Oral-History:John Vig

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About John Vig

John Vig photo for oral history.jpg

John Vig was born in Budapest, Hungary. When he was two years old, most of his relatives were deported to concentration camps. His father survived the camp at Buchenwald, Germany, but 14 other close relatives were murdered in Auschwitz and in other camps; including his grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The family escaped Hungary during the revolution of 1956; entered the USA, as refugees, in 1957 (when John was 14 years old), and settled in New York City.

He received the B.S. degree from City College New York, in 1964; and the Ph.D. in Physics from Rutgers - The State University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, in 1969. Upon graduation he joined the Electronic Components Laboratory at Fort Monmouth, NJ, USA. Throughout his professional career, working as a physicist, electronics engineer and program manager, he performed and led research aimed at developing high-accuracy clocks, sensors and low-noise oscillators. He retired in 2006 but continued working as a technical consultant, primarily to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program managers. The research programs he supported ranged from micro/nano resonators to low-noise oscillators and chip-scale atomic clocks.

He has served IEEE in many capacities, including: Founding President of the Sensors Council; president of the Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control Society (UFFC-S); Division Director; Vice President of Technical Activities; journal associate editor, senior editor and guest editor of special issues; conference general and technical program chair; IEEE Investment Committee member; standards coordinating committee chair, and, in 2009, as IEEE President and CEO.

He remained active in IEEE after his term as president ended. He was elected VP, Publications, of both the Sensors Council and of the UFFC-S; served on the MGA Nominations and Appointments Committee; on the Conferences Publications Committee; as General Co-Chair of IEEE SENSORS 2012; and in other positions. In 2012, the UFFC-S AdCom elected him to be an AdCom Member Emeritus, for life. Similarly, the Sensors Council AdCom elected him to be a Life AdCom Member in 2018. Also in 2018, a joint meeting of TAB and PSPB elected him to be the 2019-2020 Chair of IEEE Products and Services Committee.

John Vig has been awarded 54 patents, has published more than 100 papers and nine book chapters, and his publications have been cited more than 5000 times. He has served for more than 40 years as a volunteer in his home area; as an Environmental Commissioner of Colts Neck, NJ, USA; as a member of the Monmouth County Environmental Council, and as a trustee of the Colts Neck Friends of the Library. He and his wife of 56 years (as of 2019) are avid ballroom dancers.

In 1988, he was elected Fellow of the IEEE "for contributions to the technology of quartz crystals for precision frequency control and timing."

This interview focuses on Vig's service with IEEE. He discusses surviving the Holocaust in Hungary, his escape to the United States, his education and joining the American Physical Society and then IEEE. In relation to his IEEE career, Vig discusses his role in the IEEE Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control Society from presenting a paper in 1972 to becoming its president, serving on AdCom, TAB, as a Division Director and his 2009 IEEE Presidency. As President, he focused on issues such as open access publications, the value of IEEE volunteers, the question of who membership is for, diversity, transparency, the 125th IEEE Anniversary, and IEEE's role in documenting and preserving history.

About the Interview

JOHN VIG: An Interview Conducted by Sheldon Hochheiser for the IEEE History Center, October 13, 2011.

Interview #569 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

John Vig, an oral history conducted in 2011 by Sheldon Hochheiser, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEWEE: John Vig

INTERVIEWER: Sheldon Hochheiser

DATE: 13 October 2011

PLACE: Colts Neck, New Jersey

Hochheiser:

It is October the 13th, 2011. This is Sheldon Hochheiser at the IEEE History Center. I am here in Colts Neck, New Jersey with IEEE 2009 President John Vig at his home. Good morning.

Vig:

Good morning.

Childhood; “Man’s Inhumanity to Man.”

Hochheiser:

If we could start with a little bit of background. When and where were you born?

Vig:

I was born in 1942, in Budapest, Hungary.

Hochheiser:

Right in the middle of the war.

Vig:

Right in the middle of the war, unfortunately.

Hochheiser:

Why unfortunately?

Vig:

Because during the first two years of my life most of my relatives had been murdered by Nazis; a grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, one of whom was a beautiful little 9-year-old girl. My uncle Miklos Vig’s story can be found on Wikipedia.[1]

Hochheiser:

How did you and your parents survive?

Vig:

Due to Hungarian anti-Jewish laws, my father had been forced to serve in the Hungarian labor service instead of the Hungarian Army. Labor service[2] members cleaned the toilets and did the other dirty work. One day his unit was handed over to the Germans who shipped members of the unit to the concentration camp in Buchenwald. That’s where he survived, but barely.

My mother, brother and I lived in a Budapest apartment in a Jewish neighborhood.

Hungarian Nazis showed up one day and told everyone to line up in the courtyard. My mother quickly put me on the potty. When the Nazis broke into our apartment, she told them that I was sick, and pleaded with them to let me finish. When they came back later, I was still on the potty and mother pleaded with them again. One of the Nazis finally said, “To hell with them; we’ll get them the next time,” and they left.

We went into hiding after that. My mother bought false identification papers and that’s how we survived the rest of the war. Our last name for the rest of the war was Molnar. Those who had lined up in the courtyard were taken away and never heard from again. Most likely, they, especially the children, were murdered in Auschwitz.

There were about 600,000 Jews in Hungary before World War II. Roughly 90% of them were murdered during the war,[3] including most of my family.

Hochheiser:

What did your parents do before and after the war?

Vig:

Well, my mother was born in a small town, Keszthely (in Western Hungary). In the early part of the 20th century, it was believed in rural Hungary that girls didn’t need an education. So, her formal education stopped at the fourth grade. This was common in those days.

My father was a very smart guy. His education stopped after he finished high school, but not by his choice. In Hungary, there were laws—the numerus clausus laws[4] —which prevented all but a small percentage of Jews from going to college. It was official antisemitism; the law specified that only a small percentage of the college population could be Jewish. So, official anti-Semitism prevented my father from getting a college education. He became a jewelry maker and retailer; a reasonably successful one. My mother was a housewife and eventually helped my father in his business, especially after we came to the U.S.

Hochheiser:

What was growing up in the 40s and 50s like?

Vig:

Since I didn’t know any other life, I can’t say that I was unhappy but, looking back, my father was in a concentration camp. The Germans put him there and he survived, fortunately. He never talked about it, by the way. Even though my sister and I tried to get him to talk about it, he never did, which made us feel worse because we didn’t know what the horrible secrets might have been that he didn’t want to share with us. But I can’t say I was unhappy. I think I was probably a reasonably normal child… in a very abnormal world.

Later, after the Communists took over, my father was jailed by them for a year and a half. So, he was persecuted by both the left and the right. The Nazis put him in a concentration camp because he was Jewish, and after the Communists took over, because he had owned a business, a jewelry store, he was labeled a capitalist and, eventually, he ended up spending a year and a half in jail.

When I was in elementary school, one day the teacher asked the class who wanted to join the “Pioneers,” which had been the Communists’ version of Boy Scouts. Everyone raised a hand, and, of course, so did I. The teacher came over to me and told me that I was not allowed to join because I was the son of a capitalist which made me an “enemy of the people.”

Later, shortly after my family arrived in the US, I was filling out a form and one of the questions was, “Have you ever been a member of a Communist organization?” I laughed as I checked the NO box. I felt like putting an asterisk next to the NO with a note, “I tried but they didn’t let me!”

So, those are some of the unhappy highlights of my childhood, but otherwise, I think I was okay. It’s not like I had a choice. My father’s absence probably affected me but, that’s not for me to judge. I don’t remember being particularly unhappy while I was a child.

Hochheiser:

Were you interested in science and technology and things like that as a youth?

Vig:

My parents never influenced me with respect to that. I gravitated towards math because somebody, I don’t remember who, convinced me early on that memorizing things was stupid. So, as long as I can remember, I’ve had an aversion to memorizing things. Today, with Google, I really don’t need to memorize facts. Also, I probably gravitated towards math because I was pretty good at it. That’s also probably the reason I started as a math major in college and then, later, switched to physics. I got my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and PhD in physics.

Hochheiser:

So, then you came to America with your family?

Vig:

Yes, but I first came to America and then I got my degrees. There was a revolution in Hungary in October 1956. My family escaped, then spent a few weeks in Austria. We arrived in New York in January of 1957. Camp Kilmer, New Jersey was our temporary home for a few days after we arrived.

Hochheiser:

If I remember correctly there were a fair number of Hungarian refugees who were initially housed there.

Vig:

Yes. The population of Hungary before the revolution was about 10 million. Even today it’s about 10 million. And about 200,000 left within a span of a few weeks during the revolution. Those who left were, basically, the intelligentsia; the educated people and those who had skills, initiative and were willing to take a chance to try to have a better life. Amongst them were some people who became quite successful, eventually. For example, IEEE Medal of Honor winner Andy Grove of Intel fame had been in my crowd of Hungarian refugees. By the way, I had the pleasure of exchanging a few words with Grove, in Hungarian, at the Honors Ceremony in Vancouver. I think it was in 2004.

Hochheiser:

Where did your family go after Camp Kilmer?

Vig:

My father had friends in New York City who helped us. These friends had been fellow jewelers in Hungary who, fortunately for them, had left Hungary before the Communists took over.

Hochheiser:

So then, did your father’s friends ease your transition to the United States?

Vig:

Yes. They picked us up at Camp Kilmer. They found us an apartment on the West side of Manhattan in New York City. My father initially worked for one of his friends in the New York City jewelry district, on 47th Street. After a couple of years, he started his own business. He was a successful but much too conservative a businessman. He didn’t believe in borrowing money. So, he never borrowed a penny from anybody and he always paid his bills on time. He had been traumatized in his childhood when his father borrowed money, was unable to repay it, and trucks showed up and took away all their belongings. I think he could have been more successful had he taken some chances and borrowed money to expand.

Hochheiser:

How did you find and manage the transition to the United States? A little bit before, we talked about learning English.

Vig:

Yes. As we arrived in the U.S., nobody in my family spoke English. That we had come to a country where we didn’t speak the language was unacceptable to my father. But, when we left Hungary, we didn’t know where we would end up. My parents wanted to not only get out of Hungary in the worst way, they also wanted to be out of Europe.

So, the first day in the U.S., my father made everyone in the family go to school to learn English. We took English classes and he made us speak English at home. We were discouraged from speaking Hungarian at home. He made us carry three by five cards in our pockets—which I still do sometimes because I got into that habit. Our instructions were that, whenever we heard a word we didn’t understand, we were to write it down and then, as soon as possible, look it up and learn the meaning of the word. So, that’s how we learned English. There were no ESL, English-as-a-second-language, classes in those days. I was just thrown into the regular classes; had to learn English and do the best I could - and I did.

So, as an aside, although politically, I am most definitely not a conservative, I’m a strong believer in making English the official language of the U.S., which, I know, is a controversial subject in the U.S. But, in this case, I’m on the side of those who are advocating that English be made the official language of the U.S., which it’s not. Unlike most countries, the U.S. has no official language…but, I digress.

Education

Hochheiser:

What led you to the City College of New York for your higher education?

Vig:

Necessity. Okay, City College of New York, CCNY, was the college of the working class and of immigrants. It was tuition-free. My parents were certainly not wealthy, so, I lived at home and commuted by subway to CCNY every day. Previously, I had also applied to various other colleges. The best one that accepted me was Brown University, but they didn’t offer me a scholarship. I couldn’t afford to go to Brown, so I went to CCNY about which I have no regret! I mean, CCNY in those days was an outstanding college as evidenced by its graduates. Nobelist Arno Penzias, Bob Kahn (of TCP/IP fame), Colin Powell, Jonas Salk, Andy Grove, Woody Allen, Ira Gershwin, Mario Puzo, other Nobel Prize winners, and many others who became famous are graduates of CCNY. At that time CCNY was number one in the percentage of graduates who went on to get PhDs and it was tied with Berkeley in the number of graduates who went on to get Nobel Prizes.

Hochheiser:

Did you enter City College with a plan of study in mind, a particular major?

Vig:

I started as a math major and then I switched to physics. Physics seemed like a more interesting field for me. It still allowed me to do mathematics and yet I loved the idea that there was something practical coming out of the mathematics. Plus, it seemed like it led to more job opportunities.

Hochheiser:

Any notable professors that stick in your mind from your undergraduate education?

Vig:

Yes. There was a math professor. His name was Jessie Douglas whose speciality was topology. He was an outstanding teacher. I remember one remark that another math professor made about him. He said that Jessie Douglas is the only professor in the math department who can walk into any class and give a perfectly wonderful lecture on any subject in mathematics. And he was like that. When students asked him a question, he gave perfectly clear answers no matter how complicated the subject. I admired him greatly because he was a really, really smart guy and a good professor.

Hochheiser:

Did you go directly from City College to graduate school?

Vig:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

What led you to decide that that’s the direction you wished to go?

Vig:

I don’t think I ever had any doubts about the fact that I would continue my education, if I could. And, whereas I was not able to get a scholarship to get my undergraduate degree, I was offered a graduate teaching assistantship at Rutgers University, the state university of New Jersey. Plus, my wife had graduated. My wife and I both went to CCNY. She graduated in three and a half years, cum laude. She had been a better student than I. So, she got a job as a teacher in the New York City school system and she continued teaching after we moved to Rutgers. Basically, she supported the two of us and put me through graduate school. Between my assistantship and my wife’s income as a teacher, we were OK, financially, while I pursued my graduate studies.

Hochheiser:

Did you have an area of physics in mind when you entered Rutgers?

Vig:

No. I had an open mind, plus, I hadn’t felt that I knew enough to choose an area. I felt that I needed to learn more before committing to a specialty.

But there was a professor, Bernard Serin, whose name, by the way, is now on the physics building at Rutgers. He was one of the outstanding professors there and he was an almost Nobel Prize winner. He did the basic experiment that led to an understanding of superconductivity. He did what’s called the Isotope Effect experiment which showed that if one changes the isotope of an element in a superconductor, the transition temperature is changed. That led the way for Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer to learn that it was really an interaction between the electrons and nuclei, not just an interaction among electrons, that was responsible for superconductivity. Bardeen, Cooper, and Schrieffer got the Nobel Prize for what is now known as the BCS theory of superconductivity. There’s a rule that a Nobel Prize may not be shared among more than three people. So, the three theoreticians got the Nobel Prize.

Hochheiser:

And the experimentalist…

Vig:

And the experimentalist didn’t. His consolation prize was that, after he died, they’d renamed the physics building to be the Serin Physics Building.

So, I got my PhD in low temperature physics. Serin was a low temperature physicist and, as his student…that’s how I became a low temperature physicist. Low temperature physics, by the way, is a fascinating subject.

Hochheiser:

Anything else you’d like to add about your years as a graduate student at Rutgers?

Vig:

When I was an undergraduate…, in those days there was still a military draft.

Hochheiser:

Yes. I’m old enough that I know that well.

Vig:

So, I had been presented with a choice of joining ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) or not joining ROTC and be drafted, possibly. When I looked at the possibilities, I said to myself, well, if I don’t join and I get drafted, I’m going to be a private in the army. If I do join the ROTC and get commissioned as an officer, at least I know a bit about what my future holds. I will have a good idea about what my life is going to be for a while.

I decided to go for the sure thing. Little did I know what was ahead of me!

There was no war going on at the time, so it looked like the more reasonable path for me was to join the ROTC, get commissioned, satisfy my obligation, and then go on with my life. So, I took a chance; I did join ROTC, got commissioned in the US Army Corps of Engineers, and, later, I switched to the Signal Corps, and then I got a deferment to go to graduate school.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

I didn’t go into the army right away. I had a deferment, but I also had an obligation to go into the army after I had received my Ph.D. While in graduate school the Vietnam War started. And by the time I got my PhD, the U.S. was in the midst of the Vietnam War and the Army had a shortage of officers.

After I got my PhD, I remember going to the Signal Corps officer’s basic course in Fort Gordon, Georgia and an officer from the Pentagon came to talk to us to tell us about our future. Now, at the time everybody who had a PhD in physics or engineering got assigned to a Department of Defense research laboratory. I was sitting there smugly thinking about not going to Vietnam. I had no plans or desire to go to Vietnam. I was sure that I was going to be working as a researcher in one of the laboratories. As this guy is talking—and I remember the exact words—at one point he said, “and I don’t give a damn if you have a PhD in physics. One year from today there’ll be a plane touching down in Long Binh, Vietnam and you are going to be on that plane!” I was shocked. But the bottom line is that I took a chance and I didn’t end up going to Vietnam despite what this guy had said. I did get orders to go to Vietnam. The only path out, the only legal path for me at the time—I could have gone to Canada like many others did—but the only legal path for me was to make a deal with the Army. There was an option to go “voluntary indefinite,” which meant that I would give up my right to ever get out of the army. I could get out of the army only at the pleasure of the army. And I said well, again, the choice was between going to Vietnam or to go voluntary indefinite, and that would allow me to stay in my job as a researcher for an additional year. I decided to gamble.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

So, I went voluntary indefinite. I ended up serving in the army two years, nine months, and ten days. And at the end of that, fortunately, the Vietnam War was winding down and suddenly the army went from a shortage of officers to a surplus of officers. At that point the Army asked for volunteers to get out of the army, and I was probably the first in line. So, to recap, I had volunteered to join the ROTC. I managed to get assigned to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey to work in the U.S. Army’s Electronic Components Laboratory.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

I did research side by side with civilian scientists. I got the first of my 55 patents and my first IEEE publication during that period. I developed a superconducting tunable filter and that was my entry into frequency control, which became my career eventually.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

So that’s my history as a soldier.

Hochheiser:

Well, that certainly answered the question that a lot of people have when they’re finishing grad school, which is what you’re going to do next.

First Job

Vig:

When I completed my army obligation, I sent out resumes to lots and lots of places where I thought research in low temperature physics was taking place. I made the mistake of making my resume narrow; that I was looking for a job in low temperature physics, rather than in a broader subject area. Well, as it turned out, there were no jobs in low temperature physics in those days.

I went to the lab director where I worked, at Ft. Monmouth. a guy by the name of Eduard Gerber who was well known in the frequency control field. Earlier in his career he himself had done research in frequency control. I asked him if he had any openings in his laboratory. He told me that a Dr. Hafner had an opening in the frequency control group. I made an appointment. Dr. Hafner showed me around. It seemed like an interesting job. After interviewing me, he made me an offer and I accepted it, figuring that this is a good temporary job while I look for a better job outside, in low temperature physics. It turned out to be a super-interesting job. So, I spent the next 36 years in this “temporary” job doing research on frequency control problems. It was, basically, research on resonators and oscillators for clocks, communications systems, GPS; and low-noise oscillators for radar systems, and things like that. It was very interesting, challenging research. In fact, even though I am now semi-retired, I’m still involved in that kind of research.

Hochheiser:

It’s funny how chance can determine a person’s career.

Vig:

Yes. It was purely due to chance. I wanted a job in low temperature physics and, instead, I got a better job in frequency control.

I Joined IEEE Because a Friend Asked Me

Hochheiser:

Yes. Had you joined the American Physical Society when you were a student?

Vig:

[Interposing] Yes. Yes. I was a member of the American Physical Society, and not a member of IEEE, throughout my student years.

Hochheiser:

Since you were a physics student, that’s not surprising.

Vig:

Yes, but it is unfortunate that it’s not surprising. I believe that IEEE should have a strong presence in physics departments too. Anyhow, one day I was walking down the hall in my lab, and a friend who’s still a good friend—in fact I got an email from him this morning, coincidentally—stopped me in the hallway. His name is Art Ballato, Arthur Ballato, an IEEE Fellow, and he eventually followed me as a president of the Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control Society.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

So, Art stopped me in the hallway and asked, “John, are you familiar with the IEEE Ultrasonics Symposium?” I was not. He said that the IEEE Ultrasonics Symposium is looking for somebody for the technical program committee, TPC, who has your specialty. He explained that the Ultrasonics Symposium is the major conference in ultrasonics and they could use somebody whose specialty is resonators. So, he asked me if I’m interested. I said well, what’s involved? He said you go to two meetings a year. The first is a planning meeting and the second is for evaluating the papers that are submitted. You and your fellow committee members get to see the papers first, before anybody else because you’re one of those who makes a judgment as to whether a paper is acceptable or not.

He convinced me that this was a good thing to do and so, because he was a friend and I trusted his judgment, I said yes, I’ll be happy to serve if I get appointed. He went back to the chairman of the committee and recommended me. I got appointed, and that’s how I became a member of the TPC. And because I was a member of an IEEE symposium TPC, I felt that I should join the IEEE. So, I joined the IEEE at that point, even though membership wasn’t required to be on the TPC

Early Conference and Society Activities/Positions

Hochheiser:

I also noted in looking over your resume that you presented a paper in ’72 at the symposium on frequency control. So, pretty quickly you were involved in two different symposia.

