IEEE
You are not logged in, please sign in to edit > Log in / create account  

Oral-History:Ferdy Mayer

From GHN

Revision as of 18:10, 3 February 2009 by EMW (Talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search

Contents

About Ferdy Mayer

Ferdy Mayer was born in Luxemburg and educated at the University of Grenoble, France. In 1957, he started a private independent R&D company in France, Laboratories D'electronique et D'automatique (LEAD), and has done research on research. Mayer has focused on basic physical research and valued person-to-person contacts as a means to obtain technological and scientific information. He has taught at several universities and offered numerous seminars for companies, providing his ideas for new products and applications. Ferdy Mayer has also established companies in different parts of the world, including England and the United States.

The interview starts with how Mayer got involved with electronics through childhood experience and Ph.D. work at the University of Grenoble. He also talks about the establishment of his R&D company, LEAD, in France and how and why he chose to work for industry, rather than for academia. He mentions his connections with the IEEE and his various roles in the IEEE’s EMC chapter for Europe. Mayer provides cultural comparisons between European countries (in particular, France) and the United States and explains differences in government involvement with R&D. He concludes the interview by mentioning composite materials—putting together different kinds of materials and showing new performance—as the most interesting thing for him.


About the Interview

FERDY MAYER: An Interview Conducted by Janet Abbate, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 23 July 1996


Interview # 292 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey



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, Rutgers - the State University, 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:
Ferdy Mayer, an oral history conducted in 1996 by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Ferdy Mayer
Interviewer: Janet Abbate
Place: Paris, France
Date: July 23, 1996

Early interest in electronics; electrial engineering education

Abbate:
So why don’t we start out with how you...


Mayer:
How I got involved with electronics, yes. Electronics is a concept which at one time did not exist -- I think you should not forget about my age! It’s something which did not exist the way we talk about it now, and obviously electromagnetic compatibility is even much more recent. My first electrical experience was as a child when I made my first receiver, with a crystal. I don’t know if you remember these little crystal receivers. That was when I was maybe ten years old or something. I entered the route of electrical engineering because I felt that this might bring me later into electronics, to something I liked. Everything was then related to radio; that was the concept of those days. Radio and communications. That’s why I got an engineering degree, and then went into electricity. Then later on in electronics. That was called radio engineering at that time, and that was back in 1951 or 1952. That was in Grenoble, in southern France, and then I continued with a Ph.D.


Grenoble University; industrial electronics

Mayer:

During my Ph.D. work, I was responsible for post-scholar education at the University of Grenoble, in radio and electronics. Indeed, that was around '51 or '52, when industry became aware of the importance of electronics for industrial use: for electronic instruments, for electronic control. In my post-scholar courses, the title of the education program was industrial electronics. So I started teaching industrial electronics at the Grenoble University, and soon my students were engineers employed in industry. They sought some continuing education later on, after what they had been studying earlier, so that was the specialty that they wanted to learn. I had a lot of students who were in industry, and soon I was asked to become an advisor or consultant to several firms. Eventually there was a proposal to start a company for industrial electronics research in Grenoble. That was the starting point.


Abbate:
I’m not sure what the post-scholar education was. That’s people who have finished school and already have employment?


Mayer:
A job somewhere, yes.


Abbate:
But they’re coming back for further education.


Mayer:
That’s right. It means that, in other words, the average age of my students was ten years older than I. They wanted to learn what they had not been taught earlier.


Laboratories D’electronique et D’automatique Dauphinois (LEAD)

Support from local industry

Mayer:

Then I got started with my own company, with a total endorsement and financial support from local industry, and that was the Laboratories D’electronique et D’automatique Dauphinois (LEAD). Dauphinois is the southern French area, and that’s why the initials of the company are still the same today.


Abbate:
What kind of industries were interested in this?


Mayer:
At that time, the few big companies in Grenoble were: one related to electrical engineering, electrical industry; another to a hydraulic industry where they wanted to develop new techniques for measurements, and a third one related to mechanical industry. That means it was very broad area of different activity.


Abbate:
And they felt they couldn’t do the research themselves?


Mayer:
Yes. They couldn’t do it because there were no people who had an education in industrial electronics, which had not been taught earlier, so they needed some support and they needed to introduce some devices for electronic control. Here I might add something, because this is related now to my own subsequent life orientation. I will take a moment now to say a little word to apologize to the people who listen, for my bad English. [laughter]. That was the first study I made for industry as my independent R&D company got started at that time.


Interference suppression from automobile ignition systems

Mayer:

The first one I did was for a company in Lyon who came to see me, and said, "Ferdy, we have a problem. There is a new law concerning interference suppression from ignition systems in cars." You know, ignition systems make sparks, the sparks make interference, and the cables which bring the sparks from the distributor to the spark plug are good radiators. That means antennas, which radiate interference.



So there was a new law which was the first European regulation law, CISPR 12 and 27 (corresponding to SAE J551), I think, which said that from now on all cars have to be equipped with an ignition system which radiates less than 30 microvolts per meter. That means decreasing the interference radiation. I mention this because it is a typical interference problem. An interference suppression problem, which brings us to what has become really the future of my activity, which is electromagnetic compatibility. Interference suppression is one area of the EMC field, electromagnetic compatibility. So, I asked the people of that company in Lyons, "Are you ready to start with a solution which is completely new, one which nobody has ever used?" To myself, I said, "Maybe we’ll succeed, and maybe we’ll not." I said, "We have some chance; why don’t we try?" That company was a dying company, in very bad condition financially. So they said, "Okay, let’s play the game. Let’s try it," and then came up with the solution, which was the interference suppression by some kind of a magnetic absorption. It’s related to magnetic materials, and the losses within magnetic materials, which can kill the interference. That’s the idea. That magnetic loss concept can be applied to the ignition wires, and the interference suppression can be achieved.



