2015 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Sinan Erzurumlu, Olin School

Sinan Erzurumlu

Associate Professor of Technology, Innovation and Operations Management

Babson College, Olin Graduate School of Business


S. Sinan Erzurumlu

Babson College operations management professor Sinan Erzurumlu switched his business-casual attire for more durable clothing, put on a hat, and set off for Honduras for what he described as “a little bit Indiana Jones thing.” He and a Babson colleague visited a gold mine, and came back with a case to teach, one he says shows that sustainable thinking by managers from the start of an enterprise can lead to positive change for societies, business, and the environment. While he has a strong interest in sustainability, Ersurumlu also researches technology and innovation management, supply chain management, and entrepreneurial innovation management. He has a BS in electrical and electronic engineering from Bogazici University in Turkey, and an MS in operations research and industrial engineering and a PhD in supply chain and operations management from the University of Texas-Austin.

Age: 39

At current institution since: 2007

Education: PhD, Management Science and Information Systems, McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas at Austin, 2007

MSc, Operations Research/Industrial Engineering, Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, 2002

BSc, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Bogazici University, Turkey, 1999

Courses currently teaching:

Technology ad Operations Management (core MBA)

Leading and Managing Sustainability (MBA elective)

Professor you most admire:

I really admire three professors. First, working with my thesis advisor Prof. Steve Gilbert has been a blessing. He exactly knew when and how to push me to stand on my own and lead me at times when I got lost in my research direction. Second, I am lucky to work with Prof. Nitin Joglekar. He has shown me how to keep your enthusiasm high and work hard at what you want to achieve. Last but not least, I have been extremely impressed with Prof. Moren Levésque. She is very smart, knowledgeable and extremely hardworking. Her approach to research taught me how to be relentless and put your mind and heart to work. She is also a wonderful person; she has time for everyone and is very encouraging to young researchers.

“I knew I wanted to be a b-school professor when… “ early at my PhD years. Figuratively speaking, at UT I was handed a yellow pad and a pen, and asked to fill it up with new ideas on topics that I deeply care about. I loved that. I enjoy this atmosphere for creative thinking and acting at the b-school. In some way, I liken being a b-school professor to being an idea entrepreneur. Maybe, instead of companies, we create ideas, nurture them, develop them, test them and launch them. The cool thing about all of this is that I get to work with executives and entrepreneurs testing whether my ideas indeed work for their organizations. I believe I am at a crossroad looking at both worlds.”

“If I weren’t a b-school professor… ” I would take a path in performing arts. I would be an actor.”

Most memorable moment in the classroom or in general as a professor:

I have had a few students who have taken their ideas out of my sustainability elective and turned it into a startup. To me, that is why I am there for: get them energized and care about sustainability, and do something about it.

What professional achievement are you most proud of? 

Besides getting tenured at Babson College in 2013, I am really proud of being in the top 100 at the National University Entrance Exam in Turkey (I was ranked 63rd out of 1.5 million, to be exact). This experience taught me that being smart would get a person only to a point, the rest is relentless, hard work and “lots of perspiration”.

What do you enjoy most about teaching? 

I love being on the spot and getting questions that make me think. Babson students are highly demanding and curious. They are in class with a goal, so they are constantly thinking what they are learning in the context of their professional lives or their startup aspirations. This takes the course material to a whole different level. It has to make sense and help with their own problems.

What do you enjoy least?

When nobody shows up at office hours. My solution is now to give my Skype contact information, and have open office hours. I have the means to meet with students when they really need. For example, most undergraduates get started studying after 9pm. My 10pm Skype hours turn into conference calls.

Fun fact about yourself: I love music. When I was an undergraduate, I was a festival guide to artists at Istanbul Jazz Festival. I got to meet Charlie Haden, Marcus Miller, Joe Lovano, Lee Konitz, Marc Ribot, to name a few. I not only had summers full of music, but also saved some to travel in Europe before my senior year. Later, going to a city like Austin for graduate school was heaven for me.

Favorite book: Aleksi Zorba by Kazantzakis, My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, The Social Animal by David Brooks, In Europe by Geert Mak

Favorite movie: I have to admit, the first thing pops into my mind is more like “what is my favorite Star Wars movie?” I like Episode V the most.

Favorite type of music: Jazz and acoustic singer songwriter genre.

Favorite television show: Shark Tank, but it puts me on the edge of my seat every time I see it. Very stressful to watch those negotiations.

Favorite vacation spot: Adirondacks, NY and Istanbul, Turkey

What are your hobbies? I love running, biking and outdoor activities. I commute with my bike to work from my home as long as the Boston winter allows. It fully gets me going before I start working.

Twitter handle: @sinanerzurumlu

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have… “ been more like a startup incubator. I think students learn more effectively when they are doing something and realizes the need for a particular type of skill or knowledge. Confucius has so elegantly put this: ‘I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.’”

Students say…

I had the luck to be in the Technology and Operations Management course with Prof. Erzurumlu. He is one of the few outstanding professors that with his passion, commitment, and enthusiasm makes you go beyond your preconceived believes. Even though I have been working in Operations for more than 8 years, he challenged some basic assumptions and make us think beyond the numbers and processes, to find the real reason behind them. I have just regretted not have more classes with him.

– Oriol Josa, MBA 2015

Professor Erzurumlu’s enthusiasm, dedication and love for teaching inspires his students to learn diligently, participate willingly and act accordingly. He has an immense talent for transforming classroom material into a believable and actionable code of conduct that influences his pupils to think and behave sustainably, as well as convince those around them to partake. I feel lucky to have met and learned from such a fantastic professor; I hope many more students are fortunate enough to call Sinan Erzurumlu their guru.

– Mila Burdan, BS in Business Administration 2014

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