UNH Whittemore School of Business & Economics

UNH Prof Heads to Austria on Fulbright

By Janet Lathrop
UNH News Bureau

March 13, 2001

DURHAM, N.H. — Economic forecasting — predicting the cost of home heating fuel next winter, for example — at times bears the earmarks of reading tea leaves, but the best forecasters use scientific techniques, according to one University of New Hampshire expert, and they are always looking for more accurate methods.

That quest has fascinated Charles Gross for the past seven years, and recent success has brought him recognition in the form of a Fulbright scholarship for the academic year 2000-2001. Gross is a professor of marketing at the University of New Hampshire’s Whittemore School of Business and Economics. “Every day Wall Street is beating up companies that blow their forecasts or who can’t make them at all,” he explains. “There’s tremendous value in improving our skills in this area.”

The Fulbright honor means that Gross departed this month for the Institute of Marketing and Retailing at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, where he will teach an international marketing/sales forecasting course, as well as applied mathematics to business decision-making techniques, for the spring semester.

Gross uses a relatively new kind of mathematics, “generalized non-linear optimization,” to solve structural equations in forecasting. In plain language, he developed a mathematical model that can respond to random shocks and perturbations over time and which allows one to make more accurate business predictions. For example, many companies predict future demand for their products based on a single line tracing past sales. But life is rarely so simple, or, as Gross puts it, “there's no reason that variables have to combine linearly.” When something unusual happens to upset that record — say, a product tampering incident — the simple model is no longer as useful for predicting future demand.

“The creative part was when I used this new math and applied it to forecasting,” the professor explains. “There is great value to increasing the attention paid to forecasting within companies. It’s essential in what we call ‘just in time’ manufacturing, for instance. The more precise we can be, the better.”

He adds, “All my research is applied, so we’ve tested these ideas in two or three industry examples now. Results suggest that we can be about 20 to 30 percent more accurate than what they were using before.”

In addition to teaching at Innsbruck, Gross will conduct a week-long seminar on the new, non-linear forecasting techniques at the Pohjois-Savo Polytechnic Institute in Varkaus, Finland, in late March.

Gross’s recent Fulbright scholarship is not his first. He also taught in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, in 1993 on a Fulbright and was there during the breakup of the Czech and Slovak Republics. “An important part of the Fulbright experience is cultural exchange,” Gross says, “and I am certainly looking forward to the richness of spending an extended time in Europe again.”

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