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Oral-History:Rolf Remshardt

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About Rolf Remshardt

Rolf Remshardt earned a Diplom-Ingenieur degree and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the Technical University in Stuttgart, Germany. He began working as a Development Engineer, designing integrated circuits and semiconductor chips, for IBM Germany in 1967. During his nearly thirty years with the firm, Remshardt held several development and management positions.

Remshardt is an IEEE Senior Member. He became an active volunteer in 1983. Remshardt was IEEE Region 8 Treasurer for fifteen years and IEEE Region 8 Director in 1999 and 2000. In addition, he has served on various IEEE Boards and Committees, including IEEE N&A and SPC, EAB, RAB, IB&SC.

The focus of this interview is Remshardt's tenure as IEEE Region 8 Director. Remshardt concentrated on membership in the Near and Middle East, as well as in Africa, during his term, and he discusses his actions to expand IEEE activity in these areas at length. Believing that the best opportunity to accomplish this was by meeting with members in these areas, he visited the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Remshardt also visited Iran, and he offers a detailed description of this trip here. Likewise committed to fostering student activities, Remshardt discusses these efforts as well. Furthermore, he speaks about serving on the IEEE Board of Directors and chairing the Region 8 Committee. Finally, Remshardt reflects on his three decades of service to IEEE.


About the Interview

ROLF REMSHARDT: An Interview Conducted by Tony Davies on behalf of the IEEE History Center, 1 April 2012.

Interview #590 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Rolf Remshardt, an oral history conducted in 2012 by Tony Davies on behalf of the IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Rolf Remshardt
INTERVIEWER: Tony Davies
DATE: 1 April 2012
PLACE: Grand Hyatt hotel in Berlin, Germany

Note: Roland Saam, acting as an assistant, was also present at this interview.

Introductions

Davies:

I’m Tony Davies. I’m going to be asking many of the questions and I’ll also handle the recording.

Saam:

I’m Roland Saam. I’m assisting this procedure, having had some training from Rik Nebeker on oral interviews. It was a History Committee training. Thank you.

Remshardt:

I’m Rolf Remshardt from Germany, the person to be interviewed, and I’m a Past Director. Actually I was a Region 8 Director in 1999 and 2000.

Becoming Region 8 Director

Davies:

Thank you. I wonder if to start things off, you could say how did you come to be Region 8 Director and what was the process that led you to this position?

Remshardt:

Actually I was for almost 15 years Region 8 Treasurer and during this time I became acquainted with a lot of Officers in Region 8 and specifically I can tell you our friend Charles Turner actually persuaded me to run for Director. Actually I wasn’t sure whether I should do that but during a Region 8 meeting we had I believe, in England, he persuaded me to run. I did and I became elected.

Davies:

Do you think you have with this previous experience as Treasurer some good preparation for this?

Remshardt:

Yes.

Davies:

So you knew how things are going?

Remshardt:

Yes. It was very useful for me because, as I told you before, I was 15 years Region 8 Treasurer and during that long time I got to know all the people in IEEE because of many meetings and trips. I was familiar with the kind of meetings we have in this kind of way in the States so it was really helpful for me. Because the actual, let’s say, training by IEEE was really poor. It was just one day, one presentation by any person (I forgot the name) and that was it. But on the other hand it was no problem for me because I was already familiar with Region 8.

Davies:

And Director-Elect was just one year. Later it was two years.

Remshardt:

Yes.

Working to Expand IEEE Activity in the Near and Middle East and Africa

Davies:

I know that among the things you did while you were Director, you had a visit to Iran. Maybe we can speak about that. You can tell us something of this experience. Where would you like to start?

Remshardt:

I would like to start with a few opening remarks and say just a few words about that. I personally believe the position of the Region 8 Director is a very interesting one and an important one for several reasons. Region 8 is a geographically very large Region and contains many countries with different cultures, currencies, languages and it’s not so easy to run. It’s a challenge for a Director. Most important of this position, I personally believe, is the Director has the chance to promote activities in the Region and set priorities for things he believes are important for IEEE and the Region and can set accordingly his personal priorities.

During my term as Director I wanted to focus on the needs and problems of our members, in particular those in the Near and Middle East of our Region as well as in South Africa and the northern part of Africa. I wanted to better understand their infrastructure, the kind and nature of their problems and find ways to help them. At this time when I started there were not many IEEE activities in these areas and I think IEEE has not given much attention to them. So I wanted to encourage those members, in particular the students, the young people, to start more activities in their Sections, Chapters, and Branches and so increase membership.

Now, the best opportunity to achieve this was by visiting the members in this region and meet and talk with them. I visited, for instance, the United Arab Emirates – Dubai, Abu Dhabi – and then I went to Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. And actually I was invited to attend the Gulf Corporation Council meeting which was a very important thing and very interesting. Later on I also attended the IEEE technical exchange meeting at King Fahd University in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and all the way I presented IEEE overviews on all visits.

