Robert B. Wilson

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Robert B. Wilson
Born (1937-05-16) May 16, 1937 (age 83)
Alma materHarvard University
Known forGame theory in industrial organization
sequential quadratic programming
AwardsGolden Goose Award (2014)

BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2015)

CME Group-MSRI prize (2017)
Scientific career
Management science
InstitutionsStanford University (since 1964)
Harvard Law School
Doctoral advisorHoward Raiffa
Doctoral studentsClaude d'Aspremont Lynden
Bengt R. Holmström
Paul Milgrom
Jean-Pierre Ponssard
Robert W. Rosenthal
Alvin E. Roth
Yuliy Sannikov

Robert Butler "Bob" Wilson, Jr. (born May 16, 1937) is an American economist and the Adams Distinguished Professor of Management, Emeritus at Stanford University. He is known for his contributions to management science and business economics. His doctoral thesis introduced sequential quadratic programming, which became a leading iterative method for nonlinear programming. With other mathematical economists at the Stanford Business School, he helped to reformulate the economics of industrial organization and organization theory using non-cooperative game theory. His research on nonlinear pricing has influenced policies for large firms, particularly in the energy industry, especially electricity.

Academic career[edit]

Wilson was born on May 16, 1937 in Nebraska. He graduated from a high school in Nebraska and earned a full ride scholarship to Harvard University. He received his A.B. from Harvard College in 1959. He then completed his M.B.A. in 1961 and his D.B.A. in 1963 from the Harvard Business School. He worked at the University of California, Los Angeles for a very brief time and then joined the faculty at Stanford University. He has been on the faculty of the Stanford Business School since 1964. He was also an affiliated faculty member of Harvard Law School from 1993 to 2001.


Wilson is known for research and teaching on market design, pricing, negotiation, and related topics concerning industrial organization and information economics. He is an expert on game theory and its applications. He has been a major contributor to auction designs and competitive bidding strategies in the oil, communication, and power industries, and to the design of innovative pricing schemes. His work on pricing of priority service for electric power has been implemented in the utility industry.

Wilson's paper “The Theory of the Syndicates,”JSTOR 1909607 which was published in Econometrica in 1968 influenced a whole generation of students from economics, finance, and accounting. The paper poses a fundamental question: Under what conditions does the expected utility representation describe the behavior of a group of individuals who choose lotteries and share risk in a Pareto-optimal way?

He has published about a hundred articles in professional journals and books since completing his education. He has been an associate editor of several journals, and delivered several public lectures.

On problems of pricing strategy, he has advised the United States Department of the Interior and oil companies on bidding for offshore leases; the Electric Power Research Institute on pricing of electric power, design of priority service systems, design of wholesale markets, funding of basic research, and risk analysis of environmental hazards and climate change; and the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center on pricing product lines in high technology industries. With Paul Milgrom he designed for Pacific Bell the auction of spectrum licenses adopted by the FCC, and subsequently worked on the bidding strategy team, and later for other firms. He also contributed to the designs of the power exchange and auctions of ancillary services in California, and he has continued to advise EPRI, the California Power Exchange, the California, New England, and Ontario System Operators, the Canadian Competition Bureau, Energy Ministries of several countries, and others involved in the design of auctions for electricity, power and gas transmission, and telecommunications in the United States and elsewhere. His designs of other auctions have been adopted by private firms. He has been an expert witness on antitrust and securities matters.

He also published a book on Nonlinear Pricing (Oxford Press, 1993).[1] It is an encyclopedic analysis of tariff design and related topics for public utilities, including power, communications, and transport. The book won the 1995 Leo Melamed Prize, a prize awarded biannually by the University of Chicago for “outstanding scholarship by a business professor.”

Other contributions to game theory includes wage bargaining and strikes, and in legal contexts, settlement negotiations. He has authored some of the basic studies of reputational effects in predatory pricing, price wars, and other competitive battles.


Since Wilson completed the Bachelor, Master's, and Doctoral Degrees at Harvard College and the Harvard Business School, he has published about 100 articles in professional journals and books, for which he has received many honors.[2] He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, a designated ‘distinguished fellow’ of the American Economic Association, and a fellow, former officer and Council member of the Econometric Society. He was conferred an honorary Doctor of Economics degree in 1986 by the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration. In 1995, he was conferred an honorary Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Chicago. In 2014, Wilson won a Golden Goose Award for his work involving auction design.[3]

He has won the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award (2015) in the Economics, Finance and Management category for his “pioneering contributions to the analysis of strategic interactions when economic agents have limited and different information about their environment”. With colleagues David M. Kreps and Paul Milgrom, he was awarded the 2018 John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science.


  1. ^ Robert B. Wilson (1993). Nonlinear Pricing. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-511582-6.
  2. ^ "Robert Wilson". Graduate School of Stanford Business. Retrieved 6 April 2019.
  3. ^ "Auction Design". The Golden Goose Award. Retrieved 2015-05-27.

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