by Sheila Golrang

Wisconsin native Oliver E. Williamson started his undergraduate studies at Ripon College and completed his bachelor’s degree at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Massachusettes. After hearing good recommendations about Stanford’s Business School, Williamson applied for and was accepted to the school on a scholarship. During his time at Stanford, Williamson was influenced by the inquisitive, active minded Kenneth J. Arrow, another Nobel Prize winner for his theories on general equilibrium.
Williamson went on to complete his Ph.D in economics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It was there he joined a unique group of fifteen young researchers who shared his passion and thirst for theoretical inquiry. Williamson fondly remembers that period of his life where the environment fostered discussion and inspired him to pursue theoretical microeconomics. “It was such a great working atmosphere,” he says. Seven members of that group have gone on to pursue studies that were worthy of a Nobel Prize.
SACC-SF/SV had the opportunity to meet Dr. Williamson at his office and discuss the key influences and moments of inspiration in his trajectory to the Nobel Prize and recent trip to Stockholm. Williamson’s theory deals with the corporate structure and transaction-cost models and is detailed in The Economic Institutions of Capitalism: Firms, Markets, Relational Contracting, one of the most cited texts in social microeconomics.
Highly competitive markets are more capable of resolving conflicts on a market scale due to the abundance of trading partners. On the other hand, smaller markets with limited trading partners will find it more efficient to resolve conflicts and conduct transactions within their own firm, “To effectively use the resources at your disposal,” Williamson says.
The 77-year-old professor explains that his persistent drive is fueled by the many things that still prevent us from having an adequate understanding of complex economic organizations. Each new discovery is a challenge that opens many doors.
During his visit in Stockholm, Williamson explored the city on a bus ride organized by the Nobel committee. One of the sites he enjoyed was the Viking museum, where he was particularly amazed by the craftsmanship of a large ship from hundreds of years ago that still manages to look stable. This happily reminded him of growing up in Wisconsin, where many Scandinavians settled and his high school football team was called the “Vikings.”
For the moment, the Nobel Prize winner is happy at UC Berkeley. The highly sought-after professor is now receiving even more invitations and offers. Like a true micro economist, he says of his future plans that “one thing will lead to another.” The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce congratulates Dr. Williamson for his success and wishes him an even brighter future.