MIT Sloan Executive Education innovation@work Blog

Category: Operations Strategy

An interview with ACE holder Franco Amalfi

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 month and 16 days ago

Franco Amalfi 250

Franco Amalfi is an accomplished executive with more than 25 years of experience in value selling, management consulting, software development, software implementation, program management, and business development. He recently completed his Advanced Certificate for Executives in Management, Innovation & Technology at MIT Sloan and shared some of his thoughts about his ACE experience with us.

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True operational excellence means everyone wins — employees, customers, and shareholders

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 months and 5 days ago

good jobs are good for business

Conventional wisdom holds that bad jobs are the unavoidable price of low-cost service. The rule of thumb for many companies in industries like retail, hospitality, banking, and health care has been to drive down wages and operating costs, creating a vicious cycle of disinvestment in search of higher profits. But there is a shift taking place. Companies are realizing that happy, engaged workers are more productive, provide better service, and are more loyal. Good jobs are, in fact, good for business.

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Why "good jobs" are necessary for a sustainable economy

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 3 months ago

Zeynep Ton at the 2018 MIT Sustainability Summit

The 2018 MIT Sustainability Summit, held March 8 at the Four Seasons in Boston, focused on the long-term sustainability of future workforces, widening inequality, and the recent proliferation of contract labor. Keynote speaker and MIT Sloan Professor Zeynep Ton explained why “good jobs” are critical to a sustainable economy. She teaches the new program Achieving Operational Excellence Through People: Delivering Superior Value to Customers, Employees, and Shareholders.

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Are “Good Jobs” finally becoming fashionable in retail?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 11 months and 9 days ago

Zeynep Ton's Good Jobs Strategy in Retail

Retail jobs have long been considered undesirable. Back in 2013, Zeynep Ton, Senior Lecturer at MIT Sloan and author of The Good Jobs Strategy, told a TedxCambridge audience that retail jobs “are not just bad because they offer low wages and chaotic schedules, but because they make workers feel meaningless.” She shared how one retail worker had told her, “We are throwaways who are a dime a dozen.”

Thankfully, albeit slowly, the retail industry is changing how it views, treats, trains, and ultimately retains its employees. The President and CEO of the National Retail Federation (NRF), Matthew Shay, recently published a piece on LinkedIn titled, “Good Jobs Change Lives.” In this post, Shay unveiled a new initiative by the NRF to help workers secure jobs in retail and advance in their careers. The program provides hands-on training in topics such as retail tools and technologies, customer service, and retail math. Participants receive credentials they can put on their resumes and cite during their job searches. More than 30 retailers, foundations, and non-profits are collaborating in this initiative.

The NRF itself has approximately 700,000 entry-level openings. According to the organization, “individuals who hold a certification or license are significantly more likely to be employed and have 34-percent higher earnings.”

Training is a proven cornerstone of Zeynep Ton’s Good Jobs Strategy. In her recent Harvard Business Review article, “How 4 Retailers Became ‘Best Places to Work’,” Ton and co-author Sarah Kalloch share strategies and policies that have made HEB, Costco, TraderJoe’s and QuikTrip successful, innovative companies staffed by employees who are happy and eager to work hard.

“For Costco founder Jim Sinegal, retailing is fundamentally a people business, which means it has to get the people part right,” writes Ton. “Costco hires good people, teaches them and pays them well, and gives them opportunities to advance. In return, Costco gets better productivity.”

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Fast fashion: What's the true cost of a bargain?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 7 months and 13 days ago

fashion waste

American consumers love a bargain. In fact, consumers will often choose a bargain over ideals; this past spring an Associated Press-GFK poll found that, "when it comes to purchasing clothes, the majority of Americans prefer cheap prices over a Made in the USA label." This, despite decades of political rhetoric about the need to bring manufacturing jobs back to America.

But there's a bigger, hidden cost behind our love of a deal—particularly our love of cheap clothing. In today's market, there's no shortage of options for buying amazingly inexpensive, yet trendy clothing, including big box stores, "fast fashion" stores such as H&M and Primark, and off-shore clothing retailers advertising on Facebook. Some of the messaging inherent in these brands is that the items are so cheap, it's OK to purchase them for only one wear. You can buy that novelty sweater for the "ugly sweater holiday party" or any other frivolous clothing item for a one-time event. After all, it cost less than a night out, or even an entrée at many restaurants.

However, the dirty little secret that these retailers, manufacturers, and their supply chains don't share is the true cost of the disposable clothing industry. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, "15.1 million tons of textile waste was generated in 2013, of which 12.8 million tons were discarded." According to MSNBC, "10 percent of the world's total carbon footprint comes from the fashion industry, and apparel is the second largest polluter of fresh water globally."

