Areas of Focus
John Bartholdi III, Manhattan Associates/Dabbiere Chair and professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) and co-executive director of the Georgia Tech Panama Logistics Innovation & Research Center, passed away on October 29, 2019. Bartholdi was a respected ISyE faculty member who made important contributions to the supply chain field, particularly in warehousing and logistics.
“John Bartholdi was a valued colleague and friend,” said ISyE School Chair Edwin Romeijn. “He made substantial contributions to his field, to ISyE, and to the Institute as the co-director of Georgia Tech Panama. Our sincerest condolences go out to John’s family, friends, and students. He will be missed.”
Bartholdi earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Florida in 1968 and then completed two tours of duty in southeast Asia as a paratrooper in a Naval Special Warfare unit. Afterward, he returned to the University of Florida to pursue a doctoral degree in operations research, which he completed in 1977. He won the 1978 INFORMS George Nicholson Student Paper Award for “Cyclic Scheduling via Integer Programs with Circular Ones.”
Upon joining ISyE in 1980, he quickly established himself as a nimble researcher, capable of identifying creative, elegantly simple solutions to challenging warehousing and logistics problems. He was awarded a Presidential Young Investigator Award (1984-89) by the National Science Foundation (NSF). In addition to ISyE, Bartholdi served on the faculties at the University of Michigan, the Shanghai Institute of Mechanical Engineering, and the National University of Singapore.
One of Bartholdi’s most famous warehousing solutions is the so-called bucket brigade, which offers an innovative method of self-organizing order-picking for warehouse workers and has been implemented in major global distribution centers. He worked with Don Eisenstein (MSOR 1983, Ph.D. 1992; now a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business) on this research.
Alan Erera, UPS Professor of Logistics and ISyE’s associate chair for research, first met Bartholdi as a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. Bartholdi eventually helped recruit Erera to join ISyE as a young assistant professor. “The fact that John Bartholdi was on the ISyE faculty was certainly an important reason I was interested in coming to the School,” said Erera. “I knew ISyE had a culture of innovative applied work in the supply chain and logistics field, where John was a significant contributor.”
As co-director of the Georgia Tech Panama Logistics Innovation & Research Center, Bartholdi applied his expertise toward Panama’s logistical challenges, with the goal of making the country the trade hub of the Americas. In 2015, the Ministry of the Presidency designated Georgia Tech Panama as the technical arm of the Logistics Cabinet.
Regents’ Professor Emeritus Don Ratliff, with whom Bartholdi co-directed Georgia Tech Panama, was also Bartholdi’s advisor at the University of Florida. “John was the world’s leading expert on warehousing science,” Ratliff said. “I encountered an executive in Peru who had never met John but told me that John was considered the father of warehousing science.
“Georgia Tech Panama is the only center in the world focused on an entire country’s logistics, and we worked closely together for years on helping Panama analyze and solve its logistical problems. He’s the most scholarly – and most creative – academic I’ve ever met.”
Bartholdi’s research interests were wide-ranging. In conjunction with ISyE Professor Craig Tovey and Michael Trick (Ph.D. 1987; now dean of Carnegie Mellon University Qatar), Bartholdi analyzed voting systems to determine how difficult it actually is to manipulate election results. He devised a low-technology routing system for Meals on Wheels using space-filling curves. He also turned his professional expertise toward a personal interest: good food and wine. He eventually helped establish the Wine Supply Chain Council (now the Wine and Food Supply Chain Council), which comprises “a group of supply chain researchers dedicated to improving international supply chains for wine.”
In 2016, Bartholdi and several colleagues won the Golden Goose Award from the NSF and the Office of Naval Research for “The Honeybee Algorithm.” This was for work done with Tovey, ISyE Professor John Vande Vate, then-researcher Sunil Nakrani, and Thomas Seeley, a Cornell biology professor. By applying organizing patterns similar to those used by honeybees in a hive to coordinate nectar foraging, the team examined and solved the problem of the most efficient – and profitable – way to allocate computer servers to ever-changing internet traffic.
