COE congratulates MBA recipients of annual scholarships

Much of what we do at the Center for Operational Excellence involves outreach and professional development with industry, but we’re proud to support our fantastic students at Fisher College of Business as well.

From left: Rahul Parameswaran, Sreekanth Kolan, Aiswarya Ramamurthi, and Seth Johnson.
From left: Rahul Parameswaran, Sreekanth Kolan, Aiswarya Ramamurthi, and Seth Johnson. (click to enlarge)

This week, we honored four first-year MBA students headed into their second year at Fisher with scholarship funding from COE and an annual fund through the Management Sciences department. Awarded $750 each from COE were Sreekanth Kolan and Aiswarya Ramamurthi. Seth Johnson and Rahul Parameswaran each received $1,250 through the William L. Berry scholarship. This honor, endowed by the emeritus professor, is designated each year to students expected to have an impact in the operations world.

Kolan this summer is headed to an internship at Warsaw, Ind.-based medical device maker Zimmer, while Ramamurthi is Cleveland-bound for an internship in operational excellence and process improvement at PolyOne Corp. Johnson has internships lined up in Columbus this summer in data analytics at Gear Digital, and in operations at Ohio Power Tool.

Congrats to all scholarship recipients!

This article appears in the April 2014 edition of COE’s Current State e-newsletter. Have a colleague who should be receiving this e-newsletter? Contact Matt at

Big data, huge potential: Scotts, Cardinal leaders talk trends in analytics

The stream of shapeless information dubbed “big data” in recent years has swelled to a full-blown waterfall– and for any company looking to maintain competitive edge, it’s drink or drown.

The Center for Operational Excellence at its April Leading Through Excellence summit tackled the issue of big data and analytics through the lens of operations management with a panel discussion that illuminated both the opportunities in wrestling with fast-moving torrents of information and the challenges many organizations still face.

big data analytics scotts cardinal health lexisnexis
From left: Ralph Greco, Fisher College of Business; Anson Asoka, Scotts; Andy Keller, Cardinal Health; and Dihan Rosenburg, LexisNexis. (click to enlarge)

From the discussion, moderated by Ralph Greco, director of the Business Analytics Initiative at Fisher College of Business, here are some key insights from Anson Asoka, VP of global insights and analytics at Scotts Miracle-Gro Co.; Andy Keller, VP of analytics and global process owner at Cardinal Health Inc.; and Dihan Rosenburg, director of product planning at LexisNexis:

1. There’s much more room in the big-data sandbox

High-profile victors at making the most of this ever-growing flood of social media, mobile, customer activity, and market information include titans such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. The panelists, however, were a great example of how savvy companies are making the most of information to improve the supply chain, increase customer value, and make better decisions.

Scotts’ Asoka said it’s “an inherent part of our culture to capture information … and be able to leverage it.” That extends to constantly tracking a wide range of customer information before, during, and after product launches and feeding that back to the organization.

“We make products based on customer needs,” Asoka said of the $2.8 billion-a-year lawn and garden giant. “We don’t make products and then go find consumers.”

Cardinal, the $100 billion-a-year pharmaceutical and medical product distributor, is investing in keeping eyes trained on data tied to seasonally fluctuating illnesses, from the flu to allergies, and supply chain disruptions, such as product recalls, Keller said. That includes staying up-to-date on Google Flu Trends, a highly visible – but somewhat controversial – example of data analytics that Keller said is “surprisingly accurate.”

2. Data aren’t the meal – they’re the raw ingredients.

Panelists repeatedly stressed the fact that regardless of how much data a company is able to collect, it’s the sorting and analysis that ultimately create true value.

“Any one data point isn’t going to tell you the answer,” said Cardinal’s Keller. “It’s how we pull it all together, and use the tools and knowledge to pull (the value) out.”

One such tool was developed by Rosenburg at LexisNexis, the online information powerhouse commonly known for its exhaustive stash of archived news and public records.

