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Oral-History:Baldomir Zajc

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It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
  
Baldomir Zajc an oral history conducted in 2012 by Anthony C. Davies, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
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Baldomir Zajc an oral history conducted in 2012 by Anthony C. Davies on behalf of the IEEE History Center, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.
  
 
==Interview==
 
==Interview==

Revision as of 15:36, 13 November 2012

Contents

About Baldomir Zajc

Baldomir Zajc received Diploma, M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Ljubjana, Slovenia. Part of his studies included a Fulbright Scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley, before spending several months at Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto. He joined the Faculty of Electrical Engineering in Ljubljana as Assistant, was elected Assistant Professor in 1976, Associate Professor in 1981 and Full Professor in Electronics and integrated Cicuit Design in 1985.

His personal research has been focused mostly on electronic circuit theory and integrated circuit design. He has published more than 120 papers in national and international journals and conferences, more than 20 research reports for state and industrial projects and international projects such as COST, Copernicus, Tempus, ACTS and he was involved in preparation of the Fifth Framework.

In IEEE, he was Secretary 1986-1987 and Chairman 1988-1991 in old the Yugoslavia Section, Chairman and Honorary Chairman since 2001 of the new Slovenia Section and Conference Coordinator in Region 8, 1995-2000. He was Steering Committee Chairman and Proceedings Editor of Conferences: IEEE Region 8 MELECON'91, ERK'92, ERK'93, ERK'94, ERK'95, ERK'96, ERK'97, ERK'98, ERK'99, ERK'00, ERK'01, ERK'02, ERK'03 and IEEE Region 8 EUROCON 2003.

This interview is focused on his time with IEEE. He discusses his early years of being an IEEE member in Yugoslavia Section and the transformations that occurred following the dissolution of the Republic. From there, he goes into detail the development of EUROCON, the initial difficulties the conference faced, and his time as its director. Additionally, he discusses his time as Director of IEEE Region 8, a region that includes Europe, Africa, and the Middle-East. He ends the interview by reviewing the positive relationship he saw between the IEEE headquarters in the United States and Region 8.


About the Interview

BALDOMIR Zajc: An interview conducted by Tony Davies with assistance from Roland Saam on behalf of the IEEE History Center, April 1, 2012

Interview #589 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electric 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:

Baldomir Zajc an oral history conducted in 2012 by Anthony C. Davies on behalf of the IEEE History Center, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Baldomir Zajc
INTERVIEWER: Anthony C. Davies with assistance from Roland Saam
DATE: April 1, 2012
PLACE: Grand Hyatt Hotel in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin

Davies:

I’m Tony Davies. I was once Region 8 Director and I’m going to be operating the recording process and I will be trying to ask the main questions. Roland….

Saam:

My name is Roland Saam. I’m here as an assistant to help things move along, also having had some training on the oral history process by Rik Nebeker some years ago.

Zajc:

I’m Baldomir Zajc. I am supposed to be questioned, to say something about the activity from history.

Initial Years at IEEE in Yugoslavia

Davies:

I would like to kick off by asking how did you come to be a Region 8 Director? Did someone ask you or was it something you wanted to do? How did the transition in your life come?

Zajc:

My IEEE activity was rather long. I began in the middle of the ‘80s as Yugoslavia Section Secretary. Then I continued as Chairman in Yugoslavia until the problems which arose in Yugoslavia in ’91. So the integrated feelings in Yugoslavia was Custody Account mainly because everybody was able to pay fees in dinars. So Yugoslavia was the first IEEE Section in so-called Socialist worlds and so they were prepared there to do something more, something else.

Davies:

You kept the money in Yugoslavia I think? You had a bank account in Ljubljana or something like that?

Zajc:

It was Ljubljana. First it was meant to be in Belgrade but it was in Ljubljana. But we didn’t get in touch with the money. So for IEEE, they were people who were able to manage with the money. So if we are sincere, this money evaporated with inflation. But still in ’91 when the problems arose in Yugoslavia each Republic became a state, independent states with different currencies. So the custody account died by itself.

Davies:

Before that the money couldn’t be taken out of Yugoslavia? It had to remain in the country.

