Three years as Chairman of DLR – a challenge every day
On 1 March 2007, I assumed the post of Chairman of the Management Board of the German Aerospace Center, DLR, and in doing so, embarked upon a personal change in career of unimagined and unexpected magnitude. The first three of five years in this post are now behind me and it is time to do something akin to drawing up a personal balance sheet, to prepare myself for the decisions and developments required in the future.
It all started with 10 years in an engineering business in Frankfurt (König und Heunisch), which gave me the opportunity to turn my studies into reality by working on many fascinating building projects in Germany and abroad. Then came my 5 years as a university lecturer and director of a test institution, where I learned about the unity of purpose between research and teaching. Next came 12 years as President of the Technical University of Darmstadt where I was engaged in the institutional processes involved in imbuing a scientific facility with greater autonomy and was able to experience 'up close and personal' the highs and lows associated with adapting courses of study to bring them in line with the Bologna process, and to be directly involved in making that happen. All of this has culminated, to my great surprise — and the decision is not an easy one to fathom given my background — in my being selected as the successor to Prof. Wittig.
To me, the appeal of DLR always was, and still remains, the broad range of topics it covers, coupled with the structural challenges of running such a large research institution. In my last blog I spoke of the subjects of evolution and revolution, and one of the points I proposed in that lecture went something like this: evolutionary (technological) development requires continuity, whereas revolutionary (technological) development requires autonomy. The same is true of institutional structures.
The motto of my candidacy for the DLR Board of Management vacancy back in 2006 was this: "Your task is not to foresee the future, but to enable it" (Antoine de Saint Exupery). This admits the role of doubt in detailed planning and plan delivery. On the other hand, we are compelled to employ the funds entrusted to us by the taxpayer through the upper and lower houses of the German government in a clearly defined and very targeted manner. This is done through our internal programme-based management system, while balancing research policy on the one hand and the strategic aerospace projects of the government on the other.
An employee recently gave me a book by Tschingis Aitmatow entitled 'The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years'. The book describes a series of very different events and conveys a deep, but not necessarily inevitable rift between the different worlds, views and expectations of the fictional life of a simple Kazakh, and the coincidence in space and time and of the journey towards extra-terrestrial intelligence.
Just like in that novel, the art in many areas of scientific management lies in combining very diverse worlds and methods in a mutually beneficial manner. For the world of DLR, this means that creativity finds the autonomy it needs, that objectives are achieved reliably and that responsibility and decision-making form an indivisible unit. This and more should encompass the expression of ONE DLR; one that has, in the context of the discussions over the last three years, constituted and proven itself to be a key feature of the way we tap potential to its fullest extent. At this juncture, I would not wish in any way to hide the fact that I still perceive substantial deficiencies, in that we still have a long way to go before this way of thinking has been implemented fully. For that reason, we must strive ceaselessly into the future to assure the future of the DLR and the subject areas over which it presides: aerospace, spaceflight, energy, transport and security. On this journey, I hope to receive support from internal as well as external sources.
Image credits: DLR.
Translated from the original in German.