John Stringer, one of the pioneers of post-war OR (Operational Research), died on 21 January at the impressive age of 92.
He and I were close colleagues between 1964 and 1976 in the Institute for Operational Research. Before that, John had already played a prominent role in developing the post-war practice of OR in the UK.
John, born near Wolverhampton in 1925, graduated in 1945 from the University of Cambridge with a first-class wartime degree in engineering. He first became attracted to OR in 1948 when he joined the British Iron and Steel Research Association (BISRA), under the directorship of Charles (later Sir Charles) Goodeve.
John went on to set up two pioneering public sector OR groups: at London Transport and in the electricity generation industry. At London Transport, he initiated important operational studies to increase the capacity of underground lines and the regularity of buses.
In 1955 he was appointed to lead a headquarters OR group in the Central Electricity Authority, which was later to become the Central Electricity Generating Board. This involved co-ordinating a network of associated teams located at regional divisions. One of his main projects involved the reduction of maintenance times at power stations
He served on the committee of the first international OR conference held at Oxford in 1957; this was to result in the formation of the international federation, IFORS. He was then asked to chair the organising committee for the UK OR Society’s first national conference, held in 1958 in the grandiose surroundings of the Old Swan Hotel at Harrogate.
It was while John was acting as OR manager for the British Oxygen Company, between 1962 and 1964, that he was invited to serve on the OR Society’s membership committee. The chair of that committee, Neil Jessop, was deeply involved in the campaign to set up a research institute for OR and became the first Director of the Institute for Operational Research (IOR) in 1963. Neil appointed John as his Deputy Director in 1965.
The first IOR project, on communications in the building industry, was funded by a coalition of national umbrella organisations involved in the management of major construction projects. The second was for the then Ministry of Health in England on Adaptation and Change in Hospital Management. The third of these pioneer projects, entitled Policy Research for Local Government, was financed by the Nuffield Foundation and hosted by the City Council of Coventry.
Importantly, John was able to draw together threads from these various projects in a seminal paper on OR for Multi-organisations which he presented at a congress of the Institute of Management Sciences in Warsaw in 1966. This was published in the Operational Research Quarterly the following year.
In 1975 John accepted a prestigious academic position as Foundation Professor in a new Australian Graduate School of Management in the University of New South Wales in Sydney. He retired in 1986 and returned to the UK with his wife Norma to live in East Sussex.
All of us who worked with John in the formative years of IOR came to value his clear vision, incisive thinking and leadership qualities in good times and bad.