Mambo, Malbec & Mentoring — The Many Pursuits of Burak Kazaz

Editor’s note: The following article first appeared in Whitman Magazine in the fall, 2014. It was written by George Bain.

Students in Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management Burak Kazaz’s class learn their subject by reading a book about people taking dance lessons.

The Mambo is Kazaz’s unpublished manuscript that conveys his conviction that his students should care. In The Mambo, he tells stories about young professionals attending a Friday evening dance class and sharing their problems at work and in life.

Kazaz’s methods have drawn Syracuse University’s highest teaching accolade. In 2012, he became the first Whitman faculty member to be named a Laura J. and L. Douglas Meredith Professor of Teaching Excellence. In 2011, he received the first Whitman School of Management Teaching Innovation Award.

“This professor has revolutionized the teaching of supply chain management,” wrote former Whitman Dean Melvin Stith in nominating Kazaz for the Meredith honor.

“Burak is very effective at explaining concepts and making them very easy to understand,” says Noemie Lefebvre ’11, an appraiser at CoteImmobilière and formerly a supply chain analyst for L’Oreal. “With the help of The Mambo, he truly shows the purpose of supply chain and how to solve real problems seen in various companies.”

Kazaz says he developed The Mambo to teach supply chain management principles to undergraduates, who often see the subject as “a dry and boring topic because of its heavy mathematical content.”

According to Kazaz, who serves as executive director of Whitman’s H.H. Franklin Center for Supply Chain Management, supply chain management—the science of managing the flow of goods—is much more than math. “It can be a matter of life and death,” he says. He cites the hundreds of children who died in Afghanistan’s Charahi Qambar refugee camp in 2012 because aid workers could not get food and fuel there in time to protect them from a severely cold winter.

“While our job is to teach students the mathematics that will prevent negative consequences—for businesses, for humans—my first task in teaching is to get my students to care. My goal as a teacher has been to bring the human element back to the teaching of supply chain management,” Kazaz says.

A native of Turkey, he came to the U.S. for his Ph.D. at Purdue University’s Krannert School of Management. He completed that degree, in management science, in 1997. He holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in industrial engineering from Middle East Technical University.

Kazaz credits his father—a “great storyteller”—for his own interest in telling stories. “Storytelling and characters are at the heart of The Mambo,” he explains. The book of nine interrelated short stories follows seven people who work in a business environment, three as consultants in the same firm. Each week one consultant assists another character in developing a solution to a problem.

“If, in supply chain management we are really solving human problems, then I believe humans should narrate this experience,” shares Kazaz. In The Mambo he skips the x’s and y’s of traditional quantitative textbooks and uses spoken English to explain the mathematical concepts.

“As a result of this approach, I find that students develop a deep understanding of the problem first,” he continues. “They then feel more at ease in carrying out the quantitative analysis because the problem is no longer so abstract.”

Ashley Williams ’12 remembers how she applied principles from Kazaz’s classroom to solving real-world problems. She and Lefebvre were among students who worked on the Rescue Mission project, run by Associate Dean and Professor of Retail Practice Amanda Nicholson. The students redesigned the supply chain for the Syracuse agency that serves the hungry and homeless and runs 14 donation centers and Thrifty Shopper stores. The project ended with the opening of 3fifteen, an eclectic thrift store in the Marshall Square Mall aimed at collegiate shoppers.

According to Williams, after examining all the donation centers, the team changed the sorting areas’ layout to decrease walking time and created a new sorting procedure. Warehouse workers were trained to pick higher value goods for the retail stores, which increased sales by more than $500,000 from the previous year. “The team and I focused on increasing the prices of merchandise and marketing toward the collegiate consumers looking for thrifty deals, while also focusing on creating efficiency in the supply chain,” explains Williams, who now works in the sales and and operations planning group at Pratt & Whitney.

Kazaz and his students have completed projects for Syracuse-area clients, such as Gaylord Brothers, a school and library furniture manufacturer, and the New York State Maple Syrup Producers Association for which Kazaz and his team helped improve packaging and distribution.

These experiences benefit both professor and student. For Gaylord, they determined sourcing policies and examined inventory decisions. “I learned so many new research problems associated with dual sourcing, risk mitigation issues, associated supplier reliability and supplier’s financial distress,” Kazaz shares. “I cherish the opportunity to learn from these projects as much as they provide real-life experiences for our students.’’

This semester, projects include work for North Syracuse-based Ricelli Enterprises in production and distribution of pre-cast concrete products and exotic food importer Reserva in creating open-source enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions in inventory management for small grocery stores.

“Local to global” describes both the work Kazaz does with his students and his scholarly interests. That includes examining wine futures. Through Liv-ex, the London International Vintners Exchange, wine is sold in advance—while still aging in the barrel. Kazaz and other researchers estimate that Bordeaux wineries increase their profits by 10 percent by selling 
one fourth of their wine in the form of wine futures.

“We predict that, when established, small and artisanal winemakers in New York would sell almost half of their product as wine futures, improving their profits by 14 to 15 percent,” Kazaz explains.

Another project centers on malaria medicine supply chains and the impact of various interventions—such as market research and price ceiling—on sustaining the manufacturing of organic malaria medicine. “Using field data, we show that the most effective intervention, a surprise for many, is reducing the uncertainty in yield by using high-yield seed varieties,” says Kazaz.

Teaching in a doctoral program was what initially drew Kazaz from the University of Miami to the Whitman School in 2007. In addition to undergraduate supply chain management, he teaches MBA and online MBA courses on global supply chain issues and a doctoral seminar focusing on a risk management perspective.

Kazaz admits it’s “an incredibly rigorous program” he created for his doctoral students: reading at least three papers a week and replicating all the mathematical proofs in each paper on a blackboard. Classes routinely run six hours.

Being a good mentor to doctoral students is one of Kazaz’s highest goals. He is exceedingly committed to their success.

“My wife often reminds me that our professors in graduate school never gave us the time and attention that I give my students. She’s right, but I have to be true to myself and my standards,” Kazaz shares. “For me, great teachers have more than knowledge. They have time for their students, care about their learning experience and invest in their future. That is the professor I strive to be every day.”