2018 Best 40 Under 40 Professors: Srikanth Jagabathula, Stern School of Business

Srikanth Jagabathula

Associate Professor of Information, Operations, and Management Sciences

New York University, Stern School of Business

In his quest to use operations management, machine learning, and marketing to leverage data and make effective business decisions, NYU Stern’s Srikanth Jagabathula has received four “best paper” awards, a career award from the National Science Foundation, and he serves as associate editor for Management Science, the top scholarly journal for his field. As Ilan Lobel, fellow Stern professor and former Poets&Quants 40 Under 40 honoree, puts it, “He’s only 33 and has already accomplished so much.”

In Stern’s MBA program where he teaches the core Operations Management course — a class with a reputation of being challenging for both students and professors — Jagabathula excels. Colleagues say the class is routinely oversubscribed and Jagabathula consistently gets high student ratings. His most student evaluation of 6.9 on a 7-point scale is nearly unheard of for such a challenging course yet backed up by colorful student testimonials such as this one: “I really enjoyed this class and was by far the best core at Stern. Who knew ops could be soooo much fun. Thanks Prof Jagabathula. You really changed my perspective with this course.”

Age: 33

At current institution since what year? 2011

Education: 

PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, 2011
SM in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT, 2008
B. Tech. in Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay, 2006

List of courses you currently teach:

Operations Management (MBAs)
Choice Models in Operations (PhD)

TELL US ABOUT YOUR LIFE AS A PROFESSOR

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…”  I realized that it was a great way to do both deep research and create immediate impact.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research focuses on helping firms make better operational decisions, such as deciding which products to carry in their stores, what prices to charge for them, and how much quantity of each product to stock. To make these decisions, I think about how firms can use the large quantities of data that are being generated.

In one of our projects, we worked with a fashion retailer to help them with their merchandising decision. This involves deciding which fashion styles to carry at each of its hundreds of stores. Predicting future demand accurately is very difficult for fashion apparel because of large product variety and short product life cycles. Our methods overcame this challenge and provided merchandizing recommendations. We were able to convince the managers to adopt our recommendations, even though some of them ran counter to their intuitions. In a pilot study, our recommendations performed really well. Subsequently, we got the full decision support system implemented at the firm.

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” I would be in a tech company or a researcher somewhere. Not sure I can do much else…

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I try my best to bring my experiences as a researcher into the classroom so that students understand how the concepts they are learning in the class are being applied in practice. I also seek constant feedback on my teaching methods and teaching philosophy from my colleagues who are experts in “student-centered learning.” This feedback has greatly benefitted my teaching style, for which I am thankful to my colleagues.

“One word that describes my first time teaching”: Terrifying and exhilarating at the same time! I didn’t have much prior experience with teaching. I had this terrifying dream the previous night that I had totally forgotten that I had to teach until I ran into a colleague who said, “Aren’t you supposed to be teaching now?”—utter panic! Fortunately, the reality was much better and the students very supportive.

As a b-school professor, what motivates you?

The joy of hearing about how students implement what they learn in the class in their personal or professional lives.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor”:

How rewarding teaching MBAs can be. Then, I wouldn’t have dreaded my first time teaching as much.

Professor you most admire and why:

I have greatly benefitted both directly (from collaboration, teaching, and mentorship) and indirectly (from their work) from several professors over the years. There are too many to name, but the ones that have been the closest to me are Prof. Paat Rusmevichientog (USC Marshall) and my former PhD advisors Prof. Devavrat Shah (MIT) and Prof. Vivek Farias (MIT).

STUDENTS

What do you enjoy most about teaching business students?

The fact that there is an incredible number of things I can learn from them. Teaching business school students is a constant learning experience for me. I have had students in my class who had worked at companies whose cases I teach. I also have students who frequently ask me how they can apply what they learn in the class at their work or at their own or family businesses. These interactions deepen my own understanding of the material. Teaching also allows me to be a better researcher because it forces me to crystallize my own understanding of concepts, be a clear thinker, and effectively communicate new ideas.

What is most challenging?

Customizing the course content to an audience with very diverse sets of backgrounds.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student: 

Inquisitive

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student:

Distracted

What is the most impressive thing one of your students has done?

Inspired by what he learnt in the inventory management lecture of my class, he went ahead and decided to revamp the entire inventory management system at his company. After an independent study with me, he was able to convince his managers to pilot the new system, which showed an annualized cost savings in the millions!

