Global supply chain disruptions are affecting every industry due to the pandemic. In times like these, organizational leaders consult with Willy Shih, the Robert & Jane Cizik Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School (HBS) and a world-renowned expert on global manufacturing and supply chain issues.
As an advisor and educator, he helps leaders successfully manage the production and distribution of complex technical products.
A longtime practitioner prior to becoming a professor in the Technology and Operations Management unit at HBS, Shih spent 28 years of his career overseeing the development and manufacturing of sophisticated technology for companies as diverse as IBM, Kodak and Silicon Graphics. In several senior roles, he was directly responsible for operations in various countries, including the U.S., Ireland, Mexico, Japan and China. During that period, he developed a taste for what he calls “messy problems.”
“When I joined Kodak in 1997, I was handed a division that had 3,000 employees and was losing $400 million a year. I encountered real-life challenges one doesn’t experience in the classroom,” explains Shih, who was instrumental in reducing the workforce to 1,167 and leading the unit to break even. He also helped Kodak launch one of the most successful patent licensing programs in U.S. history, which eventually helped the company stave off bankruptcy for several years. Though Kodak eventually collapsed after Shih left, he says it was primarily because of the nature of the technology transition, not because management didn’t recognize digital as a threat.
Over his years in industry, Shih often visited critical industrial areas in China, including cities within the Pearl River Delta known as the “Workshop of the World.” When he began teaching at HBS, he immersed his students in the Chinese factory experience to help them better understand the industrial model. Those visits later became the source of several influential case studies for the HBS curriculum that explore industries such as consumer products, consumer electronics, media and entertainment, automobiles, viral infection and vaccines, supply chain logistics, and semiconductors. His historical note on the history of the Taiwan semiconductor industry is widely used as a background on the development of the semiconductor foundry industry.
In the early stages of the pandemic, media outlets from NPR to Forbes sought out Shih’s insights, which were amplified by his popular TEDxBeaconStreet talk, “What Toilet Paper Can Teach Us About Supply Chains,” and an interview on HBS‘ “Managing Through Crisis” series.
A regular contributor to Forbes, Shih offers unique insights into semiconductors and Asian manufacturing that are of great value to international companies. His writings on American competitiveness have been widely cited by policy makers and his related co-authored paper, “Restoring American Competitiveness,” won a McKinsey Award in 2009. He also shared his thoughts on innovation in the 2010 book, “Innovation Killers: How Financial Tools Destroy Your Capacity to Do New Things,” co-authored with the late Clayton M. Christensen.
“Before entering academia, I learned valuable lessons while helping organizations transition from older to newer technology where the business model and the profit model are very different,” Shih adds. “I share those lessons with business leaders and students so they can be better prepared to face similar challenges.”