Zajc:

This was meant for some activity but Piscataway [location of IEEE headquarters] should be more active. If they came to visit us they could use it. But it was not used. Some time ago I proposed this money be put away in a bigger interest account but they didn’t trust us. So if I am looking now I am happy that I didn’t take this responsibility - this was maybe a million [dinars]. So this custody account was not functioning anymore because each independent state is having a different currency. So I proposed at the end of ’91 to Piscataway three Sections. One in Zagreb, Croatia Section, one in Belgrade for New Yugoslavia which was comprising Montenegro and Serbia [not Yugoslavia] and in Slovenia. It was impossible to say at that time five because they were with three unhappy and in Bosnia and Herzegovina there were not members. And in Macedonia also not members.

In Macedonia the problem was solved in ’96 when the President of IEEE, Wally Read, came to Bulgaria and Slovenia. And this question for Macedonia Section was solved. So Macedonia got, at the end of ’96 or at the beginning of ’97, also the Section. And then stayed Bosnia, which was very, very active and when I was Director in 2005 also Bosnia got the Section. So in 1992 I was still Chairman of Yugoslavia Section but I was already the Chairman of Slovenia Section for four years until ’95. At that time I became Conference Coordinator.

This was a peculiar time, especially if we are talking about EUROCON. EUROCON died, was cancelled in ’92. It was planned as a very boasting conference, self-conscious. They didn’t want to talk very much with academia. They wanted to bring in industry. I still remember the topics – productivity, reliability and things like that. But these people are going to Davos, to their conferences. They don’t need our innovation so nobody was paying.

Role in EUROCON

Davies:

I think it was in Switzerland, there was the big problem that cancelled EUROCON.

Zajc:

It was [some] 150 [thousand] Swiss Francs to pay after cancellation. They hired a big conference centre.

Saam:

Was that the Region 8 Committee or somebody from the States?

Zajc:

The Region 8 Committee and Swiss Section.

Davies:

And they got a bad cold, I would say about that. It all went wrong. You re-started it didn’t you?

Zajc:

Yes. Nobody wanted after that, even to hear about EUROCON. But it was a time of different political situations. Eastern countries were becoming independent, engineers wanted to be the members of IEEE and some extra activity was needed, not just to organize conferences to get money but to bring something, some educational material and so on, and to help these new members to grow up to higher standards and so on. So I persuaded people like [Maurice] Papo, Jacob. But we re-started then in 2001 and I picked in the middle of this area, Bratislava. Then came the idea to say “new trends in telecommunication.” I would say this was a very bad choice because to go to telecommunications is wrong decision, since telecommunications is everywhere, bigger conferences. And the first conference was not a high success. And the criticism was high. They were saying, “We knew that.” I said, “You didn’t know. We made a mistake.”

So I took the organization to Ljubljana so that I have in the hands and we involved another idea to link with some well-known local conference so some people can enjoy the experience of IEEE Conference and this time you get also more and more participants. It was a successful new, second step but very successful was then in Belgrade. In Belgrade and, so far I was following Warsaw, was very, very big. After that slowly new people came and again is thinking how to earn money so everything is going in different, I would say, IEEE, direction.

So, how I became Director. They proposed me, the Nomination Committee proposed me and not just one time because I got very, very strong competition. But I was elected then in 2003 for Director Elect, 2004.

Time as Director Elect of Region 8

Davies:

So you came immediately after me. I was Past Director and you became Director.

Zajc:

Yes. I lost that election against you.

Davies:

But never mind!

Zajc:

But look, it is clear from the very beginning if you have the Section with 3,000 members you have 3,000 votes.

Davies:

Maximum, yes

Zajc:

But still I became Director for 2005 and 2006 and what were we doing? First, we react to everyday needs because it is a thousand problems and tasks which such a committee must do something, react, develop and having also some idea how to. But the most important thing that stayed from that time was the change of the term for the Director Elect.

Davies:

From one year to two years.

Zajc:

Up to that time the Director Elect was just one year and the time was such that more and more tasks were present and the committee needed some extra person who would accomplish them and also the education for Director Elect in two years was better.

Davies:

Yes, there was more preparation time.

Role on the Board of Directors

Zajc:

Namely in the United States the MGA now, at that time it was RAB, and Board of Directors needed Directors Elect to do something for several [functions such as] to liaise with Educational Board and so on. I got there many, many functions, in Transnational Committee and in Rejuvenation. Then I was liaison at EAB, then I was a member of N&A Committee.

So this [increase of Director-Elect term from one to two years] was easy to change because other Regions had already terms of two years. But at that time I saw that we had something like 50 Sections but another 50 countries in the Region still did not have any IEEE activity and people from there alone were trying to do something. For instance to organize a Student Branch or to start with a Chapter with a small number of members to develop activity and later to also establish the Section. But in Bylaws this was not possible because you cannot create sub item until you have Section. So you see these things were not possible.

