For someone who researches forecasting and global operations management, China makes for a fascinating study.
“It’s an interesting time to look at Chinese companies,” says Enno Siemsen, speaking about a new research project he developed that examines how companies forecast demand. “They have to change their ways to some degree, because they are not capacity-constrained anymore—they can no longer sell what they make. Their supply chains are going to lengthen, if you have your supplier in a neighboring country like Vietnam, for example.”
Thanks to an endowment from University of Wisconsin–Madison alumnus Wade Fetzer (BS ‘59) and Beverly Fetzer, Siemsen, a professor of operations and information technology management and executive director of the Erdman Center for Operations and Technology Management at the Wisconsin School of Business, was able to work on this project and two others in China. He spent 2 ½ weeks in residence at Shanghai’s Fudan University, one of the nation’s top universities.
Siemsen says the fellowship helped him carve out the time and resources to make the trip.Started in 2015, the Fetzer Fellowship gives recipients the opportunity to focus on research and teaching in relation to China and Chinese business and culture. The annual program awards a WSB fellowship and a non-WSB fellowship that alternates by year between Engineering and Consumer Science.
“Wade cares about China very deeply and he wanted to create a mechanism that would get our faculty to be more involved with China,” Siemsen says. “The idea is to take all that faculty members do—research, teaching, service, outreach—and do those things in-country so you can take them back into the WSB classroom.”
Suzanne Dove, assistant dean for academic innovations, says the fellowship is a tremendous addition to the School’s global endeavors.
“For a top research university such as UW–Madison, the Fetzer Fellowship offers a wonderful way to integrate cutting-edge international business content into the curriculum. The fellowship enables our faculty to develop new research insights related to China’s rapidly changing economic and business environment, and they share these insights in the classroom and with colleagues. The fellowship also has a positive impact on our efforts to build academic and corporate relationships with Chinese partners by allowing our faculty to travel to China to conduct and disseminate research.”
Delving into the research
While in Shanghai, Siemsen was able to focus on several of his research priorities.
In addition to the forecasting demand project, Siemsen began a study that examines decision-making under uncertain demand, looking at the differences in frequency with which demand information is revealed and the frequency with which companies make decisions. With modern databases, planners may now see daily updates on demand, but they make decisions only on a weekly or monthly basis. Siemsen says the content is not China-specific, but the idea was sparked by the time he spent at Fudan, coding and running experiments.
A separate study is a continuation of earlier work and looks at how a firm’s production process transfers from one plant to another. Can a knowledge template help speed up the process of moving from one location to another? What are the cultural barriers involved, if any?
“There’s always been this sort of notion that ‘we’ve done this within the United States,’” Siemsen says. “But these transfers are happening cross-culturally now, whether that’s China to Vietnam, China to Mexico, China to the U.S., or even from the coast to inland China.”
All three projects will wrap up in the next year, Siemsen estimates, and he plans on submitting them to academic research journals for publication. It’s also research expertise that will cross over to the classroom.
“My work on forecasting practices in China will become part of my course on sales and operations planning, and the experiment I ran to study template use in production processes will be incorporated into a global operations strategy course I’m planning to teach in the future,” Siemsen says.
Cultural immersion Shanghai-style
In addition to the research, the Fetzer fellowship helps foster cross-cultural understanding between the U.S. and China.
“China is a very relational culture,” says Siemsen, who speaks some Chinese. “The moment you get to know people and they get to know you, they’ll introduce you to other things. China has a way of snowballing.”
Through a series of introductions, Siemsen attended the Shanghai Forum, a conference of international thought leaders sponsored in part by Fudan University. He was invited back to speak at next year’s forum on the subject of omni-channel retailing and its implications for global trade.
Siemsen also observed some retail trends on the streets of Shanghai, one of the world’s most populous and cosmopolitan cities.
High-end showrooms that double as coffee shops for brands like Kohler are cropping up everywhere in Shanghai, he says. For the Chinese, it’s a way of interacting with customers, one interesting aspect of the future of retail.
With the Badger network spanning the globe, Siemsen also had the opportunity to attend a UW–Madison event while in Shanghai, where Wisconsin alumni welcomed freshmen and incoming UW students.
Now back in the U.S., he looks forward to sharing his fellowship experience with WSB.
“I learned a lot about Chinese companies that I didn’t really know before,” Siemsen says. “I’d been to China on a personal basis and I had interacted with a lot of U.S. and European companies that had invested in China, and I worked there for a German-Taiwanese joint venture back in 1999. I knew that world, but I hadn’t gotten to know the kind of pure, Chinese-grown global companies that have emerged over the past 20 years. To start seeing those and to see how they operate a bit more, that was very valuable.”
Siemsen’s new expanded knowledge will help bring global learning to the classroom and continue the School’s commitment to focused research excellence.