Sunday, July 31, 2005

What attributes does a top-level manager at LANL need


I think this comment from the "Productivity" post deserves top billing. The topic being discusses was what attributes does a top-level manager at LANL need to posses in order to be effective. Could you please elevate it?



A good upper manager at LANL needs to have the ability and courage to push back against unacceptable requirements which the contractor and DOE attempt to mandate. UC in particular has been completely and totally spineless when it comes to saying "No!" to DOE upon receipt of yet another stupid bureaucratic requirement from them.

To give a counter-example of this attribute: Cobb.

Just because DOE is the customer most certainly does not make them always right. It is the poorest customer that usually needs the most guidance, and DOE is certainly the poorest customer that I have ever had to deal with.

This post really doesn't answer the original question that was posed. The original question was "what IS the set of skills/tools that an effective senior manager at the lab needs?"

All this post does is suggest that the only skill set a manager needs is to be able to "push back" against upper management. We can put a janitor in the AD office and get him to do that.

Here is the question again:

"what IS the set of skills/tools that an effective senior manager at the lab needs?"

Combination: MBA/Engineering?

Or does it not matter? In other words, will LANL staff complain about ANYONE that is put into an AD office or Division Leader position?
UC is not a specific manager. They are an organization for which our managers work.

"What attributes does a top-level manager at LANL need?"

In other words, what specific set of skills should individual LANL managers need?
Sorry, dude. Equating skills with degrees is a pretty dumb mistake.
Most people would say that in order to receive certain degrees one must successfully gain a certain set of skills. So equating skills with degrees is certainly valid. Work experience is, of course, also critical. However, I don't know of too many Fortune 500 company boards that hire CEO's with only high school diplomas.
And I know of even fewer, sucessful companies, that elevate Physicists to CEO positions.
The advanced degrees are a good thing, IF it's the correct degree, with relevant, demonstrated, work experience.
Would an MBA, then, be the correct degree as opposed to a PhD in Physics?

Your comment is certainly correct. Even companies as technical as Lockheed, Raytheon, Abbot Labs, etc. have a only a small proportion of PhD in executive level positions. Why is it that LANL feels that a PhD is a requirement to be a manager, when industry actually de-values a PhD in terms of management skills?
Oh come on -- this thread by the previous poster is typical of the "MBA" school. In the 1980s the MBA school swept in and high levels of companies like Exxon got non-scientist CEOs. In turn, these CEOs hired MBAs because that is who they were. Eventually, scientist/engineer was removed from management. BUT, no improvement in science management because the companies eventually divested all research because the MBA hoard said "it is not profitable". LM, Bechtel, Raytheon all have Management that is science/engineering trained -- and they are the last to be doing any work.

MBA managers CAN NOT run a science organization.
One thing that was missing from LANL in the past was any mentoring/training program for future leaders (group, division, or otherwise). I think SNL (Lockheed) does a better job of identifying, weeding out, and preparing future leaders.

One of the few good things Nanos started was a leadership development program. Let's hope this one initiative is beneficial to LANL.
Obtaining a PhD mostly demonstrates a status quo attitude nothing more. Lets start with some people who have actually accomplished something. In short, choose Edison and Einstein over Oppenheimer and Beta. Integrity also matters. Don't choose Nanos or Nanites. Leadership matters too. Choose Bradbury and Agnew over Hecker and Kerr. It will be tough finding such people in Los Alamos in 2005 but we should try nonetheless.
Beyond the necessary educational skills, a good manager needs to
genuinely like people. Hard management choices are much easier to
accept when the folks in the trenches feel that their managers
have common feelings for their situation. I'm always impressed
when I see a high level manager walk a production floor and they
remember the names of both the workers and their wife and kids.
A manager who genuinely likes people will remember these names.
Little things like this still mean a lot to people.

This brings up the second quality of a good manager -- a fellow who
is not afraid to take the time to "walk the shop". This means
coming out of your management office and spending some informal
chat time with your staff. Share a cup a coffee with them and
find out what is going on with both their work and outside lives.
This is something I almost never see at Los Alamos. In fact,
the last time I saw a Division Leader take the time to come down
to our Group office for informal "1-on-1" chats with the staff was
back in 1992! This type of indifference sends a clear message
to the staff. Here is another personal observation -- I do WFO
work, and it has been my experience that my WFO sponsors know
and care far more about me and my family than any of my managers
at Los Alamos. Given this, is it any wonder that many of the LANL
staff have nothing but nasty comments to spout about management?
LANL management has failed miserably at gaining the trust of
their workers. Perhaps it has something to due with a bit of truth
to the stereotypical cold, uncaring scientific persona. I don't
really know, but it reflects poorly upon LANL management that many
managers, especially at the upper levels, are as aloof to their staff
as our absentee landlord, UC, is to this lab. Not all managers
fit this pattern of indifference at LANL, but many do.

