Ronald A. Howard

August 27, 1934

Brief Biography

Howard Presidential Gallery Photo

Ronald A. Howard was born in August, 1934. He is considered the father of decision analysis, the discipline of addressing decisions in a formal manner.  After receiving his Doctor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1958, Howard joined the university’s faculty.

Howard taught electrical engineering and industrial management at MIT for seven years and was the Associate Director of the Operations Research Center. By 1964, Howard was teaching statistical decision theory and Markov decision processes to General Electric employees. When he first came to Stanford the following year, he gave the same course to staffers at GE’s nuclear power division in San Jose. It was during this time that he formulated the beginnings of the decision analysis discipline. Howard spent an entire year figuring out how to apply the idea to actual problems prior to announcing it at a Boston conference in 1965. He chose the name “decision analysis” over “decision engineering” believing that analysis leaves more room for people to see that you are going to help them make a decision.”

Howard made influential strides in other fields of operations research as well. In the 1960s and 1970s, Howard worked on stochastic marketing models and statistical analysis. He introduced influence diagrams (compact graphical representations of decisions situations) with J. E. Matheson in 1981.

In addition to his work in decision analysis, Howard has been instrumental in the enhancement and education of operations research. He was presented the Award for the Teaching of OR/MS Practice by INFORMS in 1998. Howard was cited for his leadership in OR education during a career spanning over thirty years. He was recognized for influencing hundreds of students and supervising over eighty doctorates. His classroom style was inquiry-based – his courses combined lectures, experimental learning, Socratic dialogue and directed inquiry. Howard believes that just as decision analysis is a quality conversation about making a decision so should be the teaching of it.

In 1966, shortly after arriving at Stanford, Howard created the Decision Analysis Group at SRI International. SRI became a source of many successor companies that offered services based on decision analysis philosophy and methods. It eventually became the Strategic Decisions Group in 1980, where Howard served as founding director and Chairman. He has been associated with the firm ever since.

Howard served as the fourteenth president of The Institute for Management Sciences (TIMS). During his tenure, Howard oversaw a period of quick developments and popular recognition. In addition to his service with TIMS he has been affiliated with numerous professional organizations and has served on the editorial boards of various publications. Howard has pressed operations research to broaden out as a discipline, making for some controversy. In 1986, the Operations Research Society of America awarded Howard the Frank P. Ramsey Medal for his distinguished contributions in decision analysis.

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: Ronald A. Howard
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Wikipedia Entry for Ronald A. Howard 

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Portrait Gallery: Ronald A. Howard. Accessed January 9, 2015. (link)

Stanford University. Profiles: Ronald Howard. Accessed January 9, 2015. (link)


Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sc.D 1958 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

Ronald Howard (2014) Interview by Tom Keelin, November 8, 2014.  Video by Shirley Mohr and Jonathan Gonzales, San Francisco, CA

NOTE:  The video chapter transcripts below are searchable, with search results displaed as marks on the time bar above the search box.  Click a mark to jump to the search word or phrase in the video and transcript, or click on any word in the transcript to jump to that point in the video.

Jump to Chapters

Chapter 1: Family Background
Chapter 2: Early Education
Chapter 3: Inspirational Teachers and Doctoral Work
Chapter 4: Academic Career Choice
Chapter 5: Moving from East Coast to Stanford
Chapter 6: Early Development of Decision Analysis
Chapter 7: Decision Analyusis as a New Profession
Chapter 8: Waking Up
Chapter 9: Subsequent Evolution of Ideas: Ethics and Liberty
Chapter 10: Complementing Theory with Practice
Chapter 11: Engagement with Consulting Organizations
Chapter 12: Retrospect and Prospect

Garber R. (2009) An interview with Ronald A. Howard. Decision Analysis, 6(4): 263-272. (link)

Howard R. A. (2014) Interview by Justin Fox. IBR Idea Cast, Harvard Business Review. (transcript)

Howard R. A. et al. (2014) Part One: The History. Presentation. 50 Years of Decision Analysis Conference. November 7. Decision Education Foundation. (video). 

Howard R. A. (2013) Stanford Faculty Profile. September 3. Stanford Online, Stanford University. (see embedded YouTube video below)

Memoirs and Autobiographies


Howard R. A. (2007) The foundations of decision analysis revisited. Edwards W., Miles Jr. R. F., & von Winterfeldt D., eds. Advances in decision analysis: From foundations to applications, 32-56. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK. 

Awards and Honors

Frank P. Ramsey Medal 1986

Prize for the Teaching of Operations Research/Management Science Practice 1998

National Academy of Engineering 1999


Professional Service

The Institute for Management Sciences, President 1967-68

Selected Publications

Howard R. A. (1960) Dynamic Programming and Markov Processes. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

Howard R. A. (1962) Mathematical Programming in Systems Engineering. IRE Transactions on Education, E-5: 78-81.

Howard R. A. (1964) Research in Semi-Markovian Decision Structures. Journal of the Operations Research Society of Japan, 6: 169-199.

Herniter J. D. & Howard R. A. (1964) Stochastic Marketing Models. Hertz D. B., ed. Progress in Operations Research, 33-96. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Howard R. A. & Matheson J. E., eds. (1984) Readings on The principles and Applications of Decisions Analysis. Strategic Decisions Group: Menlo Park, CA.

Howard R. A. (1988) Decision Analysis: Practice and Promise. Management Science, 34 (6): 679-695.

Howard R. A. (1989) Knowledge Maps. Management Science, 35(8): 903-922.

Howard R. A. (2000) Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty. Alexander C., ed. Visions of Risk. Pearson Education: London. 

Howard R. A. & Matheson J. E. (1981) Influence diagrams. Decision Analysis, 2(3): 127-143.

Additional Resources

Ronald A. Howard (2013) Interview by Sam Harris, April 20. Transcript. (link)

Howard R. A. et al. (2014) Part Two: The Future. Presentation. 50 Years of Decision Analysis Conference. November 7. Decision Education Foundation. (video). 

The Future of Decision Analysis by the Value Foundation. (See Below Video)