Tackling change head-on

For more than 20 years, Andreas Dudler has charted the way for SWITCH, achieving important milestones as a member and Chairman of the Foundation Council and Managing Director of the foundation. At the end of this year, he will hand over the reins to Tom Kleiber and will be retiring in 2022. In this interview, Andreas Dudler shares his insights and perspectives.

Published on 12.11.2020

Andreas, what goes through your mind when you look back over the past two decades?

Andreas Dudler: How digitalisation means continual change. It is staggering how work has changed in research and education and how the needs of universities have evolved as a result. Of course, these changes are particularly evident at the moment.

How has SWITCH managed to support the universities during this process of transformation?

AD: One example is our commitment to running a stable, high-performance research network. We have to ensure that SWITCHlan never reaches its limits, regardless of what plans the universities might have. We achieved this thanks to a few visionary engineers at SWITCH who came up with the idea of buying their own fibre optics 20 years ago.

This led to very heated discussions in the Foundation Council’s Foundation Committee. Back then, nobody in Europe worked this way. It was a revolutionary idea. We eventually decided to go ahead with it. And since then, we have never had to discuss bandwidth again at SWITCHlan. It’s simply there. And the costs are kept stable. This is how our core competency in networks came about, which then had a massive impact on the history of SWITCH.

All our core competencies, even those in security and identity management, started out small, but were then developed thanks to courageous decisions.

It is staggering how work has changed in research and education and how the needs of universities have evolved as a result. Of course, these changes are particularly evident at the moment.

Andreas Dudler, Managing Director, SWITCH
What did your job as Managing Director of SWITCH mean to you?

AD: I always considered it a privilege to be working for the benefit of teaching and research. Education, research and innovation play a very important role in the Swiss economy. I think this is a major motivating factor, not only for me as CEO but also for the employees.

Is there any difference between being the director of a foundation and running a commercial enterprise?

AD: To some extent, yes. Our beneficiaries, namely universities, have two roles: they purchase our services and they provide strategic guidance in the Foundation Council. Together with the universities, we identify the path we want to pursue. Not only on a technical level, but all the way to governance. That is what is unique about us.

Which developments are you particularly proud of?

AD: We have gained a certain amount of freedom in how we develop, because we are very well funded. It has taken a lot of work, but it is something we can be very proud of. It was a real collective effort.

It makes things much easier if, in addition to a compelling idea, you also have the resources to implement it. Take the idea of the research data connectome, for example. Some people consider it perfectly straightforward, some regard it as unrealistic, while others believe it to be visionary. We are in a position to tackle new ideas without having to ask universities to fund the very first steps every time. Thanks to this freedom, we are able to tackle change head-on.

But this freedom comes at a price. And that is the large amount of responsibility that we bear. It is up to us to live up to this responsibility by working with the community and not just on a national level.

Does it feel good to hand over your responsibilities at this moment in time?

It is simply the right decision for me now. I will still be working for SWITCH part-time next year. During this time, I will be strengthening my international commitment. But I have a good feeling about handing over to Tom Kleiber. SWITCH is well positioned, and I am convinced that Tom will very quickly gain a foothold in our community. Naturally, I wish him all the best and every success in continuing along the path he has chosen.

 

We have gained a certain amount of freedom in how we develop, because we are very well funded.

Andreas Dudler, Managing Director, SWITCH
What do you think you will miss the most in retirement?

AD: The people. I’m certain it will be the people that I miss most. Of course, I’ll be able to form new friendships and cultivate existing ones. But a long-standing work environment is not so easy to replace.

Do you already have any specific plans?

AD: At the moment I’m still very open and not worrying too much about it. I can imagine taking on local tasks, even charitable projects. There is a great need for that. And my grandchildren will realise that I suddenly have more time – that’s a good thing!

Dear Andreas, we would like to thank you very much for this interview and wish you all the best for the future.
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