Ralf Seifert

Professor of Operations Management

Ralf Seifert is Professor of Operations Management. His primary research and teaching interests are operations management, supply chain strategy, and digital transformation. His work lies at the heart of one of the most important topics currently facing organizations, as supply chains come under strain due to multiple global changes. He has also worked on industry analysis, competitive strategy, and new venture formation.

Seifert says supply chain management has grown tremendously in importance in recent years, and the agenda for supply chain executives has expanded massively. They must now address topics such as digital transformation, supply chain resilience, and sustainability in addition to worries around cost pressure, inflation, and new geopolitical constraints.

Recent supply chain tensions have been triggered by strong demand for goods at a time of significant supply chain disruptions. It is not clear if the world will ever return to a situation in which just-in-time inventory management is seen as the holy grail. Executives will have to master more profound supply chain transformations to safeguard future operations, he says.

Many supply chain executives worry about things like inventory, facilities, and channels of distribution, while the real challenge is decision making and having the right processes and information in place to inform such decisions.

Seifert is Director of IMD’s Digital Supply Chain Management (DSCM) program, which addresses both traditional supply chain strategy and implementation issues concerning digitalization trends and new technologies. He also teaches in IMD’s MBA and Foundations for Business Leadership (FBL) programs and has designed and directed numerous company-specific general management programs.

He has actively coached more than 60 project teams and served as a consultant and speaker for various multinational companies. Based on his work with companies, he has co-authored more than 50 case studies on a wide range of organizations including adidas, HEINEKEN, Hema, Hilti, HP, LEGO, L’OrĂ©al, Unilever, Sky Germany, Tetra Pak and Zalando. This work has been recognized by multiple international case awards.

Seifert has more than 100 articles and international conference presentations to his credit, including articles in Production and Operations Management, Operations Research, the European Journal of Operational Research, IIE Transaction, Research Policy, and the International Journal of Production Economics.

He has also co-authored three managerial books. His title The Digital Supply Chain Challenge: Breaking Through, published in 2020, acts as a handbook for supply chain executives faced with the challenges of being expected to understand all aspects of their companies’ business while navigating the bewildering array of options presented by supply chain digitalization. His previous books focused on strategic supply chain management and on the obstacles encountered by technology start-ups.

Alongside his role at IMD, he is a tenured professor at EPFL, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, where he has held the Chair of Technology and Operations Management since 2003.

Before joining IMD, Seifert studied and worked in Germany, Japan, and the US. While in the US, he consulted for Hewlett-Packard and served as a teaching and research assistant at Stanford University. In Germany, he worked for Booz & Company (now Strategy&), McKinsey & Company, and Freudenberg & Co. His studies included one year as a visiting scholar at Waseda University in Tokyo.