Closer to home, Bartholdi and Eisenstein developed an algorithm – NextBuzz – that solves the problem of “bus bunching” in public transit. Instead of operating on fixed schedules, bus drivers within a transportation system are fitted with tablets and GPS devices. Based on the information transmitted by the GPS, the tablet indicates to drivers how long to remain at a particular stop, thus spreading out the buses appropriately. For this work, Bartholdi received the 2012 INFORMS Transportation Science and Logistics Society Best Paper Award with the article, “A Self-coordinating Bus Route to Resist Bus Bunching,” and NextBuzz received an innovation award from the Georgia Transit Association in 2014. Georgia Tech implemented this algorithm for its own transit system in 2013, and an interdisciplinary group of students continue to work on the problem through Tech’s Vertically Integrated Projects program.
Bartholdi taught supply chain issues – primarily warehousing – at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and in the Supply Chain & Logistics Institute’s (SCL) professional education program. In 2003 he established the Great Package Race to deliver packages from SCL in Atlanta to sites around the world via UPS, FedEx, and DHL. “We choose locations to challenge the business processes of the multinational package carriers, then observe the results,” Bartholdi noted on the race’s website. The race was held intermittently in years following and became well-known even to the carriers themselves.
In 2008, Bartholdi and co-author Steve Hackman, an ISyE associate professor, published the first edition of their free online textbook, Warehouse & Distribution Science. The book discusses “mathematical models to optimize management of time and space in a warehouse” and is the most-used warehousing textbook in the world. It has over 600 citations in Google Scholar.
Bartholdi also was instrumental – along with Erera and Harvey Donaldson, an academic professional – in establishing ISyE’s premiere master’s program in supply chain engineering (MSSCE) in 2011. “We knew that many of our students, after they got their master’s in industrial engineering, would go on to become analysts and managers in the supply chain industry,” Erera reflected. “But they weren’t getting the specialized knowledge in the field that they needed, so John, Harvey, and I set out to change that with the MSSCE program. After we got the program set up, John and I led it, and his warehousing and supply chain industry seminar courses have been essential to the program’s success.”
In addition to his various academic pursuits, in which he was considered a generous collaborator, Bartholdi was personally regarded as exceptionally kind.
“John taught me how to think, how to see, how to ask questions, how to write, and how to teach,” said Kevin Gue (Ph.D. 1995; now a professor at the University of Louisville), who was advised by Bartholdi. “Most of all, he gave me the courage to explore ideas out of the mainstream. He told me once that he tried to see what direction others in the field were taking, and then he turned around and walked the other way. I’ve never forgotten that, and I think it is one way to explain the greatness of his work.
“But John was so much more than a scholar and a colleague. He was the kindest, most unselfish person I have ever worked with. He was a friend, and I am blessed to have shared many good times with him.
“His passing leaves a huge hole in ISyE, a huge hole in the field of industrial engineering, and most of all, a huge hole in the hearts of those who loved him. I am one of them.”
Trick said, “John was my advisor, my mentor, and my friend. On the professional side, he, Craig Tovey, and I spent a fantastic few years writing papers that would become a foundation for the field of computational social choice. After sitting dormant (citation-wise) for 15 years (from 1990-2005), the impact of those papers exploded. John’s entire publication record consists of delights and surprises. He could make warehousing methods fascinating and show how insect decision-making and production systems were related.
“John also introduced me to the Patrick O'Brian Aubrey-Maturin series, a set of books that influenced me more than anything else I have ever read. Because of John (and O'Brian), I have gone sailing, got certified as a scuba diver, and look at nature in far different ways.
“I am incredibly grateful for the impact he has had on me both professionally and personally. My life is incomparably better for having known and worked with him,” Trick added.
Bartholdi was devoted to his family and is survived by his wife, Marian. His son, Gabriel, predeceased him.
“As I read of John’s sudden departure, I felt truly upset. I still can’t believe and accept it. Those of us who knew John can understand who we’ve lost. A kind and honorable person before a professor, a curious and inspiring mind before an academician, a reliable and encouraging friend before a colleague.
“I was lucky to spend time with him. He hosted me when I was just a shy student, and he definitely opened my mind by showing me the way. He was a model of humanity, reason, and intelligence and had, has, and will have a deep and undying influence in my growth as a researcher and a man too. I’ll miss you John so much.
“My thoughts now go to his wife and family.”
“John was a great scholar and friend. I had great respect for the way he approached his research activities, really digging down to the key principles behind how a system functions. In addition to our more academic interactions, I also look back fondly to the time spent with him during the hiking and sightseeing trips that we were able to tag onto our conferences, as well as the time he and his wife made the effort to travel to Munich to visit me there. Our food and wine supply chain conferences will not be the same without him.”
