Ramchandran Jaikumar, the Daewoo Professor of Business Administration at the Business School and a renowned authority on manufacturing management and technology, died Tuesday, Feb. 10, of a heart attack while mountain climbing in Quito, Ecuador. He was 53.
A prolific researcher and writer, Jaikumar was a pioneer in the study of flexible manufacturing systems. A major component of his work in this area was a comprehensive study examining more than half of these systems in use worldwide. The results of this project had a significant impact on improving the management of manufacturing in numerous organizations.
Jaikumar’s more recent research into, among other topics, the integration of computers into the manufacturing process led to insights he formalized in the development of a “minimalist” architecture for manufacturing. For the past several years Jaikumar had been evaluating and refining implementations of this architecture, which emphasizes eliminating process disruptions and minimalizing control systems.
“Jai was an extraordinary researcher and a beloved teacher,” said Harvard Business School Dean Kim B. Clark. “His work epitomized the essence of our mission — to be close to practice and deal with important problems. A person of wide-ranging interests and exceptional energy, Jai had a tremendous impact on students, executives, and manufacturers throughout this country and abroad. His premature death has robbed us of a world-class scholar and a valued friend and colleague.”
Jaikumar was highly regarded by the hundreds of Harvard M.B.A. students and executive education participants who took his courses, which included the M.B.A. electives Modern Methods of Quality Management and Advanced Manufacturing & Technology Policy. He also taught the School’s required M.B.A. course in Technology and Operations Management.
A native of Madras, India, Jaikumar joined the Harvard Business School faculty in 1980. He was named to the Daewoo chair in 1993. A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, where he received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Jaikumar held an M.A. in industrial engineering from Oklahoma State University and a Ph.D. in decision sciences from the Wharton School.
Throughout his distinguished career, Jaikumar published widely in academic and professional journals and contributed to several books. He served on committees of the National Research Council and as an adviser to the congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Science and Technology.
Jaikumar earned numerous honors, including the Frederick Winslow Taylor Medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for his distinguished contributions to the management of technology, and the Grosvenor Plowman Prize, awarded by the National Council for Physical Distribution Management, for his contributions to transportation management. In addition, he twice won the Franz Edelman Prize for management science practice.
An avid and experienced climber, Jaikumar last year reached the summit of a previously unconquered mountain in Greenland, thereby earning the right to name it. He chose “Minarjnik,” a contraction of the names of his wife and children.
Jaikumar is survived by his wife, Mrinalini Mani, and two sons, Nikhil and Arjun; his mother, Leela Ramchandran of Bangalore, India; a sister, Kripa Srinath of Bangalore; and two brothers, Raj Kumar of New Delhi, and Vasant Kumar of Seattle.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the Jaikumar Fellowship Fund, c/o Dean’s Office, Morgan Hall 120, Harvard Business School, Boston, MA, 02163.