Sigurd Lettow: 'Adopting an overall approach'

An interview with Sigurd Lettow as he takes up his responsibilities as CERN's new Director of Finance and Human Resources (CFO).

Sigurd Lettow assumed his functions as Director of Finance and Human Resources (CFO) on 1st January 2007. Aged 56, with an academic background in law and business administration, Sigurd Lettow has been closely associated with international research and is familiar with its processes. After holding several managerial positions in the scientific field in Germany, in 1994 he was appointed Head of Administration of the Laue-Langevin Institute (ILL) in Grenoble, where he remained until 2001, subsequently becoming Vice-Chairman of the Executive Board of the Karlsruhe Research Centre in Germany (3,500 employees). A year later, he was appointed Vice-President of the Helmholtz Association of National Research Centres, which includes the Karlsruhe Research Centre. With 16,000 employees distributed over 15 research centres, including DESY and GSI, the Helmholtz Association is the largest research organisation in Germany. Sigurd Lettow successfully oversaw and promoted an in-depth overhaul of the Association's structure and finances. As a former member of the CERN External Review Committee set up after the financial crisis of 2002, he was already familiar with the Laboratory when he arrived at CERN in July 2006. In this article, he informs us of his vision of the organisational and resources changes CERN will be making in the coming months as LHC commissioning gets under way.

The Bulletin: What is your impression of CERN six months after your arrival?

Sigurd Lettow: I have spent the last six months in the field rather than in my office, meeting and listening to as many people as possible. My impression is completely different from the one I derived from the interviews conducted by the External Review Committee in 2002. Four years ago, people were concerned about the LHC project and doubted whether it could be realized. Over these last few months, I have been impressed by their optimism and determination. The staff have worked very hard to make the LHC project a success and, like me, they no longer have any doubt that it will be. The personnel have regained their confidence and, by the same token, our achievements have restored the Member States' confidence in the Organization. That is a very positive point!

The Bulletin: Nevertheless, concerns persist, particularly regarding the programmed reduction in staff numbers.

Sigurd Lettow: The resources decided in 1996 at the time of LHC approval are insufficient to fully exploit the physics potential of this new machine. It is the Council's responsibility to ensure that CERN has the necessary resources to produce the anticipated physics and to maximise the output from over 10 years of human and financial resources investment. Moreover, the Member States must realise that it is illusory to expect CERN to make an even greater commitment to future physics projects while reducing staff numbers to 2000. With the Director-General I shall do everything I can to convince delegates. But it is not realistic merely to ask for more. The Member States want to be sure that use of resources is optimised.

The Bulletin: Precisely, but how can we make better use of our resources?

Sigurd Lettow: I'm convinced that there is still scope for savings. But this implies a change in our approach to the Organization. Instead of thinking in terms of departments and groups, we must adopt an overall approach and think in terms of processes. In practical terms, this means, for instance, that the same services should not be provided by several teams at different locations in the Laboratory. Some departments have been focused on realising the LHC and have thus duplicated existing functions. Rationalising processes would promote enhanced use of our resources.

The Bulletin: What are the main human resources implications associated with this change of approach?

Sigurd Lettow: Once the LHC starts up, the Organization can no longer continue to be the same as it is today. That is obvious, but many people still cannot recognise this. For over a decade CERN has been geared to building the LHC. Now that this phase is coming to an end, we must transform ourselves into a service organisation for the benefit of the users who will be coming here in large numbers to do physics. Fortunately, CERN has a long tradition of serving the scientific community. However, the new context implies that some activities that were expanded during the construction phase, such as purchasing, will have to be reduced, while others will be enhanced. It also means that our administration must focus on our service mission and that it must be even more transparent, efficient and reliable.

The Bulletin: What impact do you envisage this having on the Organization's structure?

Sigurd Lettow: Clearly, the departments will not be the same as they are today. The technical departments will naturally be affected. In order to implement this reform, we must identify all the future tasks and the human resources needed to carry them out. With this end in view, I have enhanced the planning role by making the Resources, Planning and Controlling Group an independent unit. The unit is attached to the CFO, reports directly to the Directorate-General and interacts with the Human Resources and Finance Departments. Secondly, the Human Resources Department's role will be crucial. I have asked the human resources teams to be proactive, to go into the field and be closer to members of the personnel in order to assist them to make this transition.

The Bulletin: In practice, what changes will this transition entail for members of the personnel?

Sigurd Lettow: It will entail a new boost to internal mobility. We can no longer maintain the mindset that all problems can be resolved within a group or a department. We must adopt a broader approach and be prepared to make our skills available to the entire Laboratory. A very good tool has already been put in place to promote internal mobility, the Skills and Talents Inventory. Unfortunately, it has been neglected and I can understand that many people have questioned its usefulness. But we are going to simplify it, relaunch it and encourage everybody to use it. We are preparing for the biggest organisational and human resources transformation that the Organization has experienced for 15 years and this transition requires everybody's support.