Reinhard Klein has
restored 300 computers for
use by refugees and others
in his community,
and is creating video
and classroom instruction.

Reinhard Klein has
restored 300 computers for
use by refugees and others
in his community,
and is creating video
and classroom instruction.

IBM customer engineers, or CEs, hold an esteemed place in the history of the company; they were the ones who, literally, fixed problems. As businesses came to rely more and more on their “business machines,” the CE was the hero who arrived at the customer location, repaired equipment, and got the company back in business.

Customers cherished IBM CEs for their expertise, quick response, and “get it done” service.

Today, IBM retiree, Reinhard Klein, who joined IBM in 1967 as a customer engineer, is again a kind of hero, along with the citizens and volunteers in the town of Klosterneuburg, Austria.

Reinhard is a volunteer with Klosterneuburg-hilft, helping refugees and others in the community develop skills and resources to become productive residents.

Service, even in retirement

At the end of 2014 and during 2015, nearly half a million refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and other countries moved into Europe, and tens of thousands sought asylum in Austria.

In Reinhard’s town of Klosterneuburg, more than 600 refugees were given shelter in an unused military barracks.

“Locally minded citizens led by Sabine Goesker gathered to help,” says Reinhard. “They collected what was needed to provide German language lessons, distribute clothing and food, and get medical assistance.”

Klosterneuburg-hilft was founded to facilitate monetary donations.

A member of the local Lions Club contacted Reinhard to ask if he could help do something with computers—even though Reinhard’s time as a customer engineer was in the past, and he had, in fact, retired as an IBM executive after a 39-year career.

Reinhard volunteered in true “IBM means service” fashion.

“I got involved when a personal computer with a printer and internet connection were needed at the barrack’s library so the refugees could get in touch over Skype with their loved ones at home and elsewhere,” he says.

“From that day on I’ve been the focal point at Klosterneuburg-hilft for all requests regarding personal computers, laptops and other technology.”

IBM retirees step in to help out

Of course, one computer could not meet the needs of hundreds of people.

“I put out a call for used laptops within our IBM retirees’ club to see if others had a few to donate,’ Reinhard recalls. “The result was that we received over 100 laptops within a year, and then later I got support from local newspapers for our initiative.”

In the first two years, Reinhard personally paid for the items needed to make the computers usable: RAM extensions, software license fees, hard drives and other spare parts.

Fellow IBM retirees also provided cash donations to support fixing the computers, which Reinhard does himself.

“I was always was a PC nerd, and as a trained electronics engineer and former IBM CE, it’s been no problem to get the computers working again,” he says. “But what is surprising and something I did not expect is that I would need these skills in retirement!”

Since March, 2015, he has repaired and restored 300 laptops, and is also creating “how to” videos and classroom training that provide instruction in basic computer skills.

In addition, Reinhard has recruited three young former refugees to serve as co-instructors. And in 2017, as a retiree, he received an IBM Community Grant (login required) to support his efforts.


Reinhard says that his appreciation of other cultures comes from 16 years of international assignments with IBM, including time in a haunted Scottish castle, combined with an inherited appreciation from both ancestral parental families, who were also refugees.

And despite recent controversy in some communities about the influx of refugees, he says that Klosterneuburg managed to create a positive climate.

“We did not leave them to try to figure things out alone,” Reinhard says. “We provided guidance, opportunities to learn, and a chance to meet with positive-minded people from the community every week, including at theater and dance performances.”

Though the barracks has closed because the flow of refugees has lessened, Klosterneuburg-hilft and its citizens are still providing assistance to refugees and anyone in the community who needs help, including the jobless and single mothers with children.

Reinhard was recently asked to help Hana, a young woman from Ethiopia who was flown to Austria for emergency cancer surgery; she spent several months recovering from the operation living with a family in Klosterneuburg.

“During her recovery time, Hana wanted to learn how to use a laptop, so I organized one with an English language keyboard and gave her lessons twice a week,” he says.

Unfortunately, when Hana returned to Ethiopia her laptop was stolen. Once again, Reinhard asked IBM retirees for help—he also volunteers as the vice president of the IBM retirees club—and within one week a colleague donated a computer, which was safely delivered to Hana.

“A couple of weeks ago Hana got her degree and she got a job at the university library in Addis Ababa. She always sends me images and thanks. That’s why I love this work,” says Reinhard.

He adds, “I get a lot of satisfaction and positive feedback, and my wife supports what I am doing. Plus, it’s a great smile on a young person’s face when they receive a laptop for use at school when their family could not afford one. That counts.”

Some would call that being a hero.

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