In Memoriam: James R. Jackson


James R. Jackson passed away on March 20 at his home in Tehachapi, CA. He was born May 16, 1924 in Los Angeles. He served in the Air Force during WW II (meteorology), earned an A.B. in 1946, an M.A. in 1950 and a Ph.D. (mathematics) in 1952, all from UCLA. He remained at UCLA for his entire career, in the Graduate School of Management, with part-time appointments in Engineering, Mathematics and Biostatistics. He retired in 1985.

He published several papers in mathematics journals based on his dissertation in pure mathematics, "Homotopy Groups of Abstract Function Spaces," but his interests soon turned to machine-shop scheduling and simulation by virtue of his association, starting in the spring of 1952, with the Logistics Research Project in the business school. This was one of the very early sponsored (Office of Naval Research) university research projects in the emerging field of operations research.

Late in 1954, Jackson had the remarkably fruitful idea to model a machine shop as an arbitrary open network of interacting queues, each of classical type: exogenous Poisson inputs, exponential service and Markovian routing. He derived the unexpected result that the steady-state joint distribution of the number of jobs at the various machine groups had an unexpectedly simple product form in which each individual factor corresponded to the queue length of an isolated exponential queue with a Poisson arrival rate satisfying the equilibrium conditions for total system flows. This result is surprising because it can be shown that, in general, the arrival processes at the machine groups are in fact not Poisson.

This led to two seminal papers, "Networks of waiting lines" (Operations Research, August 1957) and the follow-up "Jobshop like queueing systems" (Management Science, October 1963). Although this work stemmed from his contact with jobshops in and around the aircraft industry in Los Angeles, it proved applicable much more widely in the design and analysis of computer, logistics, manufacturing, telecommunication and other kinds of systems. Notably, this work provided a critically important foundation for Leonard Kleinrock's seminal work on packet-switching theory and data networks, which in turn provided much of the theoretical basis for the Internet.

The 50th anniversary issue of Operations Research in 2002 honored the above-mentioned 1957 paper, and in December 2004, Management Science republished the 1963 paper (with commentary) as one of the 10 most influential published in that journal's first 50 years. Jackson contributed commentaries on each paper to these issues, which may be found [here] for the former and [here] for the latter. Jackson also contributed importantly to such areas as assembly line balancing, lot scheduling (e.g, among his well known results is Jackson's Rule for minimizing maximum tardiness) and dynamic queuing disciplines.

During the late 1950s, he developed a computerized game to help students of management understand the interactions of various major areas of a competitive business. Known initially as the "UCLA Executive Games," it was adopted at hundreds of schools, was the subject of a book coauthored with Richard Henshaw that went through five editions and is still used instructionally four decades later.

A man of considerable administrative gifts, Jackson was the founding director of the Western Management Science Institute, an organized research unit of UCLA created under a large Ford Foundation grant, from 1959 until 1963. He was also President-Elect of The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS), which later merged with the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA) into what is now the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). However, due to illness, he was unable to serve his year as President.

During the 1970s and 1980s, he focused strongly on educational program development at the master's level within UCLA's management school, pioneering innovations drawing more on group psychology than operations research. He was a key developer of the school's MBA program around 1970, served as its director from 1974 to 1978, and his influence on the program remained visible for many years thereafter.

Before and after retirement, Jackson was a serious model railroader, with a scale steam train big enough to ride running at his former residence in Beverly Hills and then at his retirement residence in Tehachapi, California. The California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento has his extensive collection of railroad prints and negatives. He was also an avid reader in such areas as evolution, neurology, scientific biography and social history.

(This article is based on an anonymous homage to James R. Jackson that appeared in Production and Operations Management, November-December 2008, Volume 17, Issue 6, pages i-ii.)