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Annabelle Theobald

"The day when the work runs out will (hopefully) not come"

Growing up in a four-generation household, a country boy and the first academic in his family - that's how Dr. Kevin Streit, who has become CISPA's new Chief Operating Officer (COO) at just 37, describes himself. We talked to him about what the new job in management means to him and what will change at CISPA with him.

The computer scientist has witnessed and also helped shape the development of the center from the very beginning. He wrote his doctoral thesis under CISPA faculty Prof. Dr. Andreas Zeller. In 2015, he initially joined the science management team and became head of administration the following year. Now he is CISPA's new COO. 

Your new job as COO, like your previous position as head of administration, is pretty far removed from computer science, where you are originally at home. Do you miss doing research?

I always look where I can profitably contribute, which will undoubtedly be the case as COO. I don't miss anything, also because I can still live out my computer science nature. Even now, I am still implementing one or two business applications and have set myself the goal of building an A+ digitalized administration. I've taken to administration just as I did to computer science before, with the ambition to understand as much as I can about both. I think there is an opportunity in this rather unusual combination. I understand what the researchers need, but I also see the business connections. I’d also describe my predecessor Bernd Therre as my mentor, some of whose expertise I was able to pick up in the occasional private lecture late at night. Bernd and I have always seen ourselves as a tandem - I as the science and IT expert, he as the business economist. That has always worked well, and I hope it will continue with the new head of administration - the position is now to be posted. It's a pity I can't ask Bernd for his opinion now.

What issues will particularly occupy you in your new position as COO?

We rightly have spent some time focusing on building up the center. But now, it is time for us to open up even more to the outside world - without losing our identity. We are increasingly expected to become more involved in the Helmholtz Association. And that's what we're already doing. For example, our head of procurement Alexander Weyland recently became chairman of the Helmholtz Association's Procurement Working Group. But one thing is clear: the ongoing development and growth is still the biggest and most important task that will keep us busy for a few more years. And there still is a bit of work left on the way to the A+ digitalized administration.

Will much change with you as COO?  

Of course, everything will change - but not because of me. We mapped out an eight-year growth plan in 2019, and we're just into year two. So there are six more years to come and with them many more developments and changes. After all, there are always new people joining us. The goal is to have about 1,000 employees by 2028. To offer them an excellent scientific environment, a new campus is being built, for example, which alone will change a lot about our working environment. Just imagine that we are all united at one location again.

When do you think the CISPA campus will be ready?

The ideas competition has been completed, and that was the starting signal for some talks. However, development, area planning, forest clearing, and the creation of the land-use plan are out of our hands. The first building, CISPA 1, should be ready for occupancy in the first quarter of 2023 and create around 170 additional jobs. Then the next building will follow with test halls, workshops, a showroom as well as a guest house, an office building, and laboratories, creating space for around 550 people. Later, a parking garage may be built, and probably also a daycare center. However, this will be the city's or a private sponsor's responsibility; several parties have already expressed at least interest. With the development of the site and CISPA 2, parks are also to be created to turn the site into a real campus. There's a lot to be done between now and 2030.

In your new position, you're also involved in some complex legal processes. And you already did that in the founding phase of CISPA. Where does your expertise come from?

Learning on the job. Many of the topics that came up in the initial phase are so specialized that even a lawyer would have to learn the ropes first. There is simply no blueprint for many processes. At the beginning, of course, we also bought legal expertise - in public procurement and labor law, for example. But experience has shown that even lawyers, business economists, and public authorities are not per se familiar with the unique constellation we have here with the scientific context and the indirect public service. For example, I was involved in preparing a cooperation agreement with Saarland University to make joint appointments. You have to be well versed in civil service law for this, and it required some special authorizations and even legislative amendments in Saarland civil service and university law. The procedure goes deep into the most diverse legal and specialist areas, so you simply have to read up on it. But none of this is witchcraft, and I now have an excellent team of experts in all areas and at all levels, on whom I can entirely rely professionally and whom I greatly appreciate as people.

It seems you like to do a lot of things yourself. Can you let go sometimes?

Totally. I have a wife and two children. So that must also be possible. Today I can and must delegate most things to the real experts in the house. Of course, there were phases, especially at the beginning, when I was still sitting here at night and working like a dog. But you also have to make sure that you can work well in the long term. If you always say to yourself, "Oh, this is really important now, I'll do it quickly," then the stress never stops. The day when the work runs out will never come. We are building something completely new here, it's a unique opportunity, and many people want to help shape it. Everyone can and should contribute - but please only to the extent that they can do so sustainably. No one is served if people completely exhaust themselves and then have to stay at home with a burnout at some point.

translated by Oliver Schedler