Stanford operations research expert Arthur Veinott Dies at 78

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Veinott was a professor of management science and engineering, whose chosen field of operations research applies advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions. He made major contributions to the theory of operations research and to its development as a field at Stanford and nationally.

Arthur F. ("Pete") Veinott, Jr., an emeritus faculty member in the Department of Management Science and Engineering, died Wednesday, December 12, at Stanford Medical Center. He was 78. The cause was interstitial lung disease.

Veinott was an expert in the field of operations research, which applies advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions. He made major contributions to the theory of operations research and to its development as a field both here at Stanford and nationally. 

Veinott first came to Stanford in 1962 serving until 2009 – a tenure of 47 years, one of the longest in the history of Stanford engineering and perhaps in the university itself. During his career, Veinott played a key role in the creation and development of the Department of Operations Research, including serving as Department Chair from 1975 to 1985. Operations Research would later be folded into the Department of Management Science and Engineering. Likewise, Veinott helped found the journal Mathematics of Operations Research in 1977. It is the leading journal for the publication of mathematical contributions to operations research and management science.

“Arthur Veinott – whom we knew as Pete – was the first outside appointment to the nascent Operations Research program at Stanford.  He was identified as having high promise,” said former Stanford colleague and Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow. “His scholarly accomplishments exceeded even that high standard; he was an outstanding figure in the field.  He also supplied administrative leadership and was a great inspirer and guide of graduate students.  He will be sorely missed, as a friend as well as a colleague.”

Arthur F. Veinott, Jr.
Professor Emeritus Arthur F. ("Pete") Veinott, Jr.

Wide-ranging contributions

Professionally, Veinott had three main areas of contribution to his field: lattice programming, inventory theory and dynamic programming.

In lattice programming, Veinott developed a type of qualitative optimization theory to predict the direction and nature of change in global systems. “Pete was a legend in the operations research community.  The creation of lattice programming was facilitated by his keen insights into problem structures. Lattice programming had a profound effect on the economics literature and it has applications in such classical operations research areas as production planning, project planning and scheduling, reliability and maintenance, and network optimization,” said Frieda Granot of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.

In dynamic programming, Veinott made fundamental contributions to sequential decision-making under uncertainty. “Here he established structural properties of the optimal policies, worked on efficient algorithms for computing such policies, and studied extensions of the basic framework to account for transient effects and population dynamics. This class of problems arises within many engineering, business, and economic contexts, and is hence of broad applicability,” said Peter Glynn, chair of the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford.

“Pete Veinott was a pioneer in the theory of inventory and supply chain systems as well,” said Robin Roundy, a former student of Veinott’s and now chair of the Department of Mathematics at Brigham Young University. “He made pivotal contributions to the control of systems with economies of scale and to the theoretical structure of systems with dis-economies of scale.  His contributions to the theory of myopic policies are fundamental.  In the context of supply chains he created powerful insights and effective policies for determining optimal prices and capacity levels, as well as inventory stocking levels.”

Researcher and mentor

Throughout his academic career, Veinott was devoted to research and teaching, publishing 56 papers and guiding 27 students to their doctorates. He received the Graduate Teaching Award for 2000-01 from the Department of Management Science & Engineering.

“From the first time I met him I was impressed by his intellect, his wit, his intellectual curiosity and his encyclopedic knowledge of Operations Research. As an editor, he maintained very high standards on research and exposition. Even recently, he was up on the latest research, the best results and the best young people. His spirit of excellence will live on through the students he educated in his almost half-century at Stanford,” said Dimitris Bertsimas, co-director of the Operations Research Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Pete was a wonderful loving and caring husband, of course, but he was also a dedicated teacher and mentor to his many students,” said his wife, Adriana Diener-Veinott. “He followed their careers and tried always to shepherd them along their various paths.”

“Pete was especially generous in nominating his students and colleagues for honors and awards,” said colleague Professor Donald Iglehart.

A long legacy

Arthur F. Veinott, Jr., was born October 12, 1934 in Boston, Mass., but grew up in Newton, Mass. He went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts and his Bachelor of Science from Lehigh University in 1956, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He earned his Doctor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Columbia University in 1960. 

Veinott held jobs at Columbia while a student and then served in the Air Force Logistics Command as an operations analyst until 1962 when he joined the Stanford faculty as Assistant Professor of Industrial Engineering. He retired in 2009.

At Stanford, Veinott’s chosen subject of operations research was a multidisciplinary field involving faculty from engineering, business and the humanities and sciences. His research interests included optimization, stochastic systems and competitive analysis, and he was heavily involved in dynamic programming, lattice programming, supply-chain optimization, inventory theory and network optimization.

In 1965, a biographical note submitted on the occasion of a major academic appointment noted, “He is without doubt one of the brightest young men in America in the field of Operations Research.” Later, when Yale tried to lure him away with the offer of a full professorship, a similar biographical note urged Stanford to retain him, imploring, “His departure from Stanford would create a major gap in the Department of Industrial Engineering and in the Operations Research Program.” Veinott was just 32 at the time.

“Pete completed a trifecta during the 1975-1976 academic year:  he began a 10-year tour as chairman of the Department of Operations Research, founded the journal Mathematics of Operations Research, and led the campaign that created the John von Neumann Theory Prize awarded by the Institute of Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS),” said Iglehart. The John von Neumann Theory Prize is the major prize awarded by INFORMS, the top academic society in the field. It recognizes fundamental, sustained lifetime contributions to theory in operations research and the management sciences. Past recipients have included at least six Nobel Prize winners.

In his life, Pete Veinott likewise earned numerous awards and professional recognitions. In 2007, he received the John von Neumann Theory Prize he helped create and, in 2002, was named an inaugural Fellow of INFORMS. Other recognitions included his election to the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) in 1986, his selection as a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1978-79. Election to the NAE is among the highest recognitions an engineer can receive.

Arthur F. Veinott, Jr., is survived by his wife Adriana Diener-Veinott, of Stanford, Calif.; two children from his first marriage, a son, Michael, of San Jose, Calif., and a daughter, Elizabeth, of Houghton, Mich.; a sister, Polly Reinacker, of Arizona; and two grandchildren. 

A memorial service is being planned for January 26 at Stanford.

Andrew Myers is associate director of communications for the Stanford University School of Engineering.

Last modified Fri, 21 Dec, 2012 at 13:12