Chapter 4: In the World of Research

2. The Real Cost of Every Worker
At this point it is worth remembering a fundamental aspect of research at Battelle, which was also present in other analogous centres and particularly in many engineering companies. We are speaking of financial management.
What Battelle sold essentially were the hours of all the researchers and the other staff. Each one of us had an “hourly rate” based first of all on one’s gross individual salary to which was added a series of coefficients related to the hours of work undertaken to prepare and to sell new projects, downtime hours, ascribing hours when there were no projects, re­­­serves where time on a project was exceeded, and finally, for the Swiss staff, the hours of military service. Account was taken of the costs charged to the researchers’ expenditure on cleaning and the volume of the offices used which were dearer in terms of the dimensions of the machines and the costs of the building designed to support their weight, particularly for mechanical and chemical engineering studies. There were of course administrative and contract services expenses and all the other necessary and utilised services. At the end of the day each of us, including the secretaries, counted up the hours spent on every project and, in my times, all the related costs anticipated that the salary of every researcher would be multiplied by three to arrive at the “sale price” to the client.
It was necessary therefore to assess the number of hours each one needed to spend on a given project within the most precise framework possible agreed in advance between the purchasers and the Battelle Institute researchers, in whichever country they were based.
The most efficient spent most of their time on projects and so accumulated reserve hours for selling new projects. This virtuous circle was well tried and tested and so inefficiency was quickly unearthed and punished. There were researchers who were hired but lasted no more than two months under this regime. Managing a division of 16 people was therefore, very instructive.
The majority of economic activities fall far short of being measured with these types of restrictions and calculations of the real cost of individual work.
It would be natural to think that a work system like the one at Battelle would be a source of continuous stress, but it also offered the advantage of being as honest as possible. There were few opportunities to exploit unclear situations or dubious excuses − often offered as being more sympathetic to “sensitive” souls in which all those humans, who count on others to draw from them the best personal profit at the least cost, delight. True sensitivity is that which bears the weight of necessary responsibilities.

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