Ralph Keeney was born in Lewistown, Montana. He loves the qualities of Montana – the wide-open spaces, the open kind people, the fierce independence and responsibility they show for themselves and their town and country. Ralph had an entrepreneurial childhood, beginning work at eight years old by working in a bowling alley (before the time of automated bowling pinsetting machines) where he was a human pinsetter, and then later as a paperboy.

Main Street, Lewistown, Montana

He ended up managing some other paper boys and his first experience with winning an award was the time he won the Thanksgiving turkey for selling the most newspapers. He was very proud to be the family provider of the Thanksgiving feast that year!

Delivering newspapers sometimes presented obstacles
Center of the state

In school, Ralph was known as one of the “smartest boys in town” and won a County Science Fair award for his project on math vectors, which led him to the State Science Fair in Missoula, Montana.

For his senior year in high school, he moved to Los Angeles and attended UCLA the next year. He studied engineering at UCLA. After college, he worked for Bell Labs in New Jersey and went to MIT for a Masters and PhD.

He met Professor Howard Raiffa of Harvard when Howard gave a seminar on Decision Analysis at MIT and Ralph became enthused about the topic of decision analysis and the idea of people learning to make good decisions. After taking Professor Raiffa’s decision analysis course at Harvard, he subsequently wrote his doctoral dissertation with Professor Raiffa as the advisor. That was the start of their many happy years of mentorship, colleagueship, and a deep personal friendship between the two men and their families.

Ralph with Howard Raiffa discussing ideas
John Hammond, Howard Raiffa and Ralph Keeney after the publication of their book Smart Choices

After earning his PhD (1969), Ralph joined the MIT faculty for 5 years and taught for about 12 more years in a MIT summer program. Ralph has always been particularly proud of being part of the MIT Operations Research Center because operations research emphasizes applying theory to real world problems and this is a fundamental characteristic of Ralph’s thinking and academic career and consulting work.

When at MIT, Ralph learned the game of squash and began to play regularly. This became his “lifelong” sport.

On a one-year leave from MIT, Ralph began the first of many stints living in Germany and Austria, where he taught in Heidelberg, Germany for Boston University and began to learn the German language. In 1974, he resigned from MIT and accepted a two-year position in Austria at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), a scientific institute in a suburb of Vienna and located in a former “Hapsburg Castle”. Because of, and in spite of the “cold war”, this Institute brought scientists together from the east and west to work on problems common to industrial societies the world over. Professor Raiffa was the institute’s first director. During the years at IIASA, Ralph worked on some interesting research, increased his facility in the German language, helped establish a positive esprit de corps at IIASA, and also learned to ski which continues to be one of his lifelong sports.

Schloss Laxenburg, Home of IIASA

It was during a ski trip to Aspen, Colorado that Ralph met his wife, Janet.

Ralph and Janet’s early days

It was and is a very happy relationship, which as Ralph will tell you was made possible because both Ralph and Janet were there in Aspen to do something they loved doing – skiing. As Ralph will be quick to say, with strong common interests, the chances of meeting someone that you might like as a life partner are greatly increased.

Janet and Ralph still skiing together

Ralph and Janet are very fortunate to have a terrific son, Gregory Keeney.

Ralph, Janet and Gregory in Alaska circa 1994

Greg is himself an avid outdoors man, Eagle Scout, skier, and squash player. He splits time between San Francisco
and Washington DC, and works at a software company, OPENGOV.com.

Ralph and Greg at Duke

Ralph has his office in San Francisco, and travels for consulting and intensive courses in value-focused thinking
and decision science.