2015, the Production and Operations Management Society (POMS) inducted him as a POMS Fellow for his intellectual contributions through research and teaching. In addition, he won several awards, including the National Science Foundation Career Award, George Nicholson Prize, Schwabacher Fellowship, and Weatherspoon Awards for distinguished research and teaching excellence.
The corporate world and government have also noticed Swaminathan’s talents. A number of organizations, including UNICEF, IBM and Samsung, have called on him for consulting. He was a lead investigator on grants from the National Science Foundation, Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative and U.S. Department of Education.
Swaminathan has drawn on his culture for inspiration. He wrote the book “Indian Economic Superpower: Fiction or Future?” about the emerging economy’s innovative supply chain practices and what they mean for the future.
He lives in Chapel Hill with his wife and their two children and their dog. In his time away from the classroom and research, Swaminathan keeps busy. Singing is one his passions and he performs with bands in Bollywood-style productions.
Whether at home or on campus, Swaminathan aims to be a great contributor to the team. “I want my strengths to have a positive influence,” he says.