You have to understand that these people were very enthusiastic about the visit because I believe it was the first time that a higher level IEEE Officer visited this area and they could talk to them. So I really got a very warm welcome in all these areas and Sections and met with highly motivated and enthusiastic members.

Davies:

So overall you achieved what you aimed in this kind of activity?

Remshardt:

Yes. So they were interested in education and to learn about the latest innovations in technology and looking for IEEE lecturers to come to their Sections. The only problems we had in this case were always the dues payment they had to make in US currency and this turned out to be the most significant problem, especially for students at this time.

Visit to Iran

Davies:

Thank you. There is now much more activity in those regions and the people from those countries are contributing a lot to the activities in Region 8 and to Region 8 Committee so it was clearly in that sense very successful. Can I come back again to ask about Iran because I know you wrote some words about visiting Iran and this I suppose is quite an unusual experience. Later on there was difficulty with the Iran Section because of the US laws and OFAC and this kind of business. So, how was your Iran visit?

Remshardt:

That was one of my most exciting experiences during my term as the Director. I can tell you it’s still active in my mind. It was a funny situation. We had a very nice Student Branch Congress in Istanbul.

Saam:

What year would that have been?

Remshardt:

In 1998. It was a Student Branch Congress in Istanbul organised by the Turkish section, a beautiful campus on top of the Bosporus. And three students from Iran approached Ken Laker who was with me there, and me, and they invited us to come to Tehran and to visit their Section and Student Branches.

Davies:

Ken Laker was President at that time?

Remshardt:

Ken Laker was President. He was IEEE President at the Student Branch Congress and I was there as Region 8 Director. So these three students approached us and, to my big surprise, President Ken Laker agreed immediately and promised the students that we would come to Iran and visit them. Actually he asked me to organize it. I did and I thought before we go to Iran, being invited by the students, we should officially ask the Section Chair. At this time the Section Chair was Dr. Ghaffoori-Fard and I asked him for his permission to visit his Section.

The political situation in Iran was not very clear at this time and I was told the Section Chair, Dr. Ghaffoori, is a very high level person and a member of the Iran Parliament. But we received a very kind response letter that the Chair would be very glad to welcome us to Tehran. So, since we had an official invitation, I met with Ken in Frankfurt at the airport on February 20th, 1999 and we flew together to Tehran with Iran Air.

At the airport, arriving in Tehran, Dr. Ghaffoori-Fard picked us up and brought us to our hotel which was a Western type hotel in the city. The next day he invited us to his office at the university and we met with some IEEE Section officers from the Iran Section. He presented us his planned agenda for our visit and it also included the visit of several technical universities in Tehran – I believe four or five – as well as a two day trip to Isfahan, which is one of the most beautiful cities in Iran.

On the first day we succeeded to visit two universities of the planned four or five in Tehran. The traffic from one to the other place was chaotic and we had an extensive lunch with our hosts and Section members which took much longer than planned. All our hosts were more than polite and wanted us to stay the whole day instead of the planned two hours.

The next day Ken Laker gave a technical presentation on electrical circuit design and I had prepared an IEEE overview describing our IEEE organization, including the activities, the benefits and things like that.

We had a really large lecture hall at this university with an audience of approximately 200 people, most of them students, but we faced a situation which we had never seen before – male students sitting on one side in jeans and tee shirts and on the other side, completely separate in the hall, female students dressed in black gowns and their heads covered with veils. So it was interesting to learn that at universities in Iran they have about 50% female students in engineering. I’ve never seen that in Europe. All the students were highly interested in our presentations and asked really enthusiastically all kinds of questions after our presentations.

It turned out that we never could make the planned agenda since we were running out of time and we had to apologize to the other universities in Tehran that we could not visit.

The Secretary of the Iran Section accompanied us on our trip to Isfahan. We had half a day for sightseeing and our guide showed us the old part of the beautiful city with the famous mosque and the magnificent mosaic so we had a chance to see something of the local places, study their customs and actually try to smoke a water pipe. Isfahan has a very modern university and we were invited to give our presentation there again. Actually it was just a repetition of our experiences in Tehran with respect to the seating, the dresses of the students.

Next day we had to fly back to Tehran and return to Germany the following night.

Looking back to this trip it was a really unique experience to learn a lot about the people and their culture in this country. We made many friends and both the IEEE President Ken Laker and I were really impressed by the students’ high interest in technology and their real enthusiasm for the profession.

Davies:

Did you get an impression of the level of their expertise in engineering and so on?

Remshardt:

Not really. We had no time to go into deeper discussions. But as a result of this visit I can say that the Iranian student members in Iran and branches grew substantially. I believe within one or two years they quadrupled the amount of members.

