November 8, 2012

Texas A&M Profs United By Marriage And Passion For Certain SEC Rival

The split allegiance is obvious from their family photos, but if you ask Texas A&M University Professor of Industrial Distribution Malini Natarajarathinam whether their true loyalty lies with the Aggies or the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide, her response will be, “Roll Tide!”

Malini Natarajarathinam, husband Sudarsan Rangan and son

The family photos of Malini Natarajarathinam, husband Sudarsan Rangan and their son, Vaishnav, show allegiance to A&M and Alabama.

Natarajarathinam and her husband, Sudarsan Rangan, a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School, both earned graduate degrees from the University of Alabama and are looking to this weekend’s gridiron match with great anticipation. “We have a room in our house dedicated to Alabama football,” laughs Natarajarathinam. “My husband will be useless to me during the game; there’s no way he will do anything but watch that game.”

Both Natarajarathinam and Rangan were born in India, she in Tirumangalam and he in Chennai, and although they knew one another prior to attending Alabama, “The relationship got serious at Alabama,” she contends. “We were in the same department and had the same Ph.D. dissertation adviser.”

Natarajarathinam is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution, within the Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M, and says she sees many similarities between the two universities. “Obviously both Texas A&M and the University of Alabama students are passionate about their football,” she notes. “And both schools are located in smaller, college towns. The people in both cities are very nice and friendly. But while Alabama has a few traditions, it’s nowhere near what A&M has.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in India, Natarajarathinam came to the states in 2000 and first attended another SEC school, Auburn, where she earned a master’s in industrial engineering. The University of Alabama followed, where she earned two more master’s degrees, in management science and statistics, and a Ph.D. in operations management.

She says she was first inspired to pursue a degree in industrial engineering by her uncle who lived in the U.S. and worked in that field. “I looked at him as a solution provider and that interested me,” she recalls. “Plus, industrial engineering applies to so many different areas, from airlines to automobile production; I like that flexibility.”

In one of her academic areas of interest, supply chain management (SCM), Natarajarathinam has been afforded the opportunity to collaborate with some colleagues back at Alabama. In “Supply Chain Management Competency and Firm Financial Success,” published in the Journal of Business Logistics in 2011, she, along with Alexander Ellinger and Frank Adams of the University of Alabama, studied the relationship between a business’s financial success and its efficiency in SCM. “What we wanted to know was: is bigger always better?” she explains. “We looked at Fortune 500 companies to see if the most successful businesses were also the ones that had the most efficient operations.” The study found that SCM does play a major role in creating (or destroying) a company’s value by influencing revenue, operating costs and working capital.

Natarajarathinam again joined forces with Alabama colleagues for a study on how businesses can find a balance between inventory and transportation. Published this year in the International Journal of Physical Distribution & Logistics Management, the study, “Near-optimal Heuristics and Managerial Insights for the Storage Constrained, Inbound Inventory Routing Problem” was conducted along with Jennifer Stacey and Charles Sox at Alabama. “When you are routing trucks to pick up products, such as in auto manufacturing, you have these large assembly plants that don’t want to carry more than a few hours of supply because they have limited storage space,” Natarajarathinam explains. “So they want to increase the number of times the trucks come. But if you do this too often, you run the risk of having transportation costs that are too high.” The study provides new analytical methods and managerial insights to help with such inventory routing problems.

Besides collaborating on their now eight-month old son, Vaishnav, Natarajarathinam and her husband also get to work together occasionally. Rangan is with the Department of Information and Operations Management at Mays. He earned both his master’s in operations management and his doctorate of philosophy in operations management at Alabama. “Both of our passions lie in undergraduate teaching,” says Natarajarathinam. “We worked together on a handbook on recruiting, and how companies can make themselves attractive to today’s students. This generation is very different – they don’t want to be micromanaged, they are very socially connected and they do things passionately. We asked, how can a company best appeal to the unique senses of this generation?”

Although they’re Alabama fans tried and true, Natarajarathinam says she and her husband both carry admiration for their Aggie students. “Their passion and respect for one another and for the university, and their respect for tradition, we both admire that,” she says, adding that she views all her students as her kids. “At the end of the day, whether it’s the students at Texas A&M or Alabama, they’re all my kids and I never give up on them.”

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Media Contact: Lesley Henton, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-5591

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