SmartWatch, launched in 2012, allows customers to monitor supply chain risk through a range of market intelligence that’s color-coded and categorized by its political, economic, societal, technical, legal and environmental factors. The goal, Rosenburg said, is to get customers “ahead of the curve” – noticing, for example, that labor unrest is occurring in a factory’s home country before a full-blown strike occurs.

“When information becomes plentiful and free, the information about information is where the real gold is,” Rosenburg said.

Scotts’ Asoka said the root of the company’s approach to big data and analytics is simply a constant thirst for more.

“We need a lot (of data), and we don’t turn any down,” he said.

3. Infrastructure is important – very important.

Despite its status as a relatively new challenge for companies, the management of the data analytics function isn’t immune to some classic hurdles: Silos, project burn-out, and lack of infrastructure.

Keller of Cardinal said the company has taken a similar approach to the development of its analytics capabilities as its highly successful lean/Six Sigma deployment. In less than a decade, Cardinal’s operational excellence rollout has gone from a supply chain efficiency effort to a catalyst for enterprise-wide culture change.

“As I describe our (analytics) journey, it’s similar to our operational excellence journey,” Keller said. “It’s all about developing a structure, setting up career paths, and getting rigor around establishing a common language.”

This broad-based effort to align people and processes, though, can’t exist on an island, said Asoka of Scotts.

“Infrastructure is important,” he said. “I’ve seen over time that what really benefits an organization is to have analytics people within functions – and if you can have a horizontal cut across all those verticals you can properly manage data, tools and people.”

Most crucially is how data analytics ultimately fits into a company’s broader strategic course, said Rosenburg of LexisNexis.

“Quality requires vigilance,” she said. “It’s not a project you do and forget about.”

4. People are key – and we need many, many more of them.

In the end, panelists said, making better decisions through data analytics doesn’t come down to having the best software program or the biggest data center. It comes down to having people with the skills to sort, scour and shape the information into something valuable.

“If you don’t have the right people to really accelerate (your efforts), you’re going to continue to struggle, spending a lot of time as an organization getting alignment,” said Keller of Cardinal.

So who are these “data scientists?” Asoka of Scotts said there’s no rigid set of skills that can flag a slam-dunk analytics hire – rather, it’s an employee’s relentless sense of curiosity, paired with proven experience in problem-solving, that’s key.

Efforts to develop these data scientists of tomorrow are under way all around the country, but Fisher and The Ohio State University are taking an especially aggressive approach. The university just this year unveiled an undergraduate major in data analytics set to be offered this fall.

At Fisher, Greco said, the college for years has been providing its students with the skills needed to work in analytics, but efforts are afoot to develop an undergraduate business analytics minor and a graduate major for full-time MBA students.

“Students with an outstanding business acumen and skills in logistics, supply chain, HR, finance and other areas combined with analytics will be the managers of the future,” Greco said.

This article appears in the April 2014 edition of COE’s Current State e-newsletter. Have a colleague who should be receiving this e-newsletter? Contact Matt at

Decision making takes center stage at COE’s ‘Leading Through Excellence’ summit

We live and work in a world of decisions, from the small ones that spark almost imperceptible changes in our daily lives, to the massive ones that can lead to breakthroughs – or catastrophes.

But if practice makes perfect, why can even the most experienced leaders make bad decisions – and what can we do to change it?

Bestselling author Chip Heath
Bestselling author Chip Heath

The challenge of decision making emerged as the running theme of the Center for Operational Excellence’s three-day Leading Through Excellence summit, an annual April gathering of nearly 250 process improvement professionals driven to sharpen their leadership and problem-solving skills. Chip Heath, a Stanford University professor and the bestselling co-author of Decisive, Switch and Made to Stick, served as the featured keynote speaker for the summit, which enlisted nearly two-dozen Fisher College of Business faculty and industry leaders for breakout sessions and workshops.

Decisive, released last year, looks at decades of psychological and business research into a wide range of decisions and decision-makers, from teenagers to top-level executives. It comes to the conclusion that the same methodical approach applied to many other functional areas of an organization is applied far too seldom to decision-making.

