2021 Best Undergraduate Professors: Sanjay Laxman Ahire, South Carolina (Moore)

Sanjay Laxman Ahire

Darla Moore School Of Business, University Of South Carolina

I was one of Dr. Ahire’s earliest students. I saw first-hand his vision for making the brand new Operations and Supply Chain (OSC) Major that he had designed into a world-class top-ranked program. I was in awe of his OSC expertise and his conviction. My successful careers at Bank of America and now at Wells Fargo Bank for over 10 years have deep roots in Dr. Ahire’s teachings and work ethics. I recommend him wholeheartedly for this global recognition.” – Alexandra Evans, Control Sr. Officer at Wells Fargo

Sanjay Laxman Ahire, 61, is Professor of Operations and Supply Chain Management at University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business. He is also co-director of the University of South Carolina Operations and Supply Chain Center. He’s been with the school since 2006. 

He has a PhD in management science from the University of Alabama along with a Master’s in management studies and a Bachelors in chemical engineering from the University of Bombay. He currently teaches Survey of Operations Management and Business Process Management.

Dr. Ahire excels in both research and in the classroom. He racked up more than 120 nominations for the Poets&Quants honor, a large number of them from working professionals at top companies who previously took his classes. They describe him as the heartbeat of the school’s OSC program (which he co-founded), as a passionate mentor, and as a professor always ready to go out of his way to help students succeed.

“In Fall 2019, I was devastated by a serious family tragedy, and Dr. Ahire not only helped me cope and successfully complete the required course successfully (at one time teaching me three weeks worth of material in almost 6 continuous hours), but he actually kindled a spark about the supply chain field in me,” writes Kate Livingstone, associate consultant at IBM. “His class was the one that sparked my interest in consulting, and helped me to get ready for an engaging and informative capstone project. Dr. Ahire believed in my capabilities more than I myself did to steer me to an exciting consulting career at IBM.”

He is the winner of numerous teaching awards, and he was the first tenured university professor to be certified as a Six Sigma Master Black Belt by the American Society for Quality.  

His research has been cited more than 7,000 times, and he was a finalist for the prestigious Harvey Wagner Prize–a global competition for operations research. His current research focuses on operations improvement strategies, practical application of operations improvements, and applications of operations strategy and supply chain management principles.


I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when… I taught my first course in Survey of Operations Management as a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Alabama during my PhD program. The ability to shape the mindset and a new way of thinking of future business leaders about products and services we all consume everyday was what drew me into pursuing the career of a business school professor specifically in this field. I loved and still love to teach students the power of business process perspective that provides the DNA to be successful in any functional career (not just operations and supply chain management).

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research has always been focused on understanding why operations and process improvement efforts are successful in some organizations and why not in others, and using the insights to actually implement successful transformation of operations and process management in a wide variety of organizations.  Currently, I am focused on helping socially-missioned non-profits (SMNPs) such as hospitals, food banks, and homeless shelters develop the same operations and supply chain competencies that are hallmarks of leading for-profit organizations such as Amazon, Walmart, and Toyota. My personal discovery has been that SMNPs do strive to stretch the donated dollars, and could really benefit from capabilities to make their core processes more effective and efficient. I am currently leading an Operations and Supply Chain Humanitarian Initiative at the University of South Carolina to improve operational effectiveness of such SMNPs that make a real difference for the vulnerable segments of our society.   

If I weren’t a business school professor, I’d be… a process improvement consultant.

What do you think makes you stand out as a professor? I firmly believe that undergraduate students are victims of low expectations and lower priority on the part of professors – If only a professor ignites the passion for learning in students, they are inspired to develop capabilities and do wonderful things that neither they themselves nor others expect of them. It is this belief – combined with an unwavering passion for my field of operations and supply chain improvement – that has allowed me to teach and mentor our undergraduate students to accomplish unprecedented things (professional consulting projects in Fortune 500 firms, hundreds of undergraduate students graduating with an industry-validated lean six-sigma green belt certificate, first jobs out of college in Fortune 500 firms across the nation at premium compensations, and on-the-job performance at the top of their peer groups). But instead of stopping there, I become a life-long career coach and mentor to each of my students, and they ask for my counsel years after graduation. My students/alumni have consistently said that, in their view, it is this sincere and holistic care and devotion to the immediate and long-term career success of my students is what separates me from other professors.     

