October 30, 2009
Russell L. Ackoff, Management Consultant & Systems Thinker, 1919 -2009
Professor Russell L. Ackoff has been described as a Renaissance Man, architect, city planner, philosopher, behavioral scientist, trailblazer in the field of organizational operations, the pre-eminent authority on organizational systems theory, best-selling author, world traveler—even a humorist. Recognized internationally as a pragmatic academic, Russ, as he was known to all, devoted most of his professional life to “dissolving” complex societal and organizational problems by engaging all stakeholders in designing solutions.Born in Philadelphia to Jack and Fannie (Weitz) Ackoff, he completed undergraduate studies in Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in 1941. From 1942 to 1946 he served in the U.S. Army, stationed in the Philippines. Upon returning from the war, he obtained a doctorate in the Philosophy of Science from Penn, where he met and married Alexandra Makar.
From 1947 to 1951 Dr. Ackoff was Assistant Professor in Philosophy and Mathematics at Wayne State University. It was here that he first sought to establish an institute devoted applying philosophical beliefs about the nature of man to the design and improvement of social institutions. In 1951, Ackoff and a group of colleagues were invited to join the Case Institute of Technology School of Engineering, where they were instrumental in establishing one of the world's first Departments of Operations Research, an accomplishment that still identifies Ackoff as the “Father of Operations Research.”
In 1964 the fledgling graduate business program at the Wharton School recruited Ackoff and his colleagues. In 1980, the Social Systems Sciences Department was established at Wharton. This innovative program combined organizational design theory and practice, sought to escape traditional disciplinary bounds, and cultivated students motivated by independent thought and action.
In 1986 Dr. Ackoff retired from the Wharton School, became Anheuser Busch Professor Emeritus of Management Science, and founded INTERACT, a consulting firm and think tank.
In September 2000, he was honored at Penn by the establishment of the Ackoff Center for Advancement of Systems Approaches (ACASA) in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the result of generous contributions of 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.
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 order to teach a graduate course in “Systems Thinking Applied to Management” and to advise graduate students.
In 2005, he co-founded Adopt a Neighborhood for Development, Inc., an organization dedicated to encouraging and facilitating self development programs in disadvantaged communities, and continued to lecture in universities around the world.
In 2007, the Ackoff Program, Tomsk University, Tomsk, Russia was established. In 2008 the Russell L. Ackoff Systems Thinking Library and Archive was created in the Organizational Dynamics program in the School of Arts and Sciences. 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 on systems, design, philosophy, social science, as well as his awards, fellowships, medals, endowment fund, and his 6 honorary doctorates in science and letters. His books which include 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, New Bulgarian University, Sofia, Bulgaria was established, and in 2009 the Ackoff Center for Design Thinking, Da Vinci Institute, South Africa was created.
Over his years of teaching, traveling and lecturing he acquired a fiercely loyal following of students, colleagues and clients. Resisting always the moniker of “guru” so often applied to him in the popular business press, he once said “I am not a guru...gurus encourage followers who do things their way. I am an educator...I encourage others to go out and adapt these ideas...to do whatever is going to be the most effective solution for them.” Dr. Ackoff continued to teach including in September 2009 in Wharton’s Executive Education programs.
Dr. Ackoff is survived by his wife of 22 years, Helen Wald Ackoff, three children from his first marriage, Alan Ackoff, Karen Ackoff, and Karla Ackoff Kachbalian; his stepson, Richard Wald. He passed away on October 29, 2009, due to complications following hip replacement surgery.
Link to Short Profile of Russell L. Ackoff: