Meet Helena Ramalhinho L..
Helena Ramalhinho Lourenço is a Full Professor at the Economics and Business Department at the Pompeu Fabra University. She has a B.A. and Master degree in Statistics and Operations Research from the University of Lisbon, Portugal, and a Ph.D. in Operations Research from Cornell University, New York, USA. She has been involved in different research projects and consulting for business firms in the area of Operations Research and Logistics. Helena has published many articles in prestigious international scientific journals and has presented her work at international congresses and conferences. Helena teaches at various undergraduate, master’s and PhD`s programs at UPF and other universities. She is currently the director of the Business Analytics Research Group. Her research interests include Operations Research, Scheduling, Combinatorial Optimization, Metaheuristics, Iterated Local Search, Heuristic Search Optimization, Vehicle Routing, Supply Chain Management, Logistics and Operations Management.
Good morning Professor. First, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Before starting with the actual interview, could you please tell us what is your role within the BSM-UPF Barcelona School of Management ?
Good Morning, thanks for the opportunity to do this interview and thanks for your time. Actually, I am a teacher and researcher at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and the Barcelona School of Management. I teach the Operations Management course at the Master of Science in Management.
Can you describe what are your research interests?
My research interests are in Operations Research, Operations Management and Business Analytics. In particular, I work on solving very large-scale, real and complex, optimization problems from the fields of Logistics Management, Production and Operations Management, Supply Chain Management, Marketing and Healthcare using Artificial Intelligence methods known as Metaheuristics.
BSM is renowned for being a rigorous academic institution and your field of research fits perfectly within such description. How did you decide that Operations Management was what you wanted to do?
My background is on Operations Research, Business Analytics and Mathematical Optimization, the most mathematical part of my career. But I was always interested in solving real complex problems. In Operations Management, I have the opportunity to solve these optimization problems, like Routing and Scheduling problems, using my background and knowledge on Operations Research and Business Analytics, creating in this way a competitive advantage for the business and organizations in general.
We know that you started your education in Portugal, then moved to the US for graduate studies and now you are a full Professor at UPF. Could you briefly share your journey with us?
I did my bachelor’s degree in Operations Research and Applied Mathematics at the University of Lisbon. During my last year, I had the opportunity to do an internship at Portugal Telecom (the Portuguese telecommunications company) optimizing the design of the Internet network. It was a great experience, and I found out how useful the mathematical models and algorithms could be to solve complex real problems.
Afterwards, I went to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, USA to do my PhD, and I worked with Prof. David Shmoys on the Job-Shop Scheduling Problem. In my thesis, I develop one of the first Matheuristics (Mathematics+Heuristics), a field that now is widely applied to solve real problems.
When I finished, I move back to Lisbon and I start doing consulting with several companies, including one in Barcelona. I moved to Barcelona later on, and I found that working at Universitat Pompeu Fabra was a great opportunity due its great quality, the international environment and the fantastic opportunity to develop my career in terms of research and teaching. I was also able to continue collaborating with several businesses and organization, doing applied research projects in the field of Operations Management and Business Analytics.
BSM has developed two MSc Management specialisations very much related to your research interest. The Business Analytics specialisation and the Operations and Supply Chain Management specialisation. What do you think about these?
There is no other time better than now to specialize yourself in Business Analytics, Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Operations Management (OM). The companies are looking for experts in these fields more than never! Business Analytics is more technical, and it can be applied to many other fields besides OM and SCM, as in Finance or Marketing. OM and SCM are at the core of many organizations and it is well recognized that an excellent performance of these areas brings a great success to them, as for example in companies like Amazon, Inditex, Ikea, Toyota, etc.
What would you recommend to a student who wants to pursue a career in Operations Management or Business Analytics?
I would recommend keeping their mind open, be curious, rigorous and be willing to learn constantly. The BA and OM/SCM fields will play a crucial role in the success of any organization. Today, the availability of large amount of data, the developments in technology and information systems leads to the need and opportunity to extract value out of this data. Being able to obtain business insights out of data is actually a key factor for any organization. So, the future of the BA and OM/SCM fields is very promising in terms of jobs, projects and applications. I do recommend learning as much as you can in these fields, even if you work in other fields.
Also, always try to develop technical skills (mathematics, computer science, artificial intelligence, problem solving, …) together with management skills (teamwork, leadership, social, communication, conflict solving…). In the future, people that dominates both can carry on more successful their work and make a great impact on the organization and/or society.
We know that besides being an active academic in terms of research outcome, you have also been involved in consulting projects for the private sector. Does this have an impact when you teach a course to MSc students?
Of course, my collaborations with businesses and organizations are the source of ideas to my research projects as well to give examples to the students of the potential applications in real life. This collaboration enriches in a significant way my classes and help me to explain to the students what is going on the private and public sectors. It helps to put realism in the concepts, systems, mathematical models, and algorithms discuss in class, and also brings examples of rigorous structure and analytics methodology to solve the business problems.
Could you give us a practical example of it?
One interesting example is the applied research project that I have done, together with Grasas A. (Institute for Transforming Leadership), Pessoa L.S. (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro) Resende M.G.C. (Amazon), Caballé I. (CatLab) y Barba N. (CatLab), to solve the blood sample collection problem at clinical laboratories. The director of a laboratory approach us to solve their daily collection problem of samples from about 45 extraction points, and to transport them to the laboratory. At the beginning it looked like a “simple” routing problem, but we had to consider several medical aspects not present in the traditional routing in the retailing field for example. So, it took us some time to understand these medical aspects and from the laboratory side, to understand the mathematical and algorithms aspects of our solution approach. But at the end, we could learn a lot from each other and be able to develop a very interesting and innovative project with a good impact on the business.
Thank you very much Professor! Lastly, would you give any advice to perspective MSc students?
Develop critical and analytical thinking, and never stop learning!