So they said, "Well, let’s do it," and tried, and it became a huge success. Now about one-fifth of the cars worldwide are equipped with that cable. That company, being very poor to start, I shared the R&D expenses with them. I come now to the more financial aspects, because those have been related all my life to some aspects of my scientific work, as an independent R&D company. That scientific work had to be connected to a need somewhere, the means to create a market somewhere. They agreed to share the expenses, and said, "When you succeed, there will be a license, and you will get a royalty." That’s the whole thing, how we started. My research was oriented from then on as considering R&D as an investment -- not an expense, but an investment. That investment was being built upon some challenge, which means new solutions, new technology. I would say very farfetched new technology, because the achievement of such a solution has built inside a potential for huge industrial success, in a faraway future. I'm sure I don’t have to convince you that a new technology represents, at least in my opinion, the world of tomorrow.


Physics research; R & D management teaching

Mayer:

So that has been the beginning of the concept of research based upon some really basic physical research, and all my life I have continued to do some basic research in physics, and especially in physics related to solid-state materials. (A document exists, summarizing our contributions to basic and applied physics, called Dielectric Materials- R & D Programs-- Tests and Analysis) That research has been oriented toward targets, which means understanding better the basic laws of physics, making a contribution on the basic physics aspects, and then continuing with some specially developed techniques of research organization. I developed my own techniques, while I taught R&D management at the university. I got involved on the side of managing, which means technological forecasting, managing R&D programs, optimizing investment in R&D, everything which is related to organizational aspects of R&D. So I did both of them together, the application of science through management techniques, and then of course technology sales techniques with some return of investment, through some kind of royalties.


Patents

Mayer:

I don’t have the number in mind, but it’s a mind-boggling number, the number of markets, and the amount of money which has been made from our ideas and patents. I had over 200 patents. I can’t remember exactly. At the end of 1994, we have identified a global industrial turnover of $2 billion, and royalties of about $5 million.


Abbate:
I think I have the numbers.


Mayer:
I have always been oriented towards new ideas, because in a certain way, a new patent is a proof that you have a new idea. Do you see the point? Because your result, what you want to protect by a patent, is something which is checked by other people, and compared to existing patents. So it’s a certain way of publishing original technology.


Abbate:
That is interesting.


Mayer:
It is something new. I thought I didn’t have any time, or enough time, to do many scientific publications, especially since I was more or less disconnected from the classical academic environment.


Relationships between academics and industry; government and R&D

Mayer:

I taught at different universities for only part of my time, which means disconnection. Then obviously there is another point I would like to comment on later on, if you’ll remind me. That is that I went against classical habits and the mainstream, especially the academic mainstreams as they are practiced in Europe. I don’t know if you are familiar with that; in America it’s different. But I did it the American way. I said good-bye to academics, but I didn’t feel bad or angry or diminished because I went to work for industry. That is a very, very important point, because that’s still the mentality in France: if you work for industry, coming from the university, you are considered somebody who is prostituting science.


Abbate:
A sell-out.


Mayer:
Yes, a sell-out. Maybe you heard about that already.


Abbate:
Well, I didn’t realize that was the culture here, necessarily.


Mayer:
I think you don’t want to know more about the cultural aspects. That would be a book in itself. [laughter]. I will give you only one example. Through the years, by French government people, I was told that independent research is not accepted in France. France is the country where R&D belongs to government funding, government organization, and government programs. Which means everything is done so that private independent research does not exist, in France social and cultural aspects are very important here and the resulting bureaucratization of R & D: if private independent research does not exist, moreover, creative independent research is unacceptable. That’s something which is related to a very specific behavior which is social/cultural, and which makes things difficult for everything which is private enterprise, including R&D.


LEAD as private R&D company

Abbate:
So your company, LEAD, was the first private R&D?


Mayer:
Yes. I was and still am the first private independent R&D company in France involved in basic and applied original research. Let’s say that I pretended it was possible to do independent R&D in France. Without my knowing it, already at that time, the people at university, my own colleagues, my own friends, said, "That man is crazy. That’s something which belongs to the government and its funding." That’s why too I came up with the scheme of saying, "If I have good research, I can have original ideas, which are applicable to industry and which can be applied to markets, which means I am able to get a return on my investment." Finally, if you ask me about the global financial organization of my company, I would say that I have created my own financing for my own research, without any government support. Maybe you have seen that, in the document I gave you, there is a chapter on researching research, "Research on Research." That is what I mean by social/cultural things that I study. Questions like: What’s going on? Why is this so in France? Why is there no support for R&D on a private level? Why, why, why, et cetera. Here I must say that, during thirty years of activity at my company, we had one government contract in France, one. It happened five or six years ago, and when about two and a half years ago there was a change on the political level, when one side had been replaced by the other, the left by the right, they disrespected the contract between me and the government. They said, "No, we are not liable for decisions made by the former government, so we will cancel it." Do you read French?


Abbate:
Some, yes.


Mayer:
Good. I brought something which summarizes the issue, because that has of course come into the local press, with the fact that the government has no sense of the need to respect a contract. This was publicized not by me but by the press, and I regretted it, because I had a lot of problems with the French after that. But it gives you an idea of the very special environment I live in. Even with a huge progress in technology, the government does not respect its commitments. I am not a pirate, but challenge is at the origin of my creativity concerning patents, which is at the origin of all the progress I have helped to make in science.


Abbate:
It sounds like you’ve been very independent. Did you know from the beginning that you wanted to have your own company, or did you think maybe you would like to be in the university?


Mayer:
This is of course a point where my answer has always changed during my experience. Now I might say, "If I really wanted to stay here where I have been living, obviously I should have followed the other route."


Abbate:
The university?


Mayer:
Staying in university, just being very quiet, having no problems, and continuing to be financed by the government. I have been asked several times to take the French nationality and continue that way. That would have been really the solution, the...


