Most people don’t like listening to other people’s problems. Jeff Camm, professor and head of the Department of Operations, Business Analytics and Information Systems (OBAIS) in the Carl H. Lindner College of Business, is an exception to the rule.
Problems are his forte. Specifically when it comes to gathering and analyzing data in pursuit of solving real-world business dilemmas.
“I like solving real problems; it’s what drives me,” Camm says of the methodical exploration of an organization’s data known as business analytics.
Camm, who began his UC career as an assistant professor in 1984 at age 25, has witnessed the transformation of this fast-growing field that commands a strong combination of business and IT skills and boasts record numbers in the master’s program with 100% placement.
Formerly called the Department of Quantitative Analysis and Operations Management, the department merged with Information Systems in 2011 to accommodate an industry-wide trend of explosive data growth and a need, through technology, to extract data and interpret meaning to drive business decisions.
Camm has headed the OBAIS department since 1994 and thinks he “may be the longest running department head on campus.” Throughout his 28 years of teaching, he prides himself on bringing consulting and real-world problems to the classroom.
Companies from Greater Cincinnati and beyond often approach Camm to help find ways to optimize operations. Often he takes these problems to the classroom, where teams of graduate students examine raw data to solve real business issues.
“We bring in real consulting and make the students work with real data,” he says.
He quickly ticks off examples of these business problems that he, his colleagues and students have confronted and offered solutions to as a way to enhance business outcomes. Improving Bearcat Shuttle route times, resolving UC Law School exam and class schedule conflicts, forecasting demand to enhance inventory at St. John’s Soup Kitchen, efficiently maximizing biodiversity in nature reserves in the U.S., a project mentioned in a brief to former President Bill Clinton, and the list goes on.
He takes personal satisfaction in a project he and several UC colleagues conducted with consumer goods conglomerate P&G in 1993. As a supply chain and optimization specialist, Camm and fellow professors Jim Evans and Dennis Sweeney examined the company’s North American product supply chain and helped revamp the system to save the company $250 million a year.
Alumni often return to enlist Camm’s help or company representatives visit the classroom to present a problem.
Keith Riggs, president of Trenwa, a Northern Kentucky-based company that makes concrete trenches for electrical cable distribution, approached Camm about an equipment scheduling issue.
Riggs filmed the manufacturing process, showed it to Lindner College of Business students, gave them the data and “turned the students loose,” Camm says.
The two best teams presented their findings to Riggs, who was interested in hiring them to implement their solutions.
“They did in six weeks what a consultant would do in 18 months,” Camm says.
The steady stream of companies seeking data-solution help prompted the establishment of the new UC Center for Business Analytics (CBA) in the Lindner College of Business, which will be a focus for business research and education.
Seven local companies have agreed to sponsor the new center. In return, the companies receive support for their data analytics projects and students benefit from the experiential learning opportunity.
As a Lindner College of Business Research Fellow, Camm has a strong academic research and presentation record. He is now co-author of best-selling “An Introduction to Management Science,” a 13th-edition textbook used by UC students for the last 36 years.
Camm’s ability to simplify complex issues for his students earned him the 2006 INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences) Prize for the Teaching of Operations Research/Management Sciences Practice, an honor that was later also bestowed to one of his students.
From his research and consulting work, Camm shares the knowledge in his classroom. He derives a lot of satisfaction when students, many of whom are highly successful practitioners in the field, “call me back and tell me they are using what I taught them,” he says.
“That’s a true measure of success.”
Neil Eisner, MBA ‘ 02, MSBA-QA ‘03, supply chain management consultant for SAP, and Paul Bessire, BBA ’04 and MS-QA ’05, owner of PredictionMachine.com, are proof of this success.
“He basically took an individual who had no prior business education, no knowledge of computer programming and had last studied college mathematics 29 years previously, and molded that person into someone who broadly utilizes the decision sciences to solve real-world business problems on a daily basis,” Eisner says of himself.
Bessire, who owns PredictionMachine.com, advanced sports forecasting software, calls the OBAIS department “the best in the nation because of strong faculty and leadership exhibited by Dr. Camm who continually stressed real-life applications.”
Meanwhile, Camm continues to listen to people’s problems. He likens the work to solving a puzzle or a health-care diagnosis that involves asking the right questions and examining the symptoms, he says. Work that he believes has the potential to impact an outcome or make a difference in efficiency.
To wash away the stress of juggling simultaneous projects, Camm runs three to four times a week.
“To clear the head,” he says. But he can’t seem to out run the numbers that are a constant presence in his thoughts.
“It’s a good time to think about how to solve people’s problems,” he says.