What is the least favorite thing one has done?

I have a “no-electronics” policy in all of my classes. This is so that all the students can actively engage and share their insights and experiences with the rest of the class. All of my students are deeply respectful of this policy, but once in a while, I have students who are distracted by their phones.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class?

One of my senior colleagues, Prof. Eitan Zemel, says “Operations is mainly about common sense.” I try to convey this to my students and emphasize that solving most operations problems is all about applying simple logic and common sense. Students who master this lesson and apply the thinking “how would I solve this problem in real life?” stand a very good chance of getting an A in the class.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …”

Exacting

“But I would describe myself as …”

Fair

Fill in the blank:

“If my students can tell me what Little’s Law is when woken up in the middle of the night, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

LIFE OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM

Fun fact about yourself:

Whenever I discover a new author I really like, I want to read each and every book they have written, even the ones that may not have been highly rated. When I was in my first year grad school, I became a big fan of Michael Crichton and ended up reading all of his science fiction novels.

What are your hobbies?

Reading, long walks, traveling, and cricket.

How will you spend your summer?

Like my previous few summers, this summer will go in teaching and conference travel.

Favorite place to vacation:

Bali. Haven’t been there yet, but I heard so much about it that I hope to go there someday.

Favorite book:

Keeps changing depending on my current interests. “Sapiens” and “The Origins of Political Order” are two recent favorites.

What is your favorite movie and/or television show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much?

Matrix and Inception. They were very well done and raise deep philosophical questions.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist:

My music tastes are mainstream. “One Republic” and “Imagine Dragons” are two current favorite bands.

Bucket list item #1:

Write a book

THOUGHTS OF REFLECTION

What professional achievement are you most proud of?

It’s not one thing but many little things. Inspiring students to apply what they learned in their jobs the next day. Working with PhD students and seeing them grow. Talking to young PhD students at conferences, who have read my papers and want to share how they can extend some of the results.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor?

Any moment I see a “light bulb go off” in the minds of any of the students during the lecture. Observing those aha moments is the best part of teaching.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…”

Hands-on and experiential learning. I am firm believer of learning by doing. I’ve observed that most students really appreciate the nuances of running businesses when they are exposed to simulated exercises. I play two simulated games as part of my course—one on markdown optimization and the other on supply chain management. I would love to do more of these.

In your opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at doing what? Please explain. Consolidate their data assets into one place, so that they can be readily accessed. The data at companies has traditionally been fragmented across functions, mainly due to legacy reasons. For example, the CRM data, the inventory data, and the marketing data all live on different systems that don’t talk to each other. This makes it hard to combine these data to improve their decision making.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you.

I would like to broaden the application of my research to make operations and supply chains more efficient, especially where the resources are severely constrained, such as in developing countries.

Students Say…

“I had the opportunity to work with Professor Srikanth Jagabathula while I was studying for my MBA at NYU Stern.  At the time, I was working as a Supply Chain Planner for Johnson & Johnson and working with CVS partners on consumer product inventory projects in the spirit of continuous improvement.  As a part-time student and full-time supply chain practitioner, I consulted with Professor Jagabathula on an inventory optimization project and learned a great deal from his insights and feedback. Beyond the impact of the insights he offered to the success of the project, Professor Jagabathula demonstrated the value of bridging the academic-practitioner gap with his ability to successfully translate optimization models into practical and actionable insights.  Professor Jagabathula’s willingness to partner and support the immediate, real-world opportunity my team faced greatly influenced the outcomes.”

“I really enjoyed this class and was by far the best core at Stern. Who knew ops could be soooo much fun. Thanks Prof Jagabathula. You really changed my perspective with this course.”

“This class really inspired me to learn more about operations management. My initial thoughts to taking this class was that I would find the material uninteresting and too difficult. Both the professor and TF were absolutely amazing in breaking down the material and helping us learn. I liked the fact that we as the students are very active in our learning process with the cases, games, and scenarios that we encountered during class.”

“I don’t think you can improve, I think you are perfect. You are 100% utilization of awesomeness (I understand that doesn’t make sense, and I know that utilization is throughput over capacity). I’m so glad I took your class, even if it wasn’t mandatory. Knowing what I know now, if I had to go back and have the option to take this or not, I would take it only if it was taught by you.”

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