Vig:

Well, at that time I was not active in the Frequency Control Symposium. But I became active very quickly because my boss at the time was active and he asked me to help him with several symposium related matters. I got more and more involved and eventually, I got invited to be on the program committee of that Symposium too. At the time this was not yet an IEEE symposium. Eventually, at one point, I forget who it was, somebody asked me if I’d be willing to be a candidate for the AdCom, the Administrative Committee of the Society. In those days, I think it was just the Sonics and Ultrasonics Society.

Hochheiser:

Was Ultrasonics still a professional group?

Vig:

The society was originally the Professional Group on Ultrasonic Engineering. Xplore shows the “title history” of our Transactions. It started in 1954 as the Transactions of the IRE Professional Group on Ultrasonic Engineering. In 1964 it became the IEEE Transactions on Sonics and Ultrasonics, and, in 1986 it became what it still is today, the Transactions on Ultrasonics, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control.

But these events took place before my time.

So, I became a candidate for the AdCom and I got elected by the Society members. I served my term and then, later, somebody asked me if I would run again. So, I ended up serving two terms on the AdCom and then, in my second term, somebody came up to me…, actually, it was Jan Brown who had been well known in IEEE circles.

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] And still is.

Vig:

And she still is. She’s been very active in IEEE and is knowledgeable about IEEE. Jan Brown came up to me during a coffee break at one of the AdCom meetings and just out of the clear blue said, “So John, how would you like to be president of the UFFC Society?” And that was a shock. I said “Whoa! Where did this come from?” and she said “Well I’d like to nominate you for president. I think you would make a good president. If I nominated you, would you be willing to be a candidate?” Wow! I was not prepared for such a question, but Jan convinced me to say YES. So, she nominated me; I got elected, and so, that’s how I became president of the UFFC Society.

Hochheiser:

If we could step back a little bit. Although there’s no reason we have to be strictly chronological, if you could talk a little more about your activity on the program committee for the conference. I noticed that you became General Chair of the conference in’83. What does one do as the chair or, what did you do as Chair of the conference?

Vig:

Well, the General Chair position is mostly administrative, managerial and leadership. It is not a position that requires technical expertise. The chair organizes the organizing committee. (S)he oversees the conference budgeting, makes sure that the conference is properly publicized – this was before email, so I’d stuffed many, many envelopes. The chair invites members to serve on the committee, and (s)he motivates the volunteers.

When I did that job, I tried to make the society more diverse, especially by getting more volunteers to serve from outside the U.S.

A lack of sufficient diversity has been a problem throughout my IEEE experiences; i.e., that the leadership, especially, tends to be more U.S. than non-U.S. U.S. members get nominated for leadership positions more than non-U.S. members. Throughout my IEEE career I’ve tried to change that and create a greater diversity in IEEE; get more non-U.S. people, more women and more non-engineers to be nominated and into leadership roles. The membership of IEEE has consistently been more diverse than the leadership.

Frequency Control Symposium and its Merger Into the UFFC-S

Hochheiser:

Now, I noticed that the frequency control conference was actually sponsored by the lab at Fort Monmouth.

Vig:

Yes. The frequency control symposium started right after World War II. The U.S. Army in those days was the main sponsor in the U.S. of frequency control research because the technology began to be used in Army radios. Quartz crystals became essential to Army radios. Quartz crystals improved the ability of radios, tremendously. Before that, radios were of low quality and the communication was, therefore, of low quality. The frequencies had been unstable; they drifted with time, temperature and other factors. As soon as quartz crystals were designed into radios, it was a huge jump in the capability of communications in the army. So, the army sponsored research to develop better and better resonators and oscillators for applications like radios and, eventually, radar systems and electronic warfare systems and many other electronic systems that the military used. And this symposium started as a meeting of Army sponsored quartz crystal researchers.

The Army had contracts with various companies including AT&T’s Western Electric and Bell Laboratories and many others, some of which were garage operations; literally. They had been ham radio operators who had used quartz crystals for improved frequency stability. They used grinding wheels in their garages for grinding the quartz crystals.

And so, the symposium started as a meeting of contractors for the purpose of reviewing the progress of the contracts. It eventually became a meeting that invited others too to participate and report the results of their research. There was no IEEE symposium or any other conference in those days. So, gradually it became a successful general frequency control meeting. There had been no similar meetings, anywhere, so, eventually, researchers came to the symposium from all over the world. By the way, the field of frequency control has a fascinating history – which is documented in several papers and books that are available on the UFFC Society website.[5]

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

When I started my research at Fort Monmouth, the Frequency Control Symposium was still an Army sponsored conference. And I began to ask questions. Now that it’s no longer just a meeting of army contractors, it’s a general meeting, and an international meeting, why is the Army still sponsoring this? I didn’t get any good answers. It was just inertia; that nobody had thought of changing it. So, I started discussions, then negotiations, with my friends in the Group on Sonics and Ultrasonics, which soon became the UFFC Society. I said well, it seems to me that an IEEE Society should be sponsoring this. Would IEEE be open to sponsoring this symposium? I got some positive responses.

So, I talked to the then president of the predecessor of the UFFC Society, Bill O’Brien of the University of Illinois. We made a deal, i.e., that the Society would take over sponsorship of the symposium. There were some provisions as to the continuing participation of the laboratory that I worked in. But that gradually got forgotten and the management of my laboratory didn’t pay attention to it anyway, so it became a purely UFFC Society symposium. Eventually, formal participation by my organization faded away, although quite a few people from my organization, like Art Ballato whom I mentioned earlier, continued to be active in various positions of the society. Ray Filler, who worked for me, eventually became treasurer of the Symposium, and several others from my lab were active on the technical program committee and other committees of the Symposium.

Hochheiser:

Was that your first involvement with UFFC beyond attending a conference? Were you working to have IEEE take over the conference?

Vig:

As I’d mentioned, I was helping my boss at the time who was very active in the Frequency Control Symposium. In fact, he had a sense of ownership. He was the boss. While the army sponsored it, he was the boss and he was the general chair and there was no question who was in charge. He was in charge of that symposium. And he “asked” me to help him. So, I became very familiar with the organization of the symposium. Eventually when my boss retired, I was appointed to take over as head of the research group and also, as the guy who was in charge of that symposium, but I really didn’t feel that I wanted to devote a lot of time to running that conference. I felt that a professional society was much better suited to run an international, by then it had become an international, symposium. There was no other comparable conference anywhere in the world. It had become an international symposium and was becoming more and more so. I saw no reason why an army laboratory should be owning that symposium. It was a lot of work for me; it was a distraction from my, and my group’s, research. That was my motivation for going to the UFFC Society and proposing that the UFFC Society take over that symposium, which they did. It had been a successful symposium before, and, it’s been an even more successful symposium ever since. The IEEE is the proper organization for sponsoring that symposium.

Hochheiser:

Did you maintain your membership in the American Physical Society as well?

Vig:

For a while. Eventually I got further and further away from the kind of research that the American Physical Society published, so I dropped my membership and became a committed IEEE volunteer.

Diversity, Serving on AdCom, Standards, Becoming a Fellow

Hochheiser:

Did you still however consider yourself a physicist?

Vig:

Yes. I always have. My job title, interestingly, was “engineer;” actually, “electronics engineer.” My job was really a mix of physics and engineering.

Hochheiser:

There are so many areas where the distinction between those two is basically non-existent.

Vig:

Yes, in fact that’s been one of my issues in IEEE. That’s why I mentioned earlier that I object, and have objected all along, to the title “Today’s Engineer” which has been the title of IEEE USA’s newspaper. I think it’s a counterproductive title and I’ve advocated changing it, but some old IEEE people are really attached to that title.

Hochheiser:

Certainly, one thing I noticed in my years at AT&T is that there were two ways to determine if a Bell Labs researcher was a scientist or an engineer. One, you could ask him. Two, you could look at their CV and see what their PhD was in, but as far as the work, you couldn’t tell.

Vig:

Yes. Well, in my research I had collaborated with physicists, electronics engineers, materials scientists, chemists, mechanical engineers… An oscillator is a resonator plus circuitry. Now, my research was directed mostly at the resonator part, but I worked with guys who were circuit designers and in the processing of a quartz resonator we had to use etching and polishing techniques. So, I worked with chemists to develop better etching techniques. I worked with surface scientists because the surface of the resonator, of the resonator plate is critically important. We developed better cleaning techniques, so again I worked with chemists because of that. I worked with people who grew the crystals that we used, who were material scientists and crystal growers. I worked with theoreticians whose background was civil engineering and mechanical engineering. In fact, the best theoreticians in the field were civil and mechanical engineers because the plate, a resonator is a plate that vibrates just like a bridge vibrates or a structure vibrates. So, the equations needed to analyze a vibrating beam in civil engineering are similar to the equations of a vibrating resonator beam or disc. As a result, the theoreticians who worked on such civil engineering problems were well equipped to work on resonator problems. The best theoreticians in my field were civil engineers and mechanical engineers.

Hochheiser:

Interesting. Did the professional staff at the lab at Fort Monmouth continue to be a mixture of army officers and civilians or did that change?

Vig:

In the years when the army had a policy of “stabilizing” officers who had advanced degrees, the army had a group of officers in uniform performing R&D in my laboratory and I was one of those officers. But these officers were always just a tiny part of the roughly 300 people who worked in the lab. The lab was a civilian laboratory.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

After the stabilization policy was phased out, the laboratory became entirely civilian. These days it’s rare to see somebody in a uniform working in the laboratory. So, it’s all civilian now. My laboratory was basically a civilian research laboratory that happened to be part of the Defense Department. Our mission was to do research in interesting areas of electronics that might have applications in the army. So, we had an integrated circuits laboratory that did research on integrated circuits and other semiconductor devices; there was research on optics; and we had a power sources lab that did research on battery and fuel cell development. The army is hugely dependent on portable electronics devices. Everything that’s portable needs small power sources – which, today, are batteries. Batteries are heavy. So, for many years the army has had a large program in developing batteries, not only in-house but also by sponsoring research in industry. In general, the army spends a lot of money on sponsoring research in industry as well as doing in-house research. My budget was always 50/50, or at least, that had been the goal, i.e., to have 50% spent in-house on research and 50% spent externally on research by contractors.

Hochheiser:

You mentioned in passing that you had served a term on the AdCom. I looked up the dates. It was ’86 to ’89. Can you tell me a little more of what the AdCom, what you did as a member of the AdCom in this time or what the AdCom as a whole did?

Vig:

The AdCom is the Administrative Committee; the governing body of the society.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

Okay? So, let’s consider publications. The society has a journal, the Transactions on UFFC, so, for example, decisions about a new editor-in-chief…, the AdCom decides how to go about recruiting a new editor-in-chief. The AdCom approves the journal’s page budget. We also have a couple of cosponsored journals. People such as the VP of publications sit on the AdCom. The AdCom is responsible for the finances of the society; reviews how we’re doing financially; what the dues should be. It also budgets and authorizes the spending of money. The AdCom oversees the society’s three conferences. There are reports about income and expenses and surpluses and how we can do better financially. The AdCom selects the UFFC award winners. The AdCom has a fellows committee and oversees the operation of that committee. The AdCom also oversees the distinguished lecturer program. So, the AdCom is the governing body of the society. It doesn’t discuss research except maybe during coffee breaks. We discuss how to run the society; how to make the society more successful. And my initiatives included electronic publications. I advocated embracing electronic publications. Later, I was the first webmaster of the society’s website. I was the web editor-in-chief for a number of years.

Hochheiser:

This would have been a little bit later in your AdCom services.

Vig:

I think we started the website in the mid-nineties.

Hochheiser:

That makes more sense in terms of when people were really starting websites.

Vig:

Right. I was involved in publications, conferences and standards. I was eventually standards chair of the UFFC-S as well as chair of an SCC, Standards Coordinating Committee 27.

Hochheiser:

Which are the relevant standards in your field?

Vig:

During my years on the committee, we developed IEEE Standard 1139, IEEE Standard Definitions of Physical Quantities for Fundamental Frequency and Time Metrology—Random Instabilities, and, IEEE Standard 1193, IEEE Guide for Measurement of Environmental Sensitivities of Standard Frequency Generators. The committee has been inactive lately.

Hochheiser:

Is that because there are no standards that need work now?

Vig:

It’s partly that, and partly lack of motivation. Also, the UFFC society had a conflict with the SA (Standards Association), which I tried to correct during my years as the vice president of Technical Activities. The problem is that all the work on the standard is done within the society, or societies. When we finish, the SA takes it, does the balloting, and if the balloting is successful and it becomes an official standard, the SA takes it over and that’s the last we hear about “our” standard. So, we do nearly all the work. The SA gets the benefits, like the revenues from sales, and there’s no communication; no feedback to the societies. That was always a pet peeve of several of us in UFFC Society. I think that contributed to the lack of motivation to develop new standards. The UFFC-SA relationship should be a lot better and it isn’t.

Hochheiser:

Another thing that happened in the late 80s is you were elevated to the status of IEEE Fellow.

Vig:

Yes. That too came out of nowhere. I was at a Frequency Control Symposium, and again, Eduard Gerber who was the director of my laboratory, came up to me and, just out of the clear blue, said, “John, I think it is time for you to become an IEEE Fellow.” I said really? Thanks. [Laughter]. So, he asked me to provide him with information for the Fellow nomination form and, unfortunately, before he could complete the job, he died, suddenly. He was on vacation and he just slumped over and died.

Hochheiser:

A heart attack?

Vig:

A heart attack. So, another person, Warren Smith, of Bell Laboratories fame, took over the nomination, finished the nomination, and became my nominator for IEEE Fellow. He had been a well-known researcher and expert on crystal oscillators. I made it on the first try, so, I guess, Gerber had been right. Later, I became part of the Fellows Committee of UFFC Society and I served on that for, probably, more than 10 years; one of my many jobs in the UFFC Society.

Hochheiser:

So, what does the Fellows Committee do? Look for people from your area to nominate?

Vig:

Yes, that is part of it. The nominations can come from anyone. When a nomination is submitted it comes to the Society’s Fellows Committee.

Hochheiser:

Okay, so that’s the first level. Someone nominates someone. It goes to the Fellows Committee of their society.

Vig:

Right. And the Fellows Committee ranks the nominations. So, if we have 10 nominations, for example, we just rank them one through 10 and we forward the rankings to the IEEE Fellows Committee. We don’t select the fellows. The IEEE Fellows Committee selects. They’re the ones who decide yeah or nay. Officially, the Board of Directors has the final say.

Hochheiser:

Now, you mentioned to me how you came to run for President of UFFC, that Jan Brown approached you. Was this a contested election? Do you recall? The different societies do elections differently.

Vig:

Yes, it has always been a contested election. Well, there’s a call for nominations; I can’t remember who my opponent was. It happened about 20 years ago.

Hochheiser:

Then you probably don’t remember either how if at all you campaigned.

Vig:

I definitely did not campaign. The only time I’ve campaigned is, perhaps, when I was a candidate for President of IEEE, but, even then, I went only where I was invited.

Hochheiser:

Right, where it’s expected.

Vig:

Where it’s expected, but until then none of the positions I was ever elected to did I campaign for. By the way, I (as well as other presidents) got elected to be UFFC Society president by the AdCom; not by the UFFC membership.

TAB Experiences and Founding the Sensors Council

Hochheiser:

Since you’re now President of the Society, there are two things. One is you are now the president of the Society.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

And I want to ask you about that. The second thing is you’re now a member of TAB, the Technical Activities Board.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

I’d like you to talk about both of those things in whichever order you prefer.

Vig:

Okay. At the time when I was President of the UFFC Society and I started going to TAB meetings, my laboratory got a big budget cut. So, my lab director called three of us researchers into his office and told us that we must help him deal with the budget cut. He asked us to look at the library’s budget. He said, I looked at the library’s budget and I think we should be able to cut a half a million dollars out of it. We are spending an awful lot of money on the library. So, you three guys tell me how to cut half a million dollars from the library’s budget.

Until then I had no understanding of the economics of publishing. At that point I quickly became educated because what we did was to ask the librarian for a list of all the publications to which we subscribed and to order them by price from the most expensive to the least. And based on that we decided how to save half a million dollars. So, when the librarian gave us that list, I was absolutely astounded at the prices we were paying for some subscriptions. I remember one non-IEEE publication, which had been published by a commercial publisher, costing 27,000 dollars a year.

Hochheiser:

And this was back in the 90s?

Vig:

Yes. So, that surely got onto our hit list. We looked at the price list and we started crossing out journals, going down the list from the highest priced to the lowest. We kept crossing out and adding up the savings until we got to 500,000 dollars and we drew a line there and we told the librarian; okay, from now on you will continue subscriptions of the journals below the line and you will not renew the subscriptions above the line, but before you cancel any subscriptions, send a notice to all researchers and tell them that we are planning to cancel the following list of journals. If you really have a burning desire to continue some of these subscriptions, you have the option of taking the subscription cost out of your research budget, and if you want us to continue to subscribe, we’ll be more than happy to continue as long as you pay for it and the library budget doesn’t have to pay for it. That’s how we solved the half a million-dollar budget shortfall and that’s when I became aware of how outrageous the prices of some journals were.

One journal that I had been reading regularly was Sensors and Actuators because I was doing research not only on frequency control but, unofficially, on the inverse problem. The problem I had been working on in frequency control was how to make resonators more stable as a function of time, temperature, shock, etc. More stable resonators, for example, lead to more accurate clocks. So, by working on research on how to make resonators more stable, one naturally considers what makes for instability, and when you look at minimizing an instability, it’s interesting to also look at how to maximize the instability. Hence, the device becomes a sensor. All resonators are also sensors. They don’t intend to be, but they’re sensitive to vibration and shock and temperature and other factors. So, resonators can be very, very insensitive to temperature, but by making certain changes to the resonator, they can be very, very sensitive to temperature, hence, a temperature sensor. So, as a secondary research objective, unofficially, we always worked on sensors, too. I had a strong interest in sensors but the primary journal in the field was on our hit list. We were eliminating Sensors and Actuators, published by IEEE’s main competitor in publications, Elsevier.

And, at the time, as I remember, the price was like 5,000 dollars a year whereas a typical IEEE journal’s member price at the time was like 20 dollars a year. I said this was totally ridiculous. Why should a person have to pay 5,000 dollars for a publication? I mean, what a business! The publication gets the labor for free because just like in the IEEE, the authors don’t get paid, the reviewers don’t get paid, the editors don’t get paid. The way commercial publishers set the prices has little to do with the costs of publishing. It has to do with maximizing profits. The publisher is free to price the journal to maximize profits, which, I think is perfectly okay for a business to do. I have no objection to Elsevier trying to maximize profits. But the IEEE and other professional societies publish journals as a service to the community, and to, basically, break even plus a little. So, when I became a president of UFFC Society and started to go to TAB meetings, this had been on my mind.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

At my first TAB meeting as a society president, I started asking my fellow presidents; does your society do anything in sensors? Almost everybody I asked said yes. More than half the society presidents at the time answered yes. I said well, we have a mechanism called a “council” which is a collection of societies working in a common field of interest. I said why don’t we start a council? Some of them told me I was crazy, I shouldn’t even attempt starting a council, and some of them thought it was reasonable to try. One told me that I just didn’t understand the complexities of what I was talking about. So, I started organizing an effort to create an IEEE sensors council. Initially, when I first proposed it, virtually everybody was opposed to it. They said no. I remember the then president of the Instrumentation and Measurement Society was very adamant. He said, we don’t need a sensors council, the IMS is the sensor organization of IEEE.

And then another society would say well, we’re doing sensors. You know, the NPS society says we’re doing radiation sensors, and another says we’re doing optical sensors, and the third one says we’re doing mechanical sensors. We’re doing pressure-sensors. And I said well, you do sensors, you do sensors, you do sensors, and you do sensors. I said, everybody seems to be doing sensors, but we have no journal in the field, and we have no major conference in the field. Therefore, the logical thing to do is to create an organization that coordinates all these activities within IEEE and focuses on sensors. We have nothing significant in sensors right now. Elsevier’s is the leading publication in sensors. Why doesn’t IEEE start a council and a sensors journal? I think there’s a potential here for the IEEE’s publication on sensors to become the dominant sensor publication.

So, I presented a proposal to TAB in June 1998. The then VP of TAB, Pete Morley, was supportive. He formed an ad hoc committee and appointed me to chair that committee. He assigned the ad hoc to come back in November with a proposed constitution and bylaws. The committee did come back with a proposed constitution, bylaws, and a fields of interest statement. I presented these in November and I came back the following February to propose the establishment of the IEEE Sensors Council. So, in less than a year from the time I proposed it, in June, to the following February, I went from having almost everybody oppose the idea to TAB voting nearly unanimously to approve the creation of the Sensors Council. Twenty-six societies, a record, joined the Sensors Council. And then we followed with the organization the IEEE Sensors Journal and we published the first issue of that journal in June 2001. The first year we published only 400 pages. That has grown beautifully and this year, 2011, we’ll have published 3,500 pages, which is more than the number of pages most IEEE journals publish. So, it’s been a tremendously successful activity. (Note added later: by 2018, the Sensors Journal published more than 10,000 pages, which was the second highest among the 200 or so periodicals IEEE was publishing that year.)

