A Sketch of the Past

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This post is dedicated to all the SmartOps employees, customers, partners, investors, family and friends who kept going during this shocking and uncertain time. It was my privilege to be the CEO. Thank you.

September 12th, 2001. Instead of flying to Raleigh (NC), as initially planned, we did a phone call (no Zoom then!) with Deere folks. It was a very professional and an extra-ordinarily productive call that kicked off one of the finest long-term partnerships I have had in 30+ years of professional career – saving $1 Billion in Inventory while increasing service levels through SmartOps EIO software, having a 50-50 reward-sharing program doing seasonal logistics, optimizing their product portfolio – for nearly a decade that led to several million dollars of revenue for SmartOps, from Deere alone, and flush with this cash, we expanded into Europe (with offices in Brussels, London, Berlin and Barcelona) and published three papers:

Improving Asset Management and Order Fulfillment

Building Efficient Product Portfolios

Implementing Seasonal Logistics for Finished Goods Distribution

One of the memorable trips – there were many – during Deere relationship was to Moline, IL, their corporate headquarters, January 2002 (I believe), to make a presentation about the $1 Billion savings plan to the CEO (Bob L.), CFO (Mike M.), President of C&CE (John J.) and other key executives. The meeting began promptly at 8am, on the plush executive floor, across the hall from the CEO and CFO offices, and was scheduled for an hour, and, around 853 am, when I was about to wrap up, I saw Bob fidgeting, looking repeatedly at his watch, and so I asked:

Is there a problem?

No. The guest for my next meeting has arrived, and he is already entering the lobby.

I assume he is very important.

Not as important as SmartOps value creation for Deere. That is why we scheduled you folks first thing in the morning.

Out of sheer curiosity, who is the next meeting with?

President George W. Bush.

Yeah. Dubya.

September 13, 2001. I drove out, from Pittsburgh, after the Deere call on September 12th for a morning meeting with Case (New Holland) to Milwaukee, WI. We won this (small consulting) deal as well.

September 14, 2001. I arrived the night before in Peoria (IL), late, driving from Milwaukee, to meet executives at Caterpillar, some of them I knew from my previous project on Designing a Rapid Response Supply Chain, also published in Operations Research, that was featured in Fortune. This was also a very productive meeting leading to SmartOps EIO software deal and another project on Bundling and Pricing (and lane Strategy) over the next decade, another wonderful long-term partnership, and two more papers:

Caterpillar’s Building Construction Products Division Improves and Stabilizes Product Availability

Restructuring the Backhoe Loader Product Line: A New Lane Strategy

September 15, 2001. Drove back to Pittsburgh from Peoria. Indeed, as President Calvin Coolidge said (in 1925) and President Ronald Reagan repeated (in 1980):

The business of America is business.

Folks ask me all the time how I connected so well with senior executives at Fortune 500 firms, who had to approve the multi-million dollar deals, as they can be stereotyped by these key words:

White. Christian. Golf. Steak. College Sports.

And (many) Republican! (I am an Independent.) Easy. As an example, consider the dinner I had with COO of Monsanto, Mark, in St. Louis, in a nice Italian restaurant. After a few minutes of business talk, we settled into:

Movies. Wines. International Travel. Private Jets. Kids’ College.

As we finished our chit-chat, 2-bottles of Red down over 2-hours 🤷🏽‍♂️, he thanked me for being flexible in my travel, having moved the dinner to a day earlier than previously planned, at his request, on short notice. I asked:

Out of sheer curiosity, what is happening tomorrow night?

I am doing a fundraiser dinner, at my home, for the re-election of President George W. Bush.

Dubya, again!

The point is while there may be many differences in our personal backgrounds and interests, they do not entirely define us, nor do they come in the way of a productive professional partnership, and there is usually quite a bit of commonality and overlap in personal interests as well.

Movies are a great ice-breaker. Indeed, one of the most dramatic instances was at lunch, in Posner Hall, in the Grand Room, when Ken was our Dean, and we – Tepper Chair Professors – were sitting around a table, hosting George Soros. Ken was seated on his left, and I was on his right. Ken introduced himself, and we went around the table introducing ourselves: name, area of study, some interesting research topic. Soros was clearly not too interested – his body language clearly displaying weariness and boredom – but was politely (and silently) hearing us out. He showed a brief spark when Finn introduced himself, and Ken added that he was a recent Nobel Laureate, but that interest vanished soon after. As I was the last to introduce myself, I could sense that he wanted this to get over with quickly so he could eat (and talk about his history with Pittsburgh and so on), I decided to simply say one sentence (without even stating my name):

I study Operations Management, but I really love movies.

He came alive!

I also love movies.

What did you see most recently that you liked?

The Hours. Nicole Kidman was excellent.

 

The Hours is a psychological drama film directed by Stephen Daldry and starring Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, and Nicole Kidman.The screenplay by David Hare is based on Michael Cunningham’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The plot focuses on three women of different generations whose lives are interconnected by the 1925 novel Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Critical reaction to the film was positive, with nine Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, and a win for Nicole Kidman for Best Actress. It had box-office receipts of $108 million (on a budget of $25 million).

We had a nice chat over lunch about movies. As it ended, he gave me his business card, and said:

When you call, tell my executive secretary that you are the movie professor from CMU. We can compare notes about the movies we have seen and liked or not liked.

A few years later, when Barack Obama was President (who I had met in Pittsburgh, for breakfast, along with a few other business leaders, when he was campaigning the first time) I flew into Boise, and as my Hawker 800XP came to a halt, I could see a security detail of Black Escalades drive out. I asked the pilot:

Out of sheer curiosity, do you know who landed just before us?

George W. Bush.

No kidding! Dubya, again. Moline. St. Louis. Boise. Basically our overlapping Moments of Being can be summarized as:

Bush: Raising Funds == Tayur: Selling Software.

 

1 comment

  1. Ha ha. I took Suresh Sethi to tour his first FMS at John Deere in Waterloo Iowa in February 1982. I was at Caterpillar FMS in Peoria many times during my Purdue I.E. master’s and PhD time in the 70s and early 80s.

    When I was visiting India’s 1st FMS in the early 80s, I couldn’t see it live because they were making government orders. But they showed my a lovely video of it, great music, flashy. (But you couldn’t see what parts they were machining.) They had made it to show Mikhail Gorbachev the following week. I think the director might have been Bernardo Bertolucci?

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