Davies:

I know that student branches in Iran were very Western oriented, very enthusiastic to learn what is going on in the West …

Remshardt:

Much more than in Europe.

Davies:

Much more great friends of IEEE until the difficulties that came later.

Circumstances in Iran

Remshardt:

And we made many friends. Unfortunately, after our trip in 2002 the US government established sanctions against Iran. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, called OFAC, established actions by US Treasury Department with trade regulations. IEEE as an American institute had to obey those rules. Iran members were not able any more to really take advantage of the member benefits and services of IEEE except I believe they could get their publication prints.

Davies:

A printed version was allowed but, for some reason, they were not allowed to have access to electronic versions.

Remshardt:

So that was really sad. But IEEE was working on those problems in the following years and I believe in 2004, due to the IEEE efforts, the OFAC regulations were exempt for IEEE members in Iran.

Davies:

Well, only in a way. As far as I understand they were able to re-open the Iran Section but they were not allowed to have Student Branches or Chapters.

Remshardt:

But in 2005 I was told Iran started to rebuild its IEEE Sections and activities and I believe today, as we are about to see here, Iran has over 2,000 members including students and it’s really an active Section again. So I’m very happy that this start we had at this time was successful and it’s still going forward.

Davies:

It was a very bad time for a couple of years. Awful in many ways but they recovered from this somehow. Maybe there was a lot of advice from lawyers and so on in the USA and IEEE got a bit frightened of the whole business. But now it’s more regular, I think.

Remshardt:

Yes, I think so. I’m very happy about that.

Serving on the IEEE Board of Directors

Davies:

Yes. This was about Iran. Are there some other things which you want to talk a little bit about?

Remshardt:

I could tell you a little bit about my experience at the Board of Directors.

Davies:

Yes.

Remshardt:

As I told you before, I was the Treasurer for a long time. I had also the privilege to attend some of these meetings and other RAB meetings and of course later on as Director Elect in Region 8, I had the chance to attend the Board of Director meetings. When I became a member of the Board, as far as I remember today (it’s a long time ago) it was dominated by Officers from the US and most of them had, let’s say, a slightly different view on the rest of the world like we had. We had a hard time to convince my colleagues on other opinions.

Davies:

Did you succeed in the end?

Remshardt:

We tried. Actually I tried to continue with the efforts of my predecessor, Maurice Papo, to convince our colleagues on the Board that IEEE is not yet transnational or what we thought then truly global. Most Officers felt at that time that IEEE is already transnational because we have so many members from around the world. But we tried to convince them and it was a very slow process to change their minds. I was also a member of the Transnational Committee for two years, which had been founded I believe by Maurice, and we tried to achieve the change in mind of our colleagues.

Saam:

Was that 2005-2007?

Remshardt:

I’m not sure. Maybe it was a little bit later.

Davies:

It went on for a number of years. I was on it for a while. But then in effect they closed it down and it disappeared.

Remshardt:

I’m not sure whether that was 2008 or 2009.

I also tried to bring more non-US and of course Region 8 representatives into the IEEE [Committees?] and Boards. It was a very slow process as well. It worked but it took some time.

I would like to come to another topic which, to my surprise, I heard today in the meeting – Another topic in the IEEE Headquarters and the Board discussions was the activation and continuation of the European Operations Centre, at that time called Brussels Office. It was actually during my time and we have been working very hard to convince IEEE that this is a very good thing and it should be continued. However, the staff at that time in the Brussels Office (I don’t want to say a name) was very poor and Region 8 did not receive much support.

I was convinced, however, that a European Centre would be very helpful for our Region and could give excellent services to our members. In Region 10 I knew the Singapore Office was very good and helpful for the members in the Asiatic area. Unfortunately I was not successful in convincing IEEE Headquarters and a few years later the Brussels Office was closed for financial reasons.

Chairing the Region 8 Committee

Davies:

Of course now it’s opening up in a different form for Standards. But that’s for the future. What was your experience of chairing this very big and increasing Region 8 Committee? How did you find it being the Chair of the Committee four times and twice in each year?

Remshardt:

I believe it was a real challenge, as I said at the beginning. Let me talk a bit about my experience in Region 8 and think about that. I think Region 8 was already before my time and as well after my time as Region 8 Director one of the most radically growing Regions in IEEE. The Institute I believe was very attractive for our engineers and scientific people in Europe and Africa. They were highly interested to learn about the technological development and progress in engineering. So I think also during my time Region 8 had the highest increase in IEEE Sections and also especially in Chapters for a long time. By the way, I realized this already in my time before as the Region 8 Treasurer.

