Edmund Prater, PhD 1999, knew it was time for a career change when the Russian mafia came calling. He'd seen opportunity in Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union and started an import/export business based in St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1991.
"We were correct that the Russians needed everything; they just had trouble paying for it," says Prater, who turned his attention to exporting such items as decorative nesting dolls and metal for use in furniture. "When the Russian Mob started taking over, we decided it was time to close things up."
Prater, who'd already earned his MS in electrical engineering (EE) at Georgia Tech in 1988, then decided it would be a good time to resume his studies. He returned to Atlanta full time in 1994 and ended up earning his MS in systems analysis (IE) in 1996 and then his PhD in operations management.
He'd been prepping for a PhD in electrical engineering when a Tech finance professor, Narayanan Jayaraman, overhead him discussing his interest in integrating engineering with business at the gym. "He walked up and said, 'I couldn't help overhearing, but have you considered operations management? I told him 'I don't know what that is,'" Prater remembers. "But I looked into it and realized it was the perfect fit for my interests."
Now, as an associate professor in the University of Texas at Arlington's Department of Information Systems and Operations Management, Prater teaches global operations and logistics, as well as directing the college’s Ph.D. program. His research interests include international business, and his work has been published in leading journals, including the Journal of Operations Management and International Journal of Operations and Production Management.
Right now, he's examining how companies manage relationships differently in the United States and China. Guanxi, or reciprocal relationships, are common in China, Prater explains. "In China, unlike in the U.S., I can't just make a cold call. I need to be introduced by mutual acquaintances, and they can help set up meetings. Without Guanxi, things don’t move forward in China.”
Through his wife, a physician, Prater also developed an interest in medical systems. He’s director of his university’s Health Education Research Center. And he’s now focused on developing interdisciplinary research involving his business school, the industrial engineering program, and a new medical college.
He’s also embraced life as a Texan, living on a 10-acre ranch, which produces pasture-fed beef, raw honey, and organic eggs for sale. “It’s just a small spread, as they say in Texas, but it’s ideal for my family,” he says. “I want my kids to see that hard physical labor never hurt anybody.”