This article was written by Randy Horick.
Larry LeBlanc describes himself as an adventurer, and the walls of his office are a testimony to it. Looking at the photos on display — such as one panorama of a treeless Himalayan landscape in front of Mt. Everest— you may glean that the professor of operations management is a world traveler. By his count, he’s visited 72 countries so far.
He doesn’t always rely on other pilots for his travels: LeBlanc takes his Cirrus aircraft up about once per week, he says — maybe for several days in Jackson Hole or for a day trip to New Orleans to visit friends and enjoy a great meal. Engage him further on the subject, and you’ll find that it’s not just solo flying he loves but instrument flying — navigating in the clouds with only the aid of the instruments in the cockpit. It all goes back to the love of adventure. “It gives me a feeling of accomplishment,” LeBlanc says.
If he’s not up in the sky, LeBlanc loves being underwater in his SCUBA gear, especially in the South Pacific. His favorite diving spot is Truk lagoon, the site of a major battle in World War II, where he once saw bullets in the sunken wreck of the Fujikawa Maru, a Japanese freighter.
In a way, LeBlanc’s appetite for new challenges opened the path for his career. “I’m good at analytics and problem solving,” he says — and every problem provides a fresh challenge. As an undergraduate majoring in mathematics, he was drawn to computer algorithms and optimization problems. That led him to earn a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences from Northwestern University.
Solving problems is the thread that knits together LeBlanc’s varied and extensive research, which includes cyber-crime prevention, linear programming models for international supply chain and telecommunication network design, and reducing spreadsheet errors. He has written articles that have appeared in more than 65 refereed journals and made scores of presentations at universities and organizations from Jordan to Japan. He has given presentations on efficient spreadsheet design at major multinational companies, such as Boeing, Nissan, FedEx, Maury Regional Medical Center, and others.
His primary current interest is on methods to reduce spreadsheet risk, a field in which LeBlanc could be described as one of the foremost experts in the world. Designing spreadsheets to be as error-proof as possible, he says, remains a relatively new field — but also one with enormous implications for businesses at every level.
“It’s surprising how many errors there are in actual spreadsheets used to support management decision-making,” LeBlanc says. “Because of these errors, companies can make bad decisions or fail to make decisions that would help them significantly.”
The importance of LeBlanc’s work on spreadsheets — and the passion he brings to teaching the subject — have made his Spreadsheets for Business Analytics elective one of the most popular courses at Owen. “He has a great sense of humor, strives to ensure the students understand the material, and is willing to help on tasks and projects outside of class,” says Dan George (MBA’14), who rated LeBlanc as his favorite professor.
“He would see me working on his spreadsheets homework during my breaks, and if he ever saw me struggling, he would take the time to explain things between classes,” remembers Maria José Rodriquez Gaitan (MBA’18). “I don’t think many schools have that environment where there is so much support.”
LeBlanc’s expertise has led to frequent invitations to teach and present his research far beyond Vanderbilt. In June of 2019, he’ll be part of the Rising Star Workshop in northern Italy, and he’ll teach Advanced Excel and Spreadsheet Optimization for three weeks in the summer at the City University of Hong Kong.
The overseas teaching and conference visits create new opportunities for LeBlanc to indulge his love for adventure. Frequently, he says, before or after the engagement he’ll add a side trip to places such as Palau or the Philippines, SCUBA gear in tow.