When I took over in 1983 the annual Region 8 budget was £25,000 and it was just on one handwritten sheet of paper which I got from Bob Winton. When I quit as Treasurer in 1998 after 15 years the annual budget was about $600,000 due to the rapid increase in membership and activities. And because of our geographically large Region and the continuously increasing number of Sections the size of our Region 8 Committee grew from year to year and the cost of the meetings, which include the air fare, hotel accommodation, meals, became a major part of our Region 8 expenses, like today.

So we had to select larger and more expensive hotels that could accommodate our committee members and guests. In particular also the Region 8 meetings in the US, like the visit of Section Congress, became very difficult to finance. The other problem was IEEE pays our income in US dollars and our expenses are mostly in European currencies. So the exchange rate was an important point. Due to a large dollar devaluation in 1985 to 1987 Region 8 was really running out of money and we were not able any more to pay for the committee meetings and the other expenses. So I decided to increase our main income source, the Region 8 Assessment, from $7 to $11. By now it has been increased to $13 I believe. Assessment, by the way, is money that has to be paid by our members together with the IEEE dues and goes directly to the Region. This measure solved our income problems for a very long time.

Supporting Student Activities

Remshardt:

Another point I would like to mention during my time is student activities. They have always enjoyed high priority in Region 8 and I’m personally convinced the future of IEEE is with our young members, students, the GOLD members and so on. One of my priorities during my time was as a Region 8 Director to support student activities. For instance I believe we had two large student branch congresses with worldwide participation. Eindhoven was one and I believe the other one was in Istanbul. Also we had the student paper contest with our conferences. It was a high success.

It’s my personal belief that in particular young members can learn a lot from IEEE as active volunteers. When they run a Student Branch or a GOLD committee as chair, secretary or treasurer they have to organize and manage several activities and this experience from IEEE may help them later on in their professional career in companies. So I was always trying to convince our young members to become an active volunteer. The same thing holds not only for students but also for other members. I told them, “When you are looking for a job in your professional career and you can mention in your CV that you have successfully run an IEEE Branch or Section or Chapter this might help you more to receive a good job in a company than any other technical experience.”

Davies:

Thank you. Roland, are there some questions you would like to ask?

On Joining IEEE

Saam:

What would you say was your motivational reward? What spurred you on to continue with the IEEE activities because you did a lot of work as Treasurer for many, many years and then the challenge of the committees was formidable. Not saying you do it for a reward but what inspired you to continue?

Remshardt:

As I told you before my very long time as a Region 8 Treasurer I enjoyed very much. The kind of work I had to do I liked and I liked even more IEEE. Then another thing came – I was employed with IBM and IBM had a plan for early retirement. I took the chance for early retirement because I knew I was not idling at home because I had a good job with IEEE which I enjoyed and this was exactly the time when I decided to run for Region 8 Director. Because then I could do it, I had the time to do it. Before that at IBM it would have been impossible. IBM would have fired me.

Davies:

Was it because of the work with IBM that you joined IEEE in the first place? Is this what brought you in contact with IEEE?

Remshardt:

Correct, yes. It was actually Walter Proebster.

Davies:

The alternative would be to be a member of VDE, presumably. Or were you that as well?

Remshardt:

Yes, but I preferred IEEE because IEEE is an international company and VDE is just national. That was the main point.

Saam:

Walter Proebster, at that time, was he in IEEE or was he in IBM?

Remshardt:

Both.

Davies:

But he had been Region 8 Director a good many years before, hadn’t he?

Remshardt:

Actually he was Region 8 Director at the time when he invited me to come to the Region 8 Committee at Athens, Greece and MELECON 83. At MELECON 83 he presented me as the future Region 8 Treasurer and the Committee accepted.

Saam:

At IBM your job was finance of some sort, or project director? What sort of work did you do at IBM?

Remshardt:

I was a development engineer and later on I was a manager.

Saam:

So technical.

Davies:

This was IBM in Germany of course, not in the USA. Did you visit the USA with IBM in your job?

Remshardt:

Of course. Once or twice a year.

Davies:

So the IEEE experience wasn’t a new exposure to the USA. You were used to going to and fro I suppose?

Reflections on Three Decades of Service to IEEE

Remshardt:

I was. Finally I would like to make a few remarks. If I look back on my time in IEEE as the Region 8 Director and Treasurer I have told you already I enjoyed my term as Director very much and I believe I also could reach many of my goals in several areas. I learned a lot of our members, of their problems in our large Region 8 and very importantly for me I made many friends. There’s one thing I like best with IEEE besides all the technical advantages – IEEE is like a big family. During my trips and the many meetings I met so many people from around the world, all different countries, and I made so many friends. So whenever I go travelling in the world in almost every country I can find members and friends who would help me in case of any problems. And in case I have no problems they will educate me where to stay, where to go in order to see the best places of their country. I believe this is something typical for IEEE which you cannot find everywhere. So I will never forget my time as an IEEE volunteer.

Davies:

Thank you very much indeed.