Mendoza School of Business

ND business prof wins research award for study on product recalls

Published: November 18, 2013 / Author: Carol Elliott

Cantaloupes, Chevre cheese, coconut
pies and, most recently, 90 tons of ready-to-eat salads and sandwiches are just
a few of the items recalled from grocery shelves in the past year because of
contamination, mislabeling of ingredients or other possible health hazards.

In addition to posing a threat to
public safety, defective products also present a potentially devastating
challenge to the supply chain, from producer or manufacturer all the way to the
retailer. How effectively a company responds to the challenge is critical; yet little
is known about the process that they employ in managing recalls.

Kaitlin Wowak, assistant professor of management at the
University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, recently won a research
award for a study examining the product recall process. “Why do Some Product
Recalls Succeed and Others Fail?: A Grounded Theory Investigation of the Recall
Process,” earned Best Empirical/Theoretical Paper honors from the Decision Sciences Institute (DSI).

Wowak and co-authors Dave Ketchen of Auburn
University’s Raymond J. Harbert College of Business and Christopher Craighead
of Penn State University will be recognized at the institute’s November
conference in Baltimore.

According to the study, a key driver
of whether a recall is handled successfully is related to how a company manages
two aspects of the process: knowledge conversion speed, or how quickly the
company acts on information regarding tainted products; and knowledge precision,
or how well a potential recall situation is understood.

One of the findings of the study is
that while having more knowledge and faster
responses are better during recalls, having one but not the other can actually increase the negative effects of these
disruptive events. The research also identifies six different “recall process
manifestations,” or potential combinations of responses along these two aspects,
each leading to different results.

“Product recalls are becoming increasingly
common, but most firms still don’t have a holistic understanding of the recall
process or how to identify and remove tainted products from the chain,” said
Wowak. “Our study outlines a recall process that can help companies more
effectively remove contaminated products from the chain, and sheds new light on
the tension between knowledge precision and knowledge conversion speed.

“A firm’s natural response during a
potential recall situation is to act quickly, but doing so without a holistic
understanding of the situation can result in a misdiagnosed or cascading recall,”
she added. “This in turn can increase the cost of the recall and the potential
impact on consumer well-being. From an academic perspective, our study provides
a foundation for future research in this critically important, yet
underdeveloped research area.”

Wowak’s research interests lie within
the field of strategic supply chain management, with a focus on supply chain
knowledge and disruptions. In recent studies, she has focused on product
recalls and how these disruptions can facilitate organizational learning and
capability development to mitigate the impact of future disruptive events.

is also currently studying traceability and how firms can trace products as
they are distributed through global networks. Her research has been published
in Decision Sciences, Journal of Business Logistics, and IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management.
She received her Ph.D. in business administration from the Pennsylvania State
University; her M.S. in information systems from Johns Hopkins University; and
her B.S. in finance from the University of Florida. She teaches introduction to
process analytics to undergraduates.


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