A final attribute of truly great manager is the ability to take on a
"servant" mentality in doing their job. It helps if a manager
feels they are there to serve their workers, and not the other
way around. Place your ego in the trash bin and learn to occasionally
serve those underneath you. It can be a liberating experience.

In summary, a good manager: (1) genuinely likes people, (2) walks
the shop for informal chats with the staff, and (3) has a "servant"
mentality. Alas, few managers at any company have these attributes.
Those few managers who do are very special people, indeed.
Anonymous : 7/31/2005 02:02:30 PM says that "a good manager: (1) genuinely likes people, (2) walks the shop for informal chats with the staff, and (3) has a 'servant' mentality."

At LANL, this would be career-limiting behavior. A manager who had those attributes would not have time to attend the required meetings and get the necessary brown-nosing and ass-kissing done.
Let's put it simply. Having a PhD does not necessarily make you a good manager. The opposite is also true. There are plenty of succesful CEO's that dropped out of high school. It takes a certain type of person to be a manager at LANL or anywhere else. Again, letters after your name do not NECESSARILY qualify you. This is a mistake that has been made at LANL over and over again.
To 7/31/2005 02:02:30 PM,

May I add one more item to your list?

A good manager must also be able to make decisions on their feet without the benefit of forming a committee, when circumstances warrant.
MBA managers CAN NOT run a science organization.
# posted by Anonymous : 7/31/2005 01:34:05 PM


J. Dan Bates, president of Soutwest Research Institute in San Antonio is a reasonable example from comparable institution.

SWRI is viewed as successful, independent and credible in applied science and technology R&D, and has many similarities to LANL, except without the scandal, political meddling and suffocating bureaucracy.

Bates' background is accounting, and has an MBA in it. He's a bean counter:


"Dan graduated with an accounting degree in 1966 and continued his education obtaining his Master's from Texas A&M in Kingsville and then becoming a Certified Public Accountant. He was named a Texas State Distinguished Alumnus in 2003 and both his father and daughter attended the university."

Successful managers need training, mentoring and experience in successful management techniques.

They need the capability to understand high-level technical issues in the areas they manage, but to insist that PhD's are the only people who can be management material for a science and technology organization is simply a fallacy easily refuted with examples from successful instituions around the world.

A technical PhD prepares one for intensive study in specific technical areas. Nearly all technical PhD programs do little to nothing to prepare, mentor or provide experience to the candidate in managing science and technology institutions, budgets, accounting, stakeholders, inventories, facilities and the least scientific of all, people.

Get real. LANL has warped the perspective of many as to what makes good management feedstock.

The pinnacle of the twisted perception was Nanos: sure he had a PhD, and one may even say he had management experience in large technical organizations...but his PhD was of little use to him besides being a ticket to punch for the job, and his experience was nearly completely irrelevant to leading LANL successfully.

His PhD, and anyone's PhD, is neither necessary nor sufficient to be a successful senior manager at Los Alamos, or any other scientific institution.
I can name some former division leaders who had the qualities a top level manager needs. Where are Lud Gritzo, Jay Weschler, Gene Eyster, and Harold Agnew when you need them. They could push back against the AEC and win. Unfortunately, when Harold tried it with the bureaucrats in DOE he lost and so did we.

If you can find some people like them who are honorable, care about their employees, and the Lab you will at least have a decent place to work. They will insulate you, as best they can, from the bureaucracy over which you have no control. Pay them highly, and give them a good pension, for they will deserve the compensation.
A fundamental problem, and the reason why I posed the question originally, is that it looks very much as if the skills necessary to be a "leader" at the lab are practically disjoint from the ones it takes to be an "administrator" who deals with Washington. Larry's list -- "honorable, care about their employees, and [care about] the Lab" -- is certainly a good one. Somebody else said "(1) genuinely likes people, (2) walks the shop for informal chats with the staff, and (3) has a 'servant' mentality." These are good too. Now I ask you: how much weight do any of these carry in dealing with Washington? Well, the "servant mentality" probably does, but not in a form of "servant mentality" that we would identify as desirable at the lab, I fear.

