Operations Research Leadership and Entrepreneurship with Thomas Cook

Friday, February 18, 2022

Tom Cook, founding partner of Decision Analytics International and past president of Sabre Decision Technologies, is a truly remarkable operations research trailblazer in the airline industry.

Tom has long been a major leader in driving the growth of advanced analytics. He is a past president of The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS) and of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). Tom is an elected Member of the National Academy of Engineering and was named an inaugural Fellow of INFORMS. In 2007, he was awarded the George E. Kimball medal for his dedicated service to the profession of operations research and the management sciences.

I met Tom in 2002 when he was President-Elect of INFORMS and he made a presentation to the INFORMS Roundtable about his strategic initiative to promote the profession of operations research. Tom led a small committee that I joined that worked on the campaign that was later known as the “Science of Better.” In November 2022, I interviewed him for the INFORMS Oral Histories program--the video and full transcript are here: https://www.informs.org/Explore/History-of-O.R.-Excellence/Biographical-Profiles/Cook-Thomas-M#oral_hist ).

We discussed Tom’s short time in academia, where he collaborated on two textbooks, followed by a long career in industry. He was tasked to lead the nascent American Airlines operations research team, which he grew to transform the airline industry in the application of O.R. Tom then convinced management to create a subsidiary, American Airlines Decision Technologies, which later became Sabre Decision Technologies, and then Sabre, where he was President when he retired. Tom has participated in three projects that won the INFORMS Edelman Award, an extraordinary accomplishment that demonstrates his impact.

I was curious to know why a business leader like Tom, with his many management responsibilities, would choose to be deeply involved with TIMS and then INFORMS. One reason was that he needed the best and brightest people to join his team at American Airlines, and being present at conferences was the best way to recruit operations research talent. Tom said that at INFORMS he started the effort to help market the profession because he felt it was underperforming at publicizing its unique way of improving business results.

We both hope that INFORMS leadership will make the proper investment to improve that situation 20 years later as part of its new strategic plan.