A Conversation with Egon Balas: Integer Programming and Will to Freedom

Thursday, March 23, 2017

For the INFORMS oral histories initiative that spotlights giants of operations research, I recently had the great pleasure to interview Egon Balas, who has led two lives, both of which are extraordinary success stories. In the first, he came of age in Romania prior to World War II and joined the underground communist movement to resist the growth of Nazism. This led to a “terrible obstacle course,” to use his phrase, consisting of humiliation, torture, and prison. He pursued a career in economics and wrote a book suggesting that some Keynesian ideas could be applied to a Socialist economy. The book branded him as a heretic and caused him to lose his job at a Romanian research institute. By reading on his own, he taught himself linear programming and became adept.

In his second life, Dr. Balas eventually immigrated to the United States and became a professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, where he is now the Thomas Lord Professor of Operations Research. He has contributed fundamentally to the field of integer programming, including the breakthrough creation of the "additive algorithm.” Here is an animated example of using the additive algorithm to solve a problem.

In the video, Dr. Balas connects his two "orthogonal" lives. The story is fascinating and Dr. Balas, at age 94, is especially eloquent in recalling his journey.

You can view the complete video interview and read the transcript at the INFORMS webpage here.

Dr. Balas in 2000 published Will to Freedom: a Perilous Journey through Fascism and Communism. Preview and order the book on Amazon.