Abbate:
The easy one.


Mayer:
The easy one, yes. But that was not really my character. My character was, "Let’s try to do it. All I can do is succeed, or I can have a failure." So, if you asked me now, with French concepts I can say it was huge success even financially. Now, compared to top CEOs in America, it’s not a success.


Abbate:
Even in America it’s good. I mean, it’s a small company.


Mayer:
But that’s just to give you an idea where I situate myself money wise, and success wise. When I had a choice between making big money and making some nice publication in a scientific committee or scientific conference, I normally choose the second one. That means I made a publication. Then I saw the results, the reception from people. I got a lot of honors from IEEE, you know that, and I have some others elsewhere; they just pour in, probably because I still did what I wanted. I was at least partially right, when I thought that having a target which aimed at a higher level, is still something which is appreciated globally.


LEAD history and structure; LEAD as a shell company

Abbate:
Can you tell me a bit about how LEAD works? You have your own laboratories, and...?


Mayer:
So. The company is called LEAD. It started with five or six people in 1957. You have the dates. Then we grew bit by bit. In 1980 we had twenty-four or twenty-five persons in Grenoble. Then I of course got involved more in management than in science. I had many people, and I had to manage them. That was the time too when I started my teaching of management and of the management of R&D at Grenoble University and our "R on R" activity. Finally, I wondered, "Is that what you want, Ferdy? Is that what you like, to manage, or is it that you want to continue to develop some scientific ideas, to dig deeper in science, et cetera?" Then came a very special event. Several industries in the Grenoble area went down, more or less, which means it was more or less a depressed area at that time. In addition, I had just sold a license to a company here in Paris. They said, "We will give you everything you want -- your office and everything. Just come to Paris." They said, "We will send you down a big truck, and you will put everything in it, and then come." And that’s what I did; that was 1980. When I came to Paris, most of the people I had in Grenoble did not follow. The French are very sedentary. They didn’t like to move. So I came to Paris with ten persons. There comes a moment where you have to try to get smaller. Of course, I do not want now to continue with managing a small team, especially with taking care of all the expenses you have. The social program expenses in this country can become completely ridiculous. When I pay one penny toward salary, I have to give one and one-half pennies to the government. So that is something which has really made the last thing worth it, to reduce in size and create my teams by spinning off new companies. That’s what I am doing now. I have already created two new companies since, probably since you got my document.


Abbate:
Oh, really? So these are elsewhere?


Mayer:
Yes. So the idea is the following. Not continuing to have all this government public overload, expenses paid to the government, which are unproductive. So I said I could get rid of this, and all of these financial problems. When you have a team, at the end of each month you have to take care of the money to pay the salaries and all those things. I will bring my technology into new companies, which I have to create, which are new ventures. That’s what’s going on. There are two new ventures already, and there will be two or three more.


Abbate:
So...


Mayer:
Then, my R & D company is actually becoming a real shell company. You see what I mean? It’s no longer an operational R&D company, but the shell company for my technology, which is inside and which I can develop within my company, with some other's help. I have two Ph.D.s who work on R&D programs for me, but subcontracting. I finally become a consultant, in a new start-up company where I am a partner, which exists in the UK, and there is another now starting in America.


Abbate:
I see. So you and your Ph.D.s sort of think of ideas and manage products, but the actual...


Mayer:
Yes, that’s correct: a shell company, which means there is an actual brain trust, which is me. Finally I won’t need anybody else; I will just need a secretary.


IEEE activities

Mayer:

That’s really what I am building now, and obviously my activity for the IEEE plays a huge part. That’s not a part where I make money, but at least it’s a part where I can stay in touch with the experts worldwide. I can stay in touch with the EMC community and the IEEE community, especially through my chairmanship. I am the chairman of the International Committee. That puts me in touch with many, many people. At least I have part of my expenses paid by the IEEE.



I have just come back; two weeks ago I was in Poland, for the WROCLAW Symposium, all expenses paid by the IEEE because that was a very political event. The IEEE wants now to make progress in eastern countries. There are still a lot of people who would like to join the IEEE. That only can happen if somebody talks about the IEEE, and so it’s really has been my first talk about IEEE globalization. My presentation was the keynote address, offered by the Polish government, where I spoke about IEEE globalization. I stayed there for two days, and I got about eight new members for the IEEE. And I developed a marketing technique for new members which I will present in Santa Clara. Are you aware of the EMC conference in Santa Clara next month?


Abbate:
No.


Mayer:
The EMC Society, which is the one I have participated in every year for the last twenty years, has an international conference in Santa Clara at the end of August.


LEAD research

Abbate:
I’d like to get back a minute to how LEAD worked. Did you have laboratories of your own? How did you actually do this?


Mayer:
Yes. What is the company exactly? I’ll tell you, as it is now. You can imagine that when we had some years ago, twenty people, all service of an R & D company and especially the documentation, library, et cetera. It was a working company with so many engineers; it’s now become a shell company for myself. Actually, it has been and still is a societé anonyme, an anonymous society. I bought back the shares of the company, so that means I have now over 3/4 of the stock of the company. I am just doing what I want.


Abbate:
But when you first started it, how did you do the research? What kind of equipment did you need?


Mayer:
That’s a good question. In the area of, let’s call it electronics but specializing in compatibility, the main instrumentation is related to measurement instruments, some technical words, like oscilloscopes, network analyzers, spectrum analyzers, measuring bridges and those things. Which means there’s some heavy and very expensive instrumentation involved. From there on, that gives you the possibility to evaluate materials, to evaluate the performance of materials, and to evaluate the products made with these materials. Now, for the implementations, you start from a material, and for example, you make a cable with it. A special cable, that needs some processing, and that needs machines which we don’t have. Then I use the machines of my licensees, who have agreed to make samples for me as I need them.


Abbate:
So you would do the research, and the companies you were working with would actually make those prototypes.


