INFORMS News: In Memoriam Harvey M. Wagner (1931-2017)

Harvey M. Wagner, a renowned researcher, teacher and consultant whose seminal 1969 book “Principles of Operations Research with Applications to Management Decisions” introduced tens of thousands of business and engineering school grad students to the OR/MS field, died July 23 at the age of 85.

Professor Wagner shared a long and often-honored association with INFORMS and its predecessors, the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) and The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS). Professor served as president of TIMS (1973-74), and the three organizations showered him with honors and accolades, including the Lanchester Prize (1969) for “Principles of Operations Research,” the Edelman Award (1988) for achievement in operations research and management science, and the Saul Gass Expository Writing Award for setting an exemplary standard of exposition. Professor Wagner was named to the inaugural class of INFORMS Fellows in 2002.

At the time of his death, Professor Wagner was a faculty member in Operations Research and Management Science at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, a position he held for more than 40 years.

Born in San Francisco on Nov. 20, 1931, Wagner moved to Los Angeles at age 10. He resisted the temptation to study at the University of California at Los Angeles with his schoolmates and instead attended Stanford University. He was a prize-winning debater whose parents hoped that he would pursue law. After taking a probability course taught by Kenneth J. Arrow, Wagner developed a particular interest in economics and statistics. He developed a close student-mentor relationship with Arrow, who supervised his thesis on Monte Carlo simulation and helped him get a job at the RAND Corporation.

Wagner spent the summer of 1953 at RAND, where he interned with Murray Geisler’s Logistics Department. While waiting on his security clearance, Wagner received a copy of George E. Kimball and Phillip Morse’s 1951 book, “Methods of Operations Research,” from Alexander Mood, RAND’s mathematics head. That summer, Wagner briefly met George B. Dantzig, who later taught him the simplex method of linear programming. The following year, Wagner used linear programming to solve dynamic Leontief models. It was also at RAND where he was introduced to computer science via an IBM Card-Programmed Electronic Calculator.

By 1954, Wagner knew he wanted to earn a Ph.D. in something other than statistics. He spent a year studying economics under Richard Stone at King’s College, Cambridge. Wagner returned to RAND in 1955 and was encouraged by Arrow to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He spent two years at MIT but accepted a position at Stanford prior to receiving a degree. Wagner eventually earned a Ph.D. in 1960, incorporating his continued RAND and Stanford research activities.

In 1960, Wagner joined the McKinsey & Company management firm as an O.R. consultant to its San Francisco office. He befriended David B. Hertz, his New York counterpart and editor of the “Publications in Operations Research” book series. At McKinsey, Wagner made multiple realizations about the implementation of O.R. models and the importance of transparency. His group’s work was recognized in 1984 when he and his colleagues were awarded the Franz Edelman Award.

Wagner left California to join the Department of Administrative Sciences at Yale University, joining his longtime friend Robert Fetter and the economist Herbert Scarf. While at Yale, Professor Wagner and several of his students made developments in inventory and production control, linear programming and bounded variables, as well as production scheduling. In 1976, Professor Wagner moved to the University of North Carolina to serve as the business school’s dean.

A prolific writer, over the course of his career Professor Wagner published five books and 60 refereed articles on operations research. One of his papers, “Dynamic Version of the Lot Sizing Problem” (1958), was selected as one of the most influential papers published in the INFORMS journal Management Science and remains one of its most cited papers. As for Professor Wagner’s pioneering book that earned the Lanchester Prize, the prize committee’s selection was unanimous on the first ballot, according to Shaler Stidham in his chapter in “Profiles in Operations Research: Pioneers and Innovators” (Assad and Gass, eds., 2011).

The citation stated: “Outstanding in several of the criteria on which judgment is based, this is a monumental and consistently excellent effort that should contribute much, both now and in the future, to the understanding, exposition and use of operations research’s principles as well as its techniques. The committee is pleased to award the prize to this work, and congratulates Professor Wagner on a job well done.”

Wrote Stidham: “In his acceptance remarks, Wagner pointed out that, in 1964, when he began the book, it was clear that operations research would remain a vital field of activity, contributing lasting values to our social system. Yet, at that time, no book served as a complete up-to-date introduction to the field. In his opinion, what was needed was a text that would command academic respectability by and for operations research practitioners and theorists. His central goal was to write a book that would concentrate on important fundamentals, influence future managers and, perhaps, stimulate young scholars to choose operations research as their professional specialty.”

Sources: INFORMS, Herald Sun (Durham, N.C.), “Profiles in Operations Research” (Assad and Gass)