Via Hamburg from Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona: Rafael Escamilla's academic journey

KLU doctoral graduate Rafael Escamilla’s academic journey has taken him from his homeland of Mexico to stints studying in France, Germany, and The Netherlands. Most recently, the 31-year-old native of Toluca, near Mexico City, was appointed Assistant Professor at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in Phoenix, a role he says he is relishing.

You started an assistant professor at ASU in August this year. What does the position entail?

My two main tasks are to conduct research to be published in high-quality peer-reviewed journals and to teach. I’m teaching logistics in the supply chain in the online MBA program and I'm also teaching analytical decision modeling in the upcoming semester. Beyond ASU, I’m also a lecturer of causal inference at the GCLOG program at MIT.

With regards to research, I’m currently in Peru for the launch of a field experiment I am leading, to investigate supply chain operations serving micro-retailers in emerging markets. These small mom-and-pop shops are the channel through which most of the world's population acquire basic products and services.

What does the experiment involve?

During my PhD, I did research in collaboration with a company here in Lima and we’re working with this supplier on a policy they're implementing to give some flexibility in the cash-to-cash cycle of theses retailers.

Traditionally when they are being served by large multinational consumer packaged goods manufacturers like Coca-Cola or Unilever, shopkeepers have to pay for the products when they get them delivered to their store, but they struggle a lot because they have limited financial means.

What we're doing is allowing them to delay the payment of their orders and capturing the operational benefits that that generates for the suppliers, for instance in terms of being able to reduce the number of times they visit each individual shop. Of course, we also seek to understand the associated risk, since it’s also possible that there will be a default on these credits.

You did your first half of your PhD, and your coursework, at KLU and the second half in Tilburg University in The Netherlands. What convinced you to study at KLU?

KLU is a young university, but one that has been growing very rapidly, and the resources are second to none. There’s also a very vibrant community and a highly interdisciplinary group of faculty. When I was getting started, the PhD program was being launched and I was in a group of 10 students in various disciplines. Sharing that journey with them was really exciting and fun.

All the faculty and PhDs sat together across disciplines, and so I attended seminars in organizational behavior, marketing and information systems. There's a very rich exchange of ideas. I benefited from this a lot for my research, because it allowed me to explore different methodological paths that I could incorporate for my research.

I really had the most incredible time, both at KLU and living in Hamburg, which is a wonderful city, with this very nice community of colleagues. I really would have a hard time thinking of a better environment to do a PhD.

What does the future potentially hold for you?

The academic path is, I would say, very predictable. You know what you have to do to continue moving forward in your career. My next step, of course, is making tenure at Arizona State and I'm deeply excited to achieve that.

I’m working with a wonderful group of people with a very clear mission and vision from the university to be inclusive and accessible. One of the goals of my department is to bring supply chain leadership everywhere where it's needed the most, and that's something that I am super excited about. So, I see myself hopefully having a long tenure at ASU.

And how do you find living in Phoenix?

It’s a really exciting city and there's a lot of innovation that will be coming from Phoenix. I think Arizona State University can play a huge role in enabling that. In fact, ASU has already been ranked #1 in innovation among US universities for nine years in a row, and this is only the beginning.

ASU is a very large university, so lots of students and lots of talented academics launching their careers here. It’s a great time to be in Phoenix and there’s a lot of excitement about what can come from here in terms of innovation.

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