Meet the new lab director

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Los Alamos resident Charlie McMillan took the LANL reins June 1

By John Severance

Twenty years ago, Charlie McMillan never envisioned being a laboratory director.
McMillan remembers telling his family when they were in California how much fun it was just being a scientist at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory.

“I took the kids to the lab site and we were going home at the end of the day,” McMillan said. “My son said to me, you have the perfect job. Why would you give it up?

“When I started my career, I was a physicist and it was a blast,” McMillan said. “I never thought about management and I definitely did not have a grand plan to be a lab director.”

Funny how things change.

McMillan, 56, took over as the Los Alamos National Laboratory director on Wednesday, replacing Michael Anastasio, who retired.

McMillan spent part of his first day talking with different media outlets and then met with employees, outlining three themes.
• Maintaining a vibrant, creative, and innovative scientific community at LANL.
• Continuing to deliver on our commitments to a variety of customers including Department of Defense, Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration and others.
• Focusing on teamwork -- primarily in the scientific arena, in operational excellence, safety and security, ethical business practices, and responsible environmental stewardship.

McMillan calls Los Alamos home. He owns a home in North Mesa and is married with three college-age children. When he is not at the office, he says he is an avid photographer and an accomplished musician, playing the piano, organ, and recorder. He also has an active interest in astronomy and telescopes.

With his new job, he might not have as much time for his interests.

McMillan was asked if he would be more visible in the community than some other lab directors, who became rather reclusive after taking over.

“I really don’t know yet,” McMillan said.

He was then asked if he thought he might get mobbed at Starbucks.

And McMillan just laughed.

When asked about the Trinity redevelopment project, McMillan said, “I don’t have an opinion on that.”

McMillan wanted to steer clear of controversy and focus on his new responsibilities.

Of course, he has a lot more on his plate.

As lab director, McMillan will be dealing with the budget, CMRR project and other national security and scientific issues.

As McMillan talked about the lab budget, he said, “Different parts of budget behave differently. I have to the lab director for the whole lab. Are there going to be challenges in the budget area? You would have to be a fool not to think there would be.”

One thing McMillan knows for sure is that he will be doing a lot more traveling. In fact, McMillan was out of town Thursday through Sunday.

Some of those travels will take him to Washington where he probably will get grilled when he testifies before Congress.

“When you are not used to traveling, travel is a luxury,” McMillan said. “When you do travel, it’s more of a curse. I am afraid it is more toward the second than the first. I bought the ticket so I better enjoy the ride.”

After long travels, McMillan likes nothing better than making the drive up the hill back up to Los Alamos.

“When I come up hill from travel, I am coming home,” McMillan said. “I have committed myself to the lab and it is my priority.”

But now he will be making the drive up the hill as the 10th director in the almost 70-year history of the lab.

It was a long road to that point.

After spending 10 years as a scientist at Livermore, Anastasio approached McMillan about the possibility of getting into management.

“I remember telling him, I don’t know if I can find satisfaction,” McMillan said. “I told him, I am going to do this job for a year. He told me if I don’t get the satisfaction, I could go back to what I was doing … no harm, no foul.”

As it turned out, McMillan did find the satisfaction he was looking for professionally.

From 2001 to 2006, he managed the lab’s B-Division, responsible for design, code development and experimental capabilities for Livermore’s weapons system. Before that, he held positions in the Advanced Experiments Group and Computational Physics Division.

In 2006, Anastasio brought McMillan with him to Los Alamos, following the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) selection of a new university-corporate partnership—LANS—to manage and operate the lab.

Before Wednesday, McMillan was the lab’s principal associate director for the Weapons Program, which is responsible for the science, technology, engineering, and infrastructure enabling the laboratory to fulfill its nuclear deterrent mission.

Earlier this year, Anastasio announced he was going to retire on June 1, and McMillan threw his hat into the ring.

“That is what has kept me in lab leadership,” McMillan said. “Today is an expansion of that. This is a place where scientists do great work.”

For now, when McMillan is in town, he will be meeting with lab personnel.

“What I do know, over  the next few months, I’ll spend time with folks at the lab sitting down with them and listening to hear their issues and their hopes for the lab,” he said.