“I met John 16 years ago, and was honored to be his student, and eventually to work with him in our Panama research center. His support and encouragement were a factor in me pursuing a higher degree. John had a unique ability for making complicated problems seem simple, and also for making even the toughest conversations seem light. He was always carrying a smile, showing immense love and respect for his profession, and an even greater love for life. He will be remembered as a brilliant academic, a dedicated professor and, above all, a kind and principled man.”
“How to remember the moments we spent together – some of them talking about research, but most of them were spent talking about food and the other passion we shared, wine. How to remember the number of emails, from all over the world, that I received because you told your students that I was the culprit of your long beard. How to remember all the great friends you presented to me, who only had words of admiration and respect for you.
“While looking for the definition of mentor, I found ‘someone who teaches or gives help or advice to a less experienced and often younger person.’ This definition runs short of what John has been for me. He has not only taught me and given me advice or help, he has been an example of what I want to become, -- not only as a researcher, but as what a real professor embodies: a person who kindly gives freely his wisdom, and who guides and touches the life of others. Thank you, John, for all your wisdom, time, help, and words of advice. I will never forget you.”
“I have known John since 1998 when we were involved together in setting up The Logistics Institute - Asia Pacific. Over the years that I have interacted with him, I have found him to be a selfless person and always willing to help others at great length. It was his sincerity that made him special. I will truly miss him.”
“Not to restate the obvious, but wow – whattaguy! I really appreciated getting to know John over many years of these workshops and their related events (such as the six-day tour of Patagonia after our Chilean workshop). I hope there can be a time at the upcoming Bologna workshop where we can all raise a glass together to remember him.”
“When I think of Professor Bartholdi, I think of a ‘gentle giant.’ He had such a huge presence but was always so mild and kind. His loss will be felt by the ISyE family for years to come.”
“Amongst all of John’s great personal qualities and formidable research and practical insight, it is his immense energy and sincere enthusiasm for the success of others that is ever present in my recollections of the time I spent with him in the U.S., Australia, and Chile. His admirable way of engaging was withheld from nobody – at least nobody who could resist reciprocating the honesty and friendship they received from John at any and every opportunity. Whether you were a warehouse order picker, a winery manager, a bus driver, a graduate student, a logistician, or a professional researcher, John wanted to know about you, and about how you went about your important business.
“It’s also true that John was a great storyteller and a fantastically memorable teacher. In my mind, his voice still narrates much of what I would claim to know about warehousing and distribution, and of course his knowledge (and photograph collection) of the wonderful variety in warehousing and distribution globally was vast.
“A finer and more admirable man that John I truly am yet to meet.”
“John was my thesis advisor, colleague, business partner, and dear friend. We wrote papers together, ate dinners together, travelled together, and laughed together. John had such a zest for life. He enjoyed fine meals -- he tended toward a tasting menu so he could leave the experience in the hands of the chef – and Low Country BBQ. He hiked in Tibet and fished in Patagonia.
“When we met on trips together, John typically had something for my daughter – a puzzle, a fine tea set, a book, an artifact from China – always something interesting. He was the most giving and thoughtful person I have ever been around. So humble. John lacked any evidence of an ego. Disagreements with him when working on some code together, or a paper, were typically him trying to take blame for one of my bugs, or giving me undue credit for an idea. He was willing to be wrong, even though he was typically right. He just wanted to get at the truth, to understand something clearly. He always asked the right questions. Working with him was such a joy.
“John was meticulous in a way that I had never experienced. Every sentence, a purpose; every line of code, clarity. He always strived to make the complex simple. He profoundly changed the way I think and the way I work. I am so grateful and indebted to him.
“John was my friend, my mentor, a second father, and the brother I never had. I miss him so much. His passing has left such a void in my life. “
“This is indeed very sad news. John was an outstanding person. The memory of him will always be in our hearts.”
“John was a great friend, mentor, and human being. I am very sad at his passing away. I really admired his initiative, his drive, and his humbleness. He was really an outstanding person, and without his seminal action, we would not have this great community of practice that is the Wine and Food Supply Chain Council.”
“To those who knew him well, John was the consummate scholar, mentor, colleague, and friend. Hardly a week has gone by in 25 years since I left Georgia Tech when I did not think to myself, ‘What would John have done in this situation? How would he have responded?’ Especially with regard to advising my own students, his example has been my working model.
