Carnegie Mellon University

Oliver Williamson

May 29, 2020

Oliver Williamson, Doctoral Alumnus and Nobel Laureate, Dies

Carnegie Mellon University business school alumnus Oliver Williamson (Ph.D. 1963) died on May 21, 2020. He was 87.

Williamson came to the Graduate School of Industrial Administration, now known as the Tepper School of Business, in the fall of 1960. He had been pursuing his doctorate at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business but was interested in CMU for its interdisciplinary program in economics and organizational theory.

In 1963, Williamson completed his dissertation, "The Economics of Discretionary Behavior: Managerial Objectives in a Theory of the Firm," which won the Ford Foundation's dissertation competition and was published by Prentice Hall in the following year.

Upon graduating from Carnegie Mellon, Williamson joined the economics faculty at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1965, he moved to the University of Pennsylvania, where his role grew to include appointments with the law school and the School of Public and Urban Policy. He briefly acted as Special Economic Assistant to the head of the Antitrust Division of U.S. Department of Justice in 1966-1967, and subsequently returned to Penn.

Williamson later left Penn to join Yale University for a joint appointment in management, economics, and law. While at Yale, he founded The Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, an interdisciplinary research publication supported by Yale Law School's Olin Center for Studies in Law, Economics, and Public Policy.

Williamson returned to UC Berkeley in 1988 and remained there until he retired in 2004. However, he remained an active researcher in the field of industrial organization. His research challenged traditional wisdom that firms act as "black boxes" that merely transform inputs into outputs. Instead, he focused on the internal organization of firms and the frictions associated with transaction costs. This work would eventually earn him a Nobel prize.

The 2009 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel — commonly known as the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences — was divided equally between Williamson, "for his analysis of economic governance, especially the boundaries of the firm," and Elinor Ostrom of Indiana University, the first woman selected for the economics prize.

In addition to his CMU doctorate, Williamson received an MBA from Stanford University and a bachelor's degree in engineering from Ripon College in a combined program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was the speaker for the 2011 Tepper School Graduate Diploma Ceremony. He is survived by two daughters, Tamara and Karen Indergand; sons Scott, Oliver Jr., and Dean; and five grandchildren.