William P. Pierskalla

October 22, 1934

Brief Biography

Pierskalla Presidential Gallery Portrait

William P. Pierskalla was the thirty-first president of the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) and has been a major figure in bringing operations research to health care systems. Pierskalla received his bachelors and first masters degree from Harvard University. He continued his graduate study at the University of Pittsburgh during which he worked as an assistant to the manager of purchases at Westinghouse Electric Corporation. Pierskalla went on to earn his PhD in operations research from Stanford University in 1965.

After his graduation, Pierskalla held professorial positions at Case Western Reserve University and Southern Methodist University. His primary interests at the time were mathematical programming and inventory management. Shortly after moving to Northwestern University in 1970, Pierskalla began to develop methods for managing perishable inventory. At Northwestern, he advised the dissertation of future Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow, Steven Nahmias. Around this time, Pierskalla was approached by a friend who had started a consulting firm. The company’s staff was having difficulties solving health care delivery problems. Pierskalla successfully resolved the issues. Looking at his contemporaneous research, he realized that his ideas on perishable inventory could be used in the optimization of blood bank distribution. He had taken the first step towards a long career in health care systems research.

Pierskalla moved to the University of Pennsylvania in 1978 to serve as Director of the National Health Care Management Center and, later, the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. His research interests had expanded to include cost issues and the development and rationing of managed health care. Pierskalla was concurrently becoming an active leader in the health care operations research community. He served on the editorial boards of numerous publications and was the Editor-in-Chief of Operations Research from 1979 to 1982. His increased dedication to professional OR organizations expanded beyond health care systems to the general development of OR. Pierskalla served as ORSA’s president in 1982.

In 1993, Pierskalla relocated to California and accepted the position of Distinguished Professor of Decisions, Operations and Technology Management and Dean of the John E. Anderson Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles. Over the course of his entire career, Pierskalla has served as a consultant to many organizations, including Goodyear Tire and Rubber, IBM,  and National Forge on production and inventory, and the American Red Cross, the Mayo Clinic, and the National Institute of Health on health care management.

Although he has retired, Pierskalla continues to give lectures and remain a very active member of the health care research community. He has received numerous awards from multinational organizations including the George E. Kimball Medal in 1989 and the Canadian Operations Research Society’s Harold Lardner Prize in 1993. In addition to serving as president of ORSA, Pierskalla was the president of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies and is globally recognized for his contributions to the field. Since 2000, the Health Application Society of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences has sponsored the Pierskalla Award,  recognizing research excellence in the field of health care management science.

Other Biographies

INFORMS. Miser-Harris Presidential Gallery: William P. Pierskalla. Accessed February 5, 2015. (link)

UCLA Anderson School of Management. Faculty: Pierskalla [Emeritus]. Accessed April 5, 2019. (link)


Harvard University, AB 1956

Harvard University, MA 1958

University of Pittsburgh, MA 1962

Stanford University, PhD & MS 1965 (Mathematics Genealogy)


Academic Affiliations
Non-Academic Affiliations

Key Interests in OR/MS

Application Areas

Oral Histories

William Pierskalla (2015) Interview by Matt Sobel, November 2, 2015.  Video by David Tavani,  Philadelphia, PA

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: Growing Up in Central Minnesota
Chapter 2: Undergrad and Business School Student at Harvard
Chapter 3: Westinghouse and Night School at Pitt
Chapter 4: PhD Studies at Stanford
Chapter 5: Dissertation Research on Perishable Inventory
Chapter 6: Academic Positions at Case and Northwestern
Chapter 7: Getting into Healthcare Operations Research
Chapter 8: Moving to Wharton to Run a Research Center and MBA Program
Chapter 9: An Opportunity to Build as a UCLA Dean
Chapter 10: Taking a Broad View of Operations Research
Chapter 11: The Evolution of Health Care Operations Research
Chapter 12: Financial Resuscitation of IFORS and INFORMS
Chapter 13: Advice to Students
Chapter 14: The "Second Half" and the Pierskalla Prize

William Pierskalla (2008) Interview by Jennifer Muldoon, June 8-10. National Information Center on Health Services Research Oral Histories. (link)

Awards and Honors

George E. Kimball Medal 1989

Harold Larnder Prize 1993

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences Fellow 2002

INFORMS President's Award 2005

National Academy of Engineering 2007

Professional Service

International Federation of Operational Research Societies (INFORS), President 1989-1991

Operations Research Society of America (ORSA), President 1982, Secretary 1977-1980

Selected Publications

Pierskalla W. P. (1965) Optimal Issuing Policies in Inventory Management. Technical Report No. 7. National Science Foundation Program in Operations Research: Stanford University.

Pierskalla W. P. (1967) The tri-substitution method for the three-dimensional assignment problem. Canadian Operational Research Society Journal, 5(2): 71-81.

Greenberg H. J. & Pierskalla W. P. (1970) Surrogate mathematical programming. Operations Research, 18(5): 924-939.

Pierskalla W. P. & Roach C. (1972) Optimal Issuing Policies for Perishable Inventory. Management Sciences, 18(11): 603-614.

Cohen M. C. Pierskalla W. P. (1974) Perishable Inventory Theory and Its Application to Blood Bank Management. Working Paper. Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences, Northwestern University: Evanston, Illinois.

LeBlanc L. J., Morlok E. K., & Pierskalla W. P. (1975) An efficient approach to solving the road network equilibrium traffic assignment problem. Transportation Research, 9(5): 309-318.

Pierskalla W. P. & Voelker J. A. (1976) A survey of maintenance models: the control and surveillance of deteriorating systems. Naval Research Logistics Quarterly, 23(3): 353-388.

Pierskalla W. P. (1987) Creating Growth in OR/MS. Operations Research, 35(1): 153-156.

Pierskalla W. P. & Brailer D. J. (1994) Applications of operations research in health care delivery. Handbooks in operations research and management science, 6: 469-505.

Gascon V. & Pierskalla W. P. (1996) Health Care Systems. Gass S. I. & Harris C., eds. in Encyclopedia of Operations Research and Management Sciences, 273-275. Kluwer Academic Publishers: Boston.

Additional Resources

INFORMS Community. Health Application Society: Pierskalla Award. Accessed April 2, 2015. (link)