Industry Internship Spotlight: Lampros Tsontzos @ Inditex/Zara

What was your internship project/scope?

My internship project was part of Zara’s Data Science team, which closely supports the Operations organization. The goal of the project was to improve the inventory replenishment process by optimizing the days of coverage metric, which is a core input to the target inventory calculation. To achieve that, I incorporated additional features into the calculation and build an algorithm that finds the optimal way to combine these features into the calculation. Solving this problem is important for any retailer because setting the right inventory level to account for both cycle and safety stock is a difficult tradeoff. Companies need to minimize overall inventory to keep cost low, and also need to avoid stock-outs to keep customers happy and maximize revenue. I worked closely with the data science team to develop the solution and also had periodic meetings with business stakeholders to get feedback on how the solution can be incorporated into their day-to-day operations.

What coursework informed your internship the most?

Lampros at a Zara store location, despite his fully remote internship.

The LGO Summer Core semester established the foundation for me to be successful in my internship. I leveraged learning from nearly all courses in that first semester in various parts of my work. Intro to Operations Management taught by Sean Willems was my first exposure to the best practices in inventory management and supply chain planning. I was surprised to find myself going back to my notes from past courses that quickly, and Intro to Ops was the class I most frequently referenced.

Another foundational element of my work was data engineering and feature creation, which was required in order to transform raw data into meaningful features that capture the knowledge  and expertise of business stakeholders. Our Statistics and Data Science course taught by Amr Farahat covered these topics in depth, and also taught me how to quickly perform exploratory statistical analyses to better understand the data I am handling. At the core of the final solution that I delivered to Zara is an optimization problem that I formulated and solved using a heuristic. Systems Optimization by Daniel Freund gave me the necessary background to be able to understand the requirements of the problem and design a solution that meets all of them.

I would be remiss if I did not mention Leadership & Organizational Change by Leigh Hafrey. “Leighdership” – the affectionate name we have given the class to highlight Leigh’s impact – did not end in the first summer semester. The ongoing components of the class, including those that ran in parallel to the internship, encouraged me to pause and reflect on my approach. This made me more thoughtful about my interactions with my colleagues at Zara and more intentional about the directions in which I took the project.

Lastly, I took Operations Strategy by Karen Zheng in Spring 2021, right before starting at Zara, and this class offered a lot of practical examples about how different businesses think about their operations strategically.

What is your favorite memory or anecdote about your time on internship?

There were a lot of memories I’ll take with me going forward, but some of my favorites are funny anecdotes that capture the challenges of remote work across different time zones, countries, and languages. Throughout my time with Zara, there were multiple times when I got funny/confused looks from people because my video background was a dark window given that I had to join calls at 6am East Coast time before sunrise. Early on we also had many futile attempts to get one of the video conferencing platforms to do live translations from Spanish to English and vice versa but we discovered that the technology was not quite there yet at the time. We resorted to some of my colleagues doing a live translation which inevitably meant we had to plan meetings to run twice as long!

What has been your experience with LGO alumni and the industry partner companies during this process?

NextEra Energy visit on the LGO ’22 Domestic Plant Trek (DPT)

Although there aren’t any LGO alumni currently working at Zara, I was able to talk to a lot of alumni who did their internship at Zara in past years. Their perspective was super helpful and allowed me to ramp up much faster than I would have otherwise. They explained everything I needed to know to be successful during my internship and also offered plenty of career advice as I was balancing working on my internship with full time recruiting. Overall, I was impressed by everyone’s responsiveness to my cold outreach and willingness to support me through this process.

What do you think was the most valuable part of the internship for you?

I had the amazing opportunity to work on a supply chain project during a time when the pandemic was causing disruptions across most companies. This was an awesome opportunity to understand the various tradeoffs companies need to evaluate and the decisions they need to make under uncertain circumstances. I had a lot of fun working with a team that has been with Zara for a long time and has a lot of expertise coupled with strong technical skills. This experience helped me enhance my understanding of how analytical solutions can be applied in a business environment and I’ve come away with a framework for successfully implementing such solutions in practice.