John F. Magee

December 3, 1926 – May 6, 2014

Brief Biography

Magee Presidential Portrait Photo

John F. Magee was of a generation of operations researchers that pioneered in bringing OR to the private, non-academic sector. He was born in Bangor, Maine to Marie and John H. Magee, a successful insurance broker and faculty member of the University of Maine. Looking to enter summer school at U of Maine, Magee took the College Board examination his junior year of high school. He also sent his test scores to Maine’s athletic rival, Bowdoin College, who admitted him as a freshman mathematics major at seventeen years old. When Magee was drafted into the Army the following year, he instead enrolled in the Navy’s language learning program before returning to Bowdoin.

Magee decided to continue his education further and was accepted to the Harvard Business School. He concurrently completed a master’s program in mathematics and economics at the University of Maine. After considering to pursue a PhD at Columbia University, Magee decided begin a professional career, aiming to incorporate his statistical skills into the business environment.

Originally employed as a financial analyst at Johns-Manville Corporation, Magee was hired away by Harry Wissman of Arthur D. Little, Inc. (ADL). Even though he was not quite sure what ADL or operations research really entailed, Magee was attracted to the opportunity to apply his mathematical abilities in business problem solving. He was the first full-time member of ADL’s newly formed Operations Research Group at ADL tasked with testing OR at Sears, Roebuck, & Co. The group, which grew to include such OR pioneers as Martin Ernst, Arthur Brown, and John Lathrop. was able to find trends in customer behavior, including the discovery that the frequency of customers’ orders provided far more valuable data than the quantity of purchased items. This project kick started Magee’s forty-eight year career with ADL.

Most of the OR analysts hired after Magee were former military personnel who brought their experience with the Navy’s Operations Evaluation Group to the private sector. This is included such operations research pioneers as Martin L. Ernst and George E. Kimball. During these early years, Magee published numerous articles with the Harvard Business Review. In 1964, he authored two pieces on decision trees which introduced the concepts of uncertainty, alternative outcomes, and consequential decisions to the business community.

As Magee moved up the chain of leadership, he started to apply his research to ADL itself. He reorganized and streamlined the company’s management structure. In 1974, Magee became both president and CEO of ADL. Under his leadership, the organization played a monumental role in numerous projects including the establishment of the US Postal Service as a government corporation outside the federal bureaucracy. Magee retired in 1988 but continued as a non-executive Chairman of the Board until 1998.

Magee was a founding member of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) in 1966-67. He was one of only five individuals to serve as both president of ORSA and The Institute for Management Sciences (TIMS). In 1978, he was awarded the George E. Kimball award for his distinguished service to these organizations and for his contribution to OR application. Magee passed away in May 2014, having spent his retirement as a watercolorist. 

Other Biographies

Profiles in Operations Research: John F. Magee
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INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Portrait Gallery: John F. Magee. Accessed January 8, 2015. (link)


Bowdoin College, BA 1947

Harvard University, MBA 1948

University of Maine, MA 1952


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

John Magee (2014) Interview by William Thomas March 30, 2014. Video by Shirley Mohr and Jonathan Gonzales, Boston, Mass.

NOTE: The video chapter transcripts are searchable, with search results displayed 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: Introduction to Operations Research
 Chapter 2: OR & Industrial Development Consulting at Arthur D. Little
 Chapter 3: The Sabre System
Chapter 4: Arthur D. Little and the Origins of Professional OR
Chapter 5: Publication and the Promotion of the OR Group
Chapter 6: Inventory, Production Control, and Early Information Technology
Chapter 7: Leadership at Arthur D. Little and ORSA-TIMS
Chapter 8: The Evolution of Arthur D. Little Economic Development Projects
Chapter 9: ORSA and the ABM Controversy
Chapter 10: OR in Other Arthur D. Little Activities
Chapter 11: Case Studies in Inventory Control and Marketing Research

John Magee (1996) Interview by Renee Garrelick, September 26. Concord Oral History Program. Alcorn Park, Cambridge, Mass. (transcript)

Memoirs and Autobiographies


Magee J. F. (2002) Operations Research at Arthur D. Little, Inc.: The Early Years. Operations Research 50(1):149-153. (link)


The Concord Journal (2014) Obituaries: John F. Magee, May 9. (link)

Mills B. (2014) Mills Remembers Former Board Chair John F. Magee '47, May 10. Bowdoin Daily Sun. (link)

Bowdoin Magazine JOHN F. MAGEE ’47, H’96 (link)

Awards and Honors

George E. Kimball Medal 1978

The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

Professional Service

Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), President 1966

The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS), President 1971-1972

Selected Publications

Herrmann C. C. & Magee J. F. (1953) Operations Research for Management. Harvard Business Review, 31(4), 100-112.

Magee J. F. (1954) The Effect of Promotional Effort on Sales. McCloskey J. F. & Trefethen F. N., eds. in Operations Research for Management, 305-321. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore.

Magee J. F. (1956) Guides to Inventory Policy: Functions and Lot Sizes. Harvard Business Review, 34(1), 49-60.

Magee J. F. (1958) Production Planning and Inventory Control. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Herniter J. D. & Magee J. F. (1961) Customer behavior as a Markov process. Operations Research, 9(1): 105-122.

Magee J. F. (1964) Decision trees for decision making. Harvard Business Review, 42 (4): 126-138.

Magee J. F. (1964) How to use decision trees in capital investment. Harvard Business Review, 42 (5): 79-96.

Magee J. F. (1967) Physical Distribution Systems. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Magee J. F. (1968) Industrial Logistics. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Magee J. F. (1968). Industrial logistics: analysis and management of physical supply and distribution systems, Volume 2. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Copacino W. C., Magee J. F., & Rosenfield D. B. (1985) Modern logistics management: Integrating marketing, manufacturing and physical distribution. John Wiley & Sons: New York