Igor Ansoff was born in Vladivostok, Russia, on December 12, 1918. His father was an American born Russian from Evansville, Indiana and his mother was Russian from Moscow.
At the time of Igor’s birth, Ansoff senior was secretary to the American Consul General in Moscow, David R. Francis, and had just completed a cross-Siberian trip on behalf of the American Red Cross, examining living conditions in prisoner of war camps. This concluded with a trip to Japan in 1918 following which the family moved to Vladivostok. The United States had a large military and industrial presence in the Far East of Russia, with more than 3000 troops onm the ground under the command of General Graves. During the six years that it took for the Bolshevik revolution to make its way to Vladivostok, US Embassy’s were slowly being shut and their contents moved east. Many strategic records ended up in Tokyo and were destroyed in an earthquake and fire. Most of the rest of the embassy documents made their way to Vladivostok.
The Ansoff’s lived in Vladivostok until the US Embassy closed in 1924, whereupon they returned to Moscow, with Ansoff senior now a Soviet citizen. They travelled the 9,000km’s on the trans-siberian railway crossing Siberia in the middle of winter where temperatures of minus 35 Celsius are common. The cattle cars of the trans-siberian were heated by coal burning stoves and the occupants slept on straw laid out on timber bunks.
With his father's American origin, and his mother's "capitalist" background (her father had owned a small samovar factory in the town of Tula some hundred miles west of Moscow) the Ansoff’s were suspect as members of the "bourgeoisie" who were assumed to harbor their "counterrevolutionary" hopes and tendencies.
Igor’s life in Moscow engendered in him a distrust of any system (political or organizational) that claimed to be too perfect, too tidy. This spirit: “expressed itself through my inability to join other ‘systems’ in which I lived, studied and worked. It reinforced my drive to excel in order to force the system to recognize and reward me. And perversely, it also drove me to excel through making innovative contributions which challenged the systems cultures” (Ansoff, 1992)
During 1932-1933 two major events occurred in Soviet life. First, a massive and destructive famine followed by the commencement of the great purge. In 1933 there was also a thawing of the relationships between the USA and the Soviet Union which led to the re-opening of the US embassy in Moscow under Ambassador William Bullit
With the reestablishment of the American Embassy in Moscow, Ansoff senior was able to get a clerical job in the Embassy and at the same time apply for restoration of his American citizenship.
The Ansoff’s left Russia through Leningrad in September 1936 on a small freighter, which accommodated a dozen passengers. The ship took two weeks to cross the Atlantic ocean finally docking in New York.
A Russian Orthodox priest took Igor to the Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan which was one of two premier high schools in New York City. With the aid of the priest Igor’s grades were translated into American equivalents which made it possible for him to graduate in one year.
Igor graduated with the highest honors at the end of the year, which guaranteed him a four-year scholarship with all expenses paid in the New York State University system. He was also offered a scholarship at The Stevens Institute of Technology which was one of the most expensive and best engineering schools in the country. The scholarship was for one year and its continuation was contingent on performing in the upper 10% of my class. Contrary to his parents' advice, who were still financially struggling, he went to Stevens.
Five years after arriving in New York, Igor graduated at the top of his class from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. But he had also reached the conclusion that he did not want to practice engineering.
Seeking a broader perspective, he took a master's degree in Modern Physics. World War II intervened, and in 1946 he went to Brown University to take a doctoral degree in Applied Mathematics. His formal education was completed in 1948 when he was 30-years-old. He was married the day after defending his dissertation, and travelled to Santa Monica, California where he had been offered a job in the Mathematics Department of the Rand Corporation. It took Igor about four years to conclude that, while he could remain a competent mathematician, he could never become an outstanding one. And, given his drive to excel, he changed his career orientation.
Moving laterally within Rand, Igor become a project manager in the large- scale project activity focused on making recommendations to the U.S. Air Force on technology and weapon systems acquisition. His second major study at Rand addressed the vulnerability of NATO Air Forces. The inclusion of “soft metrics” was treated with disdain by Rand and the airforce , and Igor learned his first lesson in organizational myopia which was to become one of his primary concerns some 20 years later.
In 1957 Igor left Rand to join the Corporate Planning Department of the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. His experience at Lockheed focused his attention and trained him to deal with the problem of managing organizations in the face of environmental discontinuities which became the central focus of his attention during the following 30 years.
One morning, while shaving Igor realized that he had no idea of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. While on vacation at Cape Cod he developed a long-term plan to take early retirement from Lockheed and find a job in a school of management. Within a year he was approached by The Graduate School of Industrial Administration at the Carnegie-Mellon University about joining the GSIA faculty. When he entered GSIA he was allowed a year free from teaching to enable him to finish his book, Corporate Strategy, which appeared in 1965 and was an immediate success.
In 1969 he accepted a position as Founding Dean of the new Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. He accepted the position under the condition that the school would specialize in educating change agents, a type of manager which, was badly needed in industry and not produced by any U.S. school of business at that time.
After coming to California he joined UCLA in the Senior Executive Program. He was a distinguished professor at United States International University (now Alliant International University) for 17 years, where several institutes continue his work in strategic management research.
Professionally, he is known worldwide for his research in three specific areas:
- The concept of environmental turbulence;
- The contingent strategic success paradigm, a concept that has been validated by numerous doctoral dissertations;
- Real-time strategic management.
Marketing and MBA students are usually familiar with his Product-Market Growth Matrix, a tool he created to plot generic strategies for growing a business via existing or new products, in existing or new markets.
To honor his body of work, the prestigious Igor Ansoff Award was established in 1981 in The Netherlands. The award is given for research and management in the study of Strategic Planning and Management. The Japan Strategic Management Society has also established an annual award in his name and Vanderbilt University has established an Ansoff MBA scholarship.
An applied mathematician, he shifted his emphasis in the 1950s while employed by the Rand Corporation. In 1956, he was employed as planning specialist for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation where he gained practical experience in analyzing the complexities of a business environment. At Lockheed he became Vice President of Planning and Director of Diversification.
He served as Professor of Industrial Administration in the Graduate School at Carnegie Mellon University (1963–1968); Founding Dean and Professor of Management at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee (1968–1973); professor at the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management, Brussels, Belgium (1973–1975); Distinguished Justin Potter Professor of Free American Enterprise, Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University (1973–1976); Professor, Stockholm School of Economics, Stockholm, Sweden (1976–1983), and Professor, United States International University, San Diego, California (1984–2001).
- Strategic Management Classic Edition (2007)
- Corporate Strategy (1965)