Our first conference was IEEE Sensors 2002, held in Orlando, Florida, USA. We had more than 400 attendees, which was already more than the average sized IEEE conference. And that too has grown where last year we had 800 attendees. This year it is going to be in Ireland in a couple of weeks, and next year—I happen to be the general co-chair of next year’s conference, it will be in Taiwan. The conference has a policy of rotating its locations from continent to continent; one year in the Americas, next year in Europe or Africa, third year in Asia/Pacific, and then back to the Americas. So, we are a truly global organization with respect to our conference, as well as our Journal. We typically have more attendees from outside the U.S. than from inside the U.S. This is especially true when the conference is held outside the U.S.

Hochheiser:

Besides your work in developing the Sensors Council, were there other things you did as UFFC President?

Vig:

Yes. I was strongly in favor of competing with our competition. The IEEE is usually a poor competitor. Our philosophy seems to be, “If you build it, they shall come.” Well, maybe. Someone has also said that “Doing business without advertising is like winking at a person in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.” We seem to be doing a lot of winking in the dark. There are good reasons for the advertising business being a multi-billion-dollar industry.

I was asked to make opening remarks at one of the UFFC-S’ conferences, and in my remarks, I told the attendees to be sure to support our journal, the Transactions on UFFC. I also mentioned that a competing journal, the journal Ferroelectrics, cost more than $20,000 a year and that a member of IEEE can subscribe to our Transactions for, I think it was like 15 dollars in those days. I asked, why would you publish in a journal that you can’t afford versus a journal that’s, basically, your journal? You can easily afford ours. It’s the price of a lunch. Why would you not support our Transactions?

Well, it turns out that somebody from that commercial publisher’s organization was in the audience. I got a letter from their lawyer demanding that I retract my remarks and that I publish something in the newsletter of the Society to retract my remarks. They accused me of having made false statements, which, of course, I hadn’t. There were witnesses who were willing to testify that I hadn’t.

I didn’t know how to handle that letter, so I referred the matter to the IEEE’s lawyers at Dorsey and Whitney. An IEEE lawyer sent back a response and, eventually, the publisher went away, probably because they knew that they had no case. They tried to intimidate us by threatening legal action because of my remarks. The remarks I had made are very unusual in IEEE. We don’t…, we’re not very good competitors. I’ve been advocating that we should advertise our prices and compare them to the commercial publishers’ prices and I have not been able to convince my colleagues in the leadership to do that for reasons I don’t fully understand.

Hochheiser:

Being on TAB, was this your first exposure to overall IEEE activities as opposed to your society?

Vig:

Yes. That was my first exposure. Before that my IEEE world had been limited to the UFFC Society. And I knew very little, and I cared very little, about what happened in Piscataway. I hardly knew where IEEE’s main activities were located. I never had an occasion to learn about it. I never had a need to learn about it. So, that was the first time I became aware of what IEEE was about and all the different activities of IEEE.

Hochheiser:

What was TAB like in those days?

Vig:

Dysfunctional, as always. [Laughter]. Actually, TAB in those days was more…what’s the right word?... Chaotic, perhaps. There were more mavericks, and more people who were outspoken in those days than lately. There were some really outspoken people, me being one of them. There are so many things that could be done better. Some of us are not afraid to stand up and ask, “hey, why are we doing this?!” One such achievement took place after I had learned of an IEEE-level committee called the RepCom, and that we had a Rep List. Now, the rep-list was about qualifications for membership; that if you came from a certain field, if you had a degree in a certain field, you were eligible for membership. If your specialty was not on the rep-list, you were not eligible to become an IEEE member. When I looked at that list, it had, for example, “engineer” as one of the 156 different fields that qualified one for membership. There was staff assigned to check applications for membership against this list. And when I looked at the process, I thought this was idiotic. One of the categories was engineer. Other categories were different kinds of engineers, like, “high voltage engineer” was one of the categories. I said if an engineer is qualified, then why do we need mechanical engineer, civil engineer, high voltage engineer, and all these other engineers? And nobody could answer. Nobody knew. Nobody knew how this list and process had come about.

So, I went to TAB and I proposed that TAB recommend to the board of directors that the Rep List be eliminated. My motion passed, unanimously. Unanimously! It was unheard of in TAB for something to pass unanimously, but this motion passed unanimously. So, it went to the Board and the people who served on the RepCom were up in arms. They said, “over our dead bodies.” The then Chair and the then Chair-elect were both adamantly opposed to eliminating this committee. They also made arguments as to why their committee should not be eliminated. I enlisted Moshe Kam and Marc Apter as two of my allies in the effort as both had been supportive. We convinced the board that this was a counterproductive activity and that the RepCom and the Rep-List should be eliminated. The Board voted to eliminate both.

So, that’s one of the few occasions in IEEE that something has been sunset. The common saying among my friends in IEEE is that we are very good at creating things, but we are not good at sunsetting things. Well, here was one example, and it might have been a unique example, that we succeeded in sunsetting something.

This issue was not a big deal, but it’s one of my proud achievements. And in fact, we replaced that Rep-List with six broad categories, the “IEEE designated fields.”

The six are: Engineering; Computer Sciences and Information Technology; Physical Sciences; Biological and Medical Sciences; Mathematics; Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. We designated the fields so that almost anybody who is interested in technology; who has a background in technology can qualify for membership. The six “IEEE-designated fields” is now enshrined in IEEE’s Bylaws I-104.11. The predicted dire consequences of eliminating the Rep List have not materialized. Membership had grown to record levels in the years that followed the elimination.

Hochheiser:

So, between the UFFC presidency and the Sensors Council, you had a fair number of years as a TAB member.

Vig:

Yes, two years as president of UFFC Society, two years as the president of the Sensors Council, two as a division director, and then three as TAB VP. Nine years total but in four different positions. Three as VP because the VP serves on TAB as VP elect, VP, and then past VP. (Note added in August 2019: In November 2018, Vig was elected to be Chair of the TAB/PSPB Products and Services Committee for the 2019-2020 term by a joint meeting of TAB and PSPB. During his term he served on TAB as well as on PSPB.)

Hochheiser:

That’s a long time to serve on TAB.

Vig:

Yes. But it was in four different positions. I wouldn’t want to see too many people serve on TAB for that many years but, I wouldn’t want to see all new blood in TAB either. There is no danger of ossification in TAB. Most incoming presidents are new blood. Having a mix of a few highly experienced members, and most incoming members being new blood is good for TAB.

Hochheiser:

Of course. What made you want to be the vice president for Technical Activities?

Vig:

I never sought the position. The possibility never even occurred to me, but then, it happened very quickly. Here is how it happened.

I think by then I must have been Director of Division IX. I was at the TAB meeting and, as it happens every year, the Nominations and Appointments Committee proposed a slate of candidates for the next TAB VP-elect. They projected the names on the screen. I looked at those names and I said to myself, “Hmm, I wouldn’t have picked those but, so be it.” And then, during the next break, Hal Flesher, who was also on TAB at the time, came running up to me and said, in his inimitable way, “John, do you really want one of those turds to be VP?” I said, no, not particularly. He says “Good. I’ll start a petition and put you on the slate.” Before the break was over, he had collected more than the required number of signatures to put me on that slate. And out of the clear blue I suddenly had to prepare a five-minute speech to TAB. I made my speech and TAB selected me to be one of the candidates. And, in the next annual election, I got elected.

Crazy! So, I never sought the position. It just came out of the clear blue like that. I never talked to Hal, or anyone, about the VP position before that TAB meeting.

Hochheiser:

But when Hal suggested it to you—

Vig:

[Interposing] I didn’t object. I thought it was funny; I didn’t think Hal was going to succeed in putting me on the ballot. But he did it. It’s hard to resist Hal. [Laughter]

Division Director, First Term on the Board, TAB VP, Presidential Candidate

Hochheiser:

Now, is there a presumption that if you’re Vice President of TAB you will then become President?

Vig:

No, absolutely not, though it is not unusual for the VP to become a candidate for President. Do you want to know how I became President?

Hochheiser:

Please.

Vig:

Now this was something I learned after the fact because everything that the Nominations and Appointments Committee does is in executive session. So, nothing is supposed to get outside the N&A’s meeting room. In fact, now, this year, I’m the chair of the N and A Committee and we just had our meeting last month. My lips are sealed. I can’t talk about what happened.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

But, thanks to a friend in a high place, I did manage to find out that I had been proposed to the N and A Committee repeatedly, and each time they did not select me because somebody always said something like, “John Vig? He is too controversial.” So, I had the reputation of being, quote unquote, too controversial, and so the N&A never proposed me as a candidate for IEEE President. When I was VP TAB and the N and A Committee came to the Board with their recommendation as to who should be the candidates for president, Steve Diamond, who was a fellow director, raised his hand and proposed my name from the floor. In those days there was a possibility for nominations from the floor. Today there isn’t. You must be a petition candidate and you must submit your petition 10 days before the board meeting.

Hochheiser:

Right, but there was this alternate way where the board, as a whole, could nominate someone.

Vig:

Right. So, Steve Diamond says, I nominate John Vig to be a candidate for IEEE President. The motion was seconded. As I recall, it took a minimum of five directors to second the motion. I had to leave the room, and the Board of Directors voted to make me a candidate, on the spot, during the Board meeting. And that’s how it happened. Again, I didn’t seek the position. I hadn’t asked Steve Diamond to nominate me, and I hadn’t tried to convince anybody on the board to nominate me from the floor or to support Steve Diamond’s motion. It was Steve Diamond who made it happen.

Hochheiser:

Uh-huh. If we can back up a bit to being the president of TAB.

Vig:

Actually, I was vice-president of TAB. The person who heads TAB has two titles.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

In TAB, he is the TAB Chair. TAB is a committee of the Board of Directors. On the Board of Directors, by virtue of being Chair of TAB, the Chair sits on the Board of Directors and there he or she is the Vice President of TAB. Okay So, it’s a little confusing. There’s a VP of TAB. There’s no president of TAB.

Hochheiser:

Right, I just got tied up in the Terminology. So as Vice President for Technical Activities…well, there are a couple of things. One is you are now the Chair of TAB in that position. How does one chair TAB? You were talking about how dysfunctional…

Vig:

[Interposing] With difficulty.

Hochheiser:

You’re not the first person who commented about how dysfunctional TAB can be.

Vig:

Yes. It was an interesting experience, but I did okay, I think. TAB can be managed. I think people mean well. And the fact that people have heated discussions I think is good. It shows that people care.

Hochheiser:

Any particular major issues you recall TAB having heated discussions on in this period?

Vig:

Yes, like branding. Branding was a disaster, an absolute disaster.

Hochheiser:

Within TAB?

Vig:

Within IEEE. At one point, the then Executive Director came to TAB to talk to us about branding and I don’t know if the history of branding…this should be in the history, Global History Network, but I doubt if anybody has documented the fiasco about branding. The then Executive Director wanted to—

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] Who was…?

Vig:

Dan Senese

Hochheiser:

Okay, so this was when Senese was Executive Director. Now I have a better idea of when we’re talking about.

Vig:

Yes. He was a proponent of branding; i.e., changing the IEEE brand. There was a need to improve our image and branding, but the way he went about it really ticked off a lot of people. He wanted to change the IEEE logo and things like that. One guy I remember speaking about the logo with tears in his eyes. Cleon Anderson had a real devotion to the logo and he did not want it changed. He knew the history of the kite. For some reason this was a very emotional subject for some people because a logo has a long history, you know, from Benjamin Franklin’s kite and all that. There’s something somewhere on the IEEE website that explains the IEEE logo. So, people have a warm spot for the IEEE logo and don’t anybody try to change it!

Dan Senese wanted to change that as well as some other things and it became a heated discussion. And at one-point Dan Senese came to TAB and talked to TAB and, again, I don’t know what the rules are about executive session, whether or not you can talk about it ever or, or not. I mean Dan Senese has passed away by now and—

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] Right.

Vig:

—and this was a long time ago. Ten years ago? So, I’m not sure if I can talk about it, but after Dan Senese talked to TAB— somebody asked him about how far along the branding activity was. Dan tried to dismiss it as well, just in a discussion stage, and a guy said, in that case—and he pulled out a page from the Wall Street Journal—he said, in that case, can you explain why there’s an ad in the Wall Street Journal saying that IEEE is looking for a person who is a specialist in branding? And Dan Senese hemmed and hawed and tried to explain it, but after Dan’s performance was over, one of the presidents called for an executive session. And TAB went into executive session.

Vig:

I can’t tell you what happened, but, on the other hand, it’s part of IEEE history.

Hochheiser:

It is.

Vig:

It is, and I think it’s an important part. I mean the history should reflect controversial issues.

Hochheiser:

Well, absolutely. History is not a whitewash.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

My initial feeling is, because Dan Senese is deceased talking about it should not be a problem, but we’ll figure it out.

Vig:

It should not be a problem, but some people might think it’s unfair if Dan has no chance to defend himself.

Hochheiser:

Yes, and it’s certainly true. If Dan were alive, he would be someone we’d very much wish to do an oral history with.

Vig:

OK, so, I won’t tell you what happened in that executive session but, you can probably guess.

Hochheiser:

Another position you held along this time was the Division IX Director.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

Now, is that before or after you were Vice President of TAB?

Vig:

That was before.

Hochheiser:

Okay. So, we skipped something. I thought we had. And again, how did you come to this position?

Vig:

During TAB meetings there are division meetings. UFFC was part of Division IX. At one of the Division IX presidents’ breakfast meeting, one of the topics on the agenda was a discussion of who should be the candidates for Division IX Director. And it was a small group of presidents. There were only five or six Society presidents around the table. It’s usually the large societies’ presidents who run for Division Director. As UFFC has only 2,000 members it’s one of the smallest societies. I was surprised that one of the fellow presidents proposed that I be a candidate, and another seconded the suggestion. And, so I became a candidate. I ran against somebody who was from a much larger society, about 10x larger society, and I lost by a few votes. I was renominated the following year and I got elected.

Hochheiser:

So, now this then would have been the first time you were on the overall IEEE Board?

Vig:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

What were your impressions of the IEEE board meetings at this point?

Vig:

I felt that too was dysfunctional, especially because we had a president who was somewhat dysfunctional. [Laughter]. The then president had open conflicts with members of the board. Does he have an oral history?

Hochheiser:

Yes, it’s on the GHN. You can read it.

Vig:

I’ll have to look at it. I wonder what he said about his term as president.

Hochheiser:

Well, rather than try to remember, let me recommend that you read it.

Vig:

Okay. I will look at it.

Hochheiser:

Now, also around this period there was a problem with the IEEE reserves declining.

Vig:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

And I gather that this was a problem that you addressed?

Vig:

Yes. At the start of my term on the Board, I got a phone call one day from the then-president. He asked me to serve on the Audit Committee, and I said, well, I really have no special qualifications to be on the Audit Committee, but I do have qualifications for being on the Investment Committee since I have been a student of the markets since I was in high school, and I’ve educated myself about the stock and bond markets. I said I’d much prefer to serve on the Investment Committee. He said in that case I’ll appoint you to the Investment Committee, and he did. So, I ended up serving three years on the Investment Committee; two years as the Board representative and a third year as the TAB representative. Those were interesting years. I had some issues there too, especially when we found out how much money we had lost.

Hochheiser:

Well, that was the dot-com bubble bursting and the stock market was going way down.

Hochheiser:

Is there anything else from your years as Division Director and then as Vice President that you’d like to talk about?

Vig:

Yes. There was an ad hoc committee of the board called the Trust and Communications Committee, which came about because some of us complained that there’s a great deal of distrust in IEEE; volunteers not trusting other volunteers, especially in TAB, and there had been mistrust among volunteers and staff too. TAB’s attitude had been that “they” are doing “it” to us. And the “they” was usually the Board of Directors or staff. Some of us felt strongly that we ought to improve the communication amongst staff, the Board of Directors, and TAB. If we can improve the communications, we can also automatically improve the trust, and so, a Trust and Communications AdHoc Committee was created. I volunteered to serve on it and we came up with proposals; controversial ones. The then-president, even though he agreed to create the committee, was not happy with some of our proposals. He actually told one of our committee members, Virginia Sulzberger, that she couldn’t speak at one point, which was kind of appalling.

We did change some things, however. For example, the IEEE budget was a big secret at the time. Only the Board of Directors and quote unquote “trusted staff” had access to the budget. Most of the revenues, about 80%, is produced by TAB. Why can’t TAB members have access to the IEEE budget? I said, in fact, why can’t everybody have access to the IEEE budget? What’s the big secret? I said, if I were to take the budget and mail a copy to Elsevier, our main competitor, what could they possibly do with that? Nobody was able to answer that question but the general feeling, especially among staff, was that this is just not done; that we should not make the budget available to everyone; that we should continue to keep it a secret. So, we finally compromised. I proposed that the budget be made available to directors, which had always been the case, director elects, which up until then wasn’t the case, and Society and Council presidents, which also hadn’t been the case. That, as far as I know, is still in the Finance Operations Manual. So, we increased transparency and, I think, that has contributed to increased trust throughout IEEE. More people could see what IEEE’s revenues and expenses were; where the money was going; and where the money was coming from. Nobody was able to explain why that shouldn’t be public information. I still don’t understand why, at least a sanitized version, should not be public information, but at least it’s now semi-public. At least a lot more people now have access to the budget than before.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

Another motion I proposed was to put the IEEE’s form 990, which is our US tax return, on the IEEE website. This came about because one of my fellow directors at one of the board meetings was passing around a note. It was a secret note showing something that he had copied from a document where the Executive Director’s salary had been listed. At the time Dan Senese was making something like a half a million dollars a year, and this too was a big secret. Nobody was supposed to know except the sitting Directors. And I investigated the matter and found that the tax returns of not-for-profit organizations are supposed to be public information. Non-profit organizations are supposed to make their tax returns available to the public, and an organization called GuideStar[6] collects these and makes them available on their website. The info was not easy to find, but if you invested some effort, you could find IEEE’s tax return online at GuideStar. I said, well if IEEE’s tax return can be found on GuideStar’s website, why shouldn’t it be on IEEE’s own website?

So, I proposed a motion that the IEEE’s tax return be posted on the IEEE website, and that passed. It’s been posted every year ever since. Now, anyone can look at IEEE’s tax return. And within that tax return are the salaries of the highest paid ten or so employees, including the executive director’s. It’s been posted every year. Not a big deal. It hasn’t caused any problems. There was absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t have been posted earlier, but, at least, now it’s posted. If disclosing the ED’s salary can cause a problem, the solution is not to make the salary a secret but to have an explanation; a justification for why the ED deserves a half a million dollars a year. By the way, it’s easy to explain, as that’s the going rate for those in comparable positions; i.e., those who manage about a thousand staff, must deal with about 200,000 volunteers, and a budget of more than 300 million dollars. IEEE hires a consultant who specializes in comparability studies – to make sure that staff compensations are in line with what similar organizations pay.

A third thing was that a lot of things in IEEE are stamped confidential, and when I investigated that, it turned out that anybody could declare a document confidential. So, staff had routinely made documents confidential. There was no rule about who could mark something confidential. There was no rule about what could be marked confidential. There was no rule about the expiration date of a confidential marking. So, I proposed a motion that we establish procedures for what is and what is not confidential. And that was done, and it became an IEEE bylaw that specified how and why things could be marked confidential. And I think that significantly cut the number of documents that are marked confidential.

Hochheiser:

I would expect it should.

Vig:

So, these were some of the controversial items during my two years as Division IX Director.

Hochheiser:

Any other things from your years as director or Vice President for Technical Activities?

Vig:

Yes. When I first got onto the Board of Directors, volunteers were told that they were not allowed to vote by email. I found that hard to believe so I dug into it. The reason was, I was told, that IEEE is incorporated in New York state, and New York law does not provide for email voting. I discussed the matter with IEEE’s attorney at the time, Bob Dwyer. I asked him what the consequences of changing our incorporation to, for example, Delaware would be (where email voting is permitted). I also asked if there might be a way around New York state law. He determined that, OUs that don’t report directly to the Board can use email voting. Only the Board, and those who report directly to the Board, were not allowed to use email voting. So, I introduced a motion and, of course, everyone wanted email voting, so the Board approved it. And email voting has really made a difference. Societies, sections, chapters, standards committees, etc. can now make decisions in-between face-to-face meetings.