Mayer:
As I told you, the first example, the ignition wire, was serviced to get the interest of that company. I told them that once we had made a prototype sample of that ignition wire on their machines, there was nothing else needed. They could just continue with the same machine to make the product line, the mass production. Normally you have lab development, then you have prototyping, then you have the pilot stage, and then you have industry. The pilot stage means we try to find out if this is feasible for huge market levels. That is not needed because they made the samples on the machine, which then became the machine to manufacture the product for the market. I normally used such heavy machines, which are needed for the products we developed. I used my licensees, or I subcontracted through somebody else.


Abbate:
So you didn’t have to set up an enormous laboratory of your own?


Mayer:
I tried to find the ideal size concerning the lab, so as to handle the intelligent part and what is needed for in-house science, and everything to make the final product out of the house, and in the house of those who had to manufacture.


Abbate:
So you had the ideas and not the hardware. Did you, did you pursue research that didn’t....


Mayer:
End with results?


Abbate:
It sounds like some of the time companies came to you and said, "Well, we have this problem." Did you pursue research that nobody had asked you to do, and then try and find somebody that could use it?


Mayer:
Yes, of course. The concept of investment means that finally I didn’t use the very concept of contract research. Do you see what I mean? Which means, people come in, ask you to solve a problem, and then you solve it. That’s more or less engineering. Now, I developed original scientific aspects by digging deeper in the solid material science, and when I found out something by my own investments which was interesting, then I proposed it to somebody else. All my clients which are not industries asking for contract research, became clients because they were interested in industrially developing one of the techniques we had developed in house, with our investments and research. That is why everything I have done has been transferred technology made through licensing.


Abbate:
So you had to both do the research and do the transfer effort to find an application.


Mayer:
Exactly, yes, which is of course very challenging. That is why too that when we started in the very broad area of electronics, the beginning, we became more and more specialized in what we are doing really now. That is what I call the working, at the interface between solid-state physics and electromagnetic fields. I believe I wrote that somewhere (see the LEAD brochure). That’s really, I would say, an interfacial kind of thing. You have the science of all materials. Then you have electromagnetics. Then there is an area where both intervene. Where you develop new materials, and the science for new materials which have special specifications, special properties in view of electromagnetic fields.


Abbate:
You pick the area and there’s many applications....


Mayer:
Yes, there are many things. The reason for that is, you cannot be an expert in everything. So if you want to be an expert, especially if you want to be an outstanding expert worldwide, you have to have a specialty, something that’s your area, where you understand what’s going on, and where you feel something still has to be done. Then I use some of the money which came back, the feedback through my license fees. I spent that money for one year on that project of mine. I dug deeper into this or into that, sometimes with no results or bad results, or I said, "That’s too big a program for me; I'll drop it, and take something else." If you have a detailed study of all my patents you will see that really everything is related to in-between those areas: Solid-state physics and magnetics especially, and electromagnetic fields.


Abbate:
Did you start out doing work in a lot of areas and then you decided, "Well, this is the one that’s the most promising. I’ll specialize in that," or were you always pretty much in that area?


Mayer:
No. In that case, in this area, you cannot rely on probabilities or happenings. I came back to what had been my specialty when I made my Ph.D. My Ph.D. was on ferrites, which is a magnetic material, and the related newly discovered effects at that time, 1957, concerning what we call non reciprocal effects in electromagnetic fields. It had already the basic knowledge of what magnetic materials and what dielectric materials are, and what happens when you apply electromagnetic fields. So at the beginning there had been a core of basic knowledge and a very deep expertise about myself upon which I built. When the company was growing, for financial reasons I had to accept other contracts, but that is something I dropped later on. I said, "If I do not want to delegate everything but management, if I want to delegate science, I have to forget about science. I never will find the people who have the expertise necessary, especially here." Because in these fields there are few academic sourcing possibilities in France.


Abbate:
Really?


Mayer:
Yes. I don’t want to go further. I do not want to get involved in politics, because that’s still another problem, but you can read through the lines in my recent research; you can understand what’s really going on. Now, you must understand. One sentence, but not more.


I don’t give any regular courses in university now. That’s what I have stopped. But still I continue to make presentations at conferences and seminars. A good example is EMC, and here you might integrate the experience the EMC society has in foreign countries. EMC is typically another field where you have an interface between what I call vertical areas. Are you familiar with the concept of vertical and horizontal?


Abbate:
I’m not sure what you mean.


Mayer:
Vertical means here is industrial electronics, communications, the military, et cetera. EMC is of course applicable to each of these areas, but is essentially applicable in between. You can have a problem of interference of compatibility between an industrial microwave oven, and on the other hand, a military receiver for some military device. The area of activity of EMC is really related in between different vertical multidisciplinar areas, so it’s a horizontal one.


Abbate:
I see.


Mayer:
And that concept is not so much accepted here in this culture. Are you familiar with Descartes?


Abbate:
Yes.


Mayer:
The Cartesian approach is to say EMC doesn’t exist. There is no EMC science. EMC science does not exist. It’s just something which does not exist, because it’s horizontal, i.e. multidisciplinar. But you do have a vertical science for the military, you have a science for communications, and so forth. That is why in the government-organized and government-funded educational system, you don’t find the corresponding academic education.


Abbate:
So people get the separate areas; they could get the solid-state part or they could get the...


Mayer:
Exactly. So they have to put pieces together.


Abbate:
I see. When you have Ph.D.s come to work for you, do you have to sort of train them in these areas?


