- B.S., 1951, Mechanical Engineering, Newark College of Engineering
- S.M. 1954, Ph.D., 1959, Mechanical Engineering, Harvard University
- Science, Technology, & Public Policy
- Governance of Emerging Technologies/Innovation Policy
Primary Teaching Area
Professor Abernathy and colleagues in SEAS, the Economics Department, Harvard Business School, and the Boston University School of Management are concerned with the productivity of the entire manufacturing channel from raw materials to finished products sold at retail. These interests led to the formation at Harvard of a Center for Textile and Apparel Research, which is a part of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation's Industry Centers Program.
The competitive dynamics in the textile-apparel-retail industries are being transformed by significant changes in retailing, especially technological innovations that allow retailers to offer consumers a growing variety of products while reducing their own exposure to inventory risk.
The Center research has documented the responses of apparel and textile suppliers to these changes, and provides significant analysis and recommendations for the industry. These themes are developed in a major book, A Stitch in Time: Lean Retailing and the Transformation Of Manufacturing – Lessons from the Apparel and Textile Industries, available from Oxford University Press.
Among other findings, the book shows how apparel-manufacturing firms using information technology extensively can hold less than half the inventory, and bear substantially less risk while earning twice the profits of companies that do not invest in these practices.
Professor Abernathy, his students, and collaborators are involved in developing understanding of how to achieve optimal sourcing of the steps of the production process while minimizing inventory risks. The current focus of the research concerns product proliferation, the logistics of items in production, overall production cycle time, and real options to reduce inventory risk.
Positions & Employment
- Director of the Engineering Division of the
National Science Foundation while on leave from Harvard in 1971.
- Head of the National Science Foundation’s Energy Research Office, created in response to the global energy crisis of 1973.