Albert E. Kuhn, an IBM vice president who helped put men on the moon, was named 2002 Alumnus of the Year by Southeastern Louisiana University.
Kuhn, a 1965 Southeastern graduate and Ponchatoula native, headed IBM's Global Delivery Project, a $4 billion, five-year information technology out-tasking program between the IBM and American Express. He managed an organization of more than 2,000 IBM personnel located in 26 countries prior to his retirement in 2008.
Kuhn's career began in the aerospace industry, where, as an employee of Boeing, Computer Sciences Corporation, McDonnal Douglas, and IBM, he was involved in the Apollo, space shuttle and Space Station Freedom programs, and worked on missile defense.
In the early 1990s, he switched his career focus at IBM to information technology, serving as systems manager for the company's O/S 2 operation system development and establishing a worldwide organization for providing user end support for software products. His work took him to Europe and China, where he established a service organization to support IBM's software marketing and sales.
He joined IBM's Global Services Division in 1996 and became director of Distributed Services two years later. Kuhn was named vice president and Global Delivery Project executive for the American Express Account.
Kuhn said his interest in mathematics dates back to high school when he found that mathematics problem-solving gave him the opportunity for creative thinking. He said his professors' contacts and encouragement helped him up the first rungs of the career ladder. He credits mathematics faculty members such as Harold Moore and the late Marion Rummel with helping to open doors to graduate studies in aerospace engineering at the University of Alabama and employment with Boeing. He also remembers being fascinated by the flamboyant hands-on teaching style of physics professor J.E. Martin.
"They were good professors who took an interest in people and their careers," he said.
Kuhn was hired by Boeing Company in 1965 to work with in its Huntsville, Ala., operation, which was supporting NASA's Apollo Program. He was part of the technical team responsible for flight performance predictions of the Apollo launch vehicle's earth orbit mission. During those early days of American space exploration, Kuhn said he and his colleagues often worked around the clock.
"We were committed to putting a man on the moon without the hardware or software to get us there," Kuhn said. "It was challenging. We were caught up in solving the problems."
In 1973, Kuhn left Boeing for Computer Sciences Corporation where he worked as a systems analyst supporting antiballistic missile research for the U.S. Army Missile Command. He led the team that performed ascent studies of the Sprint interceptor vehicle.
He said the work was interesting, but that he ultimately found the task of determining how effective the weapon would be in knocking down Russian missiles to be "demoralizing." In 1975 he moved to McDonnal Douglas as manager of the Ascent Mission Design team of NASA's shuttle program.
Kuhn joined IBM's Federal Systems Division in 1976. As manager of IBM's Ascent and Abort System Performance team, he was responsible for verifying NASA's Space Shuttle avionics leading to the first manned flight. Following the first flight, he managed IBM's new business organization, working with the U.S. Air Force to design a data center for flight control of classified Shuttle operations. In 1989, he was named program manager for IBM's Space Station Freedom program.
In 1991, Kuhn joined IMB's Personal Systems Products Division as systems manager for development of the O/S 2 operation system. "I had been solving the same problems through three or four programs," Kuhn said. "It was time for a career change."
He established a worldwide organization for providing user end support for software products, expanding PSP customer support throughout Europe and establishing a service organization in China.
Kuhn moved to IBM Global Services Division in 1996 and was named director of Distributed Services two years later. In his job of providing information technology, he managed an organization of 3,500 personnel located in 26 countries.
"Southeastern has a very good computer science program," Kuhn said. "By spending time working in a business environment, students will be get a clearer understanding of the options open to them. They'll get a glimpse of what's out there." Kuhn helped orchestrate Southeastern student internships with IBM.
As a Southeastern student, Kuhn was active in Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity, serving as president in his senior year. He is married to Kathryn Durr Kuhn, a 1964 Southeastern graduate and physical education major, who was a member of and choreographer for the Lionettes. A former high school teacher, Mrs. Kuhn is an internationally rated women's gymnastics judge, judging at the collegiate, pre-Olympic and international levels.
The Kuhns have one son, Alan, a veterinarian practicing in Florida.
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