Hochheiser:

Any other controversies in TAB?

Vig:

Yes. Most of the time it revolved around finances. Everything boils down to finances and people were constantly objecting to quote unquote “the taxes.” And every time the subject of money came up people would complain about the fact that we were being taxed. The sentiment was that “We make the money for IEEE and others spend it.”

Hochheiser:

We, being the TAB members?

Vig:

Yes; we, TAB; the societies and councils. We, TAB bring it in, I think it’s about 80% of IEEE’s revenues; through our publications and conferences, even standards are really done by TAB, and others spend it and we have no control over how others spend it. And we are being taxed, taxed, and taxed was the constant refrain. So, I worked with Mary Ward-Callan who was (and is) the managing director of TAB and I asked her to look at the numbers and have an overhead calculated. And when she and her staff did that, it turned out that the overhead TAB was paying was quite reasonable. It turned out that, on the average, we were paying about a 22% overhead. So, at the following TAB meeting, I said to TAB, look guys, you keep complaining about being taxed. If we call the tax an overhead, which we should, here’s what the picture looks like, and I showed that the societies and councils had an average overhead of about 22%, and much of that was due to the Society’s own expenses. The information is shown in slide 17 of the presentation, Key Issues Facing TAB.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

The so-called “IEEE central’s” expenses were…I forget the exact number, but it was less than half of the total overhead. So, if you deducted the part of the overhead which was due to the Society’s own activities, what remained was well under 20%. And I asked TAB, how many of you work for organizations where the overhead is lower than 20%, and not a single hand went up. That quieted down the complaints about the “taxing” and the talk about how “they” are doing it to us. The “tax” complaints had gone away to a large extent.

The other major issue of mine was IEEE getting into life sciences, which was an opportunity that others too had identified. I started a life sciences ad hoc committee but, unfortunately, I made the mistake of appointing a person to chair it whom I hadn’t known but who had been recommended to me. She turned out to be highly controversial. Just as was the case for sensors—where there were societies who thought that they owned sensors—EMBS and a couple of other societies felt that they owned life sciences and, therefore, we needed no special activity in life sciences. So, the ad hoc committee, unfortunately, was unsuccessful. I ended my term as TAB VP without having created a council or committee on life sciences. That effort has been resurrected and now Moshe Kam has made it a board initiative to create a life sciences activity and that is ongoing. I wish him better luck than I had.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

The argument for IEEE being in life sciences is that there are many things that are happening at the intersection of life sciences and IEEE’s fields of interest. IEEE should be more heavily involved because that’s where many of our potential future members are. That’s a field that’s growing faster than most of IEEE’s other fields of interest. It’s a huge field. We should go out of our way to make people who work in that field feel welcome in IEEE.

You walk into a hospital. Virtually everywhere you look you see IEEE technologies; the x-ray machines, the computers, the robotics, etc. Robotic surgery, for example, is now a big thing. Ultrasonics in medicine, such as echocardiograms, carotid artery tests, lithotripsy, HIFU (high-intensity focused ultrasound), etc.; my home society’s field, is a big thing. Ultrasonics in medicine is now the biggest part of my home society, UFFC.

Biomedical engineering is a huge field, but the people who work in that field don’t think of IEEE as their professional society. So, I saw a huge potential, as did others. I also saw getting into life sciences to be a means for helping our diversity, especially gender diversity. Among higher grade IEEE members, only about 9% were/are women. That percentage is much higher in the life sciences. That was another reason I advocated that IEEE become more heavily involved in life sciences.

Speaking of diversity, we had indications but little hard data about the degree of diversity, or lack thereof. I had been thinking about a way to measure how diverse we were. I mentioned this to Marc Apter and the two of us decided to propose the creation of a Transnational Scorecard. We did; it passed, and Technical Activities staff was assigned the task of creating the scorecard and updating it annually. The 2004 Scorecard is attached. Later versions of the Scorecard included more details. The Scorecards made the leadership and members aware of some drastic inequities.

As an aside, one day while sitting in a Board meeting, I counted the US vs. non-US directors. Not surprisingly, there were significantly more directors who lived in the US. However, when I counted by country of birth, surprisingly, there were about an equal number of US-born and non-US-born directors. This observation could make for an interesting discussion someday.

I’d like to mention another controversy in TAB, just to document this bit of IEEE’s history. As I’d mentioned, the issues surrounding finances had been controversial. In 2001-2002, a group of society presidents wanted to hire an outside consultant to examine the financial processes and recommend better ways of allocating expenses to the organizational units (OUs). They convinced TAB to recommend to the BoD to hire a consultant. The BoD said no. The group of presidents, mostly of the larger societies, then volunteered their societies to pay for a consultant. (The estimated cost had been less than US$100K.) The BoD acquiesced and so a consultant, BDO Seidman, LLP, was hired.

Quoting from the executive summary of their final report, “In June 2002, BDO Seidman, LLP was engaged to perform a study of the efficiency and effectiveness of the IEEE corporate infrastructure. As part of that study we were also tasked with evaluating the process and methodology used to allocate corporate infrastructure costs to the various IEEE Organizational Units.”

The report not only recommended better ways of allocating infrastructure charges to the OUs, it also mentioned the word “trust” 19 times. The final phrase of the report is, “if regaining trust can be made a priority, the IEEE can achieve quantum leaps in efficiency and firmly position itself as the leading professional technical society for years to come.”

Hochheiser:

Around the time, in 2006, you retired from the Labs at Fort Monmouth.

Vig:

Yes, but may I first digress for a moment to tell you about an uneasy trip during my IEEE travels?

Hochheiser:

Sure!

Vig:

Around the time I was VP, TAB, there was a Region meeting, and, concurrently, an ExCom meeting in Krakow, Poland. Being somewhat familiar with the sad history of Jews in Krakow (most of them had been murdered during World War II), and with the city’s proximity to Auschwitz, where millions of Jews and others had been murdered, including more than 10 close relatives of mine, I was uneasy about going to this meeting, but I went anyway. One day the IEEE group went on an excursion to Auschwitz. Everyone went except me. I just couldn’t do it. When the group returned, Dick Schwartz handed me a small stone that he had picked up while in Auschwitz. It had been thoughtful of him. (It is a Jewish tradition to leave a stone or pebble on a grave.)

While I’m telling you anecdotes about my time as VP of TAB, here is another interesting one, one that illustrates the complexities of leading a diverse, global organization.

One day during my term as VP, I received a message from a member who had just returned from a conference in Saudi Arabia. The first item in a technical session had been "Readings from the Koran." He wanted to know if IEEE had any rules against that. That surely opened a can of worms... The answer turned out to be NO. So, I argued at a Board meeting that such readings should be allowed – but only outside the technical sessions, not as part of a technical session where some attendees may not wish to be subjected to such a reading. The then IEEE president thought otherwise. He strongly advised me to drop the matter. So, I’d lost the argument.

Yet another anecdote, if I may, which may be useful to future VPs. When I served on the Board as TAB VP, during coffee breaks and at other opportunities I often talked with fellow directors about IEEE issues.

The ones to whom I talked most often were three other VPs; Leah Jamieson, Marc Apter and Moshe Kam. We seemed to have similar interests, and all four of us usually had strong opinions. There never seemed to be enough time to complete our discussions, so, one day, one of us suggested that we get together for a day at a Newark Airport hotel. We did, and it turned out to have been a highly productive day. So, we got together again about a month later, and then again…

The then president learned of our meetings and got upset with us. He actually yelled at us and told us that what we were doing was collusion; it was illegal. After a bit of arguing, one of us suggested that we ask Bob Dwyer (IEEE’s attorney at the time.) We described the situation in an email message to Bob. He gave us a one-sentence response, “The more communications among directors, the better.” So, we, the four VPs, continued to meet.

During our meetings, we discussed a mix of strategic and operational issues, as can be seen in the minutes of one of the meetings. Interestingly, three of the four of us later served as an IEEE president; Leah in 2007, I in 2009, Moshe in 2011, and Marc was a candidate for president in 2007.

Hochheiser:

What led you to retire in 2006?

Vig:

IEEE played a big part. I was spending more and more time on IEEE. I had a very understanding boss who didn’t object to my IEEE activities, but I felt guilty about it. I would go to work. The first thing I would usually do is turn on my email and the IEEE emails usually outnumbered the emails related to my day job. So, I spent much of my day and night, and weekends, doing IEEE stuff.

Another factor was that the laboratory in which I had worked was no longer the exciting research organization it was when I started working there. We had budget cuts and cultural changes. More and more work, including research, was contracted out. Less and less work was done in-house. So, after 36 years I decided it was time to do something else.

Now, part of my job, since the 1990s, had been consulting for DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA had been doing far-out, “high-risk, high-payoff” projects in my areas of technical interest. They called on me to help them, give them advice; help them start programs, review proposals, participate in meetings, and critique the programs they were sponsoring. This had been part of my job, so I hadn’t gotten paid extra for it. When I decided to retire, I spoke to one of the DARPA program managers I was supporting. I told him that I had decided to retire at the end of February. This was in 2006. The first thing he said, without any hesitation, was,” oh, OK, no problem. We’ll just pick you up as a contractor.” So, within a week after I retired, I had a job working for a DARPA contractor as a paid consultant. Today, I still work for a DARPA contractor as a part-time consultant. The work is at the forefront of my area of expertise.

Hochheiser:

Well sure.

Vig:

I came back recently from a DARPA review in Newport Beach, California, USA, and I’m going to another one shortly. “It’s nice work if you can get it.” So, that’s part of what I’ve been doing since I retired. And the rest of it is IEEE…and dancing; ballroom dancing, which is my main hobby, and my wife’s too, fortunately. In a typical week, my wife and I go dancing at least twice a week. That reminds me; although my wife hadn’t come with me on most of my trips, I did manage to dance occasionally during my presidential travels, as evidenced by the two pictures below; one at the Region 9 Committee Meeting, and the other at the R8 Committee Meeting.

I’m back working for UFFC-S and I’m back working for the Sensors Council. The positions, titles, I don’t care about. I’m no longer on an IEEE career path but when I’m asked to do a job, I am happy to do it – well, I’m happy to do most but not all jobs. And, when I see a need, I volunteer to help.

Hochheiser:

We touched briefly on how you first came to run for president, being nominated from the floor with the board.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

So, you ran for president twice?

Vig:

Yes. The first time I ran against Lew Terman and I lost.

Hochheiser:

Right. Terman was president in 2008, which means this election was fall of 2006. Lew was president-elect in 2007. You were president elect in 2008 and president in 2009, right. So, around the same time you were retiring, you first ran for president.

Vig:

Yes. The two events are connected. I retired partly because IEEE was taking up too much of my time, so, the decent thing to do was to retire.

Hochheiser:

I assume unlike the various other offices, president did involve some campaigning.

Vig:

It involved a lot of traveling. We didn’t really campaign; I mean, it depends on how you define campaigning. One of the good things about the first time I ran versus the second time is that Lew and I had agreed that we would travel together. I proposed to Lew that, if I get invited some place where you don’t get invited, I will not accept the invitation unless you get invited too. If I travel, I will not travel unless we travel together, and if you agree that you will do the same, I think it will make our lives easier. He readily agreed, and we traveled together everywhere, which was nice. We became friends along the way and we had some excellent discussions about what needed to happen in IEEE. Although we had come from vastly different backgrounds but, we got along fine.

By the way, when I say “we,” that always included Lew and his wife Bobbi, who traveled with us, everywhere. My wife traveled with us only occasionally; usually when I had business near mountains; she loves mountains, not so much cities.

I had two opponents the second time I ran. And I made the same traveling-together proposal to the two guys and neither was interested. And later I found out that one of them had spent nearly double what I had spent on traveling. He WAS campaigning. I had spent about what my travel budget was. And out of the three candidates, the one who spent about double the budgeted amount came in third, which was sort of poetic justice.

Hochheiser:

Did IEEE pay the expenses for your candidacy?

Vig:

The candidates had a travel budget, but the budget was inadequate. So, I spent about as much as my budget allowed, but, as I said, one of my opponents spent nearly twice as much.

Hochheiser:

So he’s spending out of pocket on top of what IEEE—

Vig:

[Interposing] No.

Hochheiser:

No?

Vig:

He got reimbursed.

Hochheiser:

He got reimbursed even though he went way over the budget?

Vig:

Yes. And when I mentioned this to one of the staff directors, his answer was “well, who’s going to say no to a possible future president of IEEE? Who is going to tell him that he has to stop traveling?”

Hochheiser:

Yes? [Laughter].

Vig:

I said oh, OK.

Hochheiser:

When you ran for president—and it may or may not be different for the two times—did you have a particular platform, particular things that you wanted to do that you discussed with the members?

Vig:

Yes, I had many things. One was about investments, or the lack thereof. And, I don’t mean stocks and bonds. I mean investments in our future. We are a rich professional society. I don’t know what the number is today, but we’ve had as much as 200 million dollars in the bank, that is, in reserves, and we spend very little of it on preparing for our future. We invest very little of our reserves on the future of IEEE. So, I advocated investing more, in new products and services and in membership benefits.

Another proposal I had, when I was in TAB, was to create a “TAB venture capital fund.” That was, again, a controversial issue. The then-TAB-treasurer shot down the idea with a comment, “We already have the FinCom. We don’t need a separate committee to decide where IEEE’s money should go.” So, my proposal was voted down. I couldn’t sell it against the treasurer’s opposition. But later, somebody picked up that idea and proposed the same thing except they renamed it. Instead of a “venture capital fund” which some thought was too commercial sounding, they renamed it to “the New Initiatives” program.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

So, now IEEE has a New Initiatives Committee and there’s a formula in the Finance Operations Manual about how much of its reserves an OU can invest. I don’t recall the exact formula but, it comes out to about three to four million dollars a year, IEEE-wide, or, about one percent of revenues and two percent of reserves, which is not a huge amount of money for an organization whose sales are approaching 400 million dollars a year, and whose reserves are about 200 million. Some of the most successful companies in Silicon Valley, for example, spend 10% or more of their revenues on research. And IEEE spends very little on its future relative to its revenues and reserves. My idea was that anybody, from the lowest student member to the highest levels of the Board of Directors, anybody, including staff, by the way, could propose a project to develop new products and services. I would have preferred that a higher percentage of our reserves be invested in our future.

Hochheiser:

Though it was certainly one of the ones beyond 25,000 dollars, as I’m sure you know, that’s where the funding came to get the whole Global History Network going. [Note added later: The Global History Network, GHN.org, was later renamed to ETHW.org, the Engineering and Technology History Wiki.] So, I’m well familiar with that program and the New Initiatives Committee that runs it. Since, that’s the core of how we do things at the History Center.

Vig:

That’s good. If you have a good idea that would benefit IEEE, you don’t have to, necessarily, take the funds out of your budget. You can apply for new initiative funding.

Hochheiser:

And it worked for us.

Vig:

I would hope somebody like you would propose documenting the history of the organization while people like Eric Herz, Irv Engelson, and Mischa Schwartz are alive. IEEE’s history has not been written since 1984.

Hochheiser:

Your suggestion that we interview, ask Mischa if he’d be interested in being interviewed is an excellent one. [Note: There is an interview with Mischa Schwartz, on the GHN. It was done in 1999] Irv we’ve done and it’s a really fine interview.

Vig:

It’s a shame that Eric hasn’t reviewed his interview. I’m going to call him and twist his arm. And if he wants to do another session—

Hochheiser:

I would be more than delighted to do another session.

Vig:

I’ll give him a call.

On Being President-Elect and Hiring a New ED

Hochheiser:

Okay. I appreciate that. All right, so now it’s 2008. You won the election and now you are president-elect.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

What do, what did you do as president elect?

Vig:

I tried not to do too much because I didn’t want to overshadow my predecessor even though I was aching to do things. [Laughter]. I held back because it became clear that he didn’t welcome some of my activities as president-elect. So, I was basically in a supporting role.

Hochheiser:

Did you, did you travel much as president elect?

Vig:

I traveled where Lew asked me to go. I didn’t travel on my own initiative.

Hochheiser:

I know that’s something a lot of president-elect do because the number of invitations any president of IEEE gets, I get the impression, is far more than any one man can travel.

Hochheiser:

One other thing that happened in 2008 was Jeff Raynes leaving as Executive Director in the middle of the year after a rather short tenure

Vig:

[Interposing; clears his throat] Yes.

Hochheiser:

Is there anything that you can tell me about that?

Vig:

Everything that happened took place in executive session, so…

Hochheiser:

In that case, if there’s nothing you can tell me, there isn’t.

Vig:

But afterwards we had an ED Search Committee. Initially Lew Terman chaired the Search Committee, as the president. When I became president, I took over as chair and I think we, the Committee, did a good job of finding somebody who became a far superior Executive Director than the previous two had been.

Hochheiser:

Right. The other interesting thing I found about this—and this may have been more Lew’s decision than yours—basically you didn’t, there was no interim person appointed when Jeff left.

Vig:

There was no formal appointment, but I sort of became the de facto acting Executive Director after I became chair of the Search Committee; i.e., the president. And in fact, I regularly attended the Management Committee meetings and participated as the Executive Director would have participated.

Hochheiser:

Right, which I’ve found interesting if for no other reason than that the previous times there’d been a change in Executive Director there was an interim staff person but this time there wasn’t.

Vig:

That’s right. That had been done intentionally.

Hochheiser:

And did you think that worked well?

Vig:

Yes. I thought it worked well. Part of the problem was that neither Jeff nor Dan had groomed anybody to be the Executive Director after they were gone, which is a general problem throughout IEEE management, which I tried to correct when I was president.

Hochheiser:

Not just IEEE management. I’ve seen that elsewhere as well.

Vig:

Yes. I had asked every staff director to (confidentially) identify the person who would replace them if they got hit by the proverbial truck. I learned of some interesting, unobvious choices.

Hochheiser:

Yeah.

Is there anything you can add, and I know there are things you can’t talk about, about the search?

Vig:

Yes. We hired a search firm and this firm identified a set of good candidates, as judged by their CVs, and other information they could find about the applicants. The search firm did the initial screening of applicants. Then, based on the applicants’ written materials, the Search Committee selected the top six candidates. We then spent a whole day interviewing the six. We spent more than an hour interviewing each. The one we eventually hired stood out as being the one (he had a Ph.D. in EE from Cambridge University, had been a high-level executive at Motorola, and then at DuPont, answered our questions intelligently, was a good communicator, etc.) He was the unanimous selection of the Search Committee. We had a few categories for the ratings and when we had finished the formal ratings, it was quite clear who our choice would be. There was no debate about our choice.

And I ended up negotiating with Jim Prendergast, face-to-face, one-on-one. Prior to that, the Board had hired a comparability consultant to provide a range of compensations based on what the compensations were in comparable positions, in similar organizations. Based on that, the Board gave me a range of compensations I was permitted to offer on behalf of IEEE.

The candidate wanted a lot more money than we had been prepared to pay him. He showed me proof (tax forms) of what his compensation had been at his previous employer. The amount was quite a bit above the upper limit of the range the Board had authorized me to offer. I told him that, as a not-for-profit, there was no way that we could match what he had made previously. I offered him a compensation package that was well within the range the Board had given me. After some back-and-forth, he thought about it and, after a while, he accepted the offer. We shook hands, and so IEEE hired him. As far as I know, we have no regrets up to now.

On Being President

Hochheiser:

Okay, so it’s January 1st, 2009. Now you’re president.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

You have a whole bunch of things that you’d like to do.

Vig:

Exactly. And before that, a couple of my predecessors and others advised me to have no more than three goals because, in one year, a president can’t possibly accomplish more than three things. Now, I thought about that and I decided - no way! That’s not the way I’m going to do it. I felt that I can do more than three things if I delegated. If I set out to do just three things and two out of three become unsuccessful, that would mean that I will have done just one thing during my presidency. Or, if I failed at all three…

I reviewed and thought about what the IEEE president’s authority is and it turns out that the IEEE president doesn’t have much formal authority at all. The only authorities specified in our governing documents are: one, the President chairs the Board of Directors meetings, and two, the president can appoint ad hoc committees, and that’s about it. So, I said to myself, well, appointing ad hoc committees consisting of competent volunteers and staff would be a good way to delegate. If the governing documents allow me to appoint ad hoc committees, I’m going to appoint ad hoc committees for the things that I thought were important for IEEE. And, eventually, I ended up appointing 26 ad hoc committees. Some of those I had appointed for convenience, and some I appointed because a fellow director had asked me; e.g., the ad hoc on the merger of IEEE and Eta Kappa Nu. The “Eta Kappa Nu Transition Ad Hoc Committee” was not my idea. I had been asked to create that. Similarly, I had created the ED Search Ad Hoc Committee to have a convenient way to manage the search for a new executive director. (I had also added a couple of extra ad hoc committees later in the year upon requests by others.)