Selected publications
Article
Limiting the impact of supply chain disruptions in the face of distributional uncertainty in demand
Service level requirements play a crucial role in eliminating stock-outs in a production pipeline. However, delivering a specific service level can become an unattainable goal given the various unc...
Published 14 October 2022
What now for supply chains?  Inflation, e-commerce and over-stocking are all driving change
Article
What now for supply chains? Inflation, e-commerce and over-stocking are all driving change
Economic growth is being driven in part by supply chain dynamics. The confluences of forces might bring about a new paradigm in supply chain inventory management and perception of excellence, say R...
Published 17 March 2022
Supply chain: Cracking down on the bullwhip effect 
Article
Supply chain: Cracking down on the bullwhip effect 
Executives in our training programs have become accustomed to the dreaded “bullwhip effect” over the past year, a phenomenon when sudden spikes in demand are amplified upstream in the supply chain,...
Published 16 February 2022
Tesla supply chain: From cautionary tale to role model
Article
Tesla supply chain: From cautionary tale to role model
Tesla has reported a record net profit of $2.32 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021, showing that Elon Musk’s pioneering electric car company has weathered the supply chain congestion better than...
Published 27 January 2022
Article
Supply chains aren’t broken, it’s more a question of demand
Mainstream news reports are full of claims that supply chains are broken, citing widespread product shortages, overflowing ports and spiking freight costs. But perhaps there is another way to under...
Published 17 November 2021
Article
Can AI deliver tangible benefits to demand forecasting? 3 questions to help managers decide
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) make for a new-and-improved form of demand forecasting, an essential component for supply chain operations. So why are most companies resisting investing in...
Published 16 October 2020
Book
The digital supply chain challenge: Breaking through
The challenges facing supply chain professionals are changing rapidly. Today, far from focusing on capital expenditures and logistics such as warehousing and distribution, supply chain executives a...
Published 5 October 2020
Book
Strategic supply chain management
The supply chain is at the heart of every successful business organization's decision-making process. This textbook explains how to create a winning supply chain management strategy by spotlighting...
Published 30 April 2012
Book
Nurturing science-based ventures: An international case perspective
The number of students who wish to learn about entrepreneurship and actively engage in entrepreneurial activities - either by creating their own companies or by spurring innovation within a large o...
Published 19 February 2008
Academic publications
Book
The digital supply chain challenge: Breaking through
The challenges facing supply chain professionals are changing rapidly. Today, far from focusing on capital expenditures and logistics such as warehousing and distribution, supply chain executives a...
Published 5 October 2020
Article
Limiting the impact of supply chain disruptions in the face of distributional uncertainty in demand
Service level requirements play a crucial role in eliminating stock-outs in a production pipeline. However, delivering a specific service level can become an unattainable goal given the various unc...
Published 14 October 2022
Article
Managing perishability in the fruit and vegetable supply chains
Spoilage reduction in fresh product supply chains is an important challenge and represents great opportunities for cost savings and reduced environmental and social footprints. The purpose of this ...
Published 29 April 2022
Article
Modeling and mitigating supply chain disruptions as a bilevel network flow problem
Years of globalization, outsourcing and cost cutting have increased supply chain vulnerability calling for more effective risk mitigation strategies. In our research, we analyze supply chain disrup...
Published 27 February 2022
Article
Why do companies need operational flexibility to reduce waste at source?
We analyze the environmental benefits of operational flexibility that emerge in the form of less product waste during the sourcing process by reducing overproduction. We consider three different op...
Published 2 January 2022
Article
Benefiting from additive manufacturing for mass customization across the product life cycle
Additive manufacturing (AM) was initially designed for prototyping and product personalization, where high production quantities were not required. Now, it is also implemented for final part produc...
Published 6 October 2021
Article
Mitigating product shortage due to disruptions in multi‐stage supply chains
We focus on the optimal use of risk mitigation inventory (RMI) and reserve capacity to manage disruption risk in serial multi‐stage supply chains where product transformation occurs at each stage. ...
Published 1 April 2021
Article
A machine learning-based framework for forecasting sales of new products with short life cycles using deep neural networks
Demand forecasting is becoming increasingly important as firms launch new products with short life cycles more frequently. This paper provides a framework based on state-of-the-art techniques that ...
Published 16 November 2022
Article
Utilizing additive manufacturing and mass customization under capacity constraints
Additive manufacturing (AM), originally used for prototyping, is increasingly adopted for custom final part production across different industries. However, printing speed and production volume are...
Published 27 September 2022
Article
Information retrieval under network uncertainty: Robust internet ranking
Internet ranking algorithms play a crucial role in information technologies and numerical analysis due to their efficiency in high dimensions and wide range of possible applications, including scie...
Published 11 August 2022
Article
Assortment optimization using an attraction model in an omnichannel environment
Making assortment decisions is becoming an increasingly difficult task for many retailers worldwide as they implement omnichannel initiatives. Discrete choice modeling lies at the core of this chal...
Published 11 August 2022
Article
Investments in lead-time reduction: How to finance and how to implement
