“As head of administration, I have the opportunity to get actively involved and to support the scientists with my own ideas.”
Mr Geiß, you are head of administration at two institutes: the Max Planck Institute for Informatics and the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems. How do you cater for the needs of each of them?
Geiß: Meeting the organizational needs of both institutes and maintaining the necessary balancing act is a challenge, and one not to be underestimated. From the very beginning, I was adamant that these are two independent institutes, even if there is some overlap in terms of the research conducted. One of my jobs is to support the institutes in developing their own individual profile. With 40 years of administrative experience, it goes without saying that I can use my specialist knowledge at both institutes. However, anything that’s discussed in confidence in one of the institutes must remain confidential within that establishment, for instance the distribution of financial resources. There needs to be a strict separation for these kinds of issues.
How do you assess the quality of your work?
Geiß: One key indicator for me is the level of satisfaction expressed by the people around me. I believe it is important for me to entrust my staff with areas of responsibility in which they can act autonomously. This increases motivation and ultimately enhances the quality of everyone’s work. And when the quality is there, the scientists are also automatically satisfied and we can all communicate more effectively.
If someone applies for a job with you, what do you look out for in the interview?
Geiß: For me, the applicant’s personality is important. Only those who suit the profile of the position are invited to interview in the first place. When I actually meet the candidate, a lot depends on how genuine the person is. I like people who are open, who look me straight in the eye when they are talking to me. However, when it comes to making the final decision, I value my colleagues' opinions. At the end of the day, the applicant will have to fit in with the department and the team.
What is special about working as the head of administration in a scientific organization?
Geiß: The responsibilities of the head of administration vary significantly from institute to institute. Unlike an administrative board, I see my role as supporting science – by meeting the needs of the Directors and also those of the junior scientists. As I have helped to develop two institutes, I have been able to introduce many of my own ideas. Structuring the entire administrative organization - from HR to technical equipment and maintenance - in such a way that it provides optimum support for the work of the scientists has been a very satisfying experience.
How did your own career progress?
Geiß: My professional career began when I completed my intermediate high school certificate (mittlere Reife) and started training as a mid-ranking civil servant at the University of Saarland. I then sat my school leaving certificate (Abitur) as part of a course for civil servants and gained the qualifications necessary for a higher-ranking office. I worked for over 20 years at the university and have been with the Max Planck Society for the last 20 years.
What inspires you in your working day?
Geiß: Even though I myself don’t have a gift for resolving complex equations, I am fascinated by the scientific environment that surrounds me every day. Working with world-renowned scientists on a daily basis is certainly something special. The top scientists are also very down-to-earth people who you can chat with spontaneously or discuss topics totally unrelated to their area of expertise, such as the World Cup. Surprisingly, I have noticed that many of them have a great love of art.
Thank you so much for speaking to us today, Mr Geiß!
This interview was conducted by Julia Merlot