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Faculty Feature: Dr. John Saldanha

Professor wins two awards from Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals

Dr. John Saldanha

Dr. John Saldanha joined B&E’s newly created Supply Chain Management program earlier this year. He brings with him a wealth of knowledge and research experience that has been recognized for its excellence on an international level. 

The Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) Educators’ Conference was held in late September, where two of Dr. Saldanha’s papers were recognized.

The Bernard J. La Londe Best Paper Award is presented to the most impactful paper in regard to theory and practice in the  Journal of Business Logistics, the CSCMP’s premier journal. The paper, titled  Combining Formal Controls to Improve Form Performance, examined how companies can best manage their truck drivers. 

The research suggested it’s okay to monitor workers remotely through technological means as long as managers also use additional methods to follow up to show they care about performance.

“If managers follow up  and use technology, performance can be improved quite significantly,” Saldanha said.

The second accolade Saldanha received was the E. Grosvenor Plowman Award, given to the best paper at the CSCMP Educators’ Conference, an award that had not been presented since 2011 due to a lack of suitable entries. 

The title of his paper,  Exploring the Use of Upper-Semi Variance as a Robust Estimator for Calculating Safety Stocks, is quite a mouthful, but Saldanha said the research presented a beautifully simple solution to a problem within the field of SCM. Saldanha’s paper borrowed a concept from finance and found a method that more efficiently estimates how much inventory companies should keep in stock. 

His passion for SCM didn’t begin in academia. It developed out on the high seas during the 10 years he served as a merchant marine. 

Saldanha’s first years were lived on a ship, as his father was also a merchant marine. The interest in SCM came about when he noticed a vast generational difference in how goods were packed and shipped.

Back in his father’s time, a typical ship’s crew was about 72 members. It was common to stay onboard for 9-18 months because families traveled along, too. It was a very social lifestyle with a sort of traveling extended family. But by the time Saldanha joined the profession, things were very different. 

Due to technological advances, there were only about 18 people to manage his ship, and oftentimes the only human interaction to be found was brief moments during the changing of shifts. 

“On one hand, I miss the merchant marine lifestyle. I have low energy around crowds and high energy when I’m by myself, so the lifestyle was very suitable for me. But on the other hand, I enjoy human interaction and that lifestyle is difficult for that,” he said.

In fact, the merchant marine lifestyle is becoming increasingly lonely. Saldanha said that today, because of further technological upgrades, cargo ships are licensed with crews of only eight to ten. In the future, Saldanha explained, there might not be anybody working on ships.

So, the needed lifestyle change was a major factor that prompted Saldanha’s move into academia. It has turned out to be a great fit, especially at WVU.

“I’m excited to be here on multiple levels,” he said. “When I came here for my interview, I was asked, ‘Are you ready to start a new program?’ It was like music to my ears. There are so many things that I want to do.”

One of his goals is to move the SCM program into a position of prominence.

“We should be up there with Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State… some of the best in the country. It’s a tall order, but unless we have an objective, we don’t know where we’re going. The road map to get there is to develop the best students,” he said.

That’s why another one of Saldanha’s goals is to give students the richest learning experience possible.

“I’ve heard people say we should treat students as customers. I find that almost objectionable. We’re trying to build the best and brightest and make an impact in the world. Students are our products, and society is our customer. We have a moral duty to make sure students are given the best education,” he said.

There’s no doubt that Saldanha is an accomplished academic. But he’s also a self-described rule-breaker.

“In academia we love talking about high ideals, and how our research should be impactful for theory and practice. We love to talk about bringing research into the classroom, making our teaching more relevant. But these things take time,” Saldanha explained. “The rule that I bucked was... that as a young faculty member you’re often told to just publish, publish, publish. I tended not to listen to convention, and instead go with my gut. I never felt comfortable just publishing something unless it had meaning for me. I had to wait a long, long time before I could get tangible results,” he said.

The recent awards are evidence that it was certainly worth the wait.