I deal with Washington extensively in my present job, and I don't have a good answer for this part. There are some things that help, and that are also desirable for an inward-directed "leader" role as well: integrity, credibility, and being "smart." But there is more to it than that. Plenty of people with those skills do a crummy job of dealing with NNSA, Congress, and so on. Surely I can't be the only reader here that interacts with the Feds; somebody else with such a job want to take a crack at this one?

Incidentally, when I first framed the question, I really didn't have degree status in mind. In my opinion it is highly desirable, but not absolutely mandatory, for the top manager to have an advanced technical degree and work experience in a field related to the one he/she manages; having this pedigree helps considerably with the "credibility" part. However, we have tons of people around here who have that pedigree but are missing some other piece of the puzzle. Let's try to identify those pieces.
5:39 has it right -- there are managerial skills that are exclusive of technical background; additionally, a technical background can bring tremendous crediblity both internally and externally. Thus, the best leaders for LANL (or LLNL and SNL for that matter), are the rare combination of internal leader, credible scientist, visonary, and pragmatic.

Do we have any of these in the lab? I would offer up that Bob Kuckuck seems to fit this catagory. For the technical ADs, I would say only Terry Wallace exhibits these traits. For the Services/Support I would say that Scott Gibbs fits the ticket, and perhaps Carlyon M (but not Barb Stine!!!). There seem to be some other leaders that could step, and I believe that James Peery, Dave Clark, and Bill F. (CCS) seem to be outstanding material.

So, how did we get in the stituation we are in today? Nanos obviously was a terrible choice, and he chose people that looked like him (Cobb....). But, that does not explain the general lack of technical leadership.
Yup, the same Gibbs and Mangeng who were Nanos principal advisors on shutting down the lab and now remain conspicuously silent. Good choices.
On Friday Kuckuck, Wallace and Cobb came to see the Sigma workers. After a brief introduction, the director looked out and asked "how are you doing?". What a difference a year makes. Last year the director was calling the entire lab "butt heads". Wallace assured us about the path forward, and told us how important it was to get back to full operation. Cobb sat in the front and scowled -- he seems to really miss Pete.

It is a difficult time in Sigma, and I really resent the anonymous posts that sling arrows at us. I really resent the whispers about managers lying about what happened. I really resent the comments that the accident happened because we don't understand safety because we focus on paperwork. These are all lies, and even when the facts are presented there are comments that we did the wrong thing and our management is spineless whimps.
An important attribute for a top-level LANL manager is to be independently wealthly. There can be no "livelihood leverage" on him/her from above. Only then, can he/she completely put the interests of the role foremost and "push back" whenever and as hard as required.
Nanos chose Gibbs, Mangeng, Beason, Wallace, Tarantino, Seestrom and Beck.
Sorry -- Nanos did not choose Beason and Wallace. In fact, he opposed Wallace openly, and LASO opposed Beason. Get off the every manager is a nanite house.
Well, we already know who our top managers will be. If LANS, LLC, it will be Mike Anastasio. One can look toward the LLNL model for his philosophy. If Lockheed, Robertson. We already know from LAML and Sandia experience what he will do. Why all the speculation and agnst? Isn't all of this pretty well a done deal? Whichever way it goes? I think the more salient question is who will the ADs be and depending which "partner" applies, who will they appoint? Keep in mind that either contractor corpration will have a board of directors that will "really" run things. Corporation, folks, NOT University. Get used to it.
regardless of who favored or opposed, nanos was director when he selected wallace and beason
The Chairman of GM earns $4 million per year. The Chairman of P&G earns a similar amount of annual compensation.

Both have MBAs from Harvard Business School. The marketplace is in fact stating that these individuals are worth 10 times more that the LANL Director.

So the question is rather why is LANL not attracting these MBAs from Harvard and Stanford Business Schools?

I would answer that LANL cannot compete with the opportunities and salaries offerred in the private sector.

In fact, the head of Lockheed Martin has an MBA from Harvard Business School.