Mayer:
It is very clear, and I think you just felt exactly what was going on. For my engineers, I tried of course to educate them. But with the Ph.D.s I have now, I don’t ask them more than just the thing I want to know, which means study or formulize or simulate this part of a project. I don’t ask for any real creative work; I ask for some kind of investigation. I do not have to ask for something which is horizontal. I could give you many, many examples. My last one is on ferrites. I knew a young lady from Strasbourg University two or three years ago, and she had to develop one new ferrite for me, which means a new material for me. I had to give her recipes, tell her how to do it, et cetera. Finally, it was not really a Ph.D. program. It was more a program for training young engineers, so it was not really a Ph.D. Her project was to measure the performance of the material which had been made; electromagnetic instrumentation was needed, and knowledge about electromagnetic science. She couldn’t do it. And the entire university couldn’t do it. [laughter] That was a good point.



It’s very clear that my personality and the environment I was in obviously had some reaction one to the other. Many times in my life I was confronted with the idea of going to the United States, where I would have been much better received in regard to my own concepts, my own philosophy. The new companies we get started within that scheme I told you about, for the transferred technology, are done in foreign countries, especially in the UK. There is also one in Germany, and now one in America.


Abbate:
So there still aren’t many French R&D companies?


Mayer:
99% of French research is government, or by government corporations, or by government-funded and government- controlled activities, like all these huge French companies in electricity and electronics. These are government companies, and the entire research is controlled by the government. It’s financed, controlled, managed by the government. So there is maybe one or one-half percent, of companies who call themselves contract research companies, and which have become more or less engineering companies. Are you familiar with A.D. Little or Battelle, and all those things?


Abbate:
Yes.


Mayer:
That kind of society, but essentially oriented now towards engineering. There is no basic research. It’s trying to apply recent technologies to different fields, which is a very interesting performance, but it’s not related. My challenge, and what I would call now my mistake, was to try to do some basic and applied research on my own here.


Abbate:
So it hasn’t changed that much since you started LEAD?


Mayer:
Yes. Because of this environment I got disconnected from many things. That’s why too I was looking for contacts on the expertise level. A scientist needs colleagues to whom he can talk. Finally, because I looked for it and because I was expecting to find it, I found with IEEE the necessary connections to find people who understand, to find experts, the best worldwide, who speak the same language. Thus I oblige myself each year, every year for the past twenty-five or thirty years, to participate in the EMC international conference.


Abbate:
You taught at a number of universities. What was the requirement there?


Mayer:
This has more or less already been said before, but disconnected. Now, let’s try to connect it. My first academic activity was with Grenoble University, and connected to my Ph.D., teaching to earn some money to fund my Ph.D. Then because I got interested in what I called industrial electronics, I was in charge of the post-scholar program at Grenoble University, between about 1952 and 1958 or something. There I got in touch with the industrial people and got the idea to start an independent R&D company in electronics. So that was the beginning. Once I started my company, I left Grenoble University. Then I was asked to come to Paris and to make the entire program for a new engineering school. That was the Institut Supérieur D’electronique de Paris. ISEP -- you have it listed in my CV. I started the education program, and I taught for four years or five years in the engineering school in Paris, in electronics, and then I continued for another four years with the sister university in Lille, the ISEN. ISEN stands for the Institut Supérieur D’electronique du Nord. Then came the moment where I realized that teaching technical things is not very interesting. That’s an experience I have now to put behind me, and then I got involved because Grenoble asked me for to teach on the management side. So I became a professor at universities in Grenoble. There was a commercial school, and one was economic sciences, and another one was in political sciences. So that’s where I got involved in that teaching of management sciences, especially related to R & D, that was regular courses I had each week, for so many hours, et cetera. Then, four or five years later, about 1975 or so, the company was growing. When my team grew to fifteen, twenty, twenty-five persons, and I really could not justify spending any more time and money with the university, so I stopped the regular teaching, and I devoted myself to my company. And then of course came the moving from Grenoble to Paris, and that’s all. Then from there on I make conferences, or now I organize my own seminars.


Abbate:
And who comes to these?


Mayer:
These seminars are for me the best way to transfer my technology to industry. So, if you speak in academic words, you would say it’s a post-scholar education in specialized fields, especially EMC. If you call it now in commercial or marketing terms, viewed from my company, it’s a marketing action to sell my licenses. Do you see the point?


Abbate:
Yes.


Mayer:
So, and that’s what I am doing. I have next week another seminar, and then another seminar, and as they are quite, I would say, appreciated, I asked for quite a lot of money for that,


Abbate:
So companies will send some of their engineers to you.


Mayer:
Normally it’s done within the company, because the experiences have proven that for a seminar to be really productive, it has to be done within a closed environment.


Abbate:
So you go to the company.


Mayer:
So I go to the company, it’s prepared, and for one or two days. I get started in the morning. It’s organized within the company, as something they have to pay for, which means they put many people together, which is interesting. It becomes really typical to have fifteen, twenty or twenty-five people. In the morning it’s more or less technical, where I present what the people expect to hear from me. That means, with material is selected to their own activity, and of course to my knowledge. And where I say, "Here is the future for your industry. You are making cables, and the cables as you make them now, that’s over. That’s obsolete, now. The future lies here." Maybe this, and maybe that in the future, because there’s a new market coming out. So that means, I make some mix in the morning, on the scientific side, the technical side, and then a series of demonstrations, and then in the afternoon, I talk to corporate people, where I make the technical forecast, saying, "And here are how these cables could be used, and the markets as I foresee them for the future."


Abbate:
And then they often license your technologies.


Mayer:
Exactly.


Abbate:
How many companies do you work with?


Mayer:
Fifteen, seventeen.


Abbate:
And these are, so you, regularly...


Mayer:
Yes, some of them to variable degrees in the sense that they have been licensees for ten years or fifteen years. Others are just coming in, others going out, et cetera. The next one for next week is a typical one I had proposed in connection with my company in England. The company’s name is Microheat, and we have now a new partner. The company has been a start up company, and now a bunch of capitalists has come in. Now there is a need to explain to all these people, who just know about one product, what can be the evolution of that product for the future, and what the expectation is. This is typical technological forecasting. So, it’s more or less a day of technological forecasting. In addition, of course, there are some future clients coming in, who listen. These future clients are Philips, for example, for microwave ovens, because they come in listening to learn what I am thinking about microwave ovens and their future. They will get interested in what I have said, and will get some corporation started.


