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Creativity fuels his life’s journey

Seyed Emadi

In the world of academia, professors are recognized for their expertise in their fields of study. Yet, Seyed Emadi, an operations management professor, possesses passions beyond his scholarly pursuits.

Seyed Emadi playing bassHe is a devoted heavy-metal enthusiast.

With guitar collection, he channels his creativity into producing and performing songs with a level of passion that is electrifying. “Heavy metal was my first love,” Emadi says, harking back to his youth spent performing at home in Iran.

In his professional life, Emadi is equally passionate about operations management, a field that revolves around optimizing an organization’s internal processes and systems. The primary goal is to enhance efficiency and effectiveness, ensuring the smooth production of goods and services.

At UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, Emadi channels his love for research into understanding customer decision-making processes. He is particularly intrigued by identifying the factors that hold significance for customers, such as how customers interact with products placed at different parts brick-and-mortar stores, how they decide which products to click on, and which products to purchase in online stores. This valuable knowledge helps companies to strategically allocate their resources and place their products to increase consumer satisfaction and, at the same time, achieve a higher revenue.

“Customers are the most important part of any business process, but they are heterogeneous — very different,” says Emadi, a former industrial-sector chief executive. “And if you do not understand your customers, then you are going to design operations that are absolutely inefficient.”

His research into customer behavior, for instance, revealed that when it came to bank services, customers lean towards enduring extended hold times rather than opting for the callback feature. While being on hold frustrate customers, they lacked confidence in the callback technology, underscoring the importance of educating customers about the benefits of callbacks.

“For research, you cannot simply rely on mathematical models. You need real-world data, a snapshot of reality,” Emadi says, drawing from his experiences as a former international mathlete.

His research is far from conventional. He integrates cutting-edge technologies like machine learning and neural networks – both branches of artificial intelligence – to forecast how customers respond to changes in business environments. These advanced techniques offer predictive power that surpasses traditional methods like regressions and structural estimation.

“Machine learning and neural networks are newer methods, and they possess remarkable prediction power,” he says. “Neural networks mimic the human brain, with interconnected nodes organized in layers. By adjusting the strengths of connections between nodes, neural networks can unveil complex patterns and make precise predictions.”

Emadi’s research extends beyond academic publications. He collaborates with companies, showcasing the practical significance of his findings. His work transcends the realm of theory, offering tangible solutions for businesses looking to enhance their operations and customer interactions.

One such solution is understanding the impact of product placement within physical retail stores on their visibility and, ultimately, sales.

“This presents a unique challenge in brick-and-mortar settings compared to the online environment where you can easily track customer clicks,” he says, referring to his research project with his colleague Adam Mersereau and their PhD student Zahra Ziaei. “To study this, we install heat-map sensors in the store to monitor customer traffic and identify which areas and products they are drawn to.”

While Emadi’s contributions to academia and research are substantial, he believes his most profound impact lies in his role as an educator – shaping the next generation of business leaders. “I firmly believe that teaching has a profound impact,” he says. “We nurture these students to enter the business world and make a tangible difference. Teaching holds great importance for me.”

His teaching specialization is business analytics, a field that equips students with critical-thinking skills to tackle business challenges. He helps them formulate inquiries, analyze data and transform complex business problems into mathematical solutions, empowering them to make informed decisions.

“I want to ensure that what I teach is genuinely essential,” he says. “I strive to update the content of my classes, ensuring its relevance and preventing it from becoming outdated.”

Emadi’s journey has been a remarkable one. It began in Iran, where his aptitude for mathematics led him to win the silver medal in the National Mathematics Olympiad.

Reflecting on his childhood aspirations, he recalls: “When I was a young student in school, if someone asked me what I wanted to become, my response was ‘I want to be a scientist.’”

His academic pursuits continued, as he obtained both an MSc and a BSc in electrical engineering from Sharif University of Technology in Tehran. Subsequently, he embarked on a PhD in operations management at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where he also earned an MSc in operations management.

Emadi’s career took an unexpected turn as he transitioned into the business world. He entered the industrial sector, focusing on power transformers and power breakers — critical components in electrical-power systems that control the flow of electrical energy. His expertise eventually led him to the role of CEO within the sector.

Despite his achievements in industry, Emadi felt an unquenchable thirst for scientific exploration and innovation. “I yearned to create new knowledge,” he says, and this longing brought him back to academia — a natural progression that fulfilled his childhood dreams. “I consider myself incredibly fortunate,” he says.

He joined the UNC Kenan-Flagler faculty in 2013, drawn by its collegiate environment and reputation for academic excellence. “Universities have different cultures, and what I love about UNC, and specifically the operations area at UNC Kenan-Flagler, is its very supportive environment. If I need a resource, I get what I need. Any feedback is always constructive. I love where I am.”

Emadi still finds time to indulge in the intricate melodies of heavy metal alongside the precision of operations management. “Producing music and doing research share the joy of innovation, creating new knowledge, or composing and playing a music track that evokes new emotions. I am an Operations Management researcher and a one-man rock band,” he says. A person of diverse talent.