Best Prof: Zeynep Ton

Zeynep Ton of Harvard Business School is among the world's 40 best business school professors under the age of 40.

Zeynep Ton of Harvard Business School is among the world’s 40 best business school professors under the age of 40 (photo by Evgenia Eliseeva).

Zeynep Ton

Assistant Professor of Business Administration

Age: 36

Institution: Harvard Business School

Hometown: Bursa, Turkey

Marital Status: Married to Carlos

Children:  Two sons, Ali and Hakan

Education: B.S. in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering from the Pennsylvania State University

D.B.A. from the Harvard Business School.

Courses:  Coordinating and Managing Supply Chains

At Harvard Business School Since: 2002

Before Harvard: In Harvard’s D.B.A. program

Fun Fact: “I came to the US with a volleyball scholarship from Penn State, participated in two FInal Fours (in one, I was selected to the 6-person Final Four all tournament team).”

It’s incredibly rare for an operations professor at a business school to be described as someone who can “enrapture” a class with “enchanting” lectures. Yet, students think so highly of Professor Ton’s teaching abilities that she was awarded the HBS Faculty Teaching award for teaching excellence from the graduating class of 2010–even gaining plaudits from Ahead of the Curve author and Harvard MBA Philip Delves Broughton who wrote that Ton is “an improbably chic and energetic guide to the world of factory design, manufacturing schedules, supply chains, and process management.”

Why is she so good? Ton loves teaching and it comes through to everyone in her classroom. “It is something I do with absolute joy,” says Ton on her relatively new but entertaining blog. She also concedes it wasn’t always that way. “Teaching definitely did not come easily to me,” she says. “Ask my first group of students from 2002 and I’m sure they’ll remember all the struggles I had as a first-time teacher.  But what made teaching less stressful was the expectation that it was okay to make a lot of mistakes as a rookie.”

What makes for great business teaching? “I believe that there are two components,” she says. “One is developing great content, being passionate about it, and teaching it in the best way.  The other is caring deeply about your students and the impact they will make in the world.  I love what I teach, but the second component is what really motivates me. Every time I walk into the classroom, I know that I am interacting with future leaders who will make a difference in the world and feel that this is my opportunity to contribute to something big.”

Ton is equally passionate about her research which focuses on the role of store operations in retail supply chains. Her work on this topic has been published in numerous journals, including Organization Science, Production and Operations Management, and Harvard Business Review. “As I was studying retail operations, I became aware of poor labor practices that affect millions of store employees,” she says. “Conventional wisdom in this industry is that satisfying customers and generating profits necessitates an approach that results in bad jobs. Retail is known for low wages, few benefits, little stability, and little opportunity for improvement. But my research shows that leaving employees behind is not a necessity but a choice.” Ton is currently working on a book that examines how operational decisions can be made to improve profits as well as customer and employee satisfaction in retailing.

Her blog and Twitter feed tackle everything from raising her two sons, aged 3.5 and 5, to the true purpose of a corporate enterprise and the low wage problem in retailing. What makes Ton a master teacher? She brings everything she knows and herself into the classroom with energy, humor, and zeal. A taste of this is evident in a recent blog post on Yale professor Amy Chuo’s “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” a highly provocative excerpt from Chuo’s book. Wrote Ton in a thoughtful riff: “I used to love basketball as a kid.  I watched my father play and then coach basketball and I absolutely loved the game.  So at the age of 10, when my father insisted that I play volleyball instead of basketball, I was heartbroken.  According to my father, volleyball would be better for me.  While I didn’t like his choice at first, I started loving volleyball after I became good at it.  Should I follow my father’s parenting style?”

Students Say:

“Zeynep Ton is not only a tremendous enthusiast for supply chain management and logistics, she is also a tremendous enthusiast for social impact. In the classroom her energy and excitement over lead times, inventory management and ‘supply chain foot soldiers’ is enchanting. For eighty minutes she enraptures the class with her humor, knowledge and true zeal over the material. Outside of the classroom, she dedicates her time to her family and to the Boston community. This year she spear-headed the Impact Initiative, an initiative which enabled ~250 first year HBS students to interact with ~400 Boston public school 7th graders. The first interaction took place at the middle schools where the HBS students led a leadership curriculum and the second interaction took place on HBS’ campus where the 7th graders discussed a case, facilitated by Professor Ton, and then took a tour of the campus with the first years. It is only because of her dedication to the community that this initiative was able to take place. She is the archetype of a professor, instilling knowledge both personally and professional, in and out of the class room.” — Justine Lelchuk, Class of 2011, Harvard Business School

Zeynep Ton is among “The World’s 40 Best B-School Profs Under the Age of 40

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