Some were flabbergasted because, apparently, never had so many ad hocs been appointed before.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

And 26 ad hocs are probably not going to happen again for a long time, but who knows? One of my friends kidded me; accused me of running an ad-hocracy.

I decided to attempt to do some of the many things that I thought were important for IEEE. So, some of the 26 ad hocs dealt with strategic issues such as, how can IEEE become a more diverse organization; and some were quite operational, such as, how to cut the excessive travel expenses.

This is not as trivial as it sounds because prior to taking office, one of the many questions I’d asked was of the finance staff. I asked how much money IEEE had spent on travel the previous year, and how much was budgeted for my year, 2009. Do you know what the answer was?

Hochheiser:

No, but I know it’s a large number.

Vig:

The budgeted amount for my year as president was 26 million dollars. I thought that was nuts! I was sure that not all that travel was essential. I was also sure that some of that travel could be replaced by videoconferencing, if only…

If, for example, Mary Ward Callan (the TAB Managing Director) wanted to talk to the Computer Society Executive Director in California, she could hop on a plane and go out there and talk to her face-to-face. Or, if we had a state-of-the art videoconferencing system in both Piscataway and Los Alamitos, California, she should be able to video-conference in a state-of-the-art way. A person in New Jersey should be able to see and hear the other person, anywhere in the world, including seeing the body language and facial expressions. The technology was available, and IEEE could afford it. I believe that face-to-face contact is essential at times, but not every contact needs to be face-to-face. So, I created an ad hoc committee to investigate how IEEE can best use modern teleconferencing to replace some of the travel expenses.

Companies like Cisco, Hewlett Packard and others have excellent systems that can bring about “telepresence.” So, I appointed Steve Weinstein to chair the ad hoc. I had worked with Steve when I was Director of Division IX and he was ComSoc’s Division Director. He’s a really good guy. He knew the subject and he knew the top experts in the field. So, he recruited some real experts in electronic communications, like telepresence. And his ad hoc came up with recommendations. I talked to the new ED, Jim Prendergast, about implementing those recommendations. As the recommendation came in late in the year, they were not implemented during my year but, they were the year after, I had been told. IEEE had acquired some good facilities for video-conferencing. So, that was one of my accomplishments as president; i.e., that I brought IEEE into the, 20th century [Laughter] or somewhat into the 21st century when it comes to electronic communications.

One of the ad hocs I was especially proud of, as an environmentalist, was the “Green” Initiatives Ad Hoc Committee.[7] Its mission was “to develop and recommend strategies for implementing environmentally-friendly practices into IEEE, including facilities, conferences and other meetings, and publications operations.” The young staff members of this ad hoc had been especially enthusiastic.

Others of the 26 ad hocs included, the China and Emerging Markets Ad Hoc Committee,[8] the India Ad Hoc Committee,[9] the IEEE as a Model Global Association Ad Hoc Committee,[10] the Quality of Conference Articles in IEEE Xplore Ad Hoc Committee,[11] The Presentations Online Ad Hoc Committee,[12] the IEEE as a Business Ad Hoc Committee,[13] the Technical Co-Sponsorship Ad Hoc Committee,[14] and, of course, the 125th Anniversary Ad Hoc Committee.[15]

Hochheiser:

Right.

I have, as you know, a list of things from your presidential year. If you’d like, I can ask you about them one at a time. I don’t know that these are in any particular order, but we’ll get through them all. Branding and positioning IEEE.

Vig:

Okay, branding sort of went away with the Dan Senese effort – which effort left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. It had become a subject that nobody wanted to discuss anymore.

But marketing, on the other hand, I had always felt was important and IEEE had not been good at it. In fact, IEEE was terrible at marketing. Unfortunately, some volunteers felt that marketing and advertising were unseemly for a volunteer, non-profit organization. I believed, as did some others, that IEEE had some rich and powerful competitors, such as Elsevier in the publishing area. Therefore, to be able to compete with the Elseviers of the world, we needed to use the tools of competition, including marketing and advertising.

So, I had submitted a new initiative proposal for, what I called, “marketing at conferences.” The rationale for that was that IEEE now had more than a thousand conferences. More than half of the 400,000 or so attendees were not IEEE members but, by their presence, they were indicating that they are committed to the technologies and the technical communities of the conference. They’re demonstrating their commitment by their willingness to pay the registration fee, and by their willingness to spend their valuable time at our conferences. So, they’re committed; perhaps, not to IEEE, the organization, but to the topics and technical communities of the conference. So, what better place is there to recruit members and volunteers than at an IEEE conference? But yet, we had no organization, and we devoted very little effort to recruiting members or to publicize IEEE products and services at IEEE conferences.

I thought our conferences had been missed opportunities. Of course, we must not clobber attendees with ads; we should use only subtle, gentle persuasion at our conferences; and, by the way, the effort should not be confined to IEEE conferences. We should market at competing organizations’ conferences too. As an aside, when I started the Sensors Council, we did that; we rented exhibit booths at competing conferences such as Eurosensors and Transducers.

And it turns out that IEEE has had a sales and marketing department for as long as I can remember but it’s sales and marketing in name only. It’s really just sales. I mean, their job is to sell publications and their marketing efforts, other than a small effort in the area of publications, had been just about zero as far as I could tell. So, I’d proposed a formal initiative. The initiative was funded, and IEEE at the time assigned a person set up IEEE exhibits at conferences, but she could only cover about 25 to 30 conferences a year. Her efforts turned out to be self-supporting; i.e., she had sold more than enough memberships, subscriptions, IEEE books, etc. to cover her expenses. The post-conference benefits had been just gravy. For example, if an attendee’s organization purchased something a month after the conference as a consequence having attended the conference, we’d have no way of knowing that.

After I finished my term, and after the initiative money ran out, unfortunately, for whatever reason, staff and my fellow volunteers didn’t continue the initiative. So, later, another thing I did was to convince Jim Prendergast to hire a marketing manager. Others too had urged him to do that, and so he did create a Chief Marketing Officer, CMO, position and hired a CMO.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

Unfortunately, this guy too had other priorities. Marketing at conferences was not one of them. I think that conferences are a great opportunity to promote IEEE to the right audiences.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

And now we have a public visibility initiative which, by the way, I also had a hand in starting. But again, unfortunately, the goals of this are misplaced. One of the goals at the start was to make IEEE a household word. We don’t have the resources to make IEEE a household word and besides, why is it important that, for example, the maids in my hotel know IEEE? The people I want to know about IEEE are the ones who are potential attendees at our conferences, who are potential authors and reviewers of our journals, who excel in the fields of interest of IEEE, and the librarians who have influence over the subscriptions to our publications and the licenses to our IEL. If you look through any IEEE journal, you’ll find that most authors are not IEEE members. Most attendees at our conferences are not IEEE members and most reviewers of our journals are probably also not IEEE members.

Even some of our conference leaders are not IEEE members. And if you’re going to have a public visibility effort, it should not be a campaign for the general public. I don’t care if a taxi driver knows IEEE. I want to make sure that the people who participate, or are potential participants, in IEEE activities know about IEEE and know about the value of what we do. Once they do, they will be more likely to become a part of IEEE. I would prefer to invest our resources in a public visibility program to reach IEEE’s technical communities rather than the general public. I see little benefit to IEEE from having the average person on the street know about IEEE, but there sure is a benefit to have people in, for example, the life sciences know the activities of IEEE that are related to life sciences. I also see benefits from government officials knowing about IEEE, especially those officials who make decisions about funding research and development programs.

Publication Issues – open access, sub-to-pub, print or no print…

Hochheiser:

I know there are a whole set of challenges you dealt with relating to publications.

Vig:

The biggest challenge was, and is, open access, which threat I had recognized early on. In fact, I had published a white paper on open access in 2004. It was a report which I’d distributed to the leaders of IEEE telling them what open access was because, in those days, many people didn’t even know what open access was. I said that this is a trend that’s going to be growing and growing and IEEE is not prepared. I advocated the creation of a policy about open access. I was told by some in PSPB that I was crazy, that open access will never happen because it costs money to publish and “somebody has to pay.” Publishing journals is expensive.

Although it is true that somebody must pay, from that it doesn’t follow that open access will not become a major business model for publications. There are business models where publications can be open access and yet the publications don’t have to rely on subscription revenues. They can exist without subscription revenues because, for example, there is something called delayed open access which is what the National Institutes of Health in the U.S. is requiring now for publications resulting from NIH funded research. The NIH policy says that if NIH funds your research, you shall make your paper open access within one year after it is published.

Hochheiser:

So, there’s a one-year interval where it’s published in the journal before open access.

Vig:

Right. So, there’s a one-year delay between publication and when it becomes open access. I think with that model IEEE could continue to thrive because I can’t imagine any research organization saying okay, because it’s going to be available a year from now for free, we’re going to cancel our subscription and let our researchers stay a year behind everybody else. It’s just unthinkable that Stanford or Tsinghua University, or some other university, would cancel its subscription only because publications will become open access a year later. And delayed open access is just one of the business models. Under some of the other open access business models, yes, IEEE’s revenues from publications would decline.

If I may come back to the events of my presidency.

Hochheiser:

Okay. If there’s something you want to add, go ahead.

Vig:

Yes, a couple of things. An “all staff meeting” for the staff in Piscataway had been scheduled for shortly after my term began; for February 2009. A staff director suggested that that would be a good opportunity for me to be introduced to staff. He also suggested that I present a “The State of IEEE” to the staff – which I did. Slides 5 and 7 of this, for example, show the huge loss IEEE suffered the year before my term began, 2008; when we’d lost $88M in one year – due, mostly, to investment losses. Slide 15 shows ideas I had collected for possible future revenue sources. That we were so heavily dependent on publications revenues, which, I had felt, might decline in the future due to open access and other reasons, was one of my concerns, hence my search for new revenue source ideas. While TAB VP, I also urged TAB members to increase revenues via a presentation, “Increasing Revenues” with subtitle “Why Should Societies & Councils Care?”

I also advocated the consideration of mergers among the societies. Russ Lefevre, a society president at the time, and I had prepared a white paper on the subject, “Should TAB Encourage S/C Mergers?” but we couldn’t make any mergers happen. At first, the Reliability Society and the Product Safety Society presidents sounded like they were willing to merge but, the mediator I had appointed was unable to bring about an agreement.

Another thing I tried to do while I was VP of TAB was to document the history of TAB because when I asked questions about the history, nobody knew some of the answers. When I asked for example why the Standards Association was separate from TAB when probably 99% of the work on standards is done in TAB, by the societies and councils, nobody knew, not even Eric Herz. Not even people like Eric Herz remembered how and why the organization we have today came about. That part of our history seems to be already lost. Nobody knows why we have a Standards Association, why we have a PSPB. Like standards, most publications are done by the societies and councils so, why is PSPB not part of TAB? Our elders, like Eric Herz, don’t know that either. Perhaps the history exists in somebody’s files or files in Piscataway, but the fact that we have an organization that nobody knows how and why it was created is just bizarre. But that seems to be the case. So, I appointed Irv and Eric Herz—

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] Irv Engelson.

Vig:

—Yes, Irv Engelson and Eric Herz to write the history of TAB. Irv and Eric are two of the longest serving members of IEEE. Moreover, they have both served as IEEE staff as well as volunteers, and they both have incredibly good memories. They agreed to do it, but they didn’t, and I hadn’t found out about that until the end of my term. When I asked them, they claimed that they didn’t do it because TAB staff wouldn’t allow them access to the files. And when I talked about this to staff, I was told that they didn’t want the disruption of having Irv and Eric in their way when they searched through the various files. So, I was not successful with my attempt to have the history of TAB written. Now that I’m neither on the Board nor on TAB, I’m in a position where it’s a lot less likely that I can do something about our missing history than I was before. As they say, “one day a peacock the next day a feather duster.” So, I’m in my feather-duster stage now. [Laughter].

Hochheiser:

If we can go back to some of the other pubs questions, I know one concern that I know you have—and you’re not the only one that’s raised it—is that with people having access through their employers or universities to pubs via Xplore, it diminishes the value of membership.

Vig:

Absolutely true! And, it’s inevitable. We constantly discuss the value of membership; year after year after year, since before I became involved in the IEEE’s leadership. We struggle with the question of how we can give members enough value so that paying their dues is justified. I have become convinced that we can’t. The answer is no, we can’t, not when people can go online and, one way or another, get everything they want from IEEE online. Throughout my career I’ve never had to pay for a subscription. I’ve never had to pay a conference registration fee out of my own pocket. If I could justify going to a conference, I would get permission. I would go to the conference, come back, submit my expense report, and I would get reimbursed. If I wanted to read a journal, I would go to the library, and, if the library didn’t have the journal in which I was interested, I would ask the librarian to subscribe to the journal and, the librarian would subscribe. I’d never had a financial reason to join IEEE! Many potential members work for organizations that, similarly, provide Xplore to their staffs for “free.” I think it’s counterproductive for IEEE to constantly talk about the value of membership because when we do, we make people conscious of the fact that we don’t give them enough value for their membership dues.

I think most people like me are members of IEEE not because they get 170 dollars, or whatever the dues are this year, worth of tangible benefits. They continue their membership, or they join IEEE, because they feel that this is their professional society; this is their professional home. I’ve been advocating that this is what we should tell our members and potential members, that IEEE is a good organization to support.

But people still keep talking about the value of membership and I keep pointing out that there are organizations out there, like some of the ones I belong to, organizations like The Nature Conservancy with about a million members. The Sierra Club has far more members than IEEE does. Amnesty International has more members than IEEE. I belong to these organizations not because of the tangible value I get from them. I get zero tangible value! In fact, when I get my renewal notices, sometimes I have the urge to say I’m renewing this on the condition that you don’t send me anything. I don’t have time to read your magazine. Don’t send me anything! I’m a member because I support what you’re doing, not because you give me stuff. But I’ve been unable to sell this idea, i.e., the importance of intangibles, to my fellow volunteers.

Hochheiser:

You addressed this considerably in dealing with earlier years, but was the issue of competition still something of concern when you were president?

Vig:

Oh yes. I’ve been advocating—and again, unsuccessfully—that we should be more aggressive in our advertising of IEEE publications. I think we should have ads comparing our prices with the competition’s prices. For example, the Sensors Journal, which I started, by the way, you can have for 25 dollars a year. The principal competing publication, Elsevier’s Sensors and Actuators A and B, the last I looked, cost about 7,000 dollars a year. We now publish probably at least as many pages as the competition does, but as a member you can still get it all for 25 dollars. Elsevier has no membership price because they have no members. Their subscription price is more than a hundred times higher, and to me, if the technical community knew about this disparity in prices, why would anybody want to publish in a journal they can’t afford as opposed to a journal that they can afford? We have a David vs. Goliath story we could exploit to gain authors, reviewers, readers, subscribers…

I enjoy getting the journal in my mailbox or being able to log on online and just look at the articles in my society’s journal. I don’t want to pay 7,000 dollars for a subscription to any journal. So, I would prefer that the IEEE be much more aggressive in advertising the advantages of publishing in IEEE, but again, we have some very conservative members and staff. I haven’t been able to sell it to staff either. For whatever reason, there’s a reluctance to compete. We are volunteers. We are nice guys, a bunch of…, we don’t want to compete aggressively. Some feel that it’s unseemly to compare our prices. But I don’t buy that.

Hochheiser:

Have there been problems with the timeliness of publication, the turn-around time?

Vig:

Oh boy! Have there! When I was TAB VP, I looked at the statistics. At that time there was one journal whose mean submission to publication delay was over three years, and there were ten journals whose mean “sub-to-pub” was more than two years. By 2006, no journal’s delay exceeded 3 years but, as the data below shows, 29 journals still had delays greater than 90 weeks, and one journal’s delay was 134 weeks.

I pointed out that such long delays amount to the theft of intellectual property! If a researcher submits his latest results to an IEEE journal, and it doesn’t get published for more than two years, that’s like IEEE stole his/her intellectual property because during those two years somebody else can have done the same research and published their results somewhere else, and then the author loses the right to publish and the author’s claim that (s)he was first. This can make an invention claim messy, and can make it appear as if the our author has plagiarized the other author. This problem had the potential to kill our publications business. It was totally inexcusable, so I tried to change it.

At first, I proposed that we institute a financial penalty for the worst journals; e.g., cut a portion of their packaged products distribution, to incentivize them to reduce their delays. I got all sorts of excuses and arguments. I was unable to sell that idea. One vocal person, for example, argued that, in his field, it’s very difficult to find reviewers, which I thought was baloney. In every field, if you try hard enough, you can find authors who will review papers. In fact, it’s an author’s ethical obligation to review when asked because their paper is reviewed by their fellow volunteers. So, it’s an obligation to do for your colleagues the same as they do for you. So, I didn’t buy the argument that “in my field it’s more difficult to find reviewers, therefore our delay is justified.” In any case, it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to get TAB to vote in favor of financial penalties. I did get TAB to set goals; one of which was that 80% of articles have a sub-to-pub of less than a year.

When I became president-elect, I talked to President Lew Terman about this problem. He agreed that this is a problem that we should try to solve. At one of the board series meetings I asked Lew if we could use his presidential suite to have a summit meeting of the key people who are involved in publications. So, Lew and I, John Baillieul, the VP PSPB at the time, and Roberto de Marca VP TAB at the time; and staff reps Mary Ward-Callan, Tony Durniak, Fran Zappulla and Matt Loeb got together to discuss this sub-to-pub problem and what to do about it. We all agreed that the problem had to be solved. I mentioned that I was unable to convince TAB to impose financial penalties to reduce the sub to pub. So, the solution we came up with is that we’ll publicize the sub to pub of every periodical and see if peer pressure can do the job.

Tony Durniak followed up with an email summary of the meeting.

Pubs staff agreed to periodically calculate the sub to pub statistics and distribute the results throughout TAB, to the editors-in-chief and other editors, the rest of the IEEE publications world, and to the AdComs and BoGs of the Societies and Councils. And that has worked beautifully. The peer pressure worked! We now distribute the sub-to-pub reports quarterly. And, since we started distributing these reports, we don’t have any publications that have over three years of sub to pub. As of early 2010, there were still two journals with sub-to-pub over two years. We also still have a few which are over one-year but the average, IEEE-wide, is now well under one year, and decreasing. As of early 2010, the average sub-to-pub was 40 weeks, and by early 2011, the median sub to pub had been reduced to 32 weeks.

Hochheiser:

That’s quite an accomplishment.

Vig:

It’s been quite effective, and it has made a huge difference in the competitiveness of our journals. Authors have choices and they do care about the sub-to-pub. The administrative committees and boards of governors of societies weren’t even aware of how bad some of these delays had been. So, when they became aware, they did something about it. In my home society, UFFC, we had the editor-in-chief resign when we tried to “go electronic” and he resisted. At an AdCom meeting, the AdCom basically told him that he had no choice, and he stormed out of the room. He resigned on the spot. We replaced him and the Transactions on UFFC went electronic which helped with reducing its sub-to-pub.

Hochheiser:

Did you go electronic to the extent of no longer printing the paper journal?

Vig:

No. We still publish printed copies. This has been a subject of repeated discussions. Should we stop printing? The decision so far has been that we should continue printing indefinitely as long as the print pays for itself. We should not subsidize print but if a customer wants print and is willing to pay for it, why shouldn’t we provide it?

Hochheiser:

As long as there are enough people who—

Vig:

[Interposing] No, because as the number of people willing to pay for print shrinks, the price will keep going up and up, which is happening, and eventually, nobody will want print because it will become unaffordable. So, I think it’s a problem that will solve itself. Besides, it is not a matter of print or no print. It is just a question of who does the printing, the customer or IEEE. I have said, half-kiddingly, that it is getting to the point where it will be cheaper to give print subscribers an electronic subscription plus a printer than to keep paying for the printing, mailing and replacements. Some decent printers now cost less than a hundred dollars, and some journals’ printing, mailing and replacements cost more than a hundred dollars.

Hochheiser:

So, if you want a printed copy and it gets too expensive, you can always just print it out.

Vig:

Of course! So, in the Sensors Council for example, we recently raised the price of a print subscription to 75 dollars a year versus what it was initially, which was 25 dollars a year. So, in the period of the Council’s existence, about ten years, the price of the print version has tripled because, as the journal grew, it became more and more expensive to print and mail the issues. The mailing charges are ridiculously high to some overseas places. The latest issue of the Sensors Journal is about an inch thick. I can’t imagine what the postage will be for mailing an inch-thick publication to some distant place. The September-October issue of the Sensors Journal is humongous; 850 pages. So, we are trying to make sure that we don’t lose money on the print copies because nobody MUST have a print copy. As you say, people can print it for themselves which is what I do. Before I go on a trip, I take along reading materials, including printed copies of papers I want to read. I print them out, stick them in a folder, and I read them on the plane. An advantage for people who have poor eyesight is that they can print in large type.

