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Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management announced today the creation of the Ryan Institute on Complexity to be led by distinguished faculty in the areas of physics, economics and sociology. The Ryan Institute will comprise a revolutionary research lab designed to change the way business, markets and societal issues are studied, combining multidisciplinary talents and quantitative sciences in new ways to tackle bigger problems faster.  

Funded by a $25 million gift from the Ryan Family Foundation, the Ryan Institute will place Kellogg and Northwestern at the forefront of solving increasingly complex societal, business and market challenges by harnessing the power of big data and artificial intelligence. The institute will provide Kellogg students with an understanding of powerful new quantitative approaches to problem solving.    

The field of complexity science had a watershed moment in 2021 when the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded in this area for the first time. But complexity science’s potential in the realm of business is just starting to be tapped, and the possibilities are vast — in better understanding everything from the intertwined forces driving a nation’s innovativeness to the inner workings of a global team dynamic. The goal is to improve understanding of how the success of organizations, regions and nations build from their deep and rich interconnections. With this focus, the Ryan Institute will be the first of its kind to be housed in a business school. It will gather leaders from academia and industry in diverse fields, along with PhD students and postdoctoral fellows to collectively study the future of quantitative sciences, complex systems and the complex issues affecting businesses and society. Initial areas of focus include the power of social networks, the secrets of invention and human-machine partnerships. 

Unique to the institute will be a “dry lab” setting typically found in the hard sciences, which will enable scholars to work with big data and the quantitative tools needed to study social and business phenomena on a large scale. This approach holds the promise of generating deeper and more generalizable insights into society’s biggest questions, such as understanding human-machine partnerships at the forefront of generative AI. A key pillar of study will focus on leveraging large language models (LLMs) with the belief that generative AI will not replace humans, but those who understand AI will replace those who don’t. Given the explosion of big data and the rapid acceleration of AI, there are now opportunities to better understand the world in ways that previously were subject only to hypothesis.       

“Kellogg has always taken an interdisciplinary approach to open new areas,” said Kellogg Dean Francesca Cornelli. “Our vision is bold — that complexity science shall permeate every aspect of business, with the most effective leaders succeeding through understanding and managing a system’s connectivity. Thanks to the generosity of the Ryan Family, Kellogg will drive a new field and best prepare the leaders of the future.” 

“We are thrilled to support the establishment of this revolutionary research institute that will place Kellogg and Northwestern University at the forefront of the study of complexity science,” said Pat Ryan, Jr (’97 JD, MBA) of the Ryan Family Foundation. “Cutting-edge analytical approaches can now unlock previously unimaginable understandings of our complex world that will be transformational for business and society.” 

Kellogg faculty Dashun Wang, Ben Jones and Brian Uzzi
Professors Dashun Wang, Ben Jones and Brian Uzzi (left to right) will lead research and unique curriculum at the Ryan Institute.

The Ryan Institute will be led by three Kellogg professors who are all highly recognized leaders in their fields, as well as frequent collaborators: Dashun Wang, a physicist and Professor of Management and Organizations; Ben Jones, an economist and the Gordon and Llura Gund Family Professor of Entrepreneurship and Professor of Strategy; and Brian Uzzi, a sociologist and the Richard L. Thomas Professor of Leadership and Organizational Change. 

“If we can integrate complexity science and this fundamental thinking from physics and the natural sciences and apply it to business and markets, developing thought leadership and training future leaders in the school — that could be a very meaningful contribution to society,” said Wang. 

Research and tools emerging from the Ryan Institute will also drive the creation of unique curriculum at Kellogg, including the first PhD training program in a business school helping to train future thought leaders in complexity. The Institute will also collaborate closely with other Northwestern schools and institutions.  

The Ryan Institute will hold an annual conference as a premier, global convening of thought leaders in the study of complexity. The Ryan Institute Conference will bring together academia and industry to provide opportunities for collaboration across leaders in the field.  