Abbate:
How did you start a company in England? I mean, how and why?


Mayer:
Microheat started two and a half years ago; I don’t remember how exactly it started, but I know that four young men came to see me. I made seminars in an organized seminar activity in England. I went to England once a month or so, and I participated in seminars organized by a company, I don’t remember the name of it, which specializes in scientific and technical seminars, especially ones related to EMC. So I had been asked to participate in a regular way. Each month, I made a presentation. After one of these presentations there were some young people who contacted me, saying they would like to see me. They came to Paris, four of them, of an average age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight, and they said, "There are so many things which are interesting; we might be interested in starting a new company of our own. We have had enough of the companies we are working with, and we would like to start a company of our own, a new venture. Could you suggest something to us, one of your forecasted products, which might be interesting, to get started in a new company?" So I went through several ideas with them, and then there was one they liked. It was what they called microheat converters, which is related to a new concept of heating plates within microwave ovens. Do you have a microwave oven at home?


Abbate:
No, but I know what they are. [laughter]


Mayer:
Yes. You know that they essentially heat water. But that’s all. So you can heat up something, or cook something if there is some water, but you cannot really do roasting, browning, crisping, all those things. That is one of the major inconveniences of microwave ovens, and that is what we try to solve with new ideas. That’s where Microheat gets started, and what they liked, and what the company is manufacturing now.


Abbate:
So they’re actually making microwaves with...


Mayer:
Oh, they are not making microwave ovens, but these special items which have to be plugged into microwave ovens. I am the chairman of that company. So I told my people, "Here is the future; here is one device where we can make a lot of money. Let’s get started with this, because that’s the approach to the company to make money." Then, we had to move very quickly towards new items which are related to microwave ovens, and especially OEM connections on the worldwide level. OEM is Original Equipment Manufacture, and that’s Philips, Whirlpool, which is interested in a completely new concept of microwave oven.


Abbate:
So are people actually making these ovens now?


Mayer:
This will be coming out now.


Abbate:
When I buy one I’ll...


Mayer:
Just ask me; I’ll tell you where you can buy all these things. [laughter] A start-up company means that you start up from small. We have an order of the first 20,000 plates. That’s what the company is doing now, and we got this venture capital from another English company, which has become a partner now. That was just a person-to-person contact, and that’s one of the reasons I believe so much in contacts with other people. Contacts with other experts, so I can stay updated, and stay in connection with today's upper level of research, in a specific area. I only can do it when I am in touch with people, especially in America.


Abbate:
Now, you also have a company in America?


Mayer:
That’s going on now.


Abbate:
And where did that come from?


Mayer:
That’s a little too early; I can’t tell you certain things...


Abbate:
Say what you can.


Mayer:
The beginning of this was ten years ago, when there was an infringement by a huge American corporation of one of my special cables. I won’t mention it by name. They wanted to have a license, and I went to Santa Clara, all expenses paid, and made a presentation. I gave them samples, et cetera, and then instead of a license, they made an infringement. They got started themselves. The interesting point is that they have made huge applications in military planes. It is something which is very confidential. Are you familiar with fly by wire?


Abbate:
That’s where you use a radio to guide the plane?


Mayer:
Yes, you are basically right. It’s electronic control. Instead of having ropes and wires, you have an electrical control here and then at the end a motor which turns and makes the rudder go to left and right. So that’s fly by wire. Now it is clear, that if you work with electronics within a plane, the controls are sensitive and they can be disturbed by interference. It is very clear that when you have military planes which each half-hour or so go through a radar beam, that radar beam just falls into the plane, and goes inside it, the cabling, and then inside the cabling it goes inside the control. Which means a lot of disturbance, and there our special cables can protect against the kind of disturbance. That is used on all major American planes, on military planes, this cable. So that’s the way it started. Obviously, I spoke about this, especially to my friends in the military in America, and here again, I got in touch with these people through IEEE. They said, "Ferdy, okay, you were at the beginning of the technology. We would like to start with you a new program for the military, to make an improvement on these cables." So that’s what we got started. We have an improvement, and there is a company behind manufacturing this for the States.


Abbate:
I guess technology gets transferred many ways.


Mayer:
If you ask me about the best way to transfer technology, I would say forget about exhibitions, forget about technical publications, and scientific ones sometimes, but I believe in person-to-person contacts, on the highest level. That means you have to organize yourself to be in contact with those people. In my last speech in Poland I said, "You gentlemen are mainly Polish and Russians. If you want to join IEEE, don’t forget that you will have person-to-person contact with the best experts in the world, in your field. It’s not only a help for your own job at home, but it updates you; you know what’s new, you stay in touch with life and you know what’s going on. And that is the beginning of a transfer of technology.


Abbate:
So maybe you could tell me about what work you have done in standards for EMC.


Mayer:
I was involved in setting up a number of standards. And as I told you before, Janet, I found it very boring. [laughter] Now, if I did it nevertheless, it’s because, especially in the EMC field, many standards are related to technologies which are not very old, which are related to evaluation techniques, which are sometimes nonexistent. They sometimes use technologies which are just emerging. That means not only that the standard is changing by definition, but also that the first draft is actually not the standard. It’s an idea of what the standard in the future might be; it means evolution. That building evolution is what interests me, because it’s related on one hand to the contributions of others, but in addition, to more science and research, because many of those standards will eventually become final standards once a technology is known and once a way to measure is known. That is related to understanding the phenomena which are involved. In many cases, for the moment these items are in the research area, especially in the IEEE EMC activity. One just needs to look at the different IEEE EMC society records to recognize that many of the publications if not all are related to improvements made or which need to be made. To come back to your question, I have participated in the working group for the shielding and which is the account standard to be set up by IEEE. I did even more work because I was there as secretary of the working group, for the PAR 1128. That is a new standard related to absorptive materials, and how to evaluate, and how to purchase for the user. It’s putting together all the ideas which have been put in a standard. In this working group for PAR 1128, we have worked for five years. Five years, with ups and downs. With good moments, bad moments. With participation by others, and with refusals to participate from a dozen people because they worked until now, and they would like to continue to work without standards. So we had not only mixed feelings concerning the related research and basic technology, but we had mixed feelings too between the scientists or engineers working on the technology, and the industrial people and especially manufacturers of absorbers who were totally against it because the standards showed that basically all absorbers, as they are sold now...


