Strategic Decisions Group


Make a decision

Headquartered just down the road from Stanford University, Strategic Decisions Group specializes in providing high-level decision making, risk management, and value-based leadership advice to its clients. Formed in 1981, the firm partners with boards of directors, heads of business units and senior managers in a variety of mostly capital-intensive industries via offices in the United States, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. SDG consultants serve many of the world's largest research and development-intensive companies, life sciences companies, energy companies, technology and communication companies, diversified chemicals producers, and companies in manufacturing, consumer products, transportation, infrastructure development, private equity, and commodities.

Divide and conquer

SDG co-founder Ronald Howard first developed the concept of "decision analysis" while teaching at Stanford University in the 1960s. Decision analysis is a way of dissecting complex business decisions in a formal manner, often using tools such as relevance diagrams and decision trees. Uncertainties are transformed into probability distributions. Decisions are made based on trade-offs among alternatives that deliver the highest value. Decision analysis is still at the center of the firm's methods, although it has been modified to address organizational complexity (many decision makers, often in conflict) as well as analytical complexity. The method certainly has its critics, though, with the foremost attack probably being that humans don't actually think this way. But proponents argue that the method is simply a way of seeing all strategic alternatives on a level playing field. 

Industrial evolution

SDG's specialty is serving industries that are on the cusp of-or often faced with-major game-changing market shifts that require "big bets ahead of the curve." The firm's practice areas hone in on a number of these industries, including chemicals, consumer goods, energy and environment, financial services, infrastructure, life sciences, manufacturing, real estate, special economic zones, technology and communications, and transportation. 

The firm's largest industry practice area, however, is its energy and environment segment, which works with electric and gas utilities, nuclear power, oil and gas, and renewable energy companies. The firm says it has developed strategy for dozens of companies worldwide and trained energy executives in all aspects of corporate strategy development and implementation, enterprise risk management, nuclear strategy and risk management, portfolio and asset management, and environmental strategy. 

The bookworms next door

Considering the firm's origins at Stanford University, it's not surprising that SDG emphasizes its connections to the academic world, even claiming to have more PhDs on staff than most university graduate programs. Since 2006, the firm has collaborated with the Stanford Center for Professional Development to offer a Stanford certificate program in strategic decision and risk management (SDRM). The program now has 3,500 participants from more than 100 countries, and 600 people have completed six two-and-a-half-day courses to graduate with an SDRM certificate from Stanford. The program, available online, on site, and on campus at Stanford, is designed to help organizations learn to make better strategic decisions, manage risk, and implement effective decision support processes. 

Outside of the certificate program, the firm also offers public courses and workshops designed to build individual capabilities in decision analysis and decision quality. And if in-person courses aren't your thing, SDG also offers Executive eBriefings, which are free, one-hour online web conferences on decision-related topics, and reportedly has plans to offer its first free MOOC-massive open online course-on decision quality in late 2013.


July 2013

Developing an insurer's strategy for Obamacare

SDG is completing its work with a leading health insurer to assess and quantify the uncertainty in its future financial performance that can be attributed to implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as "Obamacare." The Act marks a radical market change for health insurance carriers as tens of millions of previously uninsured Americans enter the healthcare insurance market for the first time. SDG has assessed the competitive opportunities and risks, shared best practices in decision-making under uncertainty, and provided actionable insights for mitigating financial risk. "There is risk with the Affordable Care Act," said David Fishman, SDG's lead consultant on the engagement. "But where there is risk, there is opportunity for those health insurers who understand the uncertainty and are ready to act." 

March 2013

SDG partner co-authors new DA handbook

Dr. Steve Tani, a partner and fellow at Strategic Decisions Group, is a co-author of the Handbook of Decision Analysis, a guide to best practices in decision quality and decision analysis. The book is intended for the practitioner who wants to improve his or her technical and interpersonal skills in order to effectively guide decision-making processes in organizations. The book, published by John Wiley & Sons, includes a forward from SDG's founder, chairman, and CEO, Dr. Carl Spetzler. "Leaders of organizations are increasingly aware of how opportunities are lost by making 'satisficing' decisions - that is, decisions that are 'good enough'," said Dr. Spetzler. "The benefit-to-cost ratio of investing in better decisions is frequently a thousand to one." 

February 2013

Power agency adopts new approach for infrastructure investment decisions

The Bonneville Power Administration, a U.S. federal agency that markets wholesale power and transmission to public and private utilities in the Pacific Northwest, engaged SDG to help develop strategies for its transmission assets. The agency has adopted a new approach that measures total economic value, incorporating traditional measures of reliability, criticality, and cost together with non-traditional measures such as customer value into a single metric. This approach allows it to minimize its long-term costs while improving overall system reliability.

October 2012

Hong Kong office expands reach of SDG's consumer brands practice

SDG opened its first office in Hong Kong under the direction of Peter Hopper, who leads the firm's technology and manufacturing practice in Asia. The firm said its Hong Kong presence was the natural outcome of growing demand among consumer brand clients seeking sourcing optimization and supply chain productivity, extensions of the firm's traditional strategy consulting. 

February 2012

Preparing for a post-fossil-fuel future

SDG announced the completion of a solar energy strategy for an oil-rich nation as it prepares for an eventual post-fossil-fuel future. The firm used its decision analytic methods to uncover the drivers of value and risk and worked with a broad set of stakeholders to resolve several complex and controversial issues in an impartial and transparent manner. 

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Strategic Decisions Group

745 Emerson Street
Palo Alto, CA 94301
Phone: (650) 475-4400
Fax: (650) 475-4401


  • Employer Type: Private
  • Chairman & CEO: Carl Spetzler
  • 2013 Employees: 85

  • Employment Contact

  • Major Departments & Practices

    Business Strategy

    Decision and Risk Analytics

    Education & Training

    Organization and Decision Process Design

    Portfolio Management and Resource Allocation

Major Office Locations

  • Palo Alto, CA (HQ)

    Hong Kong

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