So why has LANL missed the boat?
The question should be: why can't LANL attract and retain good MBAs? Not the kinds of MBAs from cardboard universities like University of Phoenix and NMSU, but from Harvard and Stanford. Top MBAs do make the best managers in most cases, Ph.D. scientists do not because they don't have the people or decision-making skills.
6:32 and 8:15. All of those folks will be history in a year, when LM replaces them with more competent, experienced, and productive managers, some of whom will be MBAs.
This thread is a hilarity. Scrape the bottom of the barrel, give them a degree in engineering from a third- tier university, make a them a TSM at LANL, promote them up in a few years to a management position. Oh, and buy them a cheap suit and polyester tie to wear to the occasional meeting at HQ (that's how all the Washington bureaucrats dress). That's all it requires. Really.
Management is an art, not a science and it is no more guaranteed by an MBA than it is a Phd in a technical field. The question we should be asking ourselves is, why is not good management skill the chief qualification for a manager? Neither Bill Gates nor Stephen Jobs could land a job at LANL because they have neither a technical degree nor an MBA. The strict requirements for academic certification hurt LANL both in research and in management. As a previous poster pointed out, academic certification simply proves the ability to kow-tow to the entrenched powers in some univerity or universities which are at least as bureaucratic at LANL. The restriction on degrees and on which universities they can come from strangles creativity in both management and science. The leaders of IBM and GM are not the best managers even if the did get through Harvard Business School. In particular, GM has been losing market share for a generation. What we should be asking is how can we get an Einstein, a Bill Gates, or a Steven Jobs or the young ones out there who have yet to be recognized.
To: Anonymous : 8/01/2005 08:20:43 AM:

Where did you get the idea that MBAs have any kind of " people or decision-making skills?" This is an extremely arrogant and very incorrect statement!

MBA management culture is based on people, particularly engineers and scientists, being interchangeable parts.

Indeed, there is a place for the MBA degree-holder, but it is NOT in science and technology.
Since LANL doesn't produce any real science or technology anymore then no one - neither scientist/engineer nor MBA - needs to be managing this place. So close it down.
7/31/2005 06:44:54 PM Work at Sigma do we, Patterson must have turned about 4 shades of red when this sh@@ hit the fan.
To 8:51: if a scientist or engineer, or any employee fails to add value to a company or institution, or if they cannot produce or deliver on projects as is the case with *many* LANL staff and managers alike, then they should be considered as interchangeable parts. No one is entitled to a job if they do not want to work.
to 08:51:44,
and how is it you know this? do you have a mba?
GW Bush has an MBA from Harvard, and he has told NNSA Brooks that he wants a business approach to managing DOE. Translation = LM gets LANL bid.

Seems like a Harvard MBA mafia is running the whole show. Sec. of Labor Chao also has the same degree as GW.
It seems to me that many of the bloggers are missing a crucial point. Many LANL programs are created and worked on in a “top-down” fashion. There’s no need to identify the programs but, often, some manager with a partial understanding of an issue sells a program to a headquarters man. The manager then presents this newly-unded program as a kind of gift to working scientists. The scientists now have a problem in that the program, examined in detail, does not work exactly as promised. This process pays nice salaries for a while but, long before the program is dead, it is obvious that this non-peer-reviewed program should never have existed. It becomes a fresh part of the long record of misconceived LANL programs. Do we need this kind of manager? How can we escape him after we’ve become dependant on this sort of a program?
This is for 8:20. I happen to be a graduate of a "cardboard" university. While you were still in diapers I was in a missile submarine off the coast of the former USSR during the height of the cold war ensuring you could grow up to be American. I came to LASL(note LASL not LANL) as a tec with a wife, two kids, two dogs, and two cats. I had no choice but to work and dream of something more. I went to school half time, at that cardboard university called UNM, and worked full time to get an EE. And yep - I got an MBA from that cardboard school called UoP because I couldn't find someone to suck up to that would support anything else. Both schools offered the same courses that you got at Stanford or MIT or??? Who cares? I walked away with an education.

And you know who I learned the most from? My dad was a SeaBee on Tinian in WW2 and a farmer. He taught me how to be kind, how to work hard, how to be accountable, and to respect people. And Admiral Rickover who taught me technology. I've been across the Lab - tec, SSM , TSM, TL, PL,DGL, Line Management. I've walked the spaces and been nice and cared and got kicked because I asked too many questions. I spent more time out and about and taking care of people than in meetings. I wanted to do it the right way. I worked for everyone in the group. There are people out there who do not want change even if it's there to help them. They will do anything to bring you and change down. They become a poison to progress. You can't win as a manager especially if your DL and AD is spine-less.

So Dr. Ph f'n D. Get over yourself. Universities are universities. They all serve their purpose. They give you an opportunity to learn. And if you are hungry and have good upbringing you want to learn and apply it.

Instead of complaining maybe you should follow some of these people that go to "cardboard" universities. You actually might learn something.

