Reminiscing about my IIASA Experiences

By Irving Lefkowitz. Remarks delivered at the IIASA Community Reception in Newport Beach, CA, on February 15, 2015 by Irving’s daughter, Deborah Lefkowitz.

Irving Lefkovitz, 1987, private archive

Irving Lefkovitz, 1987, private archive

My association with IIASA remains among the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding experiences of my professional life. There are so many reminiscences to tell it’s hard to decide where to start or what to include.

Director Howard Raiffa had invited me to join IIASA for the period June 1974 through August 1975 as leader of the newly defined project group concerned with large-scale industrial systems. Specifically, the goal was how to use systems analysis tools and methodologies for improving economic performance of large-scale industrial systems. We chose the steel-making industry as a first candidate for our study – this was of interest to all of IIASA’s member nations, it was sufficiently complex to be a challenge, there had already been a number of diverse computer control applications reported in the literature, and most important, we had sufficient knowledge of the industry and steel-making as a system among our project staff to hit the road running.

More on Howard Raiffa's Leadership at IIASA

Irving Lefkowitz with a beard (a post-IIASA acquisition) and his wife, Madelyn Lefkowitz


I want to thank the IIASA Alumni Reunion Committee for their warm welcome to my daughter, Deborah, in her presentation of some of my reminiscences of IIASA, and for allowing me this opportunity to add to what she said.

In particular, I want to comment on Howard Raiffa’s leadership. In addition to Howard’s well-earned reputation in the field of large-scale systems, he had a vision of IIASA playing an important role in promoting East-West collaboration on problems of mutual interest – energy, water resource systems, ecological systems, and industrial systems. He saw such collaborations as furthering the spirit of détente that was just beginning to emerge between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Deborah Lefkowitz delivering her father's remarks at the IIASA Community Reception in Newport Beach, CA in February 2015

Howard’s vision was that the scientists on each project would represent both East and West orientations and would work together on realizing the project’s overall research goals; he was concerned, however, that this collaboration might still be influenced by the project leader’s own orientation. In an effort to resolve this problem, Howard asked me to share the leadership of the newly constituted Industrial Systems project with Alex Cheliustkin from the USSR, and I agreed to this. Alex and I complemented each other exceptionally well. The project team had already agreed to focus its initial efforts on the steel industry, where Alex had considerable practical experience. I also had experience in industrial process control, but my forte at that point was achieving optimal control of large-scale industrial systems. I respected Alex’s practical expertise; he respected my analytical approach. As a result, we had no disagreement on the direction of the research, or on the interpretation of results. We also became close friends despite differences in our backgrounds and cultures.

I recall early in our relationship when our two families drove to Salzburg, Mozart’s birthplace and a center for music and the arts. We could not all fit into one car so both Alex and I drove. Once, as we pulled over to a rest stop, Alex noted a police car following us. Alex, concerned, asked the officer whether we had done anything wrong. The officer said he was just curious about why a car with USSR license plates was traveling with a car obviously marked for export to the U.S. We explained that we were scientists associated with the new international research institute, IIASA, in Laxenburg, and that we were motivated by the spirit of East–West détente. He seemed pleased with the explanation, wished us luck and drove off.

I also enjoyed good relations with the other members of our project team. After my return to Case Western Reserve University, all of our Eastern bloc scientists visited me in Cleveland. I also maintained mail contact with the project’s two secretaries, Janina from Warsaw and Valentina from Moscow.

Deborah Lefkowitz with Robert W. Corell, who was a former student of Irving Lefkowitz at Case Western Reserve University.

In addition to promoting close East-West cooperation, Howard Raiffa was concerned with the welfare of the IIASA scientists and their families. For example, he recognized the importance of providing opportunities for wives to be engaged in IIASA activities. When my wife, Madelyn, approached Howard with the idea of starting a newsletter, he immediately agreed and asked that she serve as editor. The publication became very popular. In addition to IIASA news, the newsletter included items submitted by family members such as original artwork, puzzles, reports on short day trips, and tips for what to do in Vienna.

Howard also encouraged a host of family activities meant to broaden our appreciation of the history, culture and art of the world around us. Highlights that come to mind include receptions and celebrations held at Laxenburg and attended by political, business, clerical, and other regional leaders; ski weekends; folk dancing and other exhibitions of local culture; a weekend trip to Landshut, Bavaria, to join in the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the wedding of a Polish princess to the son of the Duke of Landshut; a meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, with officials of UNESCO to discuss possibilities of a joint project on ecological systems, followed by an exciting safari trip.

A high point of my association with IIASA was an invitation to present a paper describing our approach to control of complex industrial systems at a meeting of the Royal Society of London (see publication here). During the question period, a gentleman sitting at the back of the auditorium said that he had never heard such nonsense before--it was all armchair philosophizing. Fortunately, I was able to retort that the diagrams I displayed in my talk were from Nippon Steel Corporation in Japan, showing the hierarchical structure of the computer control system in their newly built and operating Kimitzu Works. A major contribution of our work at IIASA was to develop a systems analytic approach that would help generalize and simplify the design procedure. One result of Nippon Steel’s commitment to new and cutting-edge technologies was that it enabled Nippon to compete effectively on the world market despite having to import all of its raw material and to ship its products great distances; and Nippon was able to meet delivery commitments and product quality specifications.

I want to end by mentioning the great entertainer Bob Hope’s theme song: “Thanks for the Memories.” So I thank you, Howard, for having graced me with so many memorable experiences at IIASA.

With all best wishes,
Irving Lefkowitz



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Last edited: 05 January 2016

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