Abbate:
Don’t comply. [laughter]


Mayer:
That’s it.


Abbate:
So you have problems getting the industrials in line. Do you have problems coordinating the different organizations, like does ECMA have its own standards, or do you find that....?


Mayer:
You want to talk about other organizations making standards. Is that what your question is?


Abbate:
Well is that an issue? Are there different organizations doing that?


Mayer:
Yes, because of course now you enter the hunting grounds of other people. [laughter] That is why the EEC standards, the CISPR, SAE standards, the UTE (that’s for the French), et cetera, each has its little garden, and wants to improve its garden. Nice flowers, better flowers, rising, increasing the size of the garden. You see. So that means you find all these problems which are related to globalization finally, and that’s why global standards, if only in one field, in one technical area, are nearly impossible to envisage today. Of course, attempts are made to do something about it, and the first attempt in the EMC field was the EMC directive, but for Europe.


Abbate:
And that was just this year?


Mayer:
That had to be applied from January 1 on. But my God, that alone could be a history for one Ph.D. who only studied what happened last year on this. [laughter] This is a huge mess, concerning the European globalization. European globalization through the EMC directive. That was the beginning of the idea of one of our projects, the "EMC-MAZE." Certain guidelines are needed, especially by small business. Big corporations can have their EMC specialists, so they can handle this, but smaller industries can’t; they don’t have the money to pay for that. Its becoming necessary to have an EMC standard, not only to say that your product is compliant with the EMC directive, but just to be able to have the right to sell on the European market. You can understand how this problem is becoming acute and important.


Abbate:
And the EMC-MAZE, is that on line...?


Mayer:
So that is that on-line subject I told you about. I will send you a copy, and you can summarize, better than I can, the subject brought up at board meetings of the IEEE. The issue will come up again, on the board meeting this year. If I can, I will invite you to come to Santa Clara, at the end of August, to participate in that meeting. [laughter]


Abbate:
What other work have you done for the IEEE’s EMC chapter?


Mayer:
You have already chosen a specific aspect, which is chapter, and that means it is an activity which is selected within the sections. In connection of course with the societies.


Abbate:
Or in general.


Mayer:
But on a local level. The chapters are normally made in connection with one or several IEEE societies -- that means technical areas, and are to be organized on the local level, which means in one country or in several countries. So, I got started in this. I got asked, "Why don’t you start something?" And then I got asked, "Why don’t you add magnetics?" That means putting together several societies within the same chapter. Because that’s another way to go. Because if you have one person who is active in one country, if he has the time for it, he can handle several technical activities. So I said let’s keep it with EMC, let’s do it for France, and I accepted, because of a language problem, for Belgium too. Belgium and France are the French-speaking EMC chapter. Four or five years ago, we had only thirty members. The EMC society had only thirty IEEE members all over France and Belgium. That is to be recognized as being too small to start a successful chapter, because it’s difficult to have enough clients, to have enough people. So the first thing to do was to try to increase the number of people. That’s what I did, and we are now sixty or seventy; now it’s valid to have a chapter. Also, for the reasons I spoke to you about, and about which I won’t comment on the tape, I wanted to have a diplomatically correct approach, with the French equivalence of a scientific society. It is called SEE, and that stands for Societé des Electriciens et des Electroniciens. With some difficulties I succeeded in making a common activity. That is a chapter, now handled by IEEE in common with SEE. The programs, the people we invite, the speakers, et cetera, and I chair the whole thing! Such activities many times can be connected to a person, and initiatives with one person. And if you would ask me now, "Ferdy, we would like to have another chairman," maybe I would find one, and maybe I won’t, and one of the problems will be that there are few other people speaking English. There are other little problems like the language problem, and like the problem of the concept of competition. The competition between SEE and IEEE. And other things, which add together and which are sometimes difficult to manage. I would like (because I have already done some of it) to do write down the rules which must be applied if we want to succeed really with international globalization. More must be done, in the conditions really necessary to succeed, to make IEEE a global international scientific society.


Abbate:
I want to ask you another question. Your research on research, did you publish a book on that, or a report on that?


Mayer:
I have made one or two publications, especially through several Ph.D. works in Grenoble. Some of the works have been presented and mentioned at a midwestern university by a professor who issued every year everything which was published worldwide on research on research (See Summary "R on R"). So that has been mentioned in there, and now obviously you have at least a small text which mentions some of the studies. Now, if you ask me, is there a book or something which puts together everything, I would say no, it doesn’t exist.


Abbate:
Who is the audience for that?


Mayer:
In Europe, none. [laughter] You wanted a clear-cut answer. There is little interest, because research is barely understood and accepted on the public level. We spoke about that. So if you say something else might be independent research, already you are not on the inside anymore. You go to the outside. If you say we should be study what should be done in research, which means organization of research, forecasting, technological forecasting, organization on the academic level, et cetera, you automatically fall inside very sensitive areas, which belong, mostly in Europe, to government. Government responsibility. You have nothing to say on that.


Abbate:
In the States, there are lots of people who talk about research management, but in France, there’s not.