If you don't like what's happening around you there are only 3 things you can do. Continue complaining and be miserable, try to facilitate change for the better, or leave. That's it... Pick one.
There used to be a member of the Postdoc Committee that would (1) count the number of papers listed in the candidate's vita, then (2) count the number of "first author" among (1), then (3) count the number of PRL among (2). This member managed to bully his way, until someone else finally brought to the committee's attention that (a) not every scientific field lists authors by "contribution", (b) not every scientific field encourages its researchers to publish every time they sneeze, and (c) if someone has published 142 papers all on the same subject, it's probably time to move on.

The bloggers' obsession with what kind of PhD/MBA from where is no different from that paper counting game. We often miss the real story the numbers/degrees tell. Do the papers reflect a broad scientific vision, or someone who would doggedly pursue the same problem for 20 years? Do the degrees reflect strong work ethic, self-discipline, a desire for constant self-inprovement, or a demonstration of potentials fulfilled? Do the collaborations show someone who can work with others or best work alone? I feel that some of these qualities have been clearly on display in many vita I've read, but we are often not able to identify them.

I don't want to generalize, but many scientists have been accustomed to quantitative analysis. Plus, frankly, judging from some postings, there are lots of snobs at LANL who make broad judgment on others based on the kind of degrees they've got.

I personally think the managers we've been having at LANL lack "the vision thing". Compound that with the lack of interpersonal/communication skills and the understanding of what's really important (all were lost while pursuing a solidary scientific career), we get lousy managers.

Even if we could agree on a set of must-have attributes, however, what good are they if all our managers ever do is signing their names on every piece of paper their employees hand them so the posteriors of their immediate supervisors would be covered?

People become excellent scientists through many years of experience and hard work. People become excellent managers through many years of experience and hard work. Everyone has the same number of years in their life. If you are spending your life-years becoming an excellent scientist, you are not working towards becoming an excellent manager. If you are spending your years becoming an excellent manager, you are not working towards becoming and excellent scientist.

LANL needs excellent managers that have spent their quality years becoming excellent managers. Let the experienced PhDs do what they do best and let them lead science programs (project leaders and program managers). Let the experienced MBAs do what they do best and let them lead people (including the PhDs), facilities and processes (line management).

It is common sense. Excellent scientist does not equal excellent everything (manager, engineer, writer, mechanic, etc.) I find it interesting that MBAs tend to be acutely aware of their limits. Yet scientists believe they have none. Which is more dangerous?
to Anonymous : 8/01/2005 09:26:27 AM. Not wanting to work is not the only reason people fail at LANL or elsewhere. They can be given jobs that cannot be performed for bureaucratic or technical reasons, they can be given jobs they are untrained for and too little time and resources to get up to speed before the deadline, and they can be put in a damned if you do and damned if you don't job. None of these situations are the fault of the employee. Failure to add value may be a personal failure or an institutional failure. LANL has plenty of the latter along with the former which you mention. Only those who fail to do a job for personal reasons need to be forced to leave. In the case of institutional failure, the managers should be forced to find a job they are better suited for.
to 7/31/2005 08:15:56 PM "Nanos chose Gibbs, Mangeng, Beason, Wallace, Tarantino, Seestrom and Beck."

You forgot he also chose Kaye, Bowles, & Sharp. He kept Marquez, Immele, & Cobb. He did not choose Beason and Wallace.
And Beason choose to hire Lisa ("I'm a morale officer!") Gutierez. And to pay her more than $168K per year.
you know, the Lisa G. story is really incomplete -- her office was removed, and as part of a termporary agreement Marquez agreed to a year pay, but Lisa had to come up with an, in context, it is not all "Beason is Bad".

BTW, watch for more of this -- Kuckuck is cleaning out the fourth floor. He is moving at least a dozen folks, and they are have some limited term arrangements like lisa's.

I am wondering if Cobb is going this month also...............
There's always a story behind the story. In Beason's case, that story might be an unfortunate combination of timing, and lack of spine at that particular moment when he should have said, "No, I won't carry Morale Officer Lisa Guteriez' baggage! Find someone else to eat her overhead."
8/02/2005 07:11:22 PM,

What to you base this statement on? Who are you suggesting is being removed?
From much of what has been written in the blog, it appears that the key to a successful management career at LANL is "desktop olympics". A college degree doesn't matter if one of the participants is a good rider.
and don't forget a good pair of knee pads.
Kuckuck may be cleaning house but they will all end up someplace with their salary intact. Be careful - they might end up being your officemate.
8/01/2005 09:01:00 PM Universities are not all the same, if you had wanted a decent degree not one from a "cardboard" school you would have paid for it yourself, not been another member of the scientific welfare sysem called LANL or LASL.
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