Succeeding in a global company when women mathematical analysts were rare.
She built supply-chain and other mathematical models for the company’s global business.
Elizabeth Ann “Libby” Peck earned two degrees from Georgia Tech: B.S. in Applied Mathematics, in 1975, and M.S. in Industrial and Systems Engineering, in 1976. For over 40 years she applied the knowledge she learned from Tech in building mathematical models to answer myriad questions of The Coca-Cola Company—from supply chains, to strategic infrastructure, to delivery routes.
Libby was the first woman to use mathematical models for supply chain analysis at The Coca-Cola Company. Often she was the only woman among male colleagues working on global problems. By standing up to defend her work vigorously and completing projects with assiduous diligence, she proved herself equal to the best of the men around her.
Growing up in Brunswick, Georgia, she graduated from Brunswick High School. Libby attended South Georgia College for one year and transferred to Georgia Tech as a mathematics major, intending to be an engineer. When a professor suggested graduate school, her career in mathematical analysis was set. By the time Libby retired, she was a renowned expert in supply chain optimization and model-building theory applied to various engineering and management operations.
Libby met her husband, Frank Cullen, at Tech. They have three children and four grandchildren.
Although both Libby and Frank are retired, they are active in Georgia Tech affairs. Among their interests is faculty development in the College of Sciences, which they support through Cullen-Peck Fellowships.
What was your average workday like?
At The Coca-Cola Company I used mathematical modeling to determine locations for plants, lines, and warehouses. We used models to answer all kinds of questions—from strategic infrastructure to which products should be produced in which plant in a constrained peak period. I built the models and gathered the data required to use them. I enjoyed solving the problem of building a model that would account for the real-world constraints without being so complex it could not be solved.
I also developed financial tools to determine the costs required in the model from actual financial data. I loved solving the problems in model design and using the models to answer questions that had a major impact on the supply chain for the bottlers around the world and the supply chains for the network of chilled and fountain soft drinks in the U.S. I traveled extensively to places in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America to implement these solutions.
I had the opportunity to work with marketing, packaging, finance, purchasing, and operations. It gave me a broad understanding of the beverage business.
In the past five years, I worked with many recent Georgia Tech graduates, teaching them how to build models and how to interpret model outputs, including model validation and results. It was very rewarding working with these young associates.
How did Georgia Tech prepare you for your work at Coca-Cola?
I used the statistical and operations research methods from my master’s degree classes to solve statistical problems and to build the linear and mixed-integer models. Early in my career, I worked with Douglas Montgomery, John White, and Lynwood Johnson—all professors in the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering—to build regression models for predicting route delivery times. Dispatchers used these models to create delivery routes. During this time, I also co-authored a regression analysis textbook with Doug Montgomery, which is currently in its fifth edition.
What was the greatest challenge in your professional life?
Being the only woman working on analytical problems was challenging. Often while traveling in Asia, I was the only woman in the group. This situation forced me to stand up for what I knew was correct and to be very diligent in the defense of my results.
I had the good fortune to have Tom Sadosky as a mentor. He was a former Georgia Tech professor who made sure I received credit for my work. After several high-profile projects, top executives would ask if I had worked on the supply chain analysis of major projects.
What was the most gratifying experience of your professional career?
It was gratifying to mentor young associates as they started their careers. They were respectful of my corporate knowledge and problem-solving skills. It was fun to watch them grow in their understanding and to become good professionals doing important analytical work.
What is the most important thing you learned while at Georgia Tech?
Georgia Tech prepared me for the predominantly male world I worked in for the first half of my career. When I started at Georgia Tech, the ratio of men to women was 20:1. I learned to work in, and not be intimidated by, this environment. I learned to stand up for myself and be diligent with my work.
What is a vivid memory of your time at Georgia Tech?
I remember the times with friends: Going to football games. Hanging out at the fraternity house. Playing bridge. Studying during finals week and making a late-night run to the Varsity for ice cream or to Krispy Crème for hot donuts.
I met my husband at Tech; we still buy season football (42 years) and basketball (30 years) tickets.
What advice would you give to current students at Georgia Tech?
Study hard and enjoy your time at school. Take advantage of outside activities that the school offers. Study abroad if you can manage it, and take the opportunity to experience the country you are visiting. Treasure the friends you make in college. Many of my college friends are still some of my closest friends.
If you could have taken an alternative career path, what would you have done instead?
My father was a tool and die maker. I had always thought I would work with him in his business.
I started my undergraduate studies as a math major in South Georgia College. So when I transferred to Georgia Tech, I started as a math major, but intended to become an engineer. When I took an elective on mathematical modeling, the professor suggested that I consider graduate school. My career path was altered from that day forward.
What’s something about yourself that’s not obvious to your colleagues?
I have been associated with Girl Scouts for several years. All my children were scouts. I was involved with my youngest daughter’s troop. Since she moved on to college, I have been an advisor for Senior Girl Scouts working on their Gold Awards. I continue to help lead a troop of high-school girls.
If you could have dinner with any person from history, whom would you invite?
I would love to have dinner again with my mom and dad. It would be fun to share all that has happened in the past 15 years and to talk with them about my children and grandchildren.