About the Ryan Family Foundation and Pat & Shirley Ryan family  

The Ryan family [Pat '59, '09 H ('97, '00 P) and Shirley '61, '19 H ('97, '00 P); Pat '97 JD, MBA and Lydia; Rob '00 JD, MBA and Jennifer; and Corbett] has made deep and broad philanthropic investments across the institution including nanotechnology, the musical arts, the Ryan Family Scholars Program for high-achieving, low-income students with exceptional leadership potential, and the ongoing efforts to Rebuild Ryan Field. The Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Family Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the Ryan family.   

Patrick G. Ryan is a 1959 Northwestern graduate. He received his undergraduate degree in business from what was then called the School of Business and now is named the Kellogg School of Management. He also received an honorary degree from the University in 2009 in appreciation for his 14 years of service as chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees. In 2013, he was inducted into Northwestern’s Athletics Hall of Fame. 

Shirley Welsh Ryan is a 1961 Northwestern graduate. She received her undergraduate degree in English Literature from what was then called the College of Arts and Sciences and is now named the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. In 2019, Northwestern awarded Mrs. Ryan the honorary title of Doctor of Humane Letters. 

Mr. Ryan is distinguished as one of the nation’s most successful entrepreneurs and prominent civic leaders. His first business venture while a student involved selling scrapbooks to fellow students, which paid for his Northwestern education. Mr. Ryan founded and served for 41 years as CEO of Aon Corporation, the leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage. At the time of his retirement, Aon had nearly $8 billion in annual revenue with more than 500 offices in 120 countries.  

In 2010, Mr. Ryan founded Ryan Specialty, a service provider of specialty products and solutions for insurance brokers, agents and carriers. The firm provides distribution, underwriting, product development, administration and risk management services by acting as a wholesale broker and a managing underwriter. 

Mr. Ryan currently serves as chairman and CEO of Ryan Specialty Holdings, Inc., which completed its initial public offering in July 2021. The firm’s shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol “RYAN.” Mr. Ryan is distinct in having founded and built two major New York Stock Exchange traded companies.  

Mr. Ryan is a member of the Chicago Business Hall of Fame, and a member and past president of the Economic Club of Chicago. He also is a member of the International Insurance Hall of Fame and the Automotive Hall of Fame, a member and past chairman of Northwestern’s Board of Trustees, a recipient of the esteemed Horatio Alger Award and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is a former director of numerous public multi-national corporations as well as many major cultural and not-for-profit organizations.  

Shirley Welsh Ryan is founder of, which is used by 40 million parents and healthcare professionals annually through its video-based website and social media in every country except North Korea. Three hundred U.S. institutions of higher learning use’s free materials. Mrs. Ryan’s pioneering work to empower every infant’s fullest physical development has won numerous awards. Two U.S. presidents have appointed her to the National Council on Disability in Washington D.C., which advises the U.S. Congress on disability policy. 

In 2017, merged with the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, acclaimed for 32 years as the number one U.S. rehabilitation hospital by U.S. News and World Report. 

The Medical Round Table (P.M.R.T.), created in 1990, is the first Infant Milestone Chart of typical and atypical development to be endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (A.A.P.). All material is in accord with the leadership of P.M.R.T. and A.A.P. 

Mrs. Ryan is a strong believer in the power of early infant detection, therapeutic intervention, universal accessibility, and the concept that all children can learn. She serves on the boards of University of Notre Dame, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Alain Locke Charter School and WTTW-PBS. She also has served on the boards of the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C. and Ronald McDonald House Charities; has chaired the Chicago Community Trust; and founded the Lincoln Park Zoo Women’s Board. For 46 years, Mrs. Ryan has led a Northwestern graduate-level course entitled Learning for Life. 

Mrs. Ryan has been awarded honorary doctorates from Northwestern, the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also has received the Chicago History Museum Award for Distinction in Civic Leadership. 

In addition to earning her B.A. from Northwestern, Mrs. Ryan studied at the Sorbonne of the University of Paris and the École du Louvre in Paris. 

In addition to Mr. and Mrs. Ryan, the Ryan Family includes Northwestern Trustee Pat ’97 JD, MBA and Lydia; Rob ’00 JD, MBA and Jennifer; and Corbett.