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Faculty & Research


Supply Chain Tsunamis: Research on Low-Probability High-Impact Disruptions

Journal Article
This study introduces supply chain tsunamis as a major strategic supply chain phenomenon. Like their ecological counterparts, supply chain tsunamis occur at relatively long intervals and are therefore easily mistaken for unique events, rather than recurring phenomena. In contrast to ocean tsunamis, they can in principle be prevented through timely and adequate managerial action. However, their immediate impact is just as sudden and disruptive, and their ability to reshape supply chains of companies and even industries equally long lasting. They are fundamentally different from phenomena like the bullwhip effect and black swan events. This study further explores a preliminary typology of supply chain tsunamis by Akkermans and Van Wassenhove (2013). Each type of tsunami focuses on a very different part of the supply chain periphery where the first signals of a developing tsunami can be observed. In this study, the authors use a detailed example from the high‐tech electronics industry to describe how a supply chain tsunami unfolds over time. This is done both from an external and an internal perspective. The external perspective shows the sequence of events visible to the outside observer. The internal perspective focuses on the managerial decision‐making processes that cause and (sometimes) resolve supply chain tsunamis. The authors link the notion of supply chain tsunamis to the broader need to revive strategic operations and supply chain management research. Supply chain tsunamis affect corporate strategy and have a profound impact on business and management. Therefore, the authors argue that business tsunamis deserve deeper research and suggest avenues for future research.

Emeritus Professor of Technology and Operations Management