William G. Hunter Award 2009: Necip Doganaksoy

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The recipient of the 2009 William G. Hunter Award is Necip Doganaksoy, Principal Technologist-Statistician at General Electric Global Research. He was recognized for his practical use of statistical tools in non-traditional areas like IT, Human Resources and Finance. The Statistics Division of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) established the Hunter Award in 1987 in memory of the Division's founding chair to promote, encourage and acknowledge outstanding accomplishments during a career in the broad field of applied statistics. The attributes that characterize Bill Hunter's career - consultant, educator for practitioners, communicator, and integrator of statistical thinking into other disciplines - are used to help decide the recipient.

Acceptance speech by Necip Doganaksoy, October, 2009

I am deeply honored to have been chosen as this year's recipient of the William G. Hunter Award. I would like to thank the award committee for considering me for this recognition and the Statistics Division for their support. I would also like to express my gratitude to Roger Hoerl for nominating me.

I never met Bill Hunter. His untimely death occurred even before I picked up a copy of Box, Hunter and Hunter for the first time. I was introduced to this textbook through my first course in experimental design as a graduate student. I am sure my initial (and subsequent) reaction to this book was shared by hundreds of thousands of other readers all over the globe. It was unlike any other statistics book I had studied. This book continues to fascinate me even today and I still refer to it often.

Upon receiving the news about the award from Bob Mitchell, I decided to learn more about Bill Hunter. Fortunately, he is very easy to find on the Internet. It is readily evident that Bill Hunter was a highly distinguished individual with many skills in diverse areas. He was a world-class theoretician who strived to work on problems that really mattered. He was not looking for problems to fit to his latest statistical method or tool. He was looking for problems where he could make an impactful contribution regardless of the complexity or novelty of the statistical techniques he employed. Moreover, he was concerned about ways of making statistics and statisticians more effective in applications.

Owing to the tireless work of Bill Hunter and others who followed his lead (many of them closely associated with the Statistics Division) the environment that I work in today is very different, and I believe for the better, as compared to the one he was faced with. For example:

  • I do not need to work as hard to "sell" statistics, particularly when I am involved with manufactured product industries. There is broad recognition of the important role of statistical tools and thinking throughout the complete product life cycle, from product design, development and scale-up to manufacturing to tracking field performance.
  • Moreover, a significant amount of statistical work actually gets done by practitioners themselves. "Weibull analysis" is part of the standard toolkit of many engineers dealing with reliability data. Mixture experiments are widely used by chemists involved with product formulation. Manufacturing engineers rely on statistical studies to validate the measurement systems, design and run experiments to improve their performance and employ statistical process control to catch problems in advance. The Six Sigma initiative has also played an important role here.
  • Our roles in business and industry have changed significantly. In many companies the traditional "internal consultant" role is deemphasized. In my view, the traditionally defined "statistical consultant vs. client" roles set the wrong mindset for anyone wishing to work and succeed in industry as a statistician. In today's environment we do not have a choice but to fully integrate ourselves as equal members (or, even sometimes, as leaders) of the project team. We can no longer survive and succeed based solely on providing sound advice to others on technical questions.

Yet, there still remains much to do to adapt to the new environment as a profession. In order to remain relevant as a profession we need to expand further the reach of our impact beyond manufactured product industries. We have not quite matched our success in manufacturing industries in the services and transactional process oriented businesses. In a 1986 report, Bill Hunter describes what today we would characterize as "a transactional process improvement" project that he and others conducted for the City of Madison Department of Motor Vehicles. It is a great example of statistical thinking in a process environment. This alone provides a clear demonstration of Bill Hunter's leadership and how much ahead of his time he was.

I take this award as a challenge. It is not only in the way that this award connects my name with Bill Hunter but also with all the past winners, all highly accomplished and respected people of our profession. I hope that I will be able to contribute to carrying Bill Hunter's legacy forward. Thank you very much.

Comment by John Hunter. His point on the role of Statisticians echos the importance of collaboration and working in partnership with others to achieve successful outcomes as discussed in The Next 25 Years in Statistics by William Hill and William Hunter, February 1986.