“I treasured every moment I spent with him, first as his graduate student and then as a colleague and friend. I learned early in graduate school that he viewed life as a constrained resource allocation problem — all of his students remember hearing the tap-tap-tap of his keyboard through a locked door, as he ignored our knocks in order to get something done. Rather than alienating us, it made us value our time with him even more.
“John taught me how to think, how to see, how to ask questions, how to write, and how to teach. Most of all, he gave me the courage to explore ideas out of the mainstream. He told me once that he tried to see what direction others in the field were taking, and then he turned around and walked the other way. I’ve never forgotten that, and I think it is one way to explain the greatness of his work. The problems he addressed and the insights he gave us were always interesting and important.
“But John was so much more than a scholar and a colleague. He was the kindest, most unselfish person I have ever worked with. He was a friend, and I am blessed to have shared many good times with him.
“John’s passing leaves a huge hole in ISyE, a huge hole in the field of industrial engineering, and most of all, a huge hole in the hearts of those who loved him. I am one of them.”
“Without question, John was uniquely talented, brilliantly creative, and a special person. He was kind and gentle, witty and incisive. I count myself extremely lucky to have received his mentorship and friendship over many years. He will be irreplaceable.”
“In all of the years that I’ve known John, I never saw him in a bad mood. Always smiling, very kind and thoughtful (many times he’d come bearing edible gifts). It’s hard to imagine ISyE without him.”
“When I came to ISyE and Georgia Tech 20 years ago, John was a senior member who was co-organizing a School-level initiative in response to a funding opportunity in Singapore. John kindly invited me to a lunch, together with several other colleagues, to discuss the strategy. At the end of the lunch, to our surprise, John picked up the check and paid for the entire group. Even though I ultimately did not participate the corresponding project, I really appreciated the opportunities that John created for a then-junior faculty member. John will be remembered.”
“John was my Ph.D. advisor, and he was a great mentor in every way. Long after I received my Ph.D., he was still one of my go-to people when I needed advice. His advice was always thoughtful, conscientious, and encouraging. One of the greatest things about working with John was that he always asked the right questions to move research forward. He wouldn't tell me how to model things, how to change my model, what results to derive, or what insights to generate, but he always asked questions.
“One very important question he asked after we'd been working together for a while was, ‘Are you writing all this in Latex?’ He probably knew the answer was ‘no,’ because I don't enjoy the writing part of research as much as doing the research, and at that point I had been walking around with a binder with an increasing number of pages of derivations. I thought he would get upset, so I quietly said, ‘No.’ He was very calm and asked another question, “What happens if you lose your binder or if there is a fire?’ The thought of my research burning up in flames was the best motivator, and I started the first draft of my paper right after that meeting.
“John's passing is a great loss to the OR/MS community, and I will miss him dearly.”
“Cherry and I are deeply saddened with the news of John’s untimely passing. More than being a great teacher, scientist, mentor, and friend, he was a giant of a person. I loved listening to him speak. He brought fun, wisdom, and compassion into the most boring or trivial topic from any domain. His kind and gentle presence will be sorely missed.”
“John Bartholdi III was my thesis advisor when I pursued my PhD studies at Georgia Tech. When I worked with John during my Ph.D. studies in Atlanta, I realized that he was a super-meticulous person. I found out this when I read his Java and LaTeX codes. For example, his LaTeX source code is as readable as the corresponding LaTeX output. I consider myself a very neat person, but John was at least 10 times neater than me!
“John paid attention to all the details on his research. Every time when I passed my proofs to him, he went through the proofs and rewrote everything using his own words. He absorbed the ideas and eventually mastered them.
“John was a keen learner. At one point, he noticed that I was able to spin a pen on my thumbs and fingers (just like many other Asian students). Upon his request, I taught him the skill. He practiced hard and was eventually able to do it with his right hand (he was about 60 years old at that time). He gave up doing it with his left hand.
“I learned how to write rigorous research articles from John. This is perhaps the most important skill that I picked up from him. I did not realize how crucial the skill is until I became a faculty member myself. It was John who made me appreciate the beauty of integrating logics with writing. I am now passing this skill onto my Ph.D. students, and I will miss John for that.”
“John had a great impact on a UNICEF project in 2010 in Zimbabwe. In 2010 the Education Transition Fund was launched to revitalize the education system in Zimbabwe and included the procurement and distribution of school supplies to every primary school in the country. As UNICEF Zimbabwe's logistics officer at the time, I had to manage the set packing of textbooks for every school based on language/subject choice and enrollment figures per grade for almost 6,000 schools within a three-month window before the rainy season started. There was huge political pressure on the project, and failure simply wasn't an option.
