Arthur Geoffrion '59 MIE '61 Encourages ORIE Academics to Interact with Industry
Arthur Geoffrion was a junior Mechanical Engineering student at Cornell when he learned in an industrial engineering course that "optimization enabled many kinds of complex decision problems to be solved in a way that could be fully justified mathematically. That was just about the most exciting thing I had ever heard," he recalled recently.
|Arthur Geoffrion at a combinatorial optimization conference in the French Alps.
Inspired by this and other early exposure to the foundations of Operations Research (OR) Geoffrion stayed at Cornell after his Bachelors to earn a Master of Industrial Engineering from ORIE's predescessor department (which did not yet offer an OR degree but covered some OR topics in its courses). He went on to become the "very first student to enroll in Stanford's very first doctoral program in OR" and then joined UCLA as an Assistant Professor, becoming James A. Collins Professor of Management in 1998 and Emeritus in 2005.
Early in his academic career Geoffrion discovered through consulting work that "there were many important problems in industry that were not being studied in academia at that time" and that there is a "huge gap" between the worlds of academia and management. "Trying to reduce this gap later became an enduring theme of my professional life," he said.
Establishes an Endowment
In a recent manifestation of his work on that theme, Geoffrion has established an endowment in ORIE to support more interaction of faculty and graduate students with industry and government. He believes that such interaction is valuable to academics "because of the cornucopia of research problems they will discover, the knowledgeable real-world colleagues and laboratory they will have for learning and testing their ideas, and the real-world experiences that will enliven their teaching." He also believes that the interaction is valuable to companies and agencies that will "benefit from improved decision technology."
Geoffrion's own research career, which led to his induction in 1998 into the National Academy of Engineering, is ample evidence of the value of the interaction with practitioners to academia. His early 1970's contact with industry "was basically responsible for everything I did on Lagrangean relaxation, generalized Benders decomposition, supply chain management, parametric methods and post-optimality analysis in integer programming, a priori error bounds in optimization, the foundations of modeling and modeling systems, and supplementary mini-models," he said. He has published academic papers on all of these topics.
As an example of the benefit of interaction with academics to industry, Geoffrion's first work in strategic supply chain design was to solve a very large optimization model, with many integer variables, enabling Hunt-Wesson Foods Company (now part of ConAgra Foods) to rationalize their network of distribution centers. Based on this experience and on subsequently providing the optimization engine for a very large Department of Defense study to integrate logistics systems across all of the armed services, Geoffrion and his partners founded Insight, Inc., a management consulting and software firm specializing in optimization-based applications. Among companies that have actively used supply-chain decision support systems developed with Insight are ExxonMobil, Procter & Gamble, and more than 20 of the Fortune Top 50 companies.
Uses of the Endowment
Geoffrion has an abundance of ideas for ways in which the Geoffrion Family Fund for Industrial Interaction for ORIE can be used to foster interaction of faculty and PhD students with industry and government. They include:
- Funding expenses associated with conferences, meetings, classes, lectures, networking events, internships, sabbaticals, and other visits that bring academics and practitioners together.
- Supporting development of industry-based materials for PhD classes, and setting up curriculum reviews by industry practitioners.
- Promoting applied research by supporting research proposals to industry, on-campus practitioner presentations of open research challenges, and student dissertation research involving substantial industry interaction.
- Establishing a prize for student research inspired by an industry problem.
Founds a Roundtable
The INFORMS Roundtable is another manifestation of Geoffrion's drive to promote the interaction of academia and industry. As president of The Institute for the Management Sciences (TIMS) in 1982 he founded the Management Science Roundtable. TIMS later merged with the Operations Research Society of America to form INFORMS (Geoffrion served as its third President) and the group was reborn as the INFORMS Roundtable. According to the Roundtable website, it "is the recognized premier destination for top-level leaders in OR/MS practice," one that maintains "a dialog with academia on matters of mutual interest concerning education and research."
The motivation for the Roundtable was Geoffrion's recognition that "the whole OR ecosystem could not thrive the way it should without effective institutionalized support of the practice community. A corollary was that academic OR could not thrive the way it should without closer contact with the practice community," he said.
Geoffrion fondly recalls several ORIE faculty members from his student days. The late "Lionel Weiss, from whom I took Statistical Decision Theory, was an amazing teacher, writing furiously with his right hand while simultaneously erasing with his left."
The late Andrew W. Schultz, Jr., who headed ORIE's predecessor department and as Dean of the College of Engineering supported ORIE's establishment, was one of the first to describe Operations Research to Geoffrion. He visited Schultz in his office to learn more after a talk Schultz had given that described "some of the tremendous opportunities this field offered." In the resulting conversation, Andy Schultz "made the sale in his charismatic way, and it became my life's work," Geoffrion recalled.
The late statistician Robert Bechhofer, who "knew his stuff," was another of ORIE's faculty who taught Geoffrion. However schedule conflicts prevented Geoffrion from taking Richard Conway's production management and inventory courses, so he asked Conway for a copy of his lecture notes "to study on my own, and amazingly he agreed." Geoffrion has kept the notes all these years.
Establishing the Geoffrion Family Fund for Industrial Interaction for ORIE brings Geoffrion's drive to see greater action between academics and practitioners full circle, to the place where his own involvement with OR began.