An Interview with CEO and Chairman of Strategic Decisions Group Dr. Carl S Spetzler

1. How did you arrive at running SDG? What path brought you here?Who was the biggest influence in your career?
I joined a program that had been created by Professor Ronald Howard at Stanford and Dr. James Matheson at SRI International (at that time the Stanford Research Institute and part of Stanford University) in 1968. We are still professional colleagues today. In 1981 we formed SDG.

2. What does SDG actually do?
We are a strategy consulting boutique that applies Decision Science to important real world problems. We also help our clients to develop their internal capabilities to adopt the Decision Quality (DQ) framework for decision making.

3. Do you enjoy being a part of SDG and why?
Yes, very much. I have great colleagues and interesting problems to solve for highly valued clients.

4. What do you have to say about SDG work culture and client satisfaction?
We are dedicated to truly serving our clients – and they love us.

5. SDG team has top notch professionals on board. How do you ensure such recruiting and retention?
Create a best work environment for outstanding professionals that want to be decision consultants.

6. Who have SDG worked with in the past? And what have you done for them?
SDG specializes in helping companies discover and apply innovative ways to assess risk and uncertainty in order to make the best possible investment decisions. Our approach is applied across virtually all industries and organization types. From Fortune 100 corporations, to major nonprofits, to government entities around the globe, these organizations have leveraged SDG’s methodologies to maximize and sustain value, stay competitive, and execute timely decisions in the face of pervasive uncertainty.

7. What are you known for professionally?
The leaders in Decision Quality

8. What’s the one problem you are best at solving for your clients? What do your ideal clients say about you?
SDG is best at looking at complexity, risk, and uncertainty–and generating decision-making alternatives with positive bottom line results.

Some actual endorsements:

“At Chevron, during my tenure, we adopted DQ for all major decisions—for the simple reason that it works. A lot of the benefit comes from better framing discussions at the front end of decision making.”

—David J. O’Reilly, former Chairman and CEO, Chevron Corporation

“I’ve successfully applied the SDG decision quality process in complex energy-sector situations over the past 20 years, optimizing outcomes and creating value measured in billions of dollars. The SDG decision quality process works.”

—Harold “Hal” N. Kvisle, MBA, former CEO (retired), TransCanada Corporation; CEO (retired), Talisman Energy Inc.


“Making the right decisions is critical to the success of every organization. SDG puts rigor and quality into the very difficult and seemingly complex decisions that we have to make as business leaders.”

—Gerard Kleisterlee, Chairman, Vodafone Group Plc

We adopted the SDG’s DQ framework at NCI Building Systems, Inc. because it encourages our collaborative culture, helps us create value, and helps us avoid mistakes.”

—Norman C. Chambers, Chairman, President & CEO, NCI Building Systems, Inc.

“No one has done more to advance the field of decision quality than Carl Spetzler and his colleagues at SDG.

—Jeff Belkora, PhD, Associate Professor of Surgery and Health Policy, UCSF

9. What are you most passionate about professionally? What most excites you about your work & the contribution you can make?
Creating value by making better decisions. Humans are not wired to make the best decisions – they have biases and limited capacity to process uncertainty and complexity. However, we have the tools and framework to extend our human capacities and get a lot more of what we truly want by applying the DQ framework. Just coming out with a book: Decision Quality.

10. What are you passionate about personally? What do you really enjoy? What can’t you stop talking about?
Bringing decision skills to everyone – especially youth. We created the nonprofit Decision Education Foundation for this purpose.

11. Can you please tell us about the awards and medals you have been honored with?
The Ramsey Medal (the highest award given by the Decision Analysis Society of INFORMS), Hall of Fame at SRI, Top 100 in Finance (Treasury Magazine).

12. Today executives at IBM and Chevron, among many others, swear by your Spetzler’s framework, what is the possible reason for its success?
We don’t emphasize my name, but rather “the DQ Framework” some do refer to it as the SDG approach. It helps create immense value – see the white paper on SDG website: Chevron Overcomes the Biggest Bias of All.

13. What has been your inspiration to start working as a chairman of The Decision Education Foundation, a Non-profit organization targeting youth in particular?
It is amazing that we don’t teach decision skills to youth. After the three Rs, it is the most important subject that I can think of. Better Decisions a Better Lives.

14. Everyone struggles with decision making in the beginning. How did you improve and mastered your decision making skills?
This was my PhD dissertation topic and my interest grew from there into a lifelong passion.

15.How do you define a good decision and what course of action you typically take to make a decision about a certain matter or a problem you or your organization face?
Please take a look at the new book and also download a copy of the pamphlet from the DEF website.

16. Do you recall any interesting story from your childhood that you have never forgotten where you suffered/benefited because of a bad/good decision?
Yes, painfully so. The decisions that I regret from childhood were being inconsiderate and hurting someone thoughtlessly.

17. How would you describe your life as a student, both socially and academically?
I enjoyed learning but was always drawn to the practical (engineering) and to the opportunity to be creative.

18. You have a beautiful blessing of grandchildren, how do you manage between work and family?
By having shared value with a great life-partner and giving it time and attention.

19. How you usually spend your time with family?
We like sailing, hiking, biking and just spending time together.

20. What is your definition of “happiness” and “personal development”? How do you ensure it for yourself?
Decide. Pay attention to the positive. Love and be loved. Have a fulfilling occupation.

Dr-Carl-SpetzlerDr. Carl S Spetzler’s Bio:
Dr. Carl Spetzler co-founded Strategic Decisions Group in 1981 and currently serves as chairman and CEO. He is a leader in strategy and innovation processes, helping corporate leaders cope with the lack of explicit strategic alternatives, deal with the complexities of uncertainty and risk over long time horizons, and achieve lasting change.

Based in Palo Alto, Dr. Spetzler is also the program director for the Stanford Strategic Decision and Risk Management certificate program, a partnership of SDG and the Stanford Center for Professional Development.

Before co-founding SDG, Dr. Spetzler directed the Financial Industries and Strategic Methodologies Center at SRI International. While there, he led a consulting engagement that changed the landscape of American financial services. Dr. Spetzler and the SRI team persuaded Merrill Lynch that the time was right to offer a one-stop financial service, called the Cash Management Account (CMA). Although Merrill Lynch initially resisted such a sweeping and unsettling change, it pursued the opportunity and by the mid-1980s, more than 1 million customers used CMAs.

Dr. Spetzler received an MBA and a PhD in economics and business administration and BS in chemical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT). He serves on the boards of IIT and the Decision Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the decision-making skills of youth. In 2004, Dr. Spetzler received The Ramsey Medal, the highest honor awarded by the Decision Analysis Society of INFORMS for lifetime contributions to the field. In 2006, he was elected to the SRI Hall of Fame for his leadership in the growth of decision analysis at SRI and for his key role in developing the Cash Management Account. In 2008, Dr. Spetzler was named by Treasury & Risk magazine one of the 100 most influential people in finance for his work in enterprise risk management.

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