One word that describes my first time teaching: Exciting.

Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a business school professor: That it is very hard to go against the norms of “research first”. In order to succeed at a typical business school of a comprehensive university, teaching most often is viewed as a necessary task but all incentives are aligned to rewarding research. I have succeeded in both but it has been by working twice (both intellectually and physically) as hard as others.  I found a way to do it through triangulation of teaching, research, and practice. But it is a model that is difficult to replicate due to the toll it takes on the professor and his/her family. 

Professor I most admire and why: Actually, it was my high-school teacher and principal back in India (N. R. Sahastrabuddhe or NRS), who had the ability to captivate the class with his passion and imagination. We would strive to absorb every word he spoke.  I have striven to bring the same passion to everything I have taught over the years to my students.  NRS taught me that passion can’t be feigned, and students are savvy consumers of knowledge.  They will recognize if their teacher really means what s/he communicates, and true passion will be transmitted in a visceral way.


What do you enjoy most about teaching business students? Business students might have some limitations relative to students from other fields (arts, sciences, engineering), but they typically make up for that shortcoming through their focus on practical and pragmatic application of knowledge to yield results at an individual or group or organizational level.  The kind of student I like is the one who may not be the smartest, but who is willing to invest time and efforts into learning and applying the knowledge.  I always tell my students: Success is 50% inspiration and 50% perspiration!

What is most challenging? Getting students to believe in the worth of what they are learning. I overcome this through giving umpteen examples of actual projects my past students and I have done over the years, and I actually engage students in doing projects outside the class in small businesses as well as socially-missioned non-profits.  This first-hand experience convinces them of the value of their competencies.

In one word, describe your favorite type of student:  Sincere!

In one word, describe your least favorite type of student: Free-Rider.

When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as… Careful and fair.  I have never delegated grading of my exams. If I expect students to work hard and put in their best efforts on the exam, it is my duty to see for myself how they have done on the exam, and take time to assign grades accurately and consistently.  


What are your hobbies? Watching movies. 

How will you spend your summer? My summers have always been hectic – trying to catch up on research and preparing for next year’s work for our Center and teaching. I will most likely be doing the same, but start thinking of some long-term projects as I approach retirement.

Favorite place(s) to vacation: Bombay (India) – my birthplace.

Favorite book(s): The Namesake: Jhumpa Lahiri.  It depicts the intricacies of the unique life experiences of first-generation Indian American professionals (or for that matter any first-generation immigrants) beautifully. 

What is currently your favorite movie and/or show and what is it about the film or program that you enjoy so much? My all-time favorite show is “The Office”.  I watch reruns – I love the down-to-earth tenor and it refreshes the memories of typical midwestern office culture of that time.  My all-time favorite Hollywood movie is: Zoolander. It is the best satire on fashion industry! And, my all-time favorite Bollywood movie is “Sholay” (the 1970s epic). 

What is your favorite type of music or artist(s) and why? I love old Hindi film songs from 1950s-1980s.  Those are the songs that help me relive the memories of my days in India, and all the important moments of my life before arriving to the United States.   


If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this… Rebalancing of the “profit” motive with “doing good”.  Also, doing a better job at teaching students how to “think” – not just learn tools.

In my opinion, companies and organizations today need to do a better job at… Rebalancing of the “profit” motive with “doing good”.  Companies also need to view employees as assets and not as disposables.

I’m grateful for… I am grateful for my parents who came from a remote village in 1950s to Bombay to ensure my brothers and I could avail of high-quality education. Through their own life’s journey, they taught me the value of ambition and hard work. And I am most grateful for the tremendous partnership and personal sacrifices from my beloved wife Sneha throughout our life as we pursued my professional excellence over the last 35+ years.   


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