Hochheiser:

I bought a printer for my home office a couple of years ago and I don’t think it was even 100 dollars.

Vig:

So, yes, let subscribers download the paper and print it for themselves if they really must read it on paper.

Hochheiser:

I know that’s true in libraries; a lot of libraries have dropped their hard copy subscriptions to journals.

Vig:

Before I retired my physical library went out of existence.

Hochheiser:

Well, IEEE no longer has a library in Piscataway for much the same reason.

Vig:

Yes, we decided that we can save a lot of money by just not having a library. Many people prefer to read the papers at their desks, anyway.

Hochheiser:

That’s it. The library was no longer necessary for people to have access to the information they needed.

Vig:

Every time I went to the library towards the end it was nearly empty. So, we made sure that we had online subscriptions to all the important journals and we closed the library. I don’t think anybody complained. Well, maybe some people complained, because browsing is just not the same without a physical library, but people understood the necessity of closing the library. I do miss a physical library a bit because I used to enjoy just browsing the shelves, just randomly.

Value of Volunteers, and, Is IEEE for Engineers Only?

Hochheiser:

Do you care to comment on the importance of active volunteers for IEEE?

Vig:

Yes, that’s been one of my themes. When I traveled around the world giving talks about IEEE, I always had a few slides on volunteers and volunteerism and I always made it a point to thank the volunteers in the audience. At the end of my remarks about volunteers, I used to get a chuckle from the audience when I mentioned that they will receive an extra reward for volunteering; that is, volunteers live longer. After the chuckling was over, I encouraged them to Google the phrase, “volunteers live longer” and they will find scientific and statistical evidence that volunteers do live longer. It’s not a joke!

I also mentioned, whenever I had the opportunity, that most people don’t realize it—and when I first calculated this people didn’t believe me—that more than 200,000 volunteers contribute to IEEE each year. I went through the arithmetic and after I showed the arithmetic to some volunteer and staff leaders, they said “wow that does look right!” An example of the slide that shows my “volunteer arithmetic” is shown in Slide 20 of my presentation in Scotland.

In publications alone, we have about 200,000 volunteer jobs because last year we added 240,000 articles to IEEE Xplore. Of those, somewhere around 35,000 were journal articles. All journal articles are peer reviewed. The average number of reviewers is three. The average acceptance rate of IEEE journals is well under 50%, which means that an author must submit more than two papers, on the average, to get one published. So, if you submit two papers, each must have three reviewers, that’s six reviewers times 35,000 papers. That alone results in more than 200,000 volunteer reviews. The authors and editors are also volunteers. So just in the publications area alone, at least 200,000 volunteer tasks contribute to IEEE.

Then we have a thousand conferences a year. Their proceedings papers add another 200K papers to Xplore. Their program committees, paper reviewers, and organizing committees add up to about 100 volunteers, on average, for each conference. That’s another 100,000 volunteers. Then we have a lot of standards committees, like, we have about a thousand standards committees. Each one of those has a bunch of members. We have 300 sections and many more than 300 chapters and an even larger number of student branches all over the world. So, if you add it all up, the number of volunteer positions comes out to over 800,000. Now, there are some duplications there, so if you subtract the duplicates, it’s probably safe to claim that IEEE has 200K volunteers working for it.

Hochheiser:

Now, that’s 200,000 unique individuals?

Vig:

It’s 800,000 volunteer positions/tasks. If each volunteer has an average of four positions, it’s 200,000 unique individuals.

Hochheiser:

Someone who is an author of papers also likely to be a reviewer of others’ papers.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

And may also be on a conference committee.

Vig:

Absolutely true and when I added up all the numbers, I came up with a number like 800,000 volunteer positions. So, I said okay, let’s assume that some of these are duplicates, that some may hold more than one position. But, even if the average volunteer holds four volunteer positions, I feel that 200,000 is a safe number, and that the claim that IEEE has at least 200,000 volunteers is not an exaggeration.

Now again, coming back to the important point I made before, many of these volunteers are not IEEE members. Many participants in IEEE activities are loyal to their technical communities, not necessarily to IEEE. For example, people are devoted members of my community, frequency control, but some couldn’t care less about the larger organization, the IEEE.

A few years ago, I discovered that the general chair; the number one guy of my principal conference, the IEEE Frequency Control Symposium, was not an IEEE member, and this guy’s a world-renowned scientist. His name is David Allan and there’s a quantity called the “Allan Deviation” which is a standard measure of frequency stability. He’s well known throughout the world; but he is not an IEEE member? So, I asked him; I said Dave, I just learned that you’re not an IEEE member. How come you’re not a member? He looked at me and said, “Why would I want to join a bunch of engineers?” Ugh! That hurt!

IEEE USA’s publication is called Today’s Engineer. This is the reaction one gets when we publish something called Today’s Engineer. Many non-engineers don’t want to join an organization that’s perceived to be for engineers. So, that’s been one of my issues and frequent themes. [Note added after this interview: Today’s Engineer has been renamed IEEE-USA InSight.]

Whenever I could I would advocate that we take steps to be known as an organization of technologists, not just engineers. We should make it better known that if you’re a materials scientist working on semiconductor materials or if you’re a mechanical engineer working on the vibration of plates and beams for frequency control; if you are an IT professional, if you work on anything that is in IEEE’s fields of interest, you are welcome in IEEE. You don’t have to be an engineer to become a member of IEEE. If you work in IEEE’s fields of interest, the IEEE should be your professional home. And I’ve had mixed success with that message. Some members still want IEEE to be for engineers only. Unfortunate.

IEEE would be a lot smaller and weaker if it were for engineers only.

Our largest society, the Computer Society, surveyed its members in 2003, and repeated the survey with more engineering categories in 2004. Both surveys showed that fewer than half of CS members considered themselves to be EEs. The CS has strong competition from the ACM – which has “Computing” in its name. Might it be that the IEEE’s full name puts the CS at a disadvantage?

Diversity

Hochheiser:

How did you address some of the balance issues? You’ve got a U.S. based organization and we have maybe now just a little bit over half of the members here and very close to half of the members not here.

Vig:

It’s about half now.

Hochheiser:

Pretty close.

Vig:

Yeah. It’s like 49% or something like that.

Hochheiser:

Every year it gets just a little closer.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

How do you balance that?

Vig:

With difficulty.

Hochheiser:

Yes. Not all questions are easy ones.

Vig:

Yes. It’s a difficult problem because even after more than half of the members are outside the U.S., the US will still have a large plurality. For a long time to come, by far the largest number of members in one country will still be in the USA, even if it’s less than 50%. About 200,000 members reside in the U.S. right now. The next largest membership is in India where it’s somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 members. So, yes, the majority will be outside the U.S., but it’s an uncoordinated group of people from many different countries whereas in the U.S., by definition, they are Americans, and if they’re Americans they are more likely to appoint other Americans to leadership positions. It shouldn’t be that way, and it’s not because they’re biased against non-Americans, or anybody else. It just seems to be human nature.

There’s no easy solution to it except to have an affirmative action program. Some people are vehemently against affirmative action which they denigrate by calling it a quota system. I said, well, sometimes quotas are discriminatory and bad, and are used to keep people oppressed, but sometimes quotas are for a good reason and the outcome’s good. I’d prefer no quotas, but I can understand that, sometimes, the only way to get reasonable diversity is to have quotas. So, I have no problem at all that we have region directors who represent the different regions of the world.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

So, region 10, our largest region, is guaranteed to have at least one Board member. Every region; seven, eight, nine, and ten; is guaranteed at least one Board of Directors seat and that’s perfectly okay with me. Some of my colleagues say no, we should be competency based. But, how do you measure competency? Yes, we should be competency based, but if being competency-based means that everybody on the Board of Directors is from just one or two regions, then that’s not in the best interest of IEEE. So, it’s a delicate balance. I think it would be unthinkable, for example, for our largest region, region 10, to have no representation on the Board of Directors. So, I have no problem with having representation.

Hochheiser:

A somewhat related issue is that of women. I think that nine percent of IEEE members are women.

Vig:

I think that, perhaps, it is nine percent of higher-grade members; i.e., not including students. But, in any case, we definitely should put greater emphasis on recruiting more women. In fact, I have been a member of Women in Engineering, which is an “affinity group,” since its beginning, just to show my support.

And it’s a bigger problem than just IEEE. I think we should do more to make sure that young girls become interested in technology, to let girls know that it’s a viable option for them and that they’re welcome in scientific and engineering societies. Now, in some fields, and in some areas of the world, women are doing better than they are in the US. I’ve read that in US medical and law schools, among the students, women are now the majority. But in engineering and the physical sciences, unfortunately, they’re still in the minority – by a wide margin. So, it’s a bigger problem than IEEE but it’s a problem for IEEE. And I think we should do more to try and correct this problem.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

The other aspect of diversity is diversity in fields of interest, which has also been one of the areas where I’ve been an advocate and I’ve been trying to get IEEE to do more. I think I touched on this earlier. I have also spoken about diversity during my travels. For example, I gave a presentation, “The Impact of Diversity in IEEE,” in Tokyo, Japan, in October 2009, and at the IGARSS 2010 conference. I also presented a paper, similar title, at the 2009 IEEE Conference on the History of Technical Societies, in Philadelphia, PA, USA in October 2009, DOI: 10.1109/HTS.2009.5337865

People still perceive IEEE as an engineering organization. Personally, my training is in physics, not engineering. And I’ve been perfectly comfortable in IEEE, but I know that many of my colleagues in physics, in materials science, in other fields of science, in biology and other fields, those who are working in IEEE’s fields of interest don’t feel comfortable with IEEE because it’s perceived to be an engineering organization. I think we’re not doing enough to change that perception and I think it’s hurting us. We could have more members if more non-engineers felt welcome in IEEE.

Hochheiser:

One related issue has struck me. By far the largest of the societies is the computer society. However, if you go through the roll of IEEE presidents, you find very few, maybe one or two from the Computer Society. Logically you think well this is the largest society. They should have a larger representation on that level, but for whatever reason they don’t.

Vig:

That’s an interesting point. I don’t know why. I don’t think there’s any conspiracy to keep them off.

Hochheiser:

I wasn’t suggesting that. I have no idea why either.

Cosponsorship of Conferences

Hochheiser:

One thing that you briefly mentioned is how IEEE serves as a technical co-sponsor of conferences with other organizations. Is this problematical at times?

Vig:

Absolutely. I tried to raise awareness and do something about this when I was VP, TAB and later, when I became President. I held only one retreat during my year as president and that was devoted primarily to the subject of technical co-sponsorship (TCS), especially, TCS with non-IEEE entities. I thought at the time, and I still think, that we are shooting ourselves in the foot through technical cosponsorship. TCS sometimes “gives away the store,” and allows OUs to game the system. We give non-IEEE financial sponsors the right to use our name. We let them make it appear like they’re an IEEE conference and we get little tangible benefit from it. As a result, people are now, and have been for years, looking at this as an opportunity to look like an IEEE conference and not have to go through any of the hassles. Some also look at it as an opportunity to make money without having to account for the money. TCS conferences don’t have to submit their budgets to IEEE. They don’t have to do the administrative things that financially sponsored conferences are required to do, and the outside sponsor gets to keep 100% of the profits the conference generates.

IEEE financially sponsored conferences must submit a budget. The budget is reviewed. The budget must be approved. Then, after the conference, the books must be audited, and the financial surplus stays in IEEE. The technically cosponsored conferences (TCS) don’t do any of that. One could start a conference, request IEEE technical co-sponsorship and chances are, if you request it, you’ll find somebody who will say yes. That’s been the history; outside organizations shop around. If a society says no, they have many other organizations - from societies to councils to sections to chapters. Even student branches have been able to give the right for an outside organization to use the IEEE logo. They are not allowed to put the IEEE logo on their website, but they can do just about everything else. They can claim that IEEE is co-sponsoring the event. The outside world doesn’t know the difference between financial co-sponsorship and technical co-sponsorship. And the subjects of many tech cosponsored conferences duplicate the subjects of our financially sponsored conferences; i.e., we help to create, and then we support our own conferences’ competition. Not surprisingly, the number of tech cosponsored conferences has been growing much faster than the number of financially sponsored conferences.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

So, people who publish a paper in the proceedings of a tech cosponsored conference can claim that they have published in IEEE; in an IEEE conference’s proceedings. Most TCS conference proceedings go into IEEE Xplore, so, the authors can, and do, claim that they have published in IEEE Xplore. They can get nearly all the benefits of an IEEE conference without it benefiting IEEE much. And, it is widely believed that the quality of tech cosponsored conference papers is lower than the quality of financially sponsored conference papers.

Tech cosponsorship has been growing and growing. When I first became aware of this, the number of technically co-sponsored (TCS) conferences was a small fraction of the total. Last year we had more TCS conferences than we had financially sponsored or cosponsored conferences (FCS). If you look at the growth rates of the number of TCS conferences, they have been growing much faster than the numbers of FCS conferences. The number of financially sponsored conferences has been relatively constant, and now there’s been a crossover where we have more TCS conferences than we have FCS conferences. Frankly, if I were starting a conference today, I would probably ask for technical sponsorship rather than financial co-sponsorship.

Hochheiser:

Uh-huh.

Vig:

At the end of the conference I could even hold on to the money the conference made. If it made a profit, I could hold on to that money and not have to give it to IEEE. I wouldn’t be required by IEEE to account for the money. So, I would have just about all the benefits of an IEEE conference plus some, and without any of the hassles. That’s the reason that we have this large, rapid growth in the tech co-sponsored conferences while we have virtually no growth in financially sponsored conferences.

And to me this is a big problem because if we had played it right, we would have a many more financially sponsored conferences today than we do. Even today, we could limit the term of the technical cosponsorship, to, say, five years, or, charge a “franchise fee” – which we have talked about but not done anything about.

At the end of, say, five years, a conference would have to either become a financially cosponsored conference or IEEE would no longer technically cosponsor the conference. So, if we have a financially sponsored or cosponsored conference and we make money on it, why would we want to give technical cosponsorship to a competing conference? So, this has been one of my issues for the last, probably, 10 years or so.

By the way, I do recognize that there can be reasons for technically cosponsoring, e.g., for a locality, like a section, but now, more and more sections have spread beyond their geographic boundaries. Some sections have even sponsored international conferences.

TCS conferences bring no new money into IEEE. They just result in a redistribution of money within IEEE. The download from Xplore of a proceedings paper from a TCS conference results in the same revenue distribution as that of a paper from an FCS conference. Some societies, and geo units, have been gaming the system by TCSing dozens of conferences – thereby getting a larger share of the revenue pot at the expense of those societies and councils who TCS fewer conferences. Some societies cosponsor no TCS conference. Because the costs of staff support of TCS conferences comes out of the “TAB Support” budget line, the societies with few and no TCS conferences subsidize the societies with many TCS conferences.

125th Anniversary and Other Celebrations

Hochheiser:

You were fortunate from timing to be President during the 125th anniversary of IEEE. I know that there were a whole variety of activities.

Vig:

Yes, there were. Whether or not it was fortunate depends on one’s point of view. It was fun, but it was mostly ceremonial, and it sure took a great deal of time away from pursuing my goals as president.

The 125th anniversary was good news and bad news. At the end of my year as president, Kathy Burke—my assistant while I was President and the one who kept my calendar—told me that on my calendar she counted the days I was away from home. I had spent 180 days away from home during my year as President, and much of that was because of the 125th Anniversary celebrations.

At the beginning of my term, Kathy showed me a list of invitations. She said, here are all the events where the principals have invited you to be present; for example, to present an award, or to unveil a milestone, or celebrate an important anniversary. Which ones do you want to do, she asked? I looked at that list. I said well, I’ll present this one, I’ll take that one, and I checked off a bunch events that sounded like worthwhile trips. I eventually ended up canceling, I think, all but one. With all my other obligations as President, I just didn’t have time to go to all these award presentations, and such. I went to several Milestone presentations and I enjoyed those. I also went to several 125th Anniversary celebrations.

At the beginning of the 125th celebrations, someone was collecting videos of members and others saying short greetings and wishing IEEE a happy anniversary. When I was asked to say my greeting and anniversary wish, I enlisted my wife, Arianna, to help me. We made our “greeting” a few seconds of dancing. The video of that was uploaded to YouTube where it can still be seen.[16] There was also an occasion when someone “caught” us dancing a cha cha cha[17] – during the social at the February 2009 meetings series in Puerto Rico.

At the 125th Anniversary celebration in Bangalore, India, 700 people showed up including CEOs of some large companies like Infosys— a 500-billion-dollar corporation. A past President of India also showed up. I had the pleasure of meeting past President Abdul Kalam.[18]I sat next to him, we exchanged some words and that was a thrill.


Then, during the ceremonies there were several speeches. One of them was by Abdul Kalam - which absolutely floored me. He gave a wonderful speech about nanotechnology. Nanotechnology, of all things! I remember thinking to myself, this is mind-boggling. I can’t imagine a U.S. politician giving an intelligent talk about nanotechnology. But this guy gave an intelligent talk about nanotechnology! Later I found out that, before he became a politician, he was a scientist, an engineer, and led India’s nuclear and missile programs. He’s one of the beloved leaders of India and I could see why. I thought to myself, why can’t we in the US have politicians like him? He’s a good guy and so, meeting him and having a chance to chat with him was one of the highlights of my presidency.

Hochheiser:

[Interposing] Right.

Vig:

The day after the Bangalore celebration a one-day workshop on humanitarian technologies was held. The guests of honor were spiritual and humanitarian leader His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar[19] and me. It was an interesting and unusual experience! For example, when Sri Sri Ravi Shankar entered the auditorium where the event was held, several from the audience ran up to him, kneeled before him and kissed his feet.

Another highlight was in Scotland. It turns out that the IEEE co-sponsored an annual award, the Maxwell Award, with the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Every year the award ceremony was held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh,[20] the husband of the Queen of England, sometimes comes to Edinburgh to participate in the award ceremony. In 2009 he came to Edinburgh again. He and I jointly presented the Maxwell Award.

When I was introduced to him, the Royal Society person who did the introduction tried to explain what IEEE is. After he got through with the explanation, the Prince paused for a moment, looked at me and said, “So why is my remote control so complicated?” [Laughter]. Then we had lunch and again we exchanged some words. That was also a highlight; i.e. that I got to meet Prince Phillip and have a short conversation with him, as is shown above.

Meeting other celebrities, e.g., at the annual Honors Ceremonies, were highlights too. Meeting Gordon Moore of Moore’s Law fame was a thrill, as was meeting Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, or Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Vinton Cerf, one of the “fathers” of the Internet (TCP/IP).

The reaction of the students at these events was especially enjoyable. In India, at the Bangalore ceremony, the students stood in line to have me sign their program and to talk to me. That was a lot of fun. Of course, I was always aware that it was not me, John Vig, they wanted. They wanted “The President of IEEE.”

Yet another highlight was a Region 8 meeting in Kenya. Prior to that trip I had mentioned to the then Region 8 director, Jozef Modelski (from Poland), that I was thinking about going on a safari before the meeting. He was very interested. We ended up going together on a three-day safari to Masai Mara National Reserve, a wilderness area in southwestern Kenya, along the Tanzanian border.

It turned out to be amazing; another one of the highlights of my life. Within the first 24 hours, we saw, in the wild, the “big five” of African game animals: lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. We also saw many other animals, including cheetahs, zebras, wildebeests, crocodiles, and hippos.

Vig:

We traveled in an open vehicle, a modified mini-bus, with the roof raised about 60 cm. Our guide drove close to the animals; e.g., within a couple of meters of the lion in this picture. There had been no window or other barrier between the lion and me. With a couple of leaps the lion could have been in our van. In a sense, we had been caged and the animals were completely free.

Before I traveled to the Region 8 meeting, I was told that the Kenya section chair had been in the position for well over 10 years. Despite pleas for him to hold elections, he had refused to do so. At the Region 8 meeting, I spoke to him in private, explained about the annual elections and that even the presidents, VPs and others on the Board of Directors, as well as other leaders, had term limits. At the end of our discussion I told him that he had no choice; either he schedules an election to select a new section chair or IEEE will do it. I strongly advised him to do it. Later, I learned that he eventually did.

Humanitarian Activities

Hochheiser:

Can you say something about IEEE’s humanitarian initiatives?

Vig:

I sure can. [Laughter].

Hochheiser:

I thought you could.

Vig:

[Laughter]. Okay. But, before I say anything, lest I be misunderstood, I am completely in favor of IEEE being engaged in humanitarian activities.

