Ralf Seifert

Professor of Operations Management

Ralf Seifert’s 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, Hema, Hilti, HP, LEGO, L’Oréal, Unilever, Sky Germany and Tetra Pak, and 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 prestigious journals such as Production and Operations Management, Operations Research, 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 25 June 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
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
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
Breaking Through
The Digital Supply Chain Challenge
Programs
On campus
Orchestrating Winning Performance

Reset for sustainable and inclusive growth

IMD's signature program, OWP, brings you the latest business trends, thought leadership and insights to revitalize your business, drive innovation and lead you forward. Fully customizable schedule. For executives and teams.

Location: Lausanne Length: 5 days Fee: CHF 10,900 Next start: 26 June 2023
On campus
Digital Supply Chain Management

Get maximum value from your supply chain

Develop a digital supply chain management strategy that embeds the right technologies for your business.

Location: Lausanne Length: 5 days Fee: CHF 9,900 Next start: 7 November 2022
On campus
Foundations for Business Leadership

Successfully navigate the complexity of general management

Immerse yourself in an intense, highly experiential setting, exposing you to the most current business challenges you will face as general manager. Your cross-disciplinary journey will include IMD’s award-winning business cases, plus business simulations, integrative exercises, cutting-edge live cases, dynamic guest speakers, expert faculty and coaching.

Location: Lausanne Length: 3 weeks Fee: CHF 25,000 Next start: 6 November 2022
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 25 June 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
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
Carbon footprint and supply chain responsiveness trade-offs in strategic network design
Concern related to sustainability and greenhouse gases has grown among citizens as well as firms, which are increasingly committing to carbon emission reduction targets. However, firms׳ emissions c...
Published 1 August 2015
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
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
A review of trade credit literature: Opportunities for research in operations
Trade credit arises when a buyer delays payment for purchased goods or services. Its nature has predominantly been an area of inquiry for researchers from the disciplines of finance, marketing, and...
Published 1 December 2013
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
Assessing the comprehensiveness of supply chain environmental strategies
As environmental awareness grows, firms are expected to expand the scope of their environmental strategies beyond organisational boundaries and to address more comprehensively environmental issues ...
Published 1 July 2013
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
Insight for Executives
Wistful cosmetics: Designing supply chain resilience
Case Study
Wistful cosmetics: Designing supply chain resilience
This disguised case exercise presents the situation confronting Wistful Cosmetics, a cosmetics company based in Spain. The company, like many others, has been shaken by disruptions to global supply...
Published 18 July 2022
L'Oréal: The beauty of supply chain digitalization
Case Study
L'Oréal: The beauty of supply chain digitalization
L’Oréal, the world leader in beauty products, began to rethink its vision for the industry. The world was on the cusp of a digital future full of possibilities. For a company known for its consumer...
Published 12 December 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
Industry 4.0 and COVID-19: why the pandemic might have provided a clearing in the woods
Article
Industry 4.0 and COVID-19: why the pandemic might have provided a clearing in the woods
Building business cases for Industry 4.0 is notoriously hard work. Has the pandemic provided a clearing in the woods?
Published 24 November 2020
Can AI deliver tangible benefits to demand forecasting? 3 questions to help managers decide
Article
Can AI deliver tangible benefits to demand forecasting? 3 questions to help managers decide
Artificial Intelligence can greatly favor demand planning operations if the right questions are answered first.
Published 15 October 2020
The Digital Supply Chain Challenge
Book
The Digital Supply Chain Challenge
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
How COVID-19 exposed the fault lines of product complexity
Article
How COVID-19 exposed the fault lines of product complexity
As supply chains rebalance and return to something like normal after digesting the shocks induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, discussions are shifting to lessons learned. Much of the focus has been ...
Published 15 July 2020
Fostering a Lean culture
Article
Fostering a Lean culture
Why change needs, first and foremost, people.
Published 28 May 2020
Digesting the shocks: how supply chains are adapting to the COVID-19 lockdowns
Article
Digesting the shocks: how supply chains are adapting to the COVID-19 lockdowns
Rethinking global models and supply dependencies
Published 24 March 2020
The automotive industry: Disrupting or being disrupted?
Case Study
The automotive industry: Disrupting or being disrupted?
This industry note talks about how the automotive industry has been disrupted over the years, the various factors that triggered these disruptions, the current trend in the industry and the value c...
Published 17 February 2020
Dream small: The best path forward for AI in supply chains
Article
Dream small: The best path forward for AI in supply chains
Artificial intelligence (AI) remains a controversial topic in the supply chain community, something that is fueled by huge aspirations but is hindered by data availability, employee training and ac...
Published 30 December 2019
HEMA: New retail comes to grocery
Case Study
HEMA: New retail comes to grocery
A new approach to e-commerce, one that blends the best of different online models, is emerging in China under the description “New Retail.” Hema, a subsidiary of Alibaba, was founded in 2015 and is...
Published 15 December 2019
Industry 4.0's unpredictable impacts: New data-powered business models
Article
Industry 4.0's unpredictable impacts: New data-powered business models
Industry 4.0—the increasing use of automation and data exchange in manufacturing—is already having an impact on business models in numerous—and often surprising—ways. One illustrative example is ho...
Published 12 December 2019
Bezos’ big bet – going for market share over profits
Article
Bezos’ big bet – going for market share over profits
After results showing Amazon’s retail operations were creeping into the black, it seems Amazon is back to buying market share with logistics. Along with many others we believed that e-commerce was ...
Published 26 November 2019
Workshop: Building an industry 4.0 transformation roadmap: Technology cards for distribution to work groups
Case Study
Workshop: Building an industry 4.0 transformation roadmap: Technology cards for distribution to work groups
This case is a workshop exercise built with SmarterChains, an Industry 4.0 enterprise intelligence platform. It is a complement to a class session on Industry 4.0, a difficult subject to teach as i...
Published 16 October 2019
Smart data, not big data, can unlock the potential of predictive maintenance
Article
Smart data, not big data, can unlock the potential of predictive maintenance
Predictive Maintenance is an illustrative example of how success in exploiting Industry 4.0 technologies is about going smart, not going big, especially when it comes to data.
Published 7 October 2019
Have it your way
Article
Have it your way
If personalization of consumer goods is to truly succeed at scale, companies will have to rethink fundamental pillars of their manufacturing policy.
Published 24 September 2019
RFID: Yesterday’s blockchain
Article
RFID: Yesterday’s blockchain
RFID has become a useful part of the supply chain toolbox while not being the revolution it was once promised to be. By looking back on RFID, practitioners can begin looking for the blockchain swee...
Published 12 September 2019
RFID: Yesterday's blockchain
Case Study
RFID: Yesterday's blockchain
Blockchain is one of the most talked about topics in supply chain management, promising benefits in traceability, visibility and productivity, yet the enthusiasm may be bordering on hype. Blockchai...
Published 29 July 2019
Supply chain career opportunities
Article
Supply chain career opportunities
More and more companies have complex, global supply chains and are evolving their management structures to maintain service levels and control working capital. Sales and Operations Planning (S&OP) ...
Published 18 July 2019
Online shopping: why its unstoppable growth may be coming to an end
Article
Online shopping: why its unstoppable growth may be coming to an end
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 14 June 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Las nuevas reglas de la competición entre estádares tecnológicos
Como consecuencia de los cambios en las reglas, se ha vuelto mucho más difícil alzarse como claro ganador en las actuales guerras de estándares tecnológicos. 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