James E. Matheson

Born: November 11, 1944

Brief Biography

James Matheson INFORMS Meeting Photo

James E. Matheson studied at Carnegie-Mellon University and completed his graduate education at Stanford University. After receiving in PhD, Matheson remained with the Stanford’s School of Engineering as a Consulting Professor. In the mid-1960s, he developed the first decision analysis practice at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). While there, Matheson played a significant role in bringing decision analysis to professional firms and applying theory to real world problems. Matheson developed an interest in Markovian decision processes and probability. 

Matheson was the first Chief Technology Officer at Strategic Decisions Group (SDG), which broke away from SRI in 1981. At SDG, he fostered research and development partnerships and oversaw the growth of the company’s consulting practice. Matheson decided to create a spin-off company centered on SDG’s software development. In 2000, Matheson’s son, David, co-founded SmartOrg to provide this software and other services to companies. Matheson joined his son’s organization as an offshoot of SDG. Its goal is to aid companies in the evaluation of investment opportunities and decisions. As Chairman of the Board and Chief Financial Officer of SmartOrg, Matheson has seen the establishment of close relationships between the company and leading technological firms such as HP and Dow Agroscience.

Professional consulting aside, Matheson remains affiliated with Stanford University as an active academic. He has worked very closely and is published with fellow faculty member Ronald Howard, the father of decisions analysis. The two worked together on the creation of influence diagrams, a procedure for constructing a visual representation of decision making's alternatives, uncertainties and values. In 1984, Howard and Matheson published an anthology on the principals of decision analysis. His role in the enhancement of decision analysis and the establishment of decision analysis groups at SRI and SDG was recognized in 1995 when the Operations Research Society of America awarded Matheson the Frank P. Ramsey Medal.

Currently, Matheson is a Consulting Professor at Stanford University's Management Science and Engineering Department and still holds the position of Chairman at SmartOrg. In 2012, he joined the National Academy of Sciences Committee to Determine the Lessons Learned from the Fukushima Nuclear Accident aimed at improving the regulation and security of U.S. nuclear facilities. He regularly writes blog posts on the website and shares updates on the development of decision analysis with respect to the company’s role. 

Other Biographies

SmartOrg. Our Team: James Matheson. Accessed January 21, 2015. (link)


Carnegie-Mellon University, BS

Stanford University, MS

Stanford University, PhD


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

James Matheson (2014) Interview by Warner North, November 9, 2014.  Video by Shirley Mohr,  San Francisco, CA

NOTE:  The video chapter transcripts below 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; Education at Carnegie and Stanford
Chapter 2: Meeting Ron Howard
Chapter 3: The Beginnings of an SRI Group in Engineering Economics
Chapter 4: Applications of Decision Analysis: Mars, Electric Power, and Cloud Seeding
Chapter 5: Branching Out into Corporate Work
Chapter 6: Projects: Air Quality Standards, Nuclear Reactor Safety
Chapter 7: Inventing Influence Diagrams
Chapter 8: The SRI Group Begins to Break Apart
Chapter 9: Establishing Strategic Decisions Group
Chapter 10: SRI Work on Synthetic Fuels
Chapter 11: Strategic Decisions and Portfolios
Chapter 12: How to Make an Organization Smart
Chapter 13: Evolution from the SRI Days

Awards and Honors

Frank P. Ramsey Medal 1995

The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2004

Decision Analysis Publication Award 2011

Selected Publications

Howard R. A. & Matheson J. E. (1972) Risk-sensitive Markov decision processes. Management Science, 18(7): 356-369.

Matheson J. E. & Winkler R. L. (1976) Scoring rules for continuous probability distributions. Management science, 22(10): 1087-1096.

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

Matheson J. E. (1990). Using influence diagrams to value information and control. Oliver R. M. & Smith J. Q., eds. in Influence diagrams, belief nets and decision analysis, 25-63. John Wiley & Sons: New York.

Smith J. E., Holtzman S., & Matheson, J. E. (1993) Structuring conditional relationships in influence diagrams. Operations Research, 41(2): 280-297.

Matheson D., Matheson J. E., & Menke M. M. (1994) Making excellent R&D decisions. Research-Technology Management, 37(6): 21.

Matheson D. & Matheson J. E. (1997) The Smart Organization: Creating Value Through Strategic R&D. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

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