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John Roberts

John Roberts
Professor Emeritus, Economics
Contact Info
John H. Scully Professor of Economics, Strategic Management, and International Business, Emeritus
Academic Area: 

Research Statement

John Roberts’ teaching and research involve the application of economic and strategic (game-theoretic) analysis to management problems. His specific areas of current interest involve international business, the organization of the firm, and the connection between strategy and organization. He also has published extensively on industrial competition, emphasizing how informational differences among various parties affect strategic behavior, and on complementarities as a driving force in organizational design and strategic choice. As well, he has helped develop new techniques for deriving robust conclusions from economic models. Most recently, he has undertaken controlled randomized experiments in large firms to investigate the effects of changing management practices.


John Roberts has been a member of the Stanford faculty since 1980, when he joined the GSB from Northwestern University, where he had been a professor in the Kellogg School of Management. Born in Winnipeg in 1945, he was educated at the Universities of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Minnesota.

His research has contributed primarily to the development of economic theory and game theory and their application to problems of economics and management; to the study of industrial competition, especially when informational differences among market participants are important; and to the economics of organization. He is the author or coauthor of over 70 scholarly articles, more than 30 business cases and two books. The first of these, Economics, Organization and Management, was the first text to apply modern theories of incentives and contracting to managerial problems. His more recent book, The Modern Firm: Organizational Design for Performance and Growth¸ was named as the best business book of the year by The Economist. He is the co-editor of The Handbook of Organizational Economics, which presents a unique, path-setting overview of the subject. Recently his research has involved running randomized controlled experiments to investigate the effects of changing management practices in large firms.

Roberts’ teaching in the MBA, Sloan, and Executive Programs focused on strategy and organization, with special attention to multinational business. He has also advised numerous PhD students who have joined the faculties of many of the world’s leading business schools and economics departments.

Roberts has held visiting positions at the University of Louvain (Belgium), the Ecole National de l’Administration et des Etudes Economiques (Paris), the Hebrew University, the University of California Berkeley, the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, All Souls and Nuffield Colleges of Oxford University, the Université des Sciences Sociales (Toulouse), McKinsey and Company, London and the London School of Economics, where he was the BP Centennial Professor. He has also consulted to major corporations in the United States, Japan and Europe.

A Fellow and former Council Member of the Econometric Society, Roberts was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005. He received a honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Winnipeg in 2007.

Academic Degrees

  • PhD, Univ. of Minnesota, 1972
  • BA (Hons.), University of Manitoba, 1967
  • LLD (honoris causa), University of Winnipeg, 2007

Academic Appointments

  • At Stanford University since 1980
  • BP Centennial Professor, London School of Economics, 2010
  • Freehills Lecturer, University of New South Wales, 2007
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2005
  • Distinguished Lecturer, University of Pittsburgh, 2002
  • Senior Associate Dean, Stanford GSB, 2000-2008
  • Minnesota Lecturer, University of Minnesota, 2000
  • Academic Fellow, McKinsey &. Co., London, 1999-2000
  • Visitor, Nuffield College, Oxford University, 1999-2000
  • Universite de Sciences Sociales de Toulouse, 1999
  • Inaugural Clarendon Lecturer in Management Studies, Oxford, 1997
  • Visiting Fellow, All Souls College, Oxford, 1995
  • Institute of Economics and Statistics, Oxford University, 1995
  • Associate Dean, Stanford GSB, 1987-1990
  • Fellow of the Econometric Society, 1982
  • Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies, Jerusalem, 1980, 1985
  • CORE Research Fellow, Université Catholique de Louvain, 1974, 1976, 1982
  • Faculty, Kellogg School of Management, 1971-1980

Awards and Honors

  • Robert T. Davis Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award, Stanford GSB, 2005
  • Teaching Excellence Award, Stanford Sloan Program, 2002
  • Jaedicke Silver Apple Award, Stanford Business School Alumni Association, 2000
  • Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa, University of Winnipeg, 2007
  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2005
  • Fundacion BBVA IESE Prize for Contributions of Economics to Management, 2009


Journal Articles

John Roberts, Nicholas Bloom, Benn Eifert, A. Mahajan, David McKenzie. Quarterly Journal af Economics. February 2013.
Susan Athey, John Roberts. American Economic Review. May 2001, Vol. 91, Issue 2, Pages 200-205.
Bengt Holmstrom, John Roberts. Journal of Economic Perspectives. 1998, Vol. 12, Issue 4, Pages 73-94.
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts. American Economic Review. March 1996, Vol. 86, Issue 1, Pages 173-179.
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts. Journal of Accounting and Economics. 1995, Vol. 19, Issue 2-3, Pages 179-208.
Paul R. Milgrom, Yingyi Qian, John Roberts. American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings. May 1991, Vol. 81, Issue 2, Pages 84-88.
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts. Econometrica. 1990, Vol. 58, Issue 6, Pages 1255-1277.
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts. American Economic Review. 1990, Vol. 80, Issue 3, Pages 511-528.
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts. American Journal of Sociology. 1988, Vol. 94, Issue Supplement: Organizations and Institutions: Sociological and Economic Approaches to the Analysis of Social Structure , Pages S154-S179.


John Roberts Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts Prentice Hall, February 11, 1992.