“One of the ironies of organizational life is that we think a lot more about the process on the front lines where decisions may involve thousands of dollars, than at the top of organizations where decisions may involve tens of millions of dollars,” Heath told the crowd.

Statistics alone paint the picture. One survey of high-ranking executives, Heath said, found nearly two in three saying bad decisions were as frequent as good ones at their organizations. Some of those bad decisions appear to involve C-suite hires, as another study discovered roughly 40 percent of these placements – crucial strategic decisions for any organization – survive beyond 18 months.

Perhaps most jarring, Heath said, is a study that found the rate at which merger and acquisition deals actually create lasting value to be less than 20 percent.

Driving this slipshod track record, Heath said, is an impulse that worms its way into most humans’ brains during their teenage years and appears to be hard to shake: The desire to frame decisions as a do-it-or-not proposition, instead of a range of choices. Dropping the “or not” impulse and examining multiple options, Heath said, not only leads to better decisions, but faster ones, a notion that seems almost counterintuitive.

“Your role as a decision maker, as a designer of processes, is to widen your options,” Heath said.

The illusion of inclusion

helen turnbullAnother keynote speaker at this year’s COE summit focused on the decisions we make unconsciously in our everyday lives. Helen Turnbull (pictured, left), a nearly 30-year veteran in the field of organizational behavior, explored the notion that many companies fail to unlock the potential of their work forces because of sometimes imperceptible biases, not just on race and gender but on age and socioeconomic group, among others.

“We’re all looking at the world through the eyes of our expertise, but the problem is we don’t know what we’re not seeing,” Turnbull said.

The problems these biases can create in organizations extend beyond simply creating an environment some employees deem unsafe – it can hamper that crucial act of decision-making as well, Turnbull said.

“Sometimes we manage companies to such an extent that people learn what they need to do to fit in,” she said. “In doing that, they stop speaking up, stop telling you what they’re really thinking, and they start complying to such an extent that you’re no longer being told the truth about what’s actually happening.”

The first step to stopping this “illusion of inclusion” that damages so many organizations, Turnbull said, is to look not outward – but inward.

“It’s not OK to think, ‘I’m pretty good at this (diversity and inclusion) stuff,’” she said. “We need to accept that we’re not as good at this as we think we are.”

Turning points

Good decision-making – after a rash of the opposite – is what brought one of the final keynote speakers to the stage on the closing day of COE’s Leading Through Excellence summit.

cameron mitchellCameron Mitchell, the namesake of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, traced his beginnings as a “bitter young guy” who barely graduated high school to the wildly successful leader of a restaurant chain with 20 locations and nine different concepts spread across several states.

While Mitchell’s company has brought in more than $1 billion in revenue after 20 years of business and created thousands of jobs, he said it’s not the pursuit of profit that’s at the heart of its day-to-day operations.

“The most important thing we want to do is not to make a profit,” Mitchell said. “Our goal is to maintain our culture and our values.”

That culture includes a relentless focus on training employees to provide consistent and outstanding customer service – look no further than a motto that reads “The answer is ‘Yes;’ now what’s the question?” – and a drive to ingrain those values into everyone in the organization.

“We want to teach people how to think,” he said, “not what to do.”

This commitment to culture and its communication is not only a key facet to the success of Mitchell’s chain, but a key lesson to any kind of leader.

“The biggest mistake leaders can make is to allow ambiguity to permeate the business,” he said.

Leading Through Excellence closed with an address by Lawrence Funderburke, a former Buckeye basketball and National Basketball Association star who made his own life-changing decision in recent years. Today, Funderburke is the leader of the Lawrence Funderburke Youth Organization, a nonprofit that helps at-risk children and teenagers with education and financial literacy.

A graduate of Fisher College of Business, Funderburke made a lasting mark at Fisher and at The Ohio State University in 2001 by establishing a $100,000 endowment, half of which was earmarked to support disadvantaged Columbus natives attending the college.

For a look back at the full summit, check out our Flickr page.

This article appears in the April 2014 edition of COE’s Current State e-newsletter. Have a colleague who should be receiving this e-newsletter? Contact Matt at