Born in Venezuela to a Polish mother and Austrian father, Ricardo Ernst says he is living proof of the power of environment. “Genetically, I am European, but in my heart, I am Latin,” he says. Ernst, who was drawn to math at a young age, completed his undergraduate degree in civil engineering and his M.B.A. in Venezuela before coming to the United States in 1984 to further his education. Despite not being able to speak English, he was accepted at the Wharton School of Business in Philadelphia based on his math abilities, but with the condition that he learn English. While learning a new language can certainly be daunting, consider that the English Ernst needed to learn also included highly technical terms related to his area of study within operations management: global logistics.
In 1986, he was almost finished with his dissertation and thinking about returning home, where he had a job lined up in Caracas, when his advisor planted an entirely new seed in Ernst’s head: Why not apply for a teaching position here in America? Ernst had not even considered staying in the U.S.; he just always assumed he would return to Venezuela. But he began to consider the possibility. If he did stay, what city would he like best? He decided upon Washington, D.C., and began inquiring about good universities there. Someone suggested Georgetown University, so he applied for a position as a professor of operations at the business school, was accepted and has been there since 1987.
Founded in 1957 as an outgrowth of Georgetown’s Foreign Service School, Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business prepares undergraduate and graduate students for global leadership by combining a critical study of core business disciplines with practical application and international experience. It is known for its interdisciplinary focus on finance, international business and public policy. Highly regarded, the school regularly receives good marks: U.S. News & World Report ranked McDonough’s M.B.A. program No. 19 in the country on its “America’s Best Graduate Schools 2010” list; Business Week ranked Georgetown’s undergraduate business programs No. 24 and the executive M.B.A. program No. 12 in 2009; Fortune magazine ranked McDonough No. 16 on its list of “50 Best Business Schools for Getting Hired 2007”; and in 2009, the Financial Times ranked McDonough’s full-time program No. 18 in the United States.
During his tenure, Ernst has taught undergraduate and graduate students in the full-time, part-time and executive M.B.A. programs. Over the years, he has witnessed the school’s growth and evolution, particularly vis-à-vis the impact of globalization on the business sector.
“We have grown in many ways in the past two decades: we have increased our corps of faculty, as well as our program offerings, and added more staff positions to support the school’s expansion,” he explained. And it appears that the school’s growth has allowed for the professional growth of its faculty: Ernst reports that very few faculty leave the school, citing the supportive environment offered by the Jesuits as another reason faculty turnover is so low and student satisfaction is so high.
Perhaps the most visible sign of the school’s success is a brand new building, officially opened only a year ago, that now houses the entire business school. Previously, classrooms and faculty offices were scattered across the campus, but the new building – funded entirely by alumni donations – gathers all aspects of the business school under one roof.
According to Ernst, this has been an amazing development and transformation because “It concentrates the energy by combining undergraduate and graduate programs all together.” With about 1,200 students and approximately 150 faculty members, the tight-knit community of the business school has been able to become even closer both in proximity and in spirit.
Widely published, Ernst speaks frequently at international conferences and executive seminars and has served as a consultant to many national and international firms, including General Motors, Michelin, Wal-Mart, Pan American Health Organization and the World Bank. He has also been involved in developing metrics and performance evaluations for the logistics requirements and challenges of coordinating complex supply chain projects, including not-for-profit organizations such as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and EX-IM Bank.
Ernst spent his 1993-94 sabbatical year in France as a visiting professor in the Department of Logistics and Production at the École Supérieure des Sciences Économiques et Commerciales (ESSEC) and as a visiting professor in the Department of Industrial Management and Logistics at the Institute de Haute Études Commerciales (Groupe HEC).
The idea of how to best move products around the world is fascinating to him, Ernst says. His Ph.D. dissertation presented a new way of coordinating inventory models for companies with many parts, such as General Motors, which has an inventory of more than 369,000 different parts for its fleet of cars. During his time in Paris, he had the opportunity to evaluate the logistics effect of the Channel Tunnel or “Chunnel” on Europe.
Ernst explained the impact of this new transportation channel. “Before, in order to move products from the South of Italy to the north of England required trucks, boats, planes and ferries. With the chunnel – and the resulting infrastructure additions countries built to maximize the advantages of the chunnel – it is now possible to transport goods on this route nonstop by train.”