We consider a multi-period production problem in which a manufacturing firm produces a seasonal product to satisfy uncertain market demand in each selling period. The firm jointly determines the pr...
Published 21 December 2017
Article
Benefits of working capital sharing in supply chains
Supply chain finance and working capital management are important avenues to reduce supply chain costs. Small suppliers may not have sufficient working capital to finance their operations and effic...
Published 7 October 2016
Article
Disruption risk management in serial multi-echelon supply chains
This research focuses on managing supply chain disruption risk using inventory and reserve capacity in serial multi-echelon supply chains. The research problem is to determine the optimal risk m...
Published 1 March 2019
Article
Optimal dynamic order scheduling under capacity constraints given demand-forecast evolution
We consider a manufacturer without any frozen periods in production schedules so that it can dynamically update the schedules as the demand forecast evolves over time until the realization of actua...
Published 1 December 2017
Article
Inventory dynamics in process industries: An empirical investigation
Structural changes in process industries put their profitability at risk. Supply chain management was identified as an essential lever for creating a competitive edge, but SCM research in these ind...
Published 16 June 2017
Article
Product assortment and space allocation strategies to attract loyal and non-loyal customers
Assortment planning deserves much attention from practitioners and academics due to its direct impact on retailers’ commercial success. In this paper we focus on the increasingly popular retail pra...
Published 16 September 2020
Article
Manufacturing management in process industries: The impact of market conditions and capital expenditure on firm performance
Process industries operate in commodity markets with low product variety, little product differentiation, and highly capital-intensive manufacturing. Because prices are volatile and demand is uncer...
Published 1 June 2021
Article
Roles of inventory and reserve capacity in mitigating supply chain disruption risk
This research focuses on managing disruption risk in supply chains using inventory and reserve capacity under stochastic demand. While inventory can be considered as a speculative risk mitigation l...
Published 10 August 2018
Article
Optimal replenishment cycle for perishable items facing demand uncertainty in a two-echelon inventory system
The authors consider a two-echelon supply chain with an upstream manufacturer and a downstream retailer for a single perishable product. The manufacturer processes raw materials into finished produ...
Published 3 August 2018
Article
Building up resilience in a pharmaceutical supply chain through inventory, dual sourcing and agility capacity
This paper is inspired by a risk management problem faced by a leading pharmaceutical company. Key operational risk mitigation measures include Risk Mitigation Inventory (RMI), Dual Sourcing and Ag...
Published 15 January 2017
Insight for Executives
Warehouses give ‘predictive maintenance’ a new foothold
Article
Warehouses give ‘predictive maintenance’ a new foothold
PM was one of the most promising applications in the Industry 4.0 revolution, but for years it struggled to find traction. Thanks to unexpected new markets, all that looks about to change. You real...
Published 9 November 2022
The supply chain agenda keeps growing: How will you adapt?
Article
The supply chain agenda keeps growing: How will you adapt?
The third edition of the IMD Global Supply Chain Survey examines how senior executives rate their organizations on 24 important trends in supply chain management, and provides insights into how tho...
Published 31 October 2022
Sustainable supply chains: Time to get serious
Article
Sustainable supply chains: Time to get serious
Taking a full supply chain perspective on sustainability has never been more urgent.
Published 21 July 2022
L'Oréal: The beauty of supply chain digitalization
Article
L'Oréal: The beauty of supply chain digitalization
French beauty company L’OrĂ©al first embarked on its digital transformation journey more than a decade ago. Today, it provides an excellent case study of effective, successful digital transformation...
Published 13 July 2022
Baby formula crisis in the US: Myopic production planning 
Article
Baby formula crisis in the US: Myopic production planning 
The United States is deep in the throes of a nationwide baby formula shortage. Myopic production planning magnified by the absence of safety stocks are only two pieces of the puzzle at the root of ...
Published 9 June 2022
Omega x Swatch MoonSwatch: The challenges of success
Article
Omega x Swatch MoonSwatch: The challenges of success
Swatch has a smash hit with its latest product, the MoonSwatch. But the newest supply chain choke point is making it difficult to react and harvest the benefits of the launch.
Published 26 May 2022
Article
What now for supply chains? Inflation, e-commerce and over-stocking are all driving change
Economic growth is being driven in part by supply chain dynamics. The confluences of forces might bring about a new paradigm in supply chain inventory management and perception of excellence, say R...
Published 17 March 2022
Article
Take the circular route to curbing over-production
Cutting lead times, incentivizing local production and repurposing excess stock would have a huge positive impact on the environment, explain Ralf W Seifert, Yara Kayyali Elalem and IƟik Biçer
Published 17 March 2022
Article
Supply chain: Cracking down on the bullwhip effect 
Executives in our training programs have become accustomed to the dreaded “bullwhip effect” over the past year, a phenomenon when sudden spikes in demand are amplified upstream in the supply chain,...
Published 16 February 2022
Article
Tesla supply chain: From cautionary tale to role model
Tesla has reported a record net profit of $2.32 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021, showing that Elon Musk’s pioneering electric car company has weathered the supply chain congestion better than...
Published 27 January 2022
Article
Supply chains aren’t broken, it’s more a question of demand
Mainstream news reports are full of claims that supply chains are broken, citing widespread product shortages, overflowing ports and spiking freight costs. But perhaps there is another way to under...