“In 2010, Zimbabwe was recovering after a devastating cholera epidemic and was still grappling with the economic effects of massive hyperinflation. Electricity and even water were not in regular supply, and while most of the massive fuel shortages were over, it wasn't uncommon for fuel to run out occasionally. In a panic, I contacted John for advice and his thoughts how this seemingly impossible task could be achieved. John very kindly extended a trip to South Arica to come up to Zimbabwe over a weekend to visit the UNICEF warehouse and talk through the problem with me and then continued to send encouragement via email.
“I think he was a little taken aback at the lack of resources we had to work with: just a bare warehouse, two forklifts – of which only one ran at any given time, and little to no electricity. In true John style, he embraced the challenge with so much enthusiasm and seemed to relish the need for the most basic type of “back to basics” logistics imaginable.
“He suggested a brilliantly simple and totally manual picking system for the textbooks. The only real resource we had was people power, and his suggested solution made full use of that. His picking line was simple, easy to understand, easy to teach, and easy to ensure quality. It worked off pallet movers and clipboards (attached to old intravenous drip stands that were still in stock after the cholera emergency), and lots and lots of wooden pallets!
“The project succeeded so well that it was expanded to secondary school textbooks, early childhood development kits, and later to science kits, sports kits, teacher manuals, etc. While I haven't encountered another project like it since, I know I'll never forget how to approach it, thanks to John.”
“It is with true sadness that we mourn the sudden departure of our beloved John, a friend and a mentor. He taught us more about research, education, and life than expected from a colleague. All of us have learnt something from John, and we are transferring these lessons to all students and young researchers who have not the chance to meet him.
“It was an honor and a privilege to host John at the Alma Mater Studiorum, to have some Ph.D. students in co-tutorship, and together starting the first edition of the Food Supply Chain Conference in 2011.
“Thank you, John! Your colleagues and friends from University of Bologna want to express sincere condolences to your wife and family.”
“John has made giant contributions to the worldwide warehousing and logistics scientific and professional communities with innovative concepts such as order picking bucket brigades and space-filling curves, a widely influential ebook on warehousing and distribution science, and a series of field-grounded research such as with Panama, USPS, and even on campus at Georgia Tech. Kudos and thanks!
“John introduced me to supply chains of used clothing after he found out that I grew up in Kenya. At that time, a lot was unknown about this subject. Many engaging sessions later, coupled with a series of trips to Kenya, I ended up presenting at his supply chain seminar classes, where I talked about the last leg of the supply chain of cotton, while Harvey Donaldson talked about the first leg. He was a great friend and will be solely missed.”
“John Bartholdi was one of the most intellectually curious and creative people I've known. His research emphasized elegant but simple solutions to complex problems. John loved life, and I was fortunate to enjoy good food, wine, and his wit on several occasions.”
“Gina and I are very sad. John was such a great person – kind, caring, humble, and brilliant. The world has lost a great man.”
“I first met John in 2001 when he attended the ICORD conference in Kruger National Park, South Africa. In 2006 he invited me to Georgia Tech to participate in the inaugural workshop of the Wine and Food Supply Chain Council. I’m grateful that I got to know him through attending a number of workshops and conferences, collaborating on research projects, and his visits to Stellenbosch.
“I greatly admired him as a researcher, but even more so as a person. He was humble, kind, caring, and considerate – sensitive to the cultures and customs of the countries he visited – keen to learn and careful not to offend. We soon became friends and exchanged ideas on how to overcome the challenges of taking care of our elderly mothers. I drew strength and inspiration from him when times were tough. I’ve been looking forward to his next visit to South Africa but will now have to cherish the beautiful memories instead.
“My sincere condolences to his wife, Marian, and relatives. May they receive some comfort from the impact he had on others’ lives and knowing how much he will be missed.”
“Very sad news indeed. John was one of my heroes, an incredible researcher, and a very good man. Rest In Peace.”
“John was a creative and productive scholar, gifted teacher, and a wonderful colleague with a terrific sense of humor. He had the art of making people grow fond of him. I have many pleasant memories of John and wish he had been with us longer.”
“John was an example for many of us! He always gave without waiting for a counterpart! We will really miss him. I wish a lot of patience for his family and those who love him.”