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Klaus Tschira: 1940-2015


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Klaus Tschira

On March 31st, 2015, the entrepreneur, software pioneer, and patron and supporter of scientific research Klaus Tschira died unexpectedly at the age of 74.

He made numerous lasting contributions to the scientific community. Naming them all would exceed even a lengthy appraisal, so we will just mention the most prominent ones.

In 1972, Tschira and four colleagues started a software company that grew to become a world leader in business software: SAP AG. Today the company employs almost 75,000 people and has customers in 190 countries. Klaus Tschira was one of the key architects and developers for the core components of the SAP product suite. He used and, in many cases, developed ideas and concepts that in those days were just slowly gaining attention in the CS research community, concepts such as abstraction, modularization, adaptability, and extensibility. Unfortunately, he never published his ideas (other than by integrating them into the code base).

The fact that SAP software can easily adapt to changing legal and fiscal regulationsa big competitive advantage for the companyis largely due to the methodical developments in which Klaus Tschira played a key role.

In preparation of his retirement from SAP's Board of Directors, he established in 1995 the Klaus Tschira Stiftung, now one of Europe's largest privately endowed foundations. Its main goal is supporting research in the natural sciences, including mathematics and CSalways in combination with outreach activities to educate the general public about scientific methods.

To him, research funding was not limited to project funding; it included direct financial support for research organizations and for the necessary buildings. An example is the Advanced Training Center at the European Molecular Biology Lab, the internal structure of which is a double helix.

In 2010, he established the "Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS)," a basic research organization covering subjects ranging from molecular biology to astrophysics, statistics, computational linguistics, and CS. Tschira was convinced that new breakthroughs will primarily be achieved at the interfaces between the disciplines. When deciding on a new research group, he followed the advice James Bryant Conant gave in 1945: "There is only one proved method of assisting the advancement of pure sciencethat of picking men of genius, backing them heavily, and leaving them to direct themselves." He supported his research groups generously, but he never tried to influence their agenda; it was the results he was interested in and the science in general. He was a regular at all the internal seminars, talking to the scientists at lengthwhich occasionally resulted in the creation of a new research group.

Tschira was interested in an unusually wide range of topics, all of which he addressed with utmost meticulousness. His own role and importance he always tried to downplay. He kept in the background, avoiding public honors whenever possible. Nevertheless, he recognized the importance of the gifted individual for the progress of science, and tried to get such people interested in his ideas. This is the reason he enthusiastically embraced the idea of establishing the "Heidelberg Laureate Forum," where Turing Award recipients, Fields medalists, and winners of the Abel Prize meet with young scientists.

Klaus Tschira touched the lives of many and changed them for the better, be it in the context of SAP, in his foundation and research institutes, or through his many funding programs. His passing is a huge loss for the research community in Germany and beyond.

We will sorely miss the clear strategic thinker, the generous patron, the creative supporter of research, the lover of language who liked to play on words, and last but not least, the warmhearted, humorous, fatherly friend.

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Author

Andreas Reuter is managing director of the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies, scientific and managing director of the European Media Laboratory GmbH, and holds the endowed chair (supported by the Klaus Tschira Foundation) in Distributed Systems at the University of Heidelberg.


Copyright held by author.

The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2015 ACM, Inc.


 

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