Huseyin Topaloglu, an Amazon Scholar and Cornell professor whose work centers around supply chain logistics, was named the inaugural Howard and Eleanor Morgan Professor at Cornell Tech, the New York City campus of Cornell University. Being named a chaired professor is Cornell’s highest academic distinction.
“It’s really humbling,” Topaloglu said. “It gives validation, not only in terms of research but also in terms of helping this institution broadly. It could be in teaching. It could be in service, and of course research is a big part of it too.”
Howard Morgan, who with his wife, Eleanor, contributed the gift to endow the faculty chair, has been a long-time supporter of Cornell Tech. In 1968, he earned his PhD from Cornell in operations research, the same field of study as Topaloglu’s, and has been a member of the Cornell University Board of Trustees since 2019.
Topaloglu met with Howard Morgan after the announcement of the endowment. “Howard’s entrepreneurial take, the way he thinks about business opportunities, that’s probably going to have some impact on how I think about research,” Topaloglu said.
Topaloglu specializes in assortment optimization, the challenge of determining the optimal mix of products to stock at any given time. His research also includes mathematical modeling that deals with customer choice and inventory challenges.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Bogazici University in Turkey, and master’s and PhD degrees in operations research and financial engineering from Princeton. After having worked as a professor at Cornell since 2002, he took a leave of absence in July of 2020 to join Amazon’s Supply Chain Optimization Technologies (SCOT) organization to work as a senior applied scientist. Topaloglu focused on developing algorithms that address inventory challenges related to Amazon’s same-day delivery services.
“There is magic that happens when you marry high-powered experts like Huseyin with very strong entrepreneurial and tech teams like the ones that SCOT has,” says Salal Humair, a distinguished scientist and vice president at Amazon who works alongside Topaloglu. “It really gives these highly specialized pools of talent the reach and ability to deliver impact at scale. And it gives Amazon the kind of knowledge and access that we can use to drive better customer outcomes.”
In the fall of 2021, Topaloglu returned to teach at Cornell while maintaining his role as an Amazon Scholar, a position he has held since July of that same year. In that capacity he is focusing on fine-tuning the way that Amazon delivers products to customers by building algorithms that consider zip codes, past purchasing patterns, inventory in fulfillment centers, and other factors.
“Having spent this time at Amazon, I’m a completely different person when I’m thinking about research and talking to students in the classroom,” said Topaloglu. “There are all kinds of things that I’ve learned at Amazon that I’m able to take back to my academic life. There’s a two-way interaction between the two worlds, so that is a good synergy. I couldn’t be more fortunate that I stepped into Amazon.”