The fast fashion industry not only generates textile waste, but the economics behind it demand the clothes be produced using massive amounts of cheap material and cheap labor. This means relying on the laborers at the very lowest end of the wage spectrum in countries with few protections for workers. While the fashion industry on the whole is a job creator, many of those equate to low wages, forced labor, unhealthy and dangerous working conditions, and even child labor, which is now rampant through apparel supply chains.

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Price optimization: Q&A with Professor Simchi-Levi

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 1 year and 11 months and 30 days ago

MIT Sloan Executive Education recently hosted the latest in its INNOVATION@WORKTM webinar series, entitled “The New Frontier in Price Optimization," with MIT Professor David Simchi-Levi. The webinar, now available on demand, which drew hundreds of attendees from across the world, presented recent breakthroughs in the development of models that combine machine learning and optimization for pricing that significantly improve revenue and reduce inventory risks

During the webinar, Simchi-Levi presented a case study on Rue La La—an online retailer with whom he worked that offers invitation-only flash sales—to answer the question: “How can we generate an effective forecast for a product we’ve never sold before?” His second example, Groupon, a daily deal website and mobile application offering things to do, see, eat, and buy, focused on how to combine forecasting with learning on the fly to understand the probability that a customer will purchase a product at a specific price. Simchi-Levi’s third case-in-point was the story of B2W Digital, the leading e-commerce company in Latin America, which took price optimization even further by leveraging forecasting, learning on the fly, and optimization.

The event included a live question and answer session and was immediately followed by a Facebook chat with the webinar audience. Recently we spoke with Professor Simch-Levi to dig deeper into the topic of pricing optimization.

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Will surge pricing work at Disney?

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 2 months and 7 days ago

Disney crowds

One man's surge pricing (or demand pricing) may be another's price gouging. Uber, the ride sharing platform, has brought the idea of surge pricing to the forefront--when the cars are in high demand, the platform company raises its fares. Uber justifies the surge as a means to ensure reliability and availability for those who agree to pay a bit more.

Uber is not alone in adopting the demand pricing model. At the end of February 2016, Disney announced it would be adopting demand pricing for its amusement parks in California and Florida. This move has resulted in some backlash: The Economist, for example, wrote that "what Disney World is doing is old-fashioned price discrimination."  

Disney's new pricing model is more nuanced than just raising prices when its parks are in high demand. In fact, the demand pricing only affects single-day tickets to the company’s parks. As The New York Times explained, "At Disneyland, located in Anaheim, Calif., which attracts roughly 17 million visitors annually, single-day tickets now cost $99...'value' tickets, for Mondays through Thursdays during weeks when most schools are in session, will drop to $95." There will be separate prices for "regular" tickets and "peak" tickets. However, the new pricing has no impact on multi-day park passes. This is a key point, particularly for the Orlando-based parks, as most families vacationing at or near Disney World opt for multi-day park packages. It is worth noting that demand-based pricing, which is commonly used in the lodging and airline industries, has already been adopted by other themes park operators in the United States, including Universal Studios.

Along for the ride? The logic behind Disney’s surge pricing

While families spending their vacation at Disney will be mostly unaffected by the pricing strategy, day trippers will be more likely to feel the pinch. The new pricing model is designed to encourage day trippers to schedule their visits during non-peak days and seasons. Those day trippers are essentially provided an incentive to visit the park when there are fewer people. In theory, that could decrease the congestion at the parks during peak times and, accordingly, decrease the amount of time spent waiting in line for rides.

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Why commonality sometimes fails

Posted by MIT Sloan Executive Education - 2 years and 9 months and 13 days ago

Commonality, or the reuse and sharing of components, manufacturing processes, architectures, interfaces, and infrastructure across the members of a product family, is a strategy targeted at improving corporate profitability. Companies from Toyota to GE use product platform strategies to deliver more variety to their customers and compete more effectively. For example, Black and Decker uses shared motors and batteries across a range of power tools. Volkswagen models such as the Jett and TT share similar underbody components and other aspects.

Typical benefits of a commonality, or a product platform strategy, include:

  • Shared development costs
  • Common testing procedures
  • Production economies of scale
  • Amortized fixed costs
  • Reduced inventory

By definition, commonality seems like an obviously good thing. Why incur the cost of making different parts for different products if the parts do the same thing?  Because as it turns out, commonality is not always the right thing to do. And even when it is right, it can be difficult to achieve.

Dr. Bruce Cameron is a lecturer in MIT's Engineering Systems Division and a consultant on platform strategies. His research at MIT uses a healthy dose of systems thinking to tease out when commonality makes sense and how to get companies to pull it off. Cameron oversaw the MIT Commonality Study, which closely examined 30 firms over eight years. The study was the first work to uncover that many firms fail to achieve their desired commonality targets, showing weaker investment return on their platform investments. "That type of behavior and phenomenon is seen in studies that we did in automotive, consumer products, and transport," says Cameron.

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