Around the time I was still on the board, the IEEE had spent over a million dollars a year on its humanitarian activities. I spoke up about this at one of the board meetings. I told the board that we had been spending millions of dollars and I had not been able to find a single example where a human being on Earth has been helped by these so-called humanitarian activities. Nobody contradicted me. I said we have had meetings; we have held conferences; we have set up a website devoted to humanitarian activities. We have done lots of “stuff;” spent a great deal on travel expenses, but I have found nothing that I can point to where some human being somewhere on Earth has been helped. I said rather than to continue to spend money on this nonsense – I probably didn’t use that word —I said, we don’t need an expensive website to help the victims of the tsunami. We don’t need a conference to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. — I pleaded that, if we want to do something humanitarian, let’s DO something humanitarian. Let’s do something that really, really helps people in need.

And finally, this year, we are doing something, and when I heard that, I sent a message to Mary Ward-Callan and some of the others in the humanitarian program leadership saying, hurrah. I’m glad to know that we are finally doing something for humanity. We’re doing something to help human beings rather than just spending money on holding conferences, traveling, and setting up websites.

By the way, we hired two staff with the humanitarian funds. So, I take back what I’d said. We did help two human beings; the two who were given jobs at IEEE to work on humanitarian activities, but, other than that, I couldn’t think of anybody else on Earth who had been helped by us having spent the millions of dollars.

At around that time, I read that an organization had come out with a device that, if you buy it in quantity, for 12 dollars each, you can buy a portable device that has a solar panel that can charge cell phones. I proposed that we spend some of the humanitarian initiative funds on buying such devices. I also offered to start this off by putting two thousand dollars of my own money into a fund to buy these 12-dollar devices, and then have some members in Africa set up some cell phone chargers in villages that don’t have access to electricity. And, amazingly, I couldn’t sell the idea. We kept doing meetings and websites and nonsense rather than doing something tangible to help humanity.

At one point I learned that at a humanitarian conference IEEE sponsored, most of the expenses of the attendees had been paid out of the humanitarian technology moneys. I asked why. One of the staffers answered, “because if we hadn’t done that, nobody would have come.” Ugh! Unbelievable!!!

Lack of electricity is a big problem in Africa. In places where there is no electricity, people use kerosene lamps, often in enclosed spaces, so kids get permanent lung damage from breathing the smoke from the burning kerosene. In some villages where they don’t have access to electricity, they have cell phones, but they must travel long distances to places where there is electricity to charge cell phones. So, for 12 dollars, volunteers could set up these devices in villages. We could have made a real difference and I was unable to sell the idea.

Managing and Leading IEEE

Hochheiser:

As President and CEO, how do you or how can anyone manage an organization as large and complex as IEEE?

Vig:

With difficulty. [Laughter]. But seriously, the good news is that, despite all the problems we have — and we have lots of problems—we are a tremendously successful organization. We have managed to become the world’s largest technical professional organization, so, we must be doing something right. We are doing well financially, our publications, conferences, and standards are doing well… We do have lots of problems, but we manage to do good things anyway. So, in hindsight, we have done well, and we’re doing well. I’m very happy about that.

Some colleagues like to say, for example, that TAB is too big and is dysfunctional. We have had many vigorous debates in TAB, but, that’s fine. TAB works, eventually.

By the way, about managing an organization such as IEEE…at a Region 8 student congress, during a Q&A session with students, a student asked me why it is that all the presidents and presidential candidates are old (and I was only in my 60s at the time). I was taken aback by the question. I answered that I could not have done the job when I was a young professional…if for no other reason than the time it takes to be president. For me, being president was a full-time job. It is difficult to imagine how a person could hold a full-time day-job and be a good president at the same time.

Another question that came up several times is whether a one-year term is enough. I answered that I could argue either side of that question. A one-year term brings new blood to the office every year, and, in a sense, it is not really a one-year term. It is a three-year term on the Board. During the first year, the president-elect has a full year to prepare to be president and sits on the Board of Directors. During the third year, as past-president, the incumbent can relax and try to help the president and try to finish projects that could not be completed during the prior year - and sits on the Board of Directors. On the other hand, a one-year term means just three face-to-face Board meetings and the term is over – which is not much time for complex matters to be debated, decided and implemented. Email discussions in-between meetings do help, so, I had encouraged the directors to communicate by email in-between face-to-face meetings.

Hochheiser:

One of the responsibilities of being President of IEEE is running the board meetings.

Vig:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

How does, how did you run board meetings? How does one effectively run a board meeting?

Vig:

I thought I was pretty good at it, if I may say so. Of course, I had help. I didn’t allow directors to ramble or to make speeches, as some try to do. I had friends on the board with whom I had an arrangement. There’s a parliamentary procedure, “calling the question.” I think we had used that effectively. When I felt that the discussion was going nowhere, I would signal to one of my friends to have them call the question. They did, and it was always approved because, by the time I felt that enough discussion had taken place, others too felt that there had been enough discussion. So, I finished every one of my board meetings on schedule.

In the past we’ve had board meetings that have run late into the night, and much of that was due to the Chair’s inability, or unwillingness, to cut off discussion after it was no longer a useful discussion. Some presidents are reluctant to cut off a discussion, feeling that everybody should have a voice. Well, maybe. Once one gets to the point where people repeat points already made by others, or say, “I agree with what Joe just said…,” heck; support it by voting with Joe. You don’t have to raise your hand and make a big show of the fact that you support what somebody else said. After several of those it’s time to cut off the discussions, and, after directors repeat arguments that we had already heard, it’s time to cut off the discussions. When a director makes a speech instead of asking a question, it’s time to interrupt them. So, I tried not to let directors ramble and make unnecessary, repetitive comments. As a result, we always finished the agenda on, or ahead of schedule. And, by the way, nobody ever objected to calling the question.

We also started Board meetings on schedule.

Before chairing my first Board meeting, I’d announced that I intended to start each Board meeting on time; that the gavel will come down at exactly 0800 local time. Before each meeting I adjusted my wristwatch to GPS time and the gavel did come down each time at exactly 8 AM plus or minus a second.

At previous Board meetings, directors would wander in a few minutes after 8, and the presidents would start about 10 minutes late to allow for latecomers. At my meetings, it was great to see that all, or all but one of the directors, had been seated by 0800.

Hochheiser:

As President, how closely did you work with the IEEE staff?

Vig:

I’d worked closely with them. A president has no choice but to work closely with staff. But, you’re probably better off asking Jim Prendergast or Matt Loeb and others about that, but I, from my end…

Hochheiser:

All I’m asking you is how it looks like from your end of course.

Vig:

From my end, I had worked well with staff.

Hochheiser:

How frequently did you come to Piscataway?

Vig:

Frequently. As I mentioned, I had participated in the Management Council meetings. So, I went there once a week. I live in New Jersey, about 40 km from Piscataway, so, it was not too difficult for me.

Hochheiser:

Was that just until Jim came on board, or did you continue?

Vig:

[Interposing] Even after. I asked Jim if it’s okay if I continued and he agreed that I could continue coming to Management Council meetings. I volunteered to leave before the meetings adjourned, so he could have private time with his staff, without my presence. And that was the arrangement we made. I would be there at the start of the meetings and, at a certain point, Jim would nod or indicate that he was ready to meet privately with his staff and I would just get up and leave, and he would continue the meeting.

I enjoyed hearing staff directors’ reports firsthand rather than having to wait until somebody said something second hand. So, I enjoyed those meetings and I think they were beneficial to both me and the staff. I played the role of a liaison between volunteers and staff. It allowed me to better understand what’s going on with staff activities.

And this had been unprecedented. No president before me had ever done that, I was told, and I don’t think it’s being done right now. I was the first, I was told, to participate in Management Council meetings. I learned from that and I hope I was useful to staff in what I contributed to those meetings.

Parenthetically, I’ve pointed out to a few fellow volunteer leaders, privately, that staff is present at just about every meeting of volunteers, from the Board of Directors meetings down, so, I didn’t think it inappropriate for me to have participated in Management Council meetings.

Hochheiser:

Did your role in Piscataway change at all once Jim was on board?

Vig:

Yes; probably. Basically, the Executive Director oversees staff. He can hire and fire, and while I was “acting,” I didn’t do any of that even though I probably could have. I did oversee hiring because, at the time, the Board of Directors was concerned about the growth in the number of employees. So, the Board wanted me to approve all hiring actions. Before a staff director could hire somebody, they would send me a note. It was all done through email. Tony Durniak, for example, would say, so-and-so has resigned, and I wish to replace this person. I have selected somebody. Here are this person’s qualifications. I need your permission to go ahead and hire this person. And I would always say yes because all the requests had been well justified. I guess, staff knew better than to send me a request that wasn’t well justified. So, I never had to say no. But eventually Jim took it over and he is now doing it.

IEEE History; the Name I-E-E-E, Socials, Ad Hoc Committees, and Eta Kappa Nu

Hochheiser:

I know one thing you wanted to talk about a bit was history.

Vig:

Yes. I’ve not been happy with the fact that IEEE has no history since the centennial year, 1984. The history since 1984 exists only in the heads of old timers who are still around and, maybe, hopefully, in filing cabinets. Because of that I would very much have liked, and I still would like, to have the IEEE’s history since 1984 written.

As I mentioned earlier, we don’t know how TAB came about. We don’t know how SA came about. We don’t know how several parts of the organization came about. It just sort of happened and there’s no documentation, at least no documentation that’s been found. So, when I asked questions about how TAB came about, how the Standards Association came about, nobody could answer me. Not even guys like Eric Herz could answer the question. In 1984, a book was written on the history up to 1984 and that book exists today. It’s available on GHN, The Making of a Profession: A Century of Electrical Engineering in America (Wow! Look at the names of the members of the Honorary Centennial Committee!). But nothing has been written since. I feel that it is important to document the history since 1984 while the people who know, first hand, are still around.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

And I found the book written in 1984 useful. When I was becoming more and more involved with IEEE, I looked at that book. I can’t tell you that I’ve read it cover to cover, but I’ve certainly looked through it and I read portions of it and I found it useful. And since 1984—which is now, what… 27 years—nothing has been written and the history is getting lost, and that bothers me. I think it’s unconscionable for us to let the history of IEEE disappear.

As somebody said, an organization without a history is like a person with Alzheimer’s. We need to have a history to know what was going on in the early days, to point the way into the future, and to allow us to avoid the pitfalls of the past. There are some famous quotes about this such as, “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” A philosopher said that, Santayana, I think. And I think that’s so true, that if we don’t have a history, we’re going to repeat some of the mistakes we made in the past. Also, “A nation [organization] which does not know what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do.” Woodrow Wilson said that.

I think it’s essential that we document our history before the history disappears. And Eric Herz will not live forever. And guys like Mischa Schwartz and Irv Engelson and the others who lived through the history are not going to be around forever. In addition, IEEE has a record retention policy that requires staff to get rid of records that are over a certain age. I think it is 10 years for most types of records. That surely doesn’t help with the documentation of our history.

So, I’m glad you’re doing this interview because, hopefully, I can contribute something to a future effort by a historian.

Hochheiser:

You certainly have.

Vig:

Well, thanks; I hope so.

Hochheiser:

Are there any other activities from your presidential year that I haven’t asked you about yet?

Vig:

Yes. The Editor-in-Chief of The Institute invites each president to write a quarterly column. I never paid much attention to those columns before I became president because the columns were usually boring platitudes, probably ghost written by some staff writer.

I had selected my own topics and wrote each of the articles. I did have a helper, Sonny Barber, who edited and polished the columns. He also occasionally added materials (platitudes?) when the columns failed to fill up the available space. I wrote about subjects that were important to me.

I wrote a column [in the March 2009 issue, “What’s in a Name?”][21] about the name of the organization, how the full name no longer represents what IEEE is; and why we should use just the four letters, I-E-E-E, instead of the full name, Institute of…. Another column [June 2009, “Volunteers Are the Greatest][22] dealt with the value of volunteers to IEEE.

In the September 2009 issue, [IEEE Is Also a Business][23]" I dealt with the business aspects of IEEE and why, even though we are a not-for-profit organization, we must make a profit each year. In the December issue, [“We Must Tell the World”][24] I discussed the contributions engineers and scientists have made to humanity, and why it is important that we let the world know.

In the October 2010 issue of The Institute, “Q&A About IEEE Diversity,”[25] I discussed diversity in IEEE; geographic, gender, technical area, and the Board of Directors’ diversity.

Vig:

Are you going to ask me about being past president?

Hochheiser:

Yes, That’s the next part.

Vig:

Okay.

Hochheiser:

Before we get to 2010, is there anything we missed on 2009?

Vig:

Well, I mentioned the 26 ad hoc committees… and then there were the “socials.” My first meetings series was in 1996, when Wally Read was IEEE President. The most memorable parts for me were the socials. One evening at each board series there was dinner with music and dancing. As my wife and I are ballroom dancers, I especially enjoyed the dancing. The socials had been a great opportunity to have fun, and to network with fellow volunteers, staff and with the leadership of IEEE. And for the president, it was a great opportunity to thank the volunteers and staff.

Whether or not to hold a social was the President’s decision. Not every president held one. But I loved the idea and made sure that, at each meetings series during my presidential year, we hired a disc jockey, had a dance floor, and the volunteers and staff had a chance to have fun in a social setting. I had heard later that the presidents who followed me eliminated the socials. Too bad - for IEEE!

Some of the most memorable socials in which I had participated were at region meetings, especially in regions 8 and 9, as evidenced by the photos earlier. At region 8 meetings the students organized “culture nights.” The students set up tables in a big room at which they displayed their national costumes, served their national foods, played their national music… It was almost like a friendly competition – where everyone had fun.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

At the end of my final Board of Directors meeting, in November 2009, as my last official act, I reviewed the highlights of “my” year as president. In that, I list the ad hoc committees. I’d like to include that talk, “IEEE Highlights 2009,” in this oral history.

In 2010 the Region 8 Director invited me to present to the Region 8 Committee a talk on “IEEE Past-President Reflections.” In it, in slide 10, I have a slide entitled, “I Wish I Could Have Changed…” in which I list what I feel should be changed, but which I’d failed to change, during my year as President.

Hochheiser:

If there are any ad hoc committees or other presentations that occur to you now, go ahead and talk about them. If not, yes, certainly you can add them when we get the transcript.

Vig:

I do have a comment about the ad hoc committees. A tactical error I’d made with respect to ad hoc committees is that such committees exist only until the end of the year in which they are appointed. With hindsight, I should have appointed the ad hocs for terms ending at the June meetings series. That way, I would have had six months to implement the committees’ recommendations. The way it turned out, the ad hocs reported their recommendations in November – which left only the final few weeks of the year for implementation; – which included the holidays - not much time. My successor showed no interest in the ad hocs and the issues the ad hocs addressed.

Another event worth mentioning is that Eta Kappa Nu was a milestone during my presidency.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

I was the one who signed the agreement with Eta Kappa Nu on behalf of IEEE and I shook hands with Bruce Eisenstein who was the chief honcho of Eta Kappa Nu at the time, and with Dick Gowen, who was IEEE Foundation President at the time.

Hochheiser:

And Bruce Eisenstein had been a past IEEE President as well.

Vig:

Yes. And a past IEEE President as well. And, by the way, Dick Gowen is also a past president. He was the president during the centennial year, 1984.

There’s a great photograph of three of us shaking hands. I’m in the middle shaking Bruce Eisenstein’s and Dick Gowen’s hand and all three of us are beaming at the camera. It’s a great picture.

Hochheiser:

I know the picture.

Vig:

I had been the one to sign for IEEE because of the timing, not because I had a lot to do with the merger. My main contribution to the merger was to insist that the merger agreement and the related IEEE governing documents state that Eta Kappa Nu was an honor society for all in IEEE; i.e., for all who worked in IEEE’s designated fields, not just engineers. According to the original draft documents, Eta Kappa Nu was an “electrical engineering” honor society. The final documents we signed state that Eta Kappa Nu is the honor society of ALL of IEEE.

That great picture also reminds me… We have professional photographers at important events. For example, there were photographers at the 125th anniversary events. They took many pictures. What happens to those pictures? Are they in the Global History Network? I don’t think so. Nobody oversees the preservation of those photos. Only when they are sent to the GHN by someone like me do they get preserved. Otherwise, the pictures, and, thereby, pieces of IEEE history, get lost.

Hochheiser:

Yes. My knowledge is that you have a picture of sitting with Abdul Kalam in India.

Vig:

Yes.

Hochheiser:

I don’t recall seeing that.

Vig:

Well, I’ll try to make sure that it is included in this oral history.

Hochheiser:

Send it to me and I’ll add it to the collection, and we’ll include it here.

Vig:

I’ll send it to you, and I’ll be sure to add it to the transcript of this oral history.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Vig:

One of the milestones I attended was the milestone for the first message sent over the internet.

Hochheiser:

Right. I recall that milestone.

Vig:

It’s a wonderful story. It’s available on UCLA-TV – which is similar to IEEE.TV. In fact, the speeches at that milestone ceremony are available on YouTube.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Vig:

It’s there and I’ve watched it. Arianna Huffington[26] was there and gave a nice speech. The Director of DARPA,[27] Regina Dugan[28] gave a speech, and I gave a speech.[29] Leonard Kleinrock, (who happens to be a fellow City College of New York graduate) and who was the guy who sent the first message, gave a speech[30] and he told the wonderful story about the first word transmitted over the Internet – actually, its name was the Arpanet at the time. The story should be on the IEEE GHN. [Note: The name of GHN was later changed to ETHW.org.]

If it is not on the GHN, it too will disappear someday. I mean the fact that the photographers who took pictures in India have a collection of pictures of IEEE people in India doesn’t do anybody any good if it’s not on the GHN. The whole purpose of the GHN is to collect all these things in one place. The photographer will eventually die and the staff person who hired the photographer will eventually leave IEEE or retire or die. The photos are going to disappear. So, please bring it up at your next staff meeting but there ought to be a place where people can upload their photographs.

Past-president and Board Restructuring

Hochheiser:

All right. 2010, now you’re the past President.

Vig:

Right.

Hochheiser:

Okay. Well, what were your IEEE activities during your past Presidential year?

Vig:

Almost the entire year was devoted to board restructuring. That was 2010 President Pedro Ray’s initiative. The optimum size of the Board of an organization is debatable, and, boy oh boy, did we debate that! I think we spent far more time on this issue than it deserved. I estimate that no more than 0.1% of members know, or care, about the composition of the Board. Some organizations can operate fine with a small Board. Others, such as the IEEE, in my opinion, require a larger, more diverse Board.

Hochheiser:

So one of the things Pedro wanted to do was to restructure the board.

Vig:

Restructure and, thereby, also drastically cut the size of the Board. Up until that point Pedro and I got along fine. In fact, I had helped Pedro become President, and I had allowed him during “my” year to hold a Board retreat devoted to restructuring.

After I expressed my reservations and opposition to important aspects of the restructuring, he cut me off. I was no longer involved in what used to be 3P activities. (The 3Ps are the current president, the past-president, and the president-elect). Historically, it’s been either the President acting alone, or the three Ps acting together. After I expressed opposition to important aspects of the board restructuring, it became just the two Ps, Pedro and Moshe Kam.

In fact, I remember an incident where Pedro and Moshe went before TAB to explain the proposed restructuring. One of the Society presidents raised his hand and asked Pedro why it’s only the two Ps standing before TAB. What happened to the third P, he asked? And another president interjected, that the third P is standing in the back of the room and pointed at me at the back of the room. Why don’t we ask him, he suggested. And I got up to a microphone and expressed why I opposed the restructuring. And it was like that for the rest of the year. It was not a pleasant experience.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

The main problem I had with restructuring is, and again, it comes back to diversity. Pedro wanted a small board and he wanted a competency-based board, with no quotas, no representation - which would have eliminated even the small representation that we have today; that is, that we have at least one director on the Board from each region. Right now, each region is guaranteed a board seat. Under Pedro’s proposal it would have been possible to have nobody from our largest regions, regions 8 and 10, on the Board of Directors – or, in fact, from any region. He wanted a more efficient board and he claimed that a smaller board is more efficient. My argument was that, no, our goal should not be a more efficient Board. Our goal should be a more effective Board.

I told Pedro that, if we can change the board to be more effective, I’m all for it, but if you want efficiency, the most efficient board would be a board of one person; just you. That would be efficient. It would not be more effective, but it would surely be efficient. So, I argued for an effective board rather than an efficient board. And I argued for a more diverse board. We just totally disagreed, and Moshe took Pedro’s side.

Before that I had a great relationship with Moshe. Today we have virtually no relationship. So, it’s unfortunate that my opposition to restructuring the board destroyed my relationship with both Moshe and Pedro. Eventually, the restructuring proposal failed, so that was the end of it, but at the cost of my friendship with Pedro and Moshe which has yet to be repaired. It had also been at the cost of the Board having lost much of the year 2010 because the Board restructuring consumed much of the time. But, as I saw it, I had no choice. I guess, Pedro and Moshe felt that I was disloyal. My loyalty is to IEEE, not to Pedro, or Moshe, or to any other individual.