Published 17 November 2021
Article
Supply chain in the COVID-19 spotlight
Companies would be wise to understand that bringing complexity into supply chains comes with a very real cost. Therefore, the reasons for introducing inflexibility should be compelling and real – e...
Published 27 May 2021
Article
No, AI has not killed supply chain management
Almost three years ago, Harvard Business Review published a provocative article entitled The Death of Supply Chain Management. It became as viral as an article on Supply Chain Management can be, ci...
Published 4 May 2021
Article
How a semiconductor shortage was a surprise late entry to the pandemic chaos
At the height of the supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19, the focus was on consumer goods like milk, eggs and toilet paper. Now, as the world begins to slowly rebalance, a surprising conseq...
Published 23 March 2021
Article
The pandemic might create a clearing in the woods
Choosing a path through the myriad technologies that Industry 4.0 offers is hard enough, but with uncertainties generated by the pandemic, perhaps the universe of viable options has become smaller ...
Published 15 December 2020
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Article
Artificial Intelligence can greatly favor demand planning operations if the right questions are answered first.
Published 16 October 2020
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Article
Rethinking global models and supply dependencies
Published 24 March 2020
Article
Online shopping: why its unstoppable growth may be coming to an end: Even Amazon can't defy gravity forever
Many people probably assume that online stores are making a fortune, without all the costly bricks and mortar. But the reality is rather different. Many ecommerce activities are, in fact, unprofita...
Published 12 June 2019
Article
Online shopping: Why its unstoppable growth may be coming to an end: Even Amazon can't defy gravity forever
Many people probably assume that online stores are making a fortune, without all the costly bricks and mortar. But the reality is rather different. Many ecommerce activities are, in fact, unprofita...
Published 12 June 2019
Article
Is demand planning ready for AI?
Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to draw a lot of attention as companies and technology vendors look at how machine learning could improve supply chain operations. In particular demand planni...
Published 1 April 2019
Article
Buying market share with supply chain
In an effort to meet customer demands and gain greater market share, companies offer non-monetary benefits in supply chain services as a replacement for price rebates. These often take the form of ...
Published 1 March 2019
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Article
Every supply chain executive has had the frustrating experience of witnessing inefficient practices in their fulfillment operations. One of ours was during a tour of a consumer product manufacturer...
Published 3 August 2018
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Article
Amazon has been busy lately. After entering the grocery delivery market with Amazon Fresh and buying Whole Foods, it is now in the process of launching its own supermarket, Amazon Go.
Published 8 June 2018
Article
Will Amazon do to the grocery industry what it did to ecommerce?
Amazon certainly has grabbed headlines and attention with its recent grocery moves. Some like Amazon Go, may prove to be genuine innovations. When looking at their recent moves with Amazon Fresh an...
Published 30 May 2018
Article
The real industry 4.0 challenge
As the manufacturing industry enters into the fourth industrial revolution or the Industry 4.0, supply chain leaders are challenged to make their enterprise processes more digitised – in order for ...
Published 1 March 2018
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Article
The term omni-channel is omnipresent in retail supply chain circles these days. It promises an exciting array of consumer choices but also presents unique challenges to supply chain execution. One ...
Published 2 February 2018
Article
As simple as ABC
ABC classification: It is one of the oldest, most reliable methods for catalogue or customer segementation. It relies on the properties of the Pareto distribution, and states that about 20% of a po...
Published 1 February 2018
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Article
ABC Classification: It is one of the oldest, most reliable methods for catalogue or customer segmentation. It relies on the properties of the Pareto distribution and states that about 20% of a popu...
Published 19 January 2018
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Article
A recent survey by IMD business school asked supply chain leaders across Europe to select from a diverse list of 20 hot topics what would be their biggest supply chain drivers in 2020. They were al...
Published 11 January 2018
Article
Within the box
As concerns about sustainability rise, corporations are extending their efforts to improve their environmental performance. There aremajor challenges to overcome if firms are to operate sustainabil...
Published 1 January 2018
Article
Supply chain digitalisation management challenge
As part of the broader Industry 4.0 trend, the digitalisation of supply chains is happening quickly. Much of the attention is centred on innovations like cloud computing, software-as-a-service (Saa...
Published 1 January 2018
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Article
Over the past several years, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) companies have looked more and more to third party logistics providers (3PLs) to manage their order fulfillment processes. The reasons and...
Published 5 October 2017
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Article
India is on the cusp of a supply chain transformation that may end up being nothing short of a major game changer. At IMD, we often discuss the distribution footprint of L’OrĂ©al which had an outsiz...
Published 5 October 2017
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Article
The Chinese market accounted for a third of worldwide smartphone sales in 2016, with about half a billion units sold. However, the size of this market didn't offer much protection to market leaders...
Published 13 September 2017
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Article