Mayer:
No. There was a little government-related organization called GRD, the Groupement de Récherche et Development, which was managed and chaired by a professor who had some American education. When he went away the whole thing disappeared. He had access to a little government money and I have gotten some of my "R on R" work funded by specific items in that area. I have now much more than what I gave you on research on research, so that’s something which can be done. You will find inside the basic rules of the management of research. You will find my ideas about the concept of research with some expectations on return of investment, ROI. That means that your research must be in one way or another followed by some results, if not in the same field, in another field. If not at the same time, then later. Globally, there should be a result which shows that your investment in R&D in the beginning had or can have an economic finalization.


Abbate:
You mentioned somewhere ideas of just-in-time and just-in- place R&D. What do those mean?


Mayer:
I will send you a copy of that. [laughter]


Abbate:
Is that too long to explain?


Mayer:
I will make a little comment on this, but only one. In many areas, including some of my patents, which meant money and time invested, the real time industry was ready to apply the new technology. But real results appeared when the patents were dead, twenty years later. If you have in mind some kind of expectation that you will get a return on your ideas, sometimes you have to wait for it. Then you come to that very interesting problem, which is one of research on research, which means there is a big dilemma now between scientific publishing, which means showing that you have made original scientific work, and publication for the laymen, which means for the people who can apply it in industry. Both of those things can be not only independent, but can also cut down each other. You say, "That’s something I want to publish," and here is something which tells you to wait ten years more because the moment has not come.


Abbate:
So it could be too early as well as too late.


Mayer:
Exactly.


Abbate:
What was the right-in-place part?


Mayer:
That I will send you. I just wanted to comment on one; they have the same meaning. It means that you have to know where to go. It’s certainly not here in Europe. You have to go to the States for doing that. You have to know or to get with the people through IEEE. Another program for IEEE is to put international people in touch concerning new technology and how to transfer it to industry. I envisage here an active participation in the IEEE New Technology Group.


Abbate:
Did you ever consider working in the United States?


Mayer:
Oh, many times, yes.


Abbate:
But, was it just family ties that kept you here?


Mayer:
Yes, especially family ties. In addition, the very reasons where I had strong incentives for coming to the States, were always related to some military programs. We have worked on the Stealth bomber program, especially, and I have had many meetings with Boeing and others in the States where they asked me to become a consultant, but to do that you have to become an American citizen. You see, there were always some strings attached. Maybe it was the right decision; I couldn’t make the decision at that time. The basic reason still is connected, I would say, to family reasons.


Abbate:
Do you ever think of going back to Luxembourg?


Mayer:
You ask me a lot of questions. [laughter]


Abbate:
You don’t have to answer. [laughter]


Mayer:
There is no reason not to answer! I still have remaining members of my family, my sister et cetera, in Luxembourg, and I have a lot of connections with my old friends. Maybe you’re referring to my offer from Luxembourg to help build a university there. Were you aware of that?


Abbate:
No.


Mayer:
Oh, so sorry to introduce a new subject. There are already so many of them. [laughter]


Abbate:
So, is there a technical university now, or would this be the first one?


Mayer:
There has not been any university at all until now. There are only courses to prepare for entering universities in other places.


Abbate:
Oh, so there’s none at all.


Mayer:
Some courses in between the secondary degree, what we call secondary college, and university. The very reason always given by Luxembourg has been that if we want to be international, at least to understand other people as a small country, we need to have access to other cultures. For that reason, our young people should get their university educations and their Ph.D.s in foreign countries. That has been the reason. But the basic reason finally is -- let’s try to find the right words, to be politically correct. [laughter] You cannot ask people in a village to have the knowledge and to have the environment concepts to study at an international university. That’s basic. We don’t have the people. All the people who really were outstanding and who had the capability, who for example had professorships at universities in foreign countries, stay in the foreign countries. They are lost for Luxembourg.


Abbate:
If you had a university there would they stay in Luxembourg?


Mayer:
Now, here again I come to the village. Did you see a village where the villagers are happy to call back those who went to the big town?


Abbate:
I don’t know. [laughter]


Mayer:
You will have problems which exist at that time. So now, if there is something being done, it is because now there is really a push for doing more. The new approach is to say that we have in Luxembourg a very strong financial environment -- Luxembourg, a financial island and fortress. There are people who say, "We are ready to set up foundations." Banks are ready to envisage venture capital. So these are things which might be interesting to keep experts and good people, to bring them back or keep them in Luxembourg, because there is the means to start new companies, to start financing new ventures, and to have a university which is not just a university giving new, nice titles and Ph.D.s. which you can do nothing with in Luxembourg. But now you could use peoples with those titles, within the country. You see, it means building something which is not only a university but which is an institution behind a university which would be, let’s call it, a university for the application of the basic sciences.


Abbate:
All right. So to finish up, I was wondering if you might just talk about some representative, some of the biggest products that came out of your patents, or some of the things you think are most interesting, important.


Mayer:
That will become very technical. I suggest using a good summary of that; you have it in what I call the monograph about the company. You remember the big document which explains in very easy terms about what we have done. We have even studied the result of that, the markets which have been created. I would say, if you asked me for one of the most interesting things, word, it would be the science, the technology, and a number of applications of composite materials with electromagnetic performance. Composite materials means where you put together at least two or three materials of different kinds, and because they’re different kinds, they show a new performance which can be used in the electromagnetic field.


Abbate:
And that was something you pioneered?


Mayer:
Yes, that’s the field we are now in. Now, if you look at my fellowship with IEEE, it’s for contributions to the science of electromagnetics, et cetera, but always you find the word electromagnetic, and there is always the interface with the materials field. Materials here are composite materials. Another word which is more up to date now is smart materials.


Abbate:
Smart materials. I haven’t heard that one. All right, is there anything else you want to add before we finish up?


Mayer:
I am ready to tell you everything. [laughter] Actually, I cannot think of anything else.


Abbate:
Thank you very much for the interview.