Davies:

They were the wrong way round.

Zajc:

One would say okay, the neighboring Section would be the umbrella. It was forbidden because of territory for the Section. So my idea was to create some summation item which would be the umbrella for such sub items to start. And it was the problem. In a year the solution didn’t come. All RAB committees were talking about it but Americans didn’t have this problem. You start a Section in the United States. Such problem is Region 8, maybe 9 and 10, but they didn’t push very much so I was alone with this idea.

So it was approved and right now Region 8 Committee is directly the umbrella for those sub items. So now it’s open. Sudan was trying to open something there but there’s a political problem. But in Africa and the Middle East they have Sections already. They were active. These two things happened in Board of Directors in 2005 and 2006.

Davies:

What was your experience of being on the Board of Directors in this environment?

Zajc:

For us this is rather difficult to understand. First, the education and the behavior in the United States is different. Maybe you Englishmen are closer but my thinking is rather different and for a lot of things for me it’s automatically clear, not to talk hours and hours. But what was hard to understand, then it was, we were picking or electing at that time a General Director.

Davies:

Chief Executive, probably. After Dan Senese had left and you were looking for a successor I suppose.

Zajc:

And he didn’t know anything about the IEEE and engineering. And I was thinking these people who could be Directors, President and whatever would be much, much better. But okay, as we see he didn’t stay very long. He abandoned the situation.

It was an interesting time.

Davies:

Did you enjoy it? Did you find it a rewarding experience?

Zajc:

I did of course. If you don’t enjoy it, if this is not – under your skin, you cannot do that because it is also quite something to do. And in parallel to your job at university the job is also not just going there, they are expected … But I am saying sometimes (this is a kind of boasting) I was very pressed sometimes. So I did as much as three other people and that’s why this for me was not too high loading. Also at the university they were proud, they didn’t ask any questions.

Davies:

Activities as Region 8 Director

What about the other big task of R8 Directors, chairing the Region 8 Committee two times a year? How did you find chairing the Region 8 Committee in that time?

Zajc:

I didn’t find it difficult. I enjoyed it too. Although at that time people were more revolutionary. If I am looking today they are sitting and they are believing in anything. At that time there were some revolts sometimes.

Saam:

What kind of revolts?

Zajc:

I mean some higher criticisms and fights between Sections. For conference there was – okay, it was more discussion at that time. We prepared such meeting a month, two months before and it must be prepared.

Davies:

Usually the OpCom made some selections and advice.

Zajc:

It must be. It is impossible to come here but I remember many, many years ago when the Committee came and the first day, on Thursday, they kept rehearsing. They prepared the meeting not before. Just in those days, some time ago if you remember everybody who was Director stayed for a very long time as being something else in the Committee. This changed and I think it doesn’t make much sense that somebody who came up to the highest level is starting at the bottom again. This is taking space to [other people].

But it is easier if you are an older Director because if you are in your 70s you don’t have such ambitions. If you start to be Director mid-40s then it is not easy to finish, I guess.

Davies:

What comes afterwards is the question.

Saam:

How old were you when you were Director?

Zajc:

It was seven years ago – I was 70.

Davies:

I think because there is a big load in being Director or Director Elect, Past Director, a lot of long [daily] work to do, it’s difficult to combine that with a normal, everyday job for many people. But in your case the university was supporting you so this was not a problem?

Zajc:

No. I made all tasks, I didn’t abandon one to be able to do something else. But we must emphasize that during the time to be Director is all the time more difficult. In the time Kurt Richter said something, a very good point. He said, “At my time they innovated fax and everything was much faster because before you wrote a letter, sent it to the United States and two weeks …”

Davies:

Maybe it came back.

Zajc:

Was nothing. If you write now, in the next hour you have the answer. But this is good because you got the answer. But if they are asking you, once again …

Davies:

They want an answer in 30 minutes and if they don’t get it they think maybe you’ve died or something of this kind. So the pace of activity is much faster.

Transnational Committee

Saam:

Did you get much support from Piscataway?

Zajc:

Yes, whatever I needed they answered so I don’t have any criticism.

Saam:

And the funding and finance procedures, they left you alone did they?

Zajc:

Yes. They were changing something to be the owner of Section money and so on but we didn’t care because money is there to spend and it is not important who is the real owner, the official one. They didn’t make any problems.