The digitalization of supply chains is happening quickly. Much of the attention is being rightly paid to how innovations like the Cloud, software as a service or SaaS, advanced analytics and the po...
Published 14 August 2017
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Article
Companies are increasingly investing in their sales and operation planning (S&OP) process and tools. Gartner, an American technology research and advisory firm, considers demand planning accuracy a...
Published 21 July 2017
Article
Mutating mobile market: How long can Oppo and Vivo breathe easy?
International smartphone brands such as Apple and Samsung dominated China’s smartphone market in its early stages. Then, Xiaomi and Huawei, two Chinese brands, changed the story. In 2015, Xiaomi an...
Published 19 July 2017
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Article
The omni-channel supply chain is in our headlines and on our lips. Retailers are experimenting with different ways to meet growing consumer expectation to interact with products in different ways. ...
Published 14 June 2017
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Article
The cost of global food waste and loss is estimated to be $940 billion a year. For businesses, this represents a significant proportion of shrinkage in retail supply chains and it has a direct impa...
Published 27 March 2017
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Article
The second edition of the IMD Global Supply Chain Survey examines how organizations rate themselves on 20 important trends in supply chain management. It shows that experts from leading European co...
Published 2 March 2017
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Article
As concerns over sustainability rise, corporations are extending their efforts to improve their environmental performance. For more than a decade, standards such as the ISO 14000 series request act...
Published 29 June 2016
Article
Dynamic capabilities in sustainable supply chain management: A theoretical framework
In the field of Sustainable Supply Chain Management it is well established that sustainability is a source of competitive advantage for companies. In the field of strategic management, capabilities...
Published 31 December 2015
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Article
Detectin variability in the supply chain
Published 17 June 2015
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Article
How companies can implement resilience in their supply chains
Published 18 June 2014
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Article
How companies implement resilience in their supply chains.
Published 5 March 2014
Article
Leapfrogging to mainstream: Unilever makes Lipton tea sustainable
This case won first place in the supply chain category of the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) case awards in 2011. It was produced as part of a research partnership among the ...
Published 1 January 2014
Article
LEGO: Consolidating distribution (Abridged)
The unabridged versions of these cases won the 2011 ecch Case Award in the category Production and Operations Mangement, and the Supply Chain Management Award in the 2009 EFMD Case Writing Competit...
Published 1 January 2013
Article
Quantifying the bullwhip effect using two-echelon data: A cross-industry empirical investigation
The bullwhip effect is said to occur when demand variability is amplified from a downstream site (buyer) to an upstream site (supplier) in the supply chain. This paper contributes to the literature...
Published 10 December 2012
Article
Perspectives on and adoption of ecolabels by firms
The international span of operations and the segregation of ownership and control across them are two main factors determining the high level of complexity of supply chains. This complexity require...
Published 10 December 2012
Article
Benefits and scepticism of ecolabels as accountability mechanism
Environmental labelling is an accountability mechanism for firms to satisfy growing demands to prove that value chains are sustainably managed. Although the large variety of ecolabels available tod...
Published 1 December 2012
Report
Reviewing the adoption of ecolabels by firms
The international span of operations and the segregation of ownership and control across them are two main causes of the high level of complexity that characterises supply chains today. This comple...
Published 8 October 2012
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Article
More than three decades after the first ecolabeling program was introduced, what is the verdict on their effectiveness? To find out we asked managers and sustainability practitioners – over a thous...
Published 3 May 2012
Report
Unilever sustainable tea : part 2: Reaching out to smallholders in Kenya and Argentina
Commodity value chains around the world are increasingly stressed; some even face severe and dire circumstances. This is due to myriad social, environmental and economic challenges linked to the fi...
Published 29 November 2011
Article
Making a leading brand sustainable: Unilever tries to choose the right partner
When Michiel Leijnse became Unilever's global brand development director in 2005, his brief included refreshing the high-profile Lipton tea brand. Mr Leijnse - who had worked on Unilever's Ben & Je...
Published 15 November 2011
Article
The case study: Reduced product range and deliveries; rethinking corporate strategy
The resulting conflicts could have derailed the turnround. The breakthrough came when two Lego executives met secretly with their DHL counterparts in a hotel in Prague at the beginning of 2007.
Published 25 November 2010
Article
Las nuevas reglas de la competiciĂłn entre estĂĄdares tecnolĂłgicos
Como consecuencia de los cambios en las reglas, se ha vuelto mucho mĂĄs difĂ­cil alzarse como claro ganador en las actuales guerras de estĂĄndares tecnolĂłgicos. Aunque las empresas tienen que librar e...
Published 1 July 2010
Report
Unilever sustainable tea : part 1: Leapfrogging to mainstream
Commodity value chains around the world are increasingly stressed; some even face severe and dire circumstances. This is due to myriad social, environmental and economic challenges linked to the fi...
Published 1 January 2010
Article
Hewlett-Packard: Creating a virtual supply chain (A) (Abridged)
This case provides a launching point for discussion of several interesting issues in the area of outsourcing and supply chain management including a one-off outsourcing decision-making situation, h...
Published 1 January 2004