What's Your StORy?

Saif Benjaafar

 Saif Benjaafar

February 2016 What's Your StORy?
Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Director of the Initiative on the Sharing Economy and the Center for Supply Chain Research, University of Minnesota

More questions for Saif Benjaafar?
Check out the Open Forum on INFORMS Connect!


What prompted you to enter this field? Why?
I started out as an electrical engineer. I took courses in O.R. and economics and became intrigued about how mathematics could be used to model not just physical phenomena but also economic and social interactions.


What is the best advice you can give to students in your field?
Read widely and read outside your field, particularly fields that tackle big questions such as philosophy, political science, and economics.

What has been your best INFORMS experience so far?
Seeing the recent growth in O.R. work that addresses big societal problems including the environment, energy, and health.


What are you most excited about as chair of the INFORMS International Meeting? Besides that you get to go to Hawaii.
We have a tremendous line up of invited tracks devoted to innovative research on emerging topics such as big data analytics, cloud computing, business model innovation, and the sharing economy.


What is something you learned in the last week?
I just returned from a trip to Italy during which I visited Murano, a series of islands near Venice. Murano has evolved over the centuries to become a major world center for glassmaking. It turns out that this was an unintended consequence of glassmakers being banished from Venice in the 13th century (glass furnaces posed a fire hazard for the city’s mostly wooden buildings). Over time, this allowed Murano to develop (perhaps not unlike today’s Silicon Valley) the eco-system and the critical mass of talent to grow into the unrivaled center for glassmaking that it became.


What is your least favorite mode of transportation? Can you apply a routing problem to make it better?
I am agnostic about transportation modes. However, I am excited about the growing trend away from the exclusive ownership of cars (and other modes of transport) to one of sharing and on-demand access. There is a tremendous opportunity for the INFORMS community to contribute to the development of this sharing economy.


If we were sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it's been for you, what would we be celebrating?
After spending three years as Dean of a new school in Singapore, I am happy to devote more time to research. I hope to be celebrating some of the work we would have completed by then.


What interest do you have outside of work that might surprise us?
I enjoy traveling and spending time in Asia, particularly in my favorite city Hong Kong.


What would you name the autobiography of your life?
I have been privileged to be involved in the founding of two new departments, in Minnesota and in Singapore. I was also involved in establishing two university research centers and a major building project (a new university campus). I find the whole process of starting things from scratch very satisfying. If I were to give the story of my life a name, it would definitely have to reflect that.