« To work with scientists is not that different than to coach basketball players. »

Stepping down as CFO, Ed Gregg was an actor and witness of Idiap's evolution over the last 15 years. Beyond his managerial role, known for his rigor, he knew how to discreetly bring his personal touch to the institute.

Behind the tall former professional basketball player hides a man as modest as he is rigorous. Before handing over the institute’s finances, Ed agreed to share his Idiap story and to share about his role.

How does an American professional basketball player become CFO of a research institute in the Alps?

You have to learn continually! As a player, then professional coach, I visited 22 countries and lived in 6 of them. In 2003, I was looking for another job to have more stability and my American degree wasn’t recognized in Switzerland. It was Pierre Dal Pont, CFO at the time, who gave me my chance at Idiap. With the FP6 European projects, they needed the help of an English speaking person, able to handle numbers with ease. From two mornings a week, I gradually increased my activity rate to half-time, so I was still able to continue as a sports coach. At the time, the institute had only fifty employees against 129 today! No one would have been able to predict this growth and our status of research center in artificial intelligence globally recognized. After the retirement of Pierre Dal Pont, then the departure of the person who succeeded him, François Foglia pushed me to run for the job. I had not even thought about it. It was such a challenge! And I was right ... I sweated a lot the first year! Since our financing is public, the management of Idiap needs to be all the more cautious and rigorous.

What have been the main challenges of the past 15 years?

When I took over the financial management, the Institute was growing fast. In the immediate future, the challenge was to manage all the partners of the National Center of Competence in Research, IM2. Not all researchers speak the language of finance. Coordinating all the partners was not an easy task and I spent a lot of time with the Swiss National Science Foundation in Bern to finalize the project's final report. This coordination exercise made me realize that researchers are not so different from professional basketball players: everyone has their own personality and their understanding of things. We must work with them, not against them. My coaching experience was valuable. It also took a lot of patience to implement some new tools necessary for the growth of the institute, such as the timesheets. It was also on this occasion that I was realized how much freedom we have here: thanks to our in-house expertise, we have developed our own customized tool. It's a great opportunity.

What vision, what wish do you have for Idiap?

The institute should retain its independence and creativity! The spirit of Idiap is its strength, it's what allowed me to integrate into Switzerland, especially by building an extraordinary network. This is an opportunity I would never have had elsewhere. I thank Hervé, Jean-Albert, Pierre, Olivier and François* for this wonderful teamwork and their trust. Thanks to them and to all Idiap, I have always enjoyed to come to work! Just as I did for my players, I would give the following advice to all my colleagues: be aware of how lucky you are to work at the institute and have fun in your professional activities.

* Hervé Bourlard, current director, Pierre Dal Pont, former CFO, Jean-Albert Ferrez, former deputy director, Olivier Dumas, Chairman of the Foundation, and François Foglia, current deputy director.