On Friday 11 October I went to Eindhoven for an interview with Onno Boxma.
I arrived around 10 o' clock in Eindhoven. We had arranged the interview for 11 o'clock, hence I still had some time to have a final look at my notes. I sat at the long lunch table in the open space in Eurandom and when it was almost time I saw Onno, we greeted each other and we walked to his office.
Onno Boxma was born in Den Haag in 1952 and studied mathematics in Delft. He defended his thesis with title ``Analysis of Models for Tandem Queues" in 1974 and obtained his doctorate with the cum laude distinction. Prof. dr. ir. Wim Cohen was Onno's doctorate supervisor. After a career in IBM, Utrecht, the CWI and Tilburg University Onno became a professor of stochastic operations research in 1998 in Eindhoven Technical University, since 2018 he is an emeritus professor. His expertise lies in probability theory and stochastic operations research, primarily queueing theory. During the last thirty years Onno has participated in numerous strategic advisory committees, for the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences (KNAW), the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and for dutch universities. Recently he has also participated in the Educational Accreditation Committee (Onderwijsvisitatiecommissie). With his participation in such advisory committees he has helped Dutch mathematics enormously. For his contributions to Dutch mathematics Onno Boxma has received a royal decoration on the 26th of April 2019. He also received two honorary doctorates and two lifetime achievement awards.
This interview with Onno was for me an extremely pleasant discussion.
When editing the recording I realised that the interview was essentially an overview of the development of operations research in the Netherlands during the last forty years, with its ups and downs. I found it very exciting to hear about Onno's relationship with his supervisor Wim Cohen, professor of operations research in Utrecht university. To show this I translated a part of the interview:
``I knew him from some lectures as a formal person. He always gave lectures in a three-piece suit and he addressed students keeping a distance. One afternoon he was explaining to me on the board the topic he was thinking for my short project. It was a problem he was interested in and he started thinking about it, and he was making some mistakes, smoking his pipe, that was still allowed back then. And he seemed so excited! It was for me a crucial moment, the first time that I came in contact with research."
During the interview we also discussed various administrative functions that Onno has had until today. From 1985 up to 1998 he worked at the CWI (Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica), between 2005 and 2011 he was the scientific director of Eurandom and from 2009 to 2013 also vice dean in Eindhoven. Onno is also member of the management team of NETWORKS, a 10-year programme funded by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science through the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. He has also participated in the Board of Exact Sciences of NWO and in the Wiskunderaad. I found Onno's story about how he started at CWI in 1998 very inspiring, I have translated a short part from the interview below.
``Let me first say that I was asked to go to CWI by Jan Karel Lenstra who wanted me to start a group on performance analysis of computer and communication systems. And there was nobody else, I would thus come in an empty group. I really liked this challenge but I also had doubts; I asked then advice from Jaap Wessels, I didn't know him so well but I had the feeling that he could give me an objective advice. He was a wise man and a strategic thinker. Wessels said to me: don't think twice, take this opportunity. It's good to be on your own."
The interview (which is in Dutch) appeared in the March issue of Nieuw Archief in Wiskunde. NAW is delivered to most universities and mathematics institutes. If you would like to have the full interview in pdf (which is not allowed to be used for commercial reasons, it is intended only for personal and educational purpose) you can contact me via email@example.com. On the NAW website the article will be openly accessible after six months.