The creation of the European Union also enhanced logistics for the region by eliminating each country’s tariffs and taxes, resulting in a more efficient and direct transit route, as well as creating a more concentrated center of commerce.
Ernst also encountered interesting geopolitical differences that affected the chunnel. For instance, in France, companies could request that that the government build new train lines to their factories and the government was happy to oblige because it encouraged the use of the train system by enhancing the infrastructure. Conversely, in Great Britain, companies had to build and pay for railway enhancements themselves. Other aspects of the chunnel outcomes involved the negative impact on previously used modes of transportation, which stood to lose business once the chunnel was operational. “The entire project,” said Ernst, “opened many dimensions for me.”
About three years ago, Ernst was tapped for another dimension of his career when he took on his current administrative post as deputy dean of the school. In this role, he is responsible for school’s faculty – approximately 100 full-time and 50 adjunct professors – allocating them to classes and ensuring they are happy and productive in a manner that uses this valuable resource in the most efficient way – a task right up his logistical alley.
“Our faculty members have the knowledge,” he notes, “of which the students are the recipients. The administration’s job is to serve as a bridge between the faculty and students to facilitate the learning process.”
In addition to his administrative role, Ernst is busy with three other projects that combine his academic research interests and passion for his home country and continent. As co-director of the business school’s Global Logistics Research Program, he aligns companies, field studies and academic research to study issues in global logistics. As managing director of Georgetown University’s Latin American Board, he seeks to promote competitiveness in Latin America by generating value in the social, political and business sectors through the exchange of ideas and development of new leaders.
And as editor in chief of a new online journal called Globalization, Competitiveness and Governability, published by Georgetown University and Universia, Ernst fosters the editorial mission of becoming a new source of ideas about the effects of globalization.
But he does miss life as a faculty member, particularly teaching, he says. After five minutes of talking with him about global logistics, it is clear why he has won a number of teaching awards, including the Outstanding Teacher Award from the International Executive M.B.A. program, the Joseph F. Le Moine Award for Graduate and Undergraduate Teaching Excellence at Georgetown University, and the M.B.A. Core Curriculum Award of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has also
been listed as one of the Best Professors by Business Week magazine.
His enthusiasm for his chosen areas of expertise is contagious, and his ability to explain highly technical concepts in a simple way makes learning easy and fun.
But he says teaching is a two-way street. “The intellectual exchange with students is very rewarding in that it allows you to validate ideas. Watching the transformation of knowledge acquisition is also very rewarding. Clearly, these are very smart people, and when explaining new concepts to them, you often tap into their naive intelligence, which is thrilling,” he said.
“The world is changing, and we need to educate people – our future leaders – on the ways of the global world.”
Ricardo Ernst, Deputy Dean and Professor of Operations, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University
But students aren’t just learning at the McDonough School of Business, they are also being prepared for global leadership, a main focus of the school.
“We strongly believe in globalization,” explained Ernst. “The world is changing, and we need to educate people – our future leaders – on the ways of the global world.” A number of signature programs support that commitment, including global residencies in the M.B.A. program that for the past 15 years have been bringing students to China, India and Latin America to conduct three-month consulting projects for companies. In addition, the Global Executive M.B.A. program, operated in conjunction with the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a university in Barcelona, gives students from all over the world the opportunity to spend two weeks in each of six different cities across the globe, learning from experts in each location and creating a global space for exchanging ideas.
For these and all his efforts, Ernst received the “Outstanding American by Choice” award from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, an honor that recognizes the outstanding achievements of naturalized U.S. citizens.
Asked how he manages the logistics of his own schedule, he cheerfully replies that he can’t plan anything himself. “There are three people who manage my calendar!” he admitted. But one thing he does manage himself is his passion for running. He has competed in number of marathons and recently started training for triathlons. An early riser, he attributes his ability to get a jumpstart on the day to the city’s tendency to close up early. “If I lived in New York City – the city that never sleeps – I would never be able to keep up this schedule,” he said.
But whether he is running key programs for the business school, running a faculty meeting, running through the airport to catch a plane or running along the scenic Mall in Washington, D.C., one thing is certain: Ernst is a dynamic educator, insatiable researcher and respected leader with incredible stamina whose efforts are clearly having a positive impact on the world.