Book Chapters

John Roberts, Robert Gibbons, Niko Matouschek. HAndbook of Organizational Economics. 2014.
Robert Gibbons, John Roberts. The Handbook of Organizational Economics. Princeton UP, 2014.
John Roberts, Garth Saloner, Robert Gibbons. Chapter 20 in The Handbook of Organizational Economics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013, Pages 799-852.

Working Papers

Does Management Matter? Evidence from India | PDF
John Roberts, Nicholas Bloom, Benn Eifert, Aprajit Mahajan, David McKenzie2010
The Boundaries of the Firm Revisited | PDF
John Roberts, Bengt Holmstrom1998
Comparing Equilibria
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts1992
Organizational Prospects, Influence Costs and Ownership Changes
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts, Margaret Meyer1991
The Simple Economics of Optimal Auctions
Jeremy I. Bulow, John Roberts1987
Contributions to The New Palgrave | PDF
David M. Kreps, John Roberts1986
Price and Advertising Signals of Product Quality
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts1985
Rational Cooperation in the Finitely-Repeated Prisoners' Dilemma
David M. Kreps, Paul R. Milgrom, Robert Wilson, John Roberts1981
Predation, Reputation, and Entry Deterrence
Paul R. Milgrom, John Roberts1980

Stanford Case Studies

Dabur India | IB99
Manish Khandelwal, John Roberts2011
Note on the IT Services Industry | IB80
Gary Mekikian, John Roberts2009
Tata Consultancy Services, Globalization of IT Services | IB79
Gary Mekikian, John Roberts2009
SK-II China, Managing Public Relations | IB81
John Roberts, Jennie Tung2007
Performance Management and Learning at British Petroleum (D) | IB16D
Joel Podolny, John Roberts2004
Performance Management and Learning at British Petroleum (D) | IB16D
Joel Podolny, John Roberts2004
Tenaris, Creating A Global Leader From An Emerging Market | IB60
Charles Catalano, John Roberts2004
British Petroleum (A1), Organizing for Performance at BPX | IB16A1
Joel Podolny, John Roberts1999
CEMEX, Global Competition in a Local Business | IB17
Joon Han, Andrea Hodge, Joel Podolny, John Roberts1999
Lucent Technologies in China | IB18
Xiao Chen, Joel Podolny, John Roberts1999
Novo Nordisk (A) - Global Coordination | IB20A
Aldo Kamper, Joel Podolny, John Roberts1999
Novo Nordisk (B), The Prandin/Novonorm Global Product Launch | IB20B
Marc Fumagalli, Joel Podolny, John Roberts1999
The Daimler Chrysler Commercial Vehicles Division | IB27
Michael Hannan, Joel Podolny, John Roberts1999
AT&T China (B) | SM30B
John Roberts1998
AT&T China (C) | SM30C
John Roberts1998
AT&T China (A) | SM30A
Eric Li, Gabriel Li, John Roberts1998
British Petroleum (A), Performance and Growth | IB16A
Andris Berzins, Joel Podolny, John Roberts1998
British Petroleum (B), Focus on Learning | IB16B
Andris Berzins, Joel Podolny, John Roberts1998
British Petroleum, Organizing for Performance at BPX | IB16A2
Joel Podolny, John Roberts1998
Lion Nathan and the Chinese Beer Industry | SM47
Joel Podolny, John Roberts1998
The Global Oil Industry | IB15
Joel Podolny, John Roberts1998
Lincoln Electric Company in the 1990s | SM40
John Roberts1997

Stanford University Affiliations

Greater Stanford University

  • Senior Fellow, Stanford Institute for Policy Research

Service to the Profession

  • Fellow and former Council Member, Econometric Society
  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 2005-present

In the Media

Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2006
Academy Chooses Fellows in Bay Area
San Jose Mercury News, May 2005
Economist Names Roberts' "Modern Firm" Best 2004 Business Book
The Economist, 12 1, 2004
The Economist, December 25, 2004
Economist Roberts Outlines Three Ways to Organize a Multinational
The Economist, November 1, 2003
Three Business School Faculty Honored for Distinguished Teaching
The Economist, July 2002
Stanford Business School Study Maps Out Global Companies
Los Angeles Times, February 2002
Corporate Goverance and European Industrial Restructuring
Los Angeles Times, April 2001
Economic Courage Can Shore Up Consumer Confidence in Aftermath of September 11
Silicon Valley Business Journal, January 2001
BusinessWeek, September 28, 2000
John Roberts Named Senior Associate Dean
BusinessWeek, January 2000
John Roberts Named Senior Associate Dean
The Economist, January 2000
John Roberts Delivers Inaugural Clarendon Lectures at Oxford
The Economist, July 1997

Insights by Stanford Business

October 9, 2012
A study reveals that working from home boosts employee happiness and productivity.
December 1, 2010
New studies show that firms implementing systematic management practices improved their productivity by 10 percent reduced defects by 60 percent.
November 1, 2008
Lorenzo Zambrano, MBA ’68, took the family’s cement business from regional player to the industry’s third-largest supplier.
March 11, 2005
Professor John Roberts moderated. Distinguished panelists included John Browne, MS ’81; Sir Dominc Cadbury, MBA ’64; and Sir Deryck Maughan, MS ’79.