Obituary - Hans Gissel

IEC Past President Dr Hans Gissel has passed away

It is with great sadness that we learned of the passing of IEC Past President Dr Hans Gissel, 86, on 6 March 2018.

Historic moment: the development of the first IEC Masterplan in Valais, Switzerland
Historic moment: the development of the first IEC Masterplan with IEC President Richard Brett, Vice-President Ryo Togei, President-Elect Hans Gissel, General Secretary Anthony Raeburn and Treasurer Mathias Fünfschilling (Photo taken in Lötschental, Valais, Switzerland, 1992)

Dr Gissel was IEC President from 1993 to 1995, serving as President-Elect in 1992 and as Immediate Past President in 1996-1997. He was also Vice-President of the German National Committee of the IEC and a consultant to the Steering Committee of DKE, the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic and Information Technologies of DIN and VDE. 

A career in industry and research

Born in Rostock on 12 July 1931, Gissel studied electrotechnics at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule in Aachen (RWTH Aachen), the largest technical university in Germany, where he obtained his PhD (Dr.-Ing.) in 1960. On completion of his studies, he joined AEG, the German conglomerate – AEG ceased to exist in 1996 but Electrolux gained the right to use the brand name on some of its products – where he spent about forty years and occupied managerial positions until 1993. Finally, he became a member of the AEG board with responsibilities for communications and defense engineering as well as research. Additionally, in 1985 Gissel was a constituent member of the advisory group on information technology of the Federal Ministry of Research (today’s Federal Ministry of Education and Research). 

Gissel left his mark on the IEC

In his three years as President of the IEC, Gissel was instrumental in shaping the future of the Commission. 

Thanks to his professional career, Gissel perceived the major significance and influence of the semiconductor technology for all future IEC work. Early on, he referred to the “emerging and merging technologies”, as the big challenge of the second half of the 20th century. 

IEC Masterplan

Under Gissel’s leadership, a first Masterplan was developed in the Lötschental, in the heart of the Swiss Alps, resulting in the streamlining of IEC structure and its National Committees (NCs) worldwide. It also led to a close examination of the numerous technical committees (TCs), with the consequence that some were disbanded and new ones established. Simultaneously, the President’s Advisory Committee on Future Technologies (PACT), set up by Gissel, worked as a think tank charged with the early identification of technology trends. 


The role of PACT, as described in the IEC Bulletin (e-tech’s predecessor) of November/December 1994, was “to help the IEC fulfil industry’s future demand for standards in the areas of new and merging technologies, and of systems with major electrical/electronic content”. Members of the PACT think tank were presidents, vice-presidents and directors from major companies such as ABB, Alcatel Alsthom, Nokia, Philips, Rockwell, Siemens, Toshiba and leading organizations such as the China State Bureau of Technical Supervision, the Italian National Broadcasting Enterprise and the UK Institution of Electrical Engineers. In a way, PACT was the ancestor of the IEC Market Strategy Board (MSB). 

Sector Boards

In an effort to better tailor standardization efforts to market needs, under Gissel’s presidency, IEC made the decision to establish Sector Boards (SBs) to cover specific market segments and with representation not only from technical and national committees but also directly from industry to ensure relevance of the Standards produced by IEC.

Ultimately, four – now defunct – SBs were active for a number of years:

  • SB 1: Electricity Transmission and Distribution
  • SB 2: Healthcare systems
  • SB 3: Industrial Automation Systems
  • SB 4: Infrastructure and Telecommunications Networks 

Cooperation with CENELEC…

Gissel further developed the relationship with CENELEC, made official in 1991 under his predecessor Richard Brett with the signing of the Lugano Agreement. Gissel’s work led to the signing of the Dresden Agreement between IEC and CENELEC in 1996 (superseded by the Frankfurt Agreement of 2016) that ensure maximum harmonization and systems cooperation with IEC Standards underpinning European standards. 

…ISO and ITU

With great foresight, Gissel undertook negotiations with ISO and ITU, the two sister organizations based in Geneva, with the objective of allocating competences and grouping technical and scientific resources and potentials. Interoperability was the absolute challenge, the key to the so-called merging technologies. 

Lord Kelvin Award

It is also worth noting that it was also under the leadership of Hans Gissel that IEC created the IEC Lord Kelvin Award, first bestowed in 1995 on three experts for exceptional contributions to IEC work.

Praise from his successor

In his speech during Council in 1997, Bernard H. Falk, who succeeded Gissel as IEC President, paid tribute to the outstanding contribution and achievements of his predecessor: 

“When I joined the IEC as President-Elect, a few years ago, I was, and I continue to be overwhelmed by Dr Gissel's leadership abilities, and I must say it was a formidable task for me to follow the model of such an exemplary President. I learned immediately, during my first year as President-Elect, that I would take charge of the famous (and infamous) President elect task force and over the past two years, in his capacity as Immediate Past President, I can tell you, his guidance to me personally, to the Management Board, to the GPC, to the IEC in general, has been invaluable. Hans, you will be remembered by all of us for your enthusiasm and direct style. There was no hidden agenda for Dr Gissel: if he had something to say, he said it, unaffectedly. He always said exactly what he thought. People perhaps did not always like what he said, but he said it! But I am sure you will remember that what he said sprang from his total devotion to the IEC and to the high standards he set for the Commission. It is very difficult to live up to these standards! But I know I speak for all of us, Hans, when I say we will remember the standards you have set and we will all try to reach them. So I wish to thank you on behalf of all of us and on behalf of the Commission.” 

The President's tribute to Dr Hans Gissel was supported by a long standing ovation and was officially part of the meeting report.

Dr Hans Gissel leaves behind his wife Ingeborg, his daughter Anne and his sons Ralf and Norbert, their children and grandchildren.