Georgia Tech

ISyE Celebrates the Distinguished Career of Visionary Ellis Johnson

May 8, 2012 | Atlanta, GA

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  • On May 2, faculty, students, and staff of ISyE, along with other friends and former colleagues, joined together to celebrate Ellis Johnson and his distinguished career.

  • (Clockwise) Stefan Karisch, Jane Ammons, Laurie Garrow, John-Paul Clarke, Cindy Barnhart, George Nemhauser, Earl Barnes, Ralph Gomory, Crystal Du Johnson, Ellis Johnson

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Barbara Christopher
Industrial and Systems Engineering


After a lifetime of teaching, research, and significant contributions to the fields of operations research, mathematical programming, and industrial engineering, Ellis Johnson, Coca-Cola Chair and Professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), will retire from Georgia Tech effective June 1, 2012.  After retiring, Professor Johnson will carry the honorary title of Professor Emeritus, and will continue to teach classes for the 2012 fall semester.

Johnson is renowned for both his research in integer programming and airline optimization.  Among his many contributions to the theory and computational aspects of integer programming, is his fundamental work with Ralph Gomory, noted mathematician and former IBM executive, on the group problem.  Johnson’s airline optimization contributions include the development of models and algorithms for crew scheduling, fleet assignment and routing, disruption management, and most recently, integrated planning and operations.  He is universally recognized to be the leading academic researcher in the world on these airline problems.

Johnson began teaching and conducting research at Georgia Tech in 1989, while also serving as an IBM Corporate Fellow.  Johnson retired from IBM in 1993 and became the Coca-Cola Chaired Professor in ISyE.  Along with ISyE Professor George Nemhauser, Johnson co-founded and co-directed the Computational Optimization Center, which would form what is now the Supply Chain and Logistics Institute at Georgia Tech.  He was also a primary figure in the creation and early development of the elite Algorithms, Combinatorics and Optimization PhD program in ISyE.

During his 25 years with IBM, Johnson worked in the T.J. Watson Research Center where he founded and managed the Optimization Center.  Throughout his illustrious career, Johnson has held visiting and part-time academic positions at the National University of Singapore, State University of New York, Stony Brook, University of Pisa, University of Bonn, New York University, Columbia University, IBM Paris Scientific Center, University of Florida, University of Waterloo, and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.  Johnson was an associate professor at Yale University from 1964-1968.

Johnson received his bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics from Georgia Tech in 1960.  He received a master’s in mathematics in 1962 and PhD in operations research in 1965 from the University of California.  While at UC Berkeley, Johnson was taught by the famous George Dantzig, one of the founding fathers in the field of operations research, and developed a close relationship which lasted through the remainder of Dantzig’s life.

A testament to his accomplishments in the field, Johnson has been the recipient of many prestigious awards and honors throughout his career.  He has been elected a Fellow of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, INFORMS, and The Airline Group of the International Federation of Operations Research Societies, and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.   He is the recipient of the INFORMS John Von Neumann Theory Prize, the George Dantzig Award for his research in mathematical programming, the INFORMS Lanchester Prize, and the Humboldt Foundation’s Senior Scientist Award.  He is the co-editor of two books and has published a research monogram and over 100 papers.

A native of Georgia, Johnson grew up on a farm near Athens.  Following in his older brother’s footsteps, Johnson came to Georgia Tech to study aerospace engineering before changing his major to math.  When he is not in Atlanta, Johnson is at home on his 100-acre farm in Madison, Georgia.  Appropriately called the 100- Acre Farm, Johnson’s land, eighty-six acres of which has been set aside as a conservation easement,  is situated where the Apalachee River runs into Lake Oconee. Miles of trails run through woods and alongside creeks and ponds. And so that others can enjoy the land, Johnson also established the Farmhouse Inn Bed & Breakfast, which in addition to serving eggs from their own farm-raised chickens, is also one of the top ten bird watching B&B’s in the country.

On May 2, faculty, students, and staff of ISyE, along with some of Johnson’s friends and former colleagues, joined together to celebrate Johnson and his distinguished career.  Speakers included Ralph Gomory, Earl Barnes, Professor Emeritus in ISyE, Cindy Barnhart, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the MIT School of Engineering, and Stefan Karisch, president of The Airline Group of the International Federation of Operational Research Societies.

The consensus among all who spoke was that Johnson is a visionary researcher whose ideas and encouragement of other has shaped the airline industry and the careers of many.  His intellect, patience, and inordinate ability to lead by example, blends to create a unique style in the way he mentors his students as well as his colleagues.  Johnson worked hard and had a passion for work.  He knew the science of integer programming as well as the art of the field.


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