Tom Kleiber took over the helm at SWITCH as the company’s new Managing Director at the start of the year. Who is Tom Kleiber, how does he view his new role at SWITCH and what are his goals?
Tom Kleiber: SWITCH is in a unique position due to its decades of experience with internet technologies, its national and international network, and the fact that it was established as a foundation. All of this makes SWITCH a trusted partner when it comes to shaping the digital transformation and operating critical infrastructures. It can make a key contribution as an expert partner for universities, companies and (educational) policy.
I see SWITCH as a team of highly qualified and exciting people and as an important asset for Switzerland.
Since I’ve spent almost three decades working in the ICT industry, I can draw on plenty of expertise and experience and a large network. But I think the most important thing is something else. I studied management and business administration at a time when people believed all you had to do was measure enough to control and manage everything. The last decade has taught us that there are limits to this approach. I have seen time and time again that major success is down to inspired and motivated people. That’s why a company’s culture is absolutely critical. An environment where people happily and enthusiastically put all their talents and skills to good use, with commitment to something bigger than themselves, is what sets successful companies apart from mediocre ones.
«Major success is down to inspired and motivated people.»Tom Kleiber
I’ve been made to feel very welcome and I’ve found the people to be very open and willing to discuss things. SWITCH is an organisation that strongly identifies with what it is and what it does. Another thing that’s special is the fact that we don’t just have customers; we’re also part of the community that we serve day in, day out. I’ve already had many conversations across Switzerland and the whole time I felt this sense of belonging.
I’ve repeatedly heard people say that SWITCH does an excellent job of operating critical infrastructures and that we’re reliable and enjoy a great deal of trust. On the flip side, they’d like us to play an even more active role. In a dynamic, complex and volatile world that’s becoming ever more digitalised, our community expects more than just stability and security; it’s also looking for innovation, flexibility and speed. While this might sound like a challenging balancing act, it’s a legitimate and realistic concern.
I’ve repeatedly heard people say that SWITCH does an excellent job of operating critical infrastructures and that we’re reliable and enjoy a great deal of trust.Tom Kleiber
You’ve got to be flexible to pull off a balancing act. Rigid structures cannot be moved or they break. We started a new chapter in January together with all our SWITCHies. This one’s all about a transformation that’s fundamentally altering our understanding of collaboration, leadership and organisation from the inside. We’re striving to create a mindset of shared responsibility with flexible boundaries between complementary teams and a strong, common focus on community concerns and challenges. Since then, we’ve been consistently forging ahead, taking one small step at a time.
Developing from the inside out takes time, discussion and the involvement of absolutely everyone. We meet with the entire team once a month, for example. This monthly meeting is a time for focusing our shared understanding, talking about next steps and sharing experience. At the same time, we’re developing an open culture of communication where anyone can talk to anyone else about anything, regardless of their role and hierarchy. This is a quick and easy way of sharing knowledge, ideas and critical considerations.
Since it’s tough to predict future developments in our world, it’s also important to always appreciate what we’ve achieved so far. And it’s from this that we draw the assurance and confidence to take the next step.
The new strategy is very ambitious. It not only outlines topical priorities and new services; it includes a further development of our role and how we perceive it too. The transformation process I mentioned before plays an essential role in sustainably implementing this strategy. This transformation forms the foundation of all other strategic developments. That’s why I’m focusing a great deal of my energies on this process at present.
At the same time, we naturally want to make progress in terms of content. It’s very important to me that we do this in constant dialogue with our stakeholders. This is essential when it comes to things like designing data spaces to improve both the use and reuse of research data, as well as further developing our digital identity.
Finally, despite all the innovation, we mustn’t forget that one of our core tasks is the secure, stable operation of digital infrastructures. We have proven that we can do this and have earned a great deal of trust over many years. This isn’t just a skill; it’s part of our culture. This element is always included in the strategic development of new topics.
I see myself as a standard-bearer, sounding board and designer. As someone who provides a sense of direction, builds bridges and actively helps to develop and transform our organisation. I want to help ensure that SWITCH is a place that welcomes a wide variety of talented individuals who firmly believe we’re making a relevant contribution to the trustworthy and secure use of digital technologies for the benefit of our society.
An important part of my role is also to be a sounding board for our community, customers and university policy. We have to be networked and interdisciplinary to address the challenges of digitalisation. I believe it is absolutely vital that the various players are also sitting around the table at a strategic level. After all, this technology-driven transformation has to be actively shaped together with users and in the interest of society.
I want to help ensure that SWITCH is a place that welcomes a wide variety of tal-ented individuals who firmly believe we’re making a relevant contribution to the trustworthy and secure use of digital technologies for the benefit of our society.Tom Kleiber
I think that I have a very strong sense of duty and people consider me to be highly reliable and authentic. I also don’t take myself too seriously and can admit when I get things wrong. But I can also be gruff and roll over others sometimes. Unfortunately, this is something I always notice after the fact.
I also believe that I’m someone who’s brave enough to step out of their own comfort zone. I find it very inspiring to approach something you’re unfamiliar with when you don’t know how it behaves at first. I once initiated a national education project as a KFOR officer in Kosovo. I didn’t know much about pedagogy and primary schools, but I saw that something had to be done. That took a great deal of courage and confidence in the beginning. It turned into a 10-year initiative supervised by the Zurich University of Teacher Education and financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.
There’s a proverb that sums that up rather nicely: ‘Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.’ We humans all have our rough edges and habits. You have to deal with the crooked timber if you want to work with people. There’s a great deal of potential in that respect: in the tension, in the diversity, in the unexpected, in the conflict. Even in a leadership role, you have to be aware that you – yourself – are made of crooked timber too. That’s why leadership always starts with you as the leader. Anyone who believes that they aren’t made of crooked timber should think twice. Crooked trees are left to grow; straight ones are made into boards.