By the way, reducing the size of the Board could have been done without adversely affecting diversity. One way would have been, and this is sacrilegious to some of my friends in the US, to remove the IEEE-USA president from having a seat on the Board. The US has seven seats on the Board while the rest of the world (RoW) has only four, while membership is about evenly split between the US and the RoW. How is this fair? Moreover, the membership is shrinking in the US and growing outside the US.

Another way, and this too is sacrilegious to some of my friends, is to remove the VP, EAB from the Board. Educational activities are vitally important to IEEE; no question about it. But, in the year I was president, EAB’s revenues were about US$ 1 million. TAB’s revenues from tutorials, workshops and short courses, mostly at conferences, amounted to more than US$ 20 million. (And, geo units too have educational activities.) So, a question nobody seems to want to ask is, which organizational unit of IEEE is the educational activities unit of IEEE? Might there be a better way to do educational activities? Might investing in improving the organic activities of the OUs give us better results?

During my year as past-president, I was invited by the Board of Directors of the SAE, which used to stand for the Society of Automotive Engineers, to participate in one of their Board meetings. The economic decline and the troubles of the auto industry in 2008 caused a hemorrhaging of their membership. They had been primarily a US organization. The reason they had invited me was that they wanted to know how IEEE became a global organization and why IEEE was successful all over the world. They too wanted to become a global organization.

”What Do You See as Your Major Accomplishments?”

Hochheiser:

I think we’ve finished with 2010 now, unless you had something else you wanted to add? Then I’ve got a variety of concluding questions.

What do you see as your major accomplishments during your many years as an active volunteer of IEEE?

Vig:

Well, if I measure by its lasting effects on IEEE, probably number one is the Sensors Council. It put IEEE into a new business and, because of that, we have a highly successful journal and a highly successful conference. So, with respect to having the greatest impact, perhaps, that’s one of my most important contributions.

Another of comparable significance is the leading role I played in reducing our journals’ submission to publication delays, as I described earlier.

Another is the eBook Classics program. IEEE Press had been losing money every year since 1997. Repeated attempts to make it profitable had failed. There was more and more talk about shutting down the Press and, thereby, getting out of the book business. I was opposed to doing that, as were several others in the leadership. Instead, we proposed transforming the Press into a publisher of eBooks – which allowed the Press to become profitable, eventually. Previously, the Press had published conventional, printed books.

At the time I also proposed a program that eventually came to be known as the eBook Classics program.

The sales of a technical book has a short half-life. According to one source, about 90% of sales typically take place during the first couple of years. Like other book publishers, after the sales had declined to the point where printing and stocking books was no longer profitable, typically after three years, the books went “out of print;” became no longer available. So, I proposed that, instead of letting books go out-of-print, we make them available to members as a free membership benefit; as a free download from IEEE Xplore.

I was told by some that I was crazy; naive. They asked, why would authors agree to have IEEE give away their books for free? Well, guess what! My faith in the authors turned out to be justified. When the program started, 297 books were eligible for the program. The authors of 260 of those, 88%, agreed to participate; agreed to allow IEEE to make their books available to members for free! The rest opted out.

The eBook Classics could be downloaded by members chapter by chapter. The program started in February 2010. By the end of 2010, members had downloaded 516K chapters, and in 2011, 644K more; i.e., during the first two years, more than a million chapters had been downloaded by members.

Members liked this free membership benefit. [Note added after this interview: By 2013, more than 2 million chapters had been downloaded. Source: Kenneth Moore, Director, IEEE Book and Information Services.]

I had also initiated an online IEEE President’s Suggestion Box. I had shown a draft version of the Box to staff at the All-staff gathering in February 2009. The Box had been available to everyone - primarily for suggesting ways to improve IEEE. Unfortunately, not many suggestions had been received. The Box was new, and it hadn’t received much publicity. Later, I’d learned that the Box had been eliminated even though it had cost very little to create, and it cost virtually nothing to maintain. I had believed that, if nothing else, the Box had good PR value.

Another accomplishment was bringing the Frequency Control Symposium into IEEE, which I had mentioned earlier.

Yet another was that I was a strong proponent and supporter of installing solar panels on the roofs of IEEE buildings.[31]

One of my last acts as IEEE President was that I got the honor of throwing the switch to turn on the flow of electricity from the panels on the first roof to be covered by solar panels.

I had also established the Presidents’ Change the World Competition for students. The goal was to have students, or student teams, identify a real-world problem, and apply engineering, science, computing and leadership skills to solve it. About 200 entries were received the first year. The top prize was US$ 10,000; the second prize was US$ 5,000 and the third prize was US$ 2,500. The SAC [Student Activities Committee] chairs did the initial evaluations, and the three presidents jointly selected the top winners. In the first year, the top four teams were from India, Nigeria, the U.K and the U.S. The top prize was presented at the IEEE Honors ceremony. Later, I’d learned that, strangely, this competition too had been eliminated.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

Some of the things about IEEE’s transparency and openness to which I had contributed I think will make IEEE a better organization.

One initiative which I haven’t mention yet is about conferences. I felt that we kept doing the same-old-same-old in both publications and conferences. Our conferences are similar to what they have been like for the past several decades.

One day, in 2007, I came across an article in The New York Times the title of which was “What Did the Professor Say? Check Your iPod.”[32] It described how some universities recorded lectures and made the recordings available soon after the lecture, so students could review the lecture on their way home or the same evening. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head; this is what we should do at our conferences!... especially at conferences that have multiple sessions!

A while later, at a Region 10 meeting in Ahmedabad, India, I met two officers of the local section, the Gujarat Section, Anil Roy and Deepak Mathur. They asked me to suggest a project for them. I suggested that they investigate how the recording of lectures, per the New York Times article, could be applied to IEEE conferences.

Later, I also suggested that they propose an initiative on “presentations online,” which means that rather than just doing conferences the usual way, we record presentations and make them available online, in less than 24 hours. They did a study, published a very thorough report, and recommended a software package, Camtasia; which allowed loading the software on the same computer as the one that controls the slides. Camtasia synchronizes the slides with the speaker’s voice and records the presentation on the computer. As soon as the presentation is over, one can just take that recording and, after some relatively minor processing, the recordings can be uploaded onto a server and attendees who couldn’t hear a presentation can, within a few hours, watch the presentation. They can hear the speaker and see the slides. I proposed that we do that for our conferences.

Recording of presentations is being used by a few conferences, in the Sensors Council, at some UFFC Society conferences, and in a few others. At IEEE SENSORS conferences, attendees have been downloading more than 10,000 presentations at each conference during, and for a few days after the conference.

Such recordings are a great benefit for conference attendees, and a potential revenue source for IEEE. There are many conferences now with several parallel sessions. Attendees cannot be in two sessions at once, but with recorded presentations, attendees can see all the presentations they wish to see.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Vig:

And sometimes one must make a choice. Do I want to hear a paper from session A or session C? If they were both recorded, that evening or the next day, I could listen to the paper I had missed. That’s an extra benefit for conference attendees. And if I’m sitting in my home here in Colts Neck, New Jersey, USA because I couldn’t go to the conference, it would be nice if I could log into that conference presentation and listen to the talks that I missed. I think that’s a potential revenue source for IEEE, but, for some reason, it has yet to catch on widely. The technology works. I think it’s only a matter of publicity and making this more widely available to conferences.

Hochheiser:

In what ways have you remained active and involved in IEEE this year now that you’re off the board?

Vig:

I am back to being active in the Sensors Council. In fact, the AdCom meeting is in two weeks and I’m a candidate for VP Publications. I’m the only candidate, so far, unfortunately. That’s why I’m a candidate, because nobody else would step forward and run for Vice President of Publications.

Hochheiser:

Yes.

Vig:

So, I said okay, if nobody else wants to do it, I’ll do it. So, if I remain the only candidate, it’s highly probable that I’ll get elected, which means that I’ll be running the business end of the Sensors Council’s journal, the Sensors Journal, which I had started. I’m also involved in lots of other activities of the Sensors Council. I am also the Web Editor-In-Chief for Frequency Control in the UFFC Society. The UFFC-S website is something I had started back in the mid-nineties. Again, nobody stepped forward and, as I have an emotional attachment to something I had started, if nobody else wants to do it, I said okay, I’ll do it. I’ll be happy to do it. Plus, I’m still consulting outside of IEEE, mainly for DARPA.

Hochheiser:

Looking back, in what ways has IEEE evolved or changed over your many years of activity?

Vig:

Well, we are a more open and transparent organization than we used to be. Our electronic publications are doing great. When I first started in IEEE it was all paper and gradually it became part paper and part online, and now we still do paper but, less and less and, eventually, I’m sure that paper is going to stop, and we’ll be exclusively online. Most of it is online right now. The growth in our publications business has been phenomenal. The fact that we posted 240,000 articles last year is just mind-boggling.

Hochheiser:

Yeah.

Vig:

I mean the total since day one—which day was 127 years ago—the total including third-parties’ publications—we now allow into IEEE Xplore the publications of the American Physical Society, IBM and the IET from the UK—the total is only three million. We just passed the three million mark. Last year alone we added 240,000. It shows how rapidly we have been growing lately and that more and more people are coming to IEEE to read the papers in their fields of interest. I think that’s been a success story; a great success story. But in many ways, we haven’t changed, which is a shame. We haven’t changed in the way we’re doing conferences; at least, we haven’t changed much. We haven’t changed in the way we do peer review of our publications. For example, some other publications allow people to comment; even publications like The Economist. I frequently read The Economist online. At the end of articles readers can add comments.

Hochheiser:

Right.

Vig:

In the New York Times too, there are opportunities for adding comments to articles, for example, by means of letters to the editor. I’ve been saying - why don’t we allow readers to comment? I talked to staff whose responsibility it would be to implement this, and they say that, software-wise, it would be simple to add the ability to add comments to every article. The comments would have to be reviewed; moderated because such things will be inevitably mis-used by trolls and spammers. In case we can’t get enough volunteers to review comments, the process might add some costs but, we can afford it. We should at least try it, for example, with one or two journals. Do it for a year, assess whether it can work, what it might cost, and whether the experiment was worthwhile. PSPB had considered the idea and rejected it.

Comments on publications is just one of many potential changes. So, in a way we have changed. In a way we have not changed. We don’t make it easy to experiment, and we don’t take risks. In the agency for which I consult, DARPA, program managers are expected to fail much of the time. If they don’t fail, they are not taking enough risks; they are not doing the job for which they were hired. Their job is to initiate “high-risk, high-payoff” programs. I’d love to see IEEE similarly encourage “high-risk, high-payoff” programs.

Hochheiser:

In what ways has your IEEE participation formed and enriched your own professional career?

Vig:

It’s become my addiction to be an IEEE volunteer, but it’s a nice addiction. As far as my professional career, I suspect that it has helped me become a better leader, and a better communicator, but I can’t prove that. The fact that I have gotten to know a large number of fellow volunteers, from all over the world, has also helped me, I’m sure. I consult for DARPA and, I have no evidence that this is the case, but the fact that they keep asking me to continue to consult, year after year, since the 1990s, is, I hope, purely because of my abilities and what I contribute not because I am a past president of IEEE.

Hochheiser:

Uh-huh. Well, I’ve come to the end of the stack of questions, and the last question is just a card that says is there anything I neglected to ask that you’d like to add at this point?

Vig:

Well, just one more comment. At the beginning of this interview I told you how my family survived World War II. Is it not remarkable how a 2-year old who came very close to being murdered and reduced to ashes in the crematoria of Auschwitz, the way millions of others had been, eventually became a president of IEEE?

Hochheiser:

Yes, it is.

Vig:

I’m a lucky guy. I cannot explain why my story turned out the way it did. But, as an aside, it’s interesting that, if you search past-IEEE President Cleon Anderson’s oral history on “Vig,” you’ll find that he claims to know why I became president. He says that it was my destiny. Quoting from his oral history, “We had John as the president of the IEEE because there was destiny for him to meet in Budapest. He was saved, possibly from Auschwitz. There is an unseen hand that takes note of the affairs of men.”

Now, I am not a religious person, but, Cleon’s explanation for how and why my life turned out the way it did is as good as any. I don’t believe in destiny but, who knows? Maybe he is right.

Hochheiser:

Maybe he is….

Well, if we’re done, then I’ll turn off the camera.

Vig:

Okay. Please do.

Hochheiser:

Okay. Thank you very much.

Vig:

Thank you for making it easy to tell my story.

References

  1. From Wikipedia: "Miklós Vig was a Hungarian cabaret and jazz singer, actor, comedian and theater secretary in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Born in Budapest on July 11, 1898, he was murdered there on December 19, 1944 by members of the Arrow Cross.", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikl%C3%B3s_Vig
  2. From Wikipedia: "Labour service (Hungarian: munkaszolgálat) was required of "political unreliable" and Jewish men in Hungary during World War II after they were prohibited from serving in the regular armed forces by passage of the Hungarian anti-Jewish laws.", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labor_service_(Hungary)
  3. From Wikipedia: "Following the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944, Jews from the Hungarian provinces outside Budapest and its suburbs were rounded up and the first transports to Auschwitz began in early May 1944 and continued even as Soviet troops approached. During the last years of World War II, they suffered severely, with roughly 420,000 to 600,000 perishing between 1941 and 1945 (the numbers relate to Hungary's territory in 1941), mainly through deportation to Nazi German-run extermination camps", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_Hungary
  4. From Wikipedia: "The Hungarian numerus clausus was introduced in 1920. The law formally placed limits on the number of minority students at university, and legalized corporal punishment. Though the text did not use the term Jew, it was nearly the only group overrepresented in higher education. The policy is often seen as the first Anti-Jewish Act of twentieth century Europe.", https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Numerus_clausus
  5. As of Jan 10, 2019, at https://ieee-uffc.org/about-us/history/uffc-s-history/
  6. "GuideStar is the world's largest source of information on nonprofit organizations.", From website at http://www.guidestar.org/
  7. Scope: Develop and recommend strategies for implementing environmentally-friendly practices into IEEE, including facilities, conferences and other meetings, and publications operations. Spearhead staff and volunteer awareness. See Ad Hoc Committees of the Board, 4 March 2009 for full roster
  8. Scope: In the context of IEEE’s need to develop an emerging market strategy, assess the China Initiative, including answering the following questions:
    • What is the model we are currently using in China?
    • What are the lessons learned? How successful have we been and why?
    • Is the China Initiative a model we can/should adopt for other countries; e.g. India, Russia, Brazil…?
    • If so why, and if not, why not, and, what should be the model? (Should we have country-specific initiatives at all?)
    Provide recommendations for IEEE’s strategy with respect to emerging markets. See Ad Hoc Committees of the Board, 4 March 2009 for full roster
  9. Scope: Explore opportunities in India as a Model for IEEE's Global Growth: As a part of 2008 President Terman's Focus on India effort, an environmental/internal scan, a visit to India to learn the opportunities and challenges, and two reports to the BoD were completed during 2008. Four key areas for further exploration have been identified: Membership Development, Technical Activities, Partnerships with corporations and standards bodies, and Humanitarian/Sustainability activities. The ad hoc committee will build upon this effort and develop a plan, with well defined targets, in each of these four areas. While this effort's focus is on India, the strategic goal is to develop a plan that could be deployed in other parts of the world with similar characteristics. See Ad Hoc Committees of the Board, 4 March 2009 for full roster
  10. Scope: One of IEEE’s 3-5 year goals is: ”IEEE will operate as a model global association…” Nobody seems to be against this goal, but, in spite of that, progress towards the goal has been slow. The purpose of the ad hoc is to examine the causes of the slow progress and recommend specific actions the Board and the OUs can take to accelerate progress.See Ad Hoc Committees of the Board, 4 March 2009 for full roster
  11. Scope: A computer generated (gibberish) conference article, with a fictitious author, recently appeared in IEEE Xplore. Other poor-quality conference articles have also, occasionally, appeared in Xplore. Such articles hurt the reputation of IEEE and destroy confidence in the quality of our publications. Therefore, this committee will consider options for dealing with this problem, and recommend policies and procedures for maintaining the generally high quality of articles included in Xplore. See Ad Hoc Committees of the Board, 4 March 2009 for full roster
  12. Scope: Several experiments conducted during 2008 indicate that capturing presentations and making them available online has the potential for enhancing IEEE operations, and for becoming a significant revenue source for IEEE. This committee, together with the staff team, will develop the procedures, infrastructure requirements, and business models for captured presentations (such as conference, tutorial, distinguished lecturer, and training presentations). See Ad Hoc Committees of the Board, 4 March 2009 for full roster
  13. Scope: The task of this committee is to identify opportunities and make recommendations for improving IEEE, as a business – in areas such as marketing, sales, business development, protecting the brand, monitoring and evaluating the competition, encouraging innovation, forming partnerships, and mergers and acquisitions (e.g., of independent conferences). See Ad Hoc Committees of the Board, 4 March 2009 for full roster
  14. Scope: The committee is to identify options to increase the positives and decrease the negatives of IEEE technical co sponsorship. There is currently a lack of agreement on how and when technical co-sponsorship should be used. In addition, the guidelines for technical co sponsorship are unclear. The use of technical co-sponsorship has increased over the past few years. Some technically cosponsored conferences compete with existing conferences offered by the societies/councils, some use the IEEE logo and Xplore while the surplus generated goes to non-IEEE entities, and, at least one tech cosponsored conference chair has stated that he provides a forum for articles that were rejected by an IEEE financially sponsored conference (and his conference articles go into Xplore). The full extent of the problem is not yet understood. See Ad Hoc Committees of the Board, 4 March 2009 for full roster
  15. Scope: The Committee advises the staff team and the Ruder Finn public relations agency about activities related to the 125th anniversary celebrations.See Ad Hoc Committees of the Board, 4 March 2009 for full roster
  16. "John Vig Wishes IEEE A Happy 125th Anniversary", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEXBSFIpmi0
  17. "IEEE President Dance 2 14 09", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJJ5RVthjOo
  18. From Wikipedia: "Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam (15 October 1931 – 27 July 2015) was an Indian politician and aerospace scientist who served as the 11th President of India from 2002 to 2007." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._P._J._Abdul_Kalam
  19. From Wikipedia: "Ravi Shankar (born 13 May 1956) is an Indian spiritual leader. He is frequently referred to as "Sri Sri" (honorific) or as Guruji or Gurudev." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravi_Shankar_(spiritual_leader)
  20. From Wikipedia: "Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark, 10 June 1921), is the husband of Queen Elizabeth II." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prince_Philip,_Duke_of_Edinburgh
  21. "What's in a Name?: Let's think more carefully about how we position IEEE", http://origin.www.theinstitute.ieee.org/members/presidents-column/whats-in-a-name433
  22. "Volunteers Are the Greatest: Without them, IEEE could not be the leading professional association for the advancement of technology, http://origin.www.theinstitute.ieee.org/members/presidents-column/volunteers-are-the-greatest404"
  23. "IEEE Is Also a Business: Except for a few that have large endowments, not-for-profit organizations couldn’t survive long without producing a profit http://origin.www.theinstitute.ieee.org/members/presidents-column/ieee-is-also-a-business502
  24. "We Must Tell the World: We need to raise the technological awareness of those who support and fund research and development", http://origin.www.theinstitute.ieee.org/members/presidents-column/we-must-tell-the-world315
  25. "Q&A About IEEE Diversity: As membership outside the US continues to grow, Vig talks numbers, sets future goals", http://origin.www.theinstitute.ieee.org/special-reports/special-reports/qa-about-ieee-diversity701
  26. From Wikipedia: "Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington (born Ariadni-Anna Stasinopoulou, Greek: Αριάδνη-Άννα Στασινοπούλου, July 15, 1950) is a Greek-American author, syndicated columnist, and businesswoman." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arianna_Huffington
  27. From Wikipedia: "The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is an agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DARPA
  28. From Wikipedia: "Regina E. Dugan (born 19 March 1963), is an American businesswoman, inventor, technology developer and government official. She was the first female director of the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), where she served from July 2009 until March 2012." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regina_E._Dugan
  29. "IEEE Milestone Award, 40th Anniversary of the Internet conference, UCLA", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GY1K4kwp2A
  30. "Leonard Kleinrock, 40th Anniversary of the Internet conference, UCLA" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fgdzgwvHsNE
  31. "Operations Center Goes Solar: Rooftop photovoltaic solar panels installed" http://origin.www.theinstitute.ieee.org/special-reports/special-reports/operations-center-goes-solar519
  32. "What Did the Professor Say? Check Your iPod", By Anne Eisenberg, Dec. 9, 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/business/09novel.html