Davies:

You mentioned the Transnational Committee and I suppose most of us in Region 8 are from time to time making some comments and having some feelings that USA people don’t really understand what is going on in Region 8 and they have a view which is not exactly always accurate. Do you think in your time as Director you could help them or this was a problem or how did that develop?

Zajc:

So far I know Maurice Papo innovated this Transnational Committee and in the two years I was there I saw two Chairmen. But the problems we were discussing there were not my problem. I think they were diligent, Canadians or Americans, very diligent, but they are not proper to develop transnationalism. My experience there was I was reacting whatever, I meant but I did not expect big changes.

Davies:

There’s a lot of travel in being Region 8 Director or on the Board of Directors. Meetings here, here, here, all sorts of different places. Did you find that interesting experience, to go to these different places or did you have any problems?

Zajc:

I like to travel. Or I should say I liked to travel, because the last week I was in New Brunswick [NJ, located next to Piscataway] and the plane was so busy that I was sitting in the middle. Once in my whole life I asked for business [class] but then I saw the expense I abandoned this idea. 1,000 against 3,000. I am offering to the Foundation this 2,000. Until [= While] you are healthy this is just prestige. You get a textile napkin and you get the wine card. This is the difference between there and there.

Davies:

Maybe a bit more leg room.

Zajc:

For slim people this is still less. So if they prohibit this leaning back that I get somebody on my body there, this is what is …

Davies:

Uncomfortable.

Zajc:

It’s not comfortable.

Davies:

Sometimes in economy, seats are tipping right back and you have no space.

Zajc:

Yes, I don’t like it. When I enter the plane I first take all these magazines and all this material away so I get at least 3cm here [extra knee space]. Then I need the aisle seat so that I can once per hour have a little walk round. But otherwise eight hours is a short way. If you get to travel 12 hours or more, this is … I liked it because many times, after the meeting, I rented a car and for an additional three or some days I made my own trip. I remember when we were in Tangier and I went over the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara and everybody said you should take air conditioning. I said, “Yes, I should have but I cannot afford it” so my air conditioning was open windows.

Saam:

Low tech, eco air conditioning!

Davies:

Final Thoughts on IEEE

What was it that led you to join IEEE in the first place?

Zajc:

Magazines.

Davies:

Had you been in the USA in earlier times or was it just knowing that they have these publications, transactions or both?

Zajc:

In ’65 and ’66 I was at Berkeley University and I used the magazines. When I came home I needed and there was also action to create the Section. You mentioned the Englishman who was interviewed – Russell. So now when I was taking all these papers out of the office I have them at home – I can have them at home – and I went through and wrote the history of how everything began. Today put, Kurt said, to the website. It was one story – Yugoslavia Section to ’92. Then I wrote also Slovenia Section which I gave to Matej, and Matej is supposed to finish. Then I wrote also the story of my years as Regional Director and beyond. This one is nearly the same in writing as we were talking here. I sent it to Kurt Richter but I will send it also to you and you can just go through.

Davies:

Have we covered everything do you think or are there more things we could discuss?

Zajc:

There are still more things but they are not written there because so many years you cannot squeeze on the paper or in a discussion. But these may be interesting things for me, not for somebody else.

Davies:

When you look back on this time of being Region 8 Director you have nice memories?

Zajc:

Yes. You asked me why I became a member. At that time we were starting the Section at our university and I needed the magazines. Without being a member you were not able to get them. They changed this situation entirely and I do not follow this new IEEE policy. But they are faster, the times.

Davies:

Roland, is there something more you would like to ask?

Saam:

Only to ask your advice for young people – why should they stay with IEEE? Would it be to become Director one day or would it be to participate in the community of friends? Is it like a club for you? Beyond that first encounter with the publications and so on, what would you advise to youngsters?

Zajc:

To participate because everybody cannot become Director probably. But IEEE is needing over 30,000 volunteers to run the situation [= activities], to bring all by-laws, all plans, the policy. Piscataway with 800 people there are just executors. For young person it is an interesting job, to participate, to see the others, to see how a well-organized institution is working. This is also some knowledge for him to be able to operate on other kinds [of organization].

Davies:

To get practice. As a volunteer perhaps you make a mistake – okay, but it’s not like you’d lose your job.

Zajc:

So, I think that this is a very nice experience but they also travel. In the younger years you don’t have your own money to go. You also see the standard here and there and there and there. I would recommend to everybody to join and to participate.

Davies:

Maybe that’s a good moment to conclude so I would just say thank you very much.

Zajc:

It was all my pleasure.