Sunday, November 24, 2019

Great Talk on Emergency Response in the Arctic by Professor Tom Sharkey of RPI

Recently, we had the great pleasure of hosting RPI Professor Tom Sharkey in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series.  His talk, based on an NSF-funded research project, was extremely timely and fascinating.
In fact, an article on this project, co-authored by Professor Sharkey with his project collaborators, including Professor Al Wallace of RPI,  was the cover story in the November issue of ISE Magazine and is definitely worthwhile to read.

His talk attracted an audience of faculty and students from multiple departments and schools at UMass Amherst, including the Isenberg School, the College of Engineering, and also the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

It was a pleasure to introduce Professor Sharkey - I had last seen him this past March when I gave a talk at RPI. Since then, a PhD alumna of RPI's ISE program, whose PhD advisor was Professor Wallace, Dr. Anne P. Massey, has become the first female Dean of the Isenberg School - very exciting!

Professor Sharkey emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of the project in his presentation and noted that the team is working on constructing Operations Research (OR) models to help in emergency response (ER), while also helping communities. Collaborators, outside of RPI faculty, include a professor at NCState and one at the University of Alaska.

He noted the changes that are happening in the Arctic, including tourism and increasing commercial activity, as well as the possibility of broadened maritime shipping,  and the various associated challenges from uncertainty in sea conditions to shortcomings in infrastructure, including broadband. He stated that, even without oil exploration, there is still the possibility of spills. The shipping time from China to Rotterdam has now been decreased by 10-14 days. And, when it comes to ER, mobilization may be bottlenecked by the limited capacity of a community. Infrastructure investments take a while to build out. He discussed the need to determine the minimum budget required in order to achieve a certain response time in an emergency.

Also, he emphasized that there may be unintended consequences and it is important to identify who actually benefits from infrastructure investments.

Professor Sharkey described a mass rescue event, with accompanying network figure, in the case of the need to rescue cruise ship evacuees. His talk clearly resonated with me since we have done a lot of work on disaster relief and, to-date, I have co-edited two volumes on Dynamics of Disasters, with Professors Ilias S. Kotsireas and Panos M. Pardalos.

In 2016, I hosted the visit of Rasmus Dahlberg, who is a disaster researcher, based in Denmark (and also a novelist and TV and radio personality).  After Sharkey's visit to UMass Amherst, I connected the two of them, due to their very similar interests in Arctic emergency response research. Dahlberg is also a practitioner in this important domain. He also has a contributed chapter in the first Dynamics of Disasters (DOD) volume that I co-edited and spoke at the first DOD conference that I co-organized in Kalamata, Greece.

Professor Sharkey spoke abut identifying "dual-use" infrastructure planning, a concept I like very much. For example, improved "connectivity" for Arctic regions is an important goal, in transport (in terms of roads and ports) as well as in communications.  Fast and reliable Internet could then allow for telemedicine, as well as teleeducation in the Arctic. Of course, he also brought up the important question: "Who is going to pay?"

There were many questions during and after his very information talk. We took a group photo and then enjoyed a lunch at the University Club. We thank Professor Sharkey for his excellent, very inspiring  lecture in our Speaker Series!
Also, we celebrated, with cake, 15 years of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter (30 semesters of great speakers in its Speaker Series)!

Professor Sharkey was interviewed after the lunch for the chapter's youtube channel, and, when the approved video is posted, we will let everyone know via social media.

In the meantime, many thanks to the outstanding UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter, and to its Officers, for their amazing work, that brings all those interested in Operations Research/Management Science throughout UMass Amherst (and beyond) closer together as a community, both professionally and socially.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Investing in Private Markets for Social and Environmental Benefits - Brilliant Lecture by UMass Amherst PhD Alum Dr. Stavros Siokos

A fabulous aspect of being an academic is not only the fascinating people one meets professionally but also in that one is always learning, growing, and challenging oneself. 

Some of that great professional and personal growth comes through hearing experts speak on their latest work!

This past week, I had the pleasure of welcoming back to the UMass Amherst campus, my 6th PhD student, Dr. Stavros Siokos, who is the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Astarte Capital Partners, based in London, England. Dr. Siokos and I co-authored the Financial Networks book, which was published by Springer  in 1997, as well as multiple journal articles.
Stavros has had a meteoric career in the financial industry and it was wonderful to have him speak in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series. He has received major awards for his work, including the "CEO Today Europe Award 2018," "Game Changer of 2018" by the Finance Monthly, and "The Most Innovative Manager of 2017" by Fund Intelligence.
Dr. Siokos flew in from London to Boston and, Tuesday evening, on a very chilly day that broke records, we dined at Judie's in downtown Amherst. The food was delicious!
Stavros started his career at Salomon Brothers in London and later became Managing Director of Citigroup. I recall picking up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and seeing the announcement of his appointment as Managing Director! When I have a chance to be in London, I always try to make a point of seeing him. And, because he has offices in major cities around  the globe, I have even "run into" him in the middle of Manhattan, during the holiday season, no less.

His talk at the Isenberg School on investing in private markets for social and environmental benefits was truly inspirational.
As a PhD alumnus of UMass Amherst, it was very special and meaningful for the PhD students and, even undergraduates in the audience, to see what one can accomplish through hard work, dedication, focus, and also charisma, I might add. A favorite slide from his presentation was the one below quoting Charles Darwin, which Stavros paraphrased as: "If you aren't able to adapt to change, you die!"
Stavros began his talk by emphasizing UN sustainability goals, and the making of investments that "help" everyone. He asked the question: "What is the biggest impact that we can have?"

He also noted mega macro trends in his fabulous presentation, including the ageing of the population, food security, and climate change.
He emphasized that "if you do something good, you will make more." He discussed, also accompanied with outstanding videos, some of  his company's investments, from Project Cusco in Paraguay, where eucalyptus is being grown with areas between the growth reserved for farming; investments in India and East Africa, with the latter involving a female in Kenya, who is producing very successful soap products,  as well as the amazing Olympia project that he is involved in, in London!

It was clear that his Operations Research PhD background illuminates a lot of his work. He stated that "let's do mining, but make it better;"  "let's make container ships more efficient," and so on. It was clear from his presentation that, when it comes to supply chains and sustainability, that we need to include the full life cycle costs and impacts.

It was also very moving to hear about the investments into education, including that of children with disabilities.

Stavros has had the pleasure of meeting Nelson Mandela and former President Bill Clinton, among many other leaders, and has even been advising Warren Buffett. Buffett once asked Stavros his ideas on how to become successful, and, when Stavros told him that it is "Doing what you want, where you want to do it, and when," Buffet responded that that is the definition of success. But to achieve that, you have to hang in there until you become "lucky."

I always tell my students that one needs to take into consideration where an individual has started from to appropriately measure one's success. 

After his fabulous presentation, I took a photo of some of the students with Dr. Siokos.
Haris Sipetas, the incredible UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter webmaster, conducted an interview with Dr. Siokos in the Supernetworks Lab at the Isenberg School. The interview, once edited and approved, will be posted on the chapter's youtube channel, where you can access previous interviews with our speakers (and learn a lot)! And, for additional photos and highlights, please check out Haris' post on Dr. Siokos' talk. What serendipity and an incredible coincidence - both Sipetas and Siokos had received undergraduate degrees in engineering from the University of Patras in Greece!