Organisation - January 6, 2010

What AFSG needs is commitment, guts and vision

Successor required for departing AFSG director. Staff list their requirements.

Profile: Knight without fear or reproach, who is open and above board, is prepared to fight and has clout. In the background: The impregnable fortress
As of 1 January, Peter van den Elzen is no longer the director of the Agrotechnology & Food Sciences Group (AFSG). The process of finding a successor has started. What criteria should the ideal candidate meet? Rijkelt Beumer, professor at the Laboratory of Food Microbiology, is clear about the characteristics the new director should have. 'First of all, the candidate should have real affinity with the job and not just see it as a lucrative stepping stone in his career.' In addition, he or she should be clearly committed to research and teaching and be prepared to stand up for them. According to Beumer, honesty is another essential characteristic. 'There should be transparency about where the money is ending up and why some groups are being subsidized - or need to be subsidized - by other groups', he says.
At our service
A crucial point for Beumer is that the new director should not be afraid of the Executive Board. 'The top of our organization seems like an impregnable fortress. I think people have too much deference for this body. Executive Board members ought to be at our service; they should be doing things that are worth while for them and for others'. Beumer also has clear opinions about salary. No-one needs to earn more than the Balkenende norm. Having high-ranking board members earning a little bit more than the Spinoza prize winners is just about acceptable, he thinks.
Strange viewpoint
Harry Wichers, a DLO researcher at AFSG, thinks the new director needs to have a clear vision concerning the respective tasks of DLO and the university. Integration is important, but the two organizations have different roles. The new director should recognize this. 'DLO performs research on a contract basis and actively targets the market. This means providing customized solutions', he explains. 'That is not always compatible with the university's objectives. There it's all about pushing back the frontiers of knowledge.' Up to now there has not been a clear vision on this issue, according to Wichers. He cannot understand why the university should also be required to target the market if DLO is supposed to be getting its money from there. Wichers has seen quite a few directors come and go over the past twenty years. 'There was too much of a tendency to see DLO as a business. I find that such a strange viewpoint, a model like that doesn't fit us at all. After all, we're not manufacturing light bulbs, we are developing knowledge and doing research. A certain element of risk is inherent. If you don't understand that, it will go wrong again.'
Control freak
His colleague Wolter Elbersen agrees that it is important to have a clear vision but also says that the new director should not be a control freak. He or she needs to understand the day-to-day work and the organization. That starts with the creative process whereby researchers market their projects. The director must also have the ability to win new projects in the face of competition. In addition, it is important to delegate responsibility to the right people. 'Our objective is productivity and you need to avoid the situation where internal bureaucracy starts costing too much time', says Elbersen. 'If the desire to control everything becomes too great, researchers end up spending too much time on the wrong things.' So the directors need to trust the researchers. 'If the directors and researchers share the same vision, let the researchers figure out themselves how they should achieve those objectives', concludes Elbersen.

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