Dr. Russell L. Ackoff, Anheuser-Busch Professor Emeritus of Management Science in the Wharton School, passed away on October 29, 2009, due to complications following hip replacement surgery. He was 90 years old.
Born in Philadelphia, he completed undergraduate studies in architecture at Penn in 1941. From 1942 to 1946 he served in the US Army, stationed in the Philippines. Upon returning from the war, he obtained a doctorate in the philosophy of science from Penn.
From 1947 to 1951 Dr. Ackoff was assistant professor in philosophy and mathematics at Wayne State University. It was there that he first sought to establish an institute devoted to applying philosophical beliefs about the nature of man to the design and improvement of social institutions. In 1951, Dr. Ackoff and a group of colleagues were invited to join the Case Institute of Technology School of Engineering (now Case Western Reserve University), where they were instrumental in establishing one of the world’s first Departments of Operations Research.
In 1964 the Wharton School recruited Dr. Ackoff and his colleagues to work in the statistics and operations research department. In 1980, the social systems sciences department was established and Dr. Ackoff served as chair. This program combined organizational design theory and practice, sought to escape traditional disciplinary bounds, and cultivated students motivated by independent thought and action. During his tenure at Penn, he was also the director of the Management Science Center and the Busch Science Center.
Dr. Ackoff retired from Wharton in 1986, and founded the consulting firm INTERACT.
In 2000, he was honored by Penn with the establishment of the Ackoff Center for Advancement of Systems Approaches (ACASA) in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the result of contributions from Ray Stata (chairman of the board, Analog Devices), the Anheuser-Busch Foundation, and the General Motors Foundation. In 2002, the Russell Ackoff Doctoral Student Fellowship for Research was established in the Wharton School. A year later, the Russell L. Ackoff Endowment was created to promote research at the Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center.
In 2003, at age 87, he returned to Penn as Distinguished Affiliated Faculty in the Organizational Dynamics degree program in the School of Arts and Sciences.
In 2005, he co-founded Adopt-a-Neighborhood for Development, Inc., an organization dedicated to encouraging and facilitating self-development programs in disadvantaged communities.
In 2007, the Ackoff Program at Tomsk University in Russia was established. A year later the Russell L. Ackoff Systems Thinking Library and Archive was created in the Organizational Dynamics program in SAS. The Library holds his more than 300 scholarly publications and nearly three dozen books, his private manuscripts and personal library of more than 3000 books, as well as his awards, fellowships, medals, endowment fund, and his six honorary doctorates in science and letters. His books, Introduction to Operations Research, The Art of Problem Solving, Creating the Corporate Future, and Management in Small Doses, are read around the world and several have been translated into 15 or more languages.
In 2008, the Ackoff Program at New Bulgarian University in Bulgaria was established, and in 2009 the Ackoff Center for Design Thinking at the Da Vinci Institute in South Africa was created.
Dr. Ackoff continued to teach including in Wharton’s Executive Education programs this past September.
Dr. Ackoff is survived by his wife, Helen Wald Ackoff; son, Alan; daughters, Karen Ackoff, and Karla Ackoff Kachbalian; and his stepson, Richard Wald.
Memorial donations may be made to the Russell L. Ackoff Systems Thinking Library, payable to the "Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania" and designated in the memo line to the "Ackoff Library." They can be mailed to Organizational Dynamics, School of Arts and Sciences, Office of External Affairs, 3615 Market St., Floor 2, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6318.
A memorial service will take place February 12, 2010 in Jon M. Huntsman Hall. More details will be announced later.