This is Hillier’s second time winning the Foster School’s highest teaching honor, which was established in 1998 by PACCAR Inc, the Fortune 200 global technology company based in Bellevue, Washington. The PACCAR Award’s annual recipient is selected by a panel of Foster MBA students.
“I am truly honored and deeply touched,” said Hillier upon receiving the award at the Foster School’s MBA graduation June 16. “I feel very blessed to have a job that I love, and to get to spend my days with such intelligent people who challenge and teach me every day.
“And what other job pays you to play with Legos?”
Wait, what? Legos?
Hillier teaches an elective in spreadsheet modeling and the core quantitative methods course in Foster’s Full-Time MBA, Evening MBA, Technology Management MBA and Global Executive MBA Programs.
His paramount skill may be the ability to demystify some seriously complicated material—modeling, linear programming, simulation, decision analysis—in playfully simple ways.
Ergo, the Legos. To introduce the concept of linear programming, Hillier doles out the candy-colored plastic bricks as the raw materials of a rudimentary chair and table manufacturer. After running the students through different scenarios, they come away with an indelible lesson in how to optimize resources to maximize profits. And he builds from there.
Another classic example of his toys-as-tools methodology is the legendary “Professor Hillier Action Figure” which embodies a marketing modeling problem aimed at spurring better decision making. (A decade or so ago some students fashioned a real Action Figure from a doctored “Ken” doll that is exuberantly displayed in a commemorative box.)
“I try to keep things fun,” says Hillier. “When we’re discussing some vague mathematical concept, I think it’s helpful to let them actually see it at work. We start simple and then we add complexity and real-world applications so they can see how cool these tools are.”
Simple unlocks the complex
Hillier’s students find this modeling play has serious payoff.
“Mark teaches an underappreciated core skill in a world-class style,” wrote one MBA student in nominating Hillier for the PACCAR Award. “The tools he shares with us prove to be among the most valuable and useful that Foster MBAs gain during the program.”
“Wonderfully organized and easy to follow, with a great sense of humor, Mark is a pleasure to be around,” noted another. “You can really tell how excited he is about teaching the subject matter.”
A third summarized Hillier’s performance in two simple words: “Teaching excellence.”
The family business
Hillier’s excellence in quantitative methods may have a genetic component. His father, Frederick Hillier, is a professor emeritus of operations research at Stanford University. While studying engineering as an undergrad at Swarthmore College, Mark wanted to learn what exactly his father did, so he enrolled in an operations research course. “I just fell in love with it,” he says.
Hillier earned an MS in operations research and PhD in industrial engineering and engineering management at Stanford, then joined the faculty of the Foster School in 1993.
He has been an Evert McCabe Endowed Fellow since 2004, and was a Neal and Jan Dempsey Endowed Faculty Fellow from 2002-04. Among many teaching honors at Foster, he received his first PACCAR Award in 2007. He also received the 2000-01 Best Paper Award from the journal IIE Transactions.
Hillier’s research focuses on building mathematical models to improve operations. Current interest includes optimizing warehouse policies, production line efficiency, and operation assignment problems, and just-in-time production scheduling logistics—real-world topics of interest to real companies that range from Amazon to Boeing to PACCAR.
He also contributes to a range of global health and education modeling projects through the Foster School’s new research partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
In a way, Hillier is upholding a kind of academic family business. He and his father are the co-authors of “Introduction to Management Science,” the textbook he uses in his class, now in its fifth edition.
PACCAR and its founding Pigott family are longtime supporters of the Foster School. In addition to the PACCAR Award and three endowed faculty positions, support from the Pigott family and company was instrumental in building PACCAR Hall, the Foster School’s 135,000-square-foot classroom facility that was completed in 2010.
Previous PACCAR Award Winners
Karma Hadjimichalakis (1998)
Stephan Sefcik (1999)
Elizabeth Stearns (2000)
Jennifer Koski (2001)
Ali Tarhouni (2002)
Robert Higgins (2003)
Jane Kennedy (2004)
Daniel Turner (2005)
Mark Forehand (2006)
Mark Hillier (2007)
Jennifer Koski (2008)
Shailendra Jain (2009)
Thomas Gilbert (2010)
Lance Young (2011)
Erich Studer-Ellis (2012)