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Greetings From ACS’s New CEO: What’s Ahead

by Thomas M. Connelly, ACS Executive Director And CEO
April 13, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 15

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Thomas M. Connelly, Executive Director and CEO, ACS.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

The recent American Chemical Society national meeting in Denver was unlike any other that I had attended. The difference was not the meeting itself. It offered the same exciting, leading-edge science as it always has. For me, the major difference was my participation in so many diverse aspects of the meeting in my new role as executive director and chief executive officer of ACS, a position I started in mid-February. At previous national meetings, I would put together my own schedule. This time, my schedule was filled each day from sunrise until well past sunset. The six days passed like a whirlwind. Stimulating, yes; exciting, yes; and demanding, too.

I met large numbers of ACS members, addressed the ACS Council for the first time, and had my first face-to-face meeting with the ACS Board of Directors as executive director. I also spent time with students, including some who have been supported by the ACS Scholars Program. When you see the enthusiasm of young people studying chemistry, you cannot help but be optimistic about the future of our science. This national meeting also gave me the opportunity to see the many dedicated ACS volunteers and groups in action throughout the week.

Only a small percentage of members attend the national meetings; therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to briefly introduce myself to the whole readership of C&EN. My career has been in the global chemistry enterprise. I am a chemical engineer by training. I worked 36 years in the chemical industry, holding research and business leadership roles at DuPont. Early on, I spent 10 years at plant sites, practicing chemistry on a large scale. I also had the opportunity to work in Europe and Asia, developing an appreciation for the increasingly global practice of chemistry.

As a longtime member of ACS, I have observed and admired the many important contributions that the society has made to chemistry. I am honored to lead such an outstanding organization and to continue my service to the chemistry enterprise.

I intend to build on the legacy of Madeleine Jacobs’s highly successful 11-year tenure as executive director. The society’s finances remain strong, providing the resources to support our members in so many ways. The ACS publishing operations have flourished. ACS Publications has added 15 new journals in the past decade. Chemical Abstracts Service continues to enhance its flagship products, SciFinder and STN, and is developing brand-new offerings.

Strong as the society is, there is still work to be done. Our field is changing. Earlier this year, George M. Whitesides of Harvard University published a thought-provoking article entitled “Reinventing Chemistry,” which is an interesting read for all in our field (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2015,DOI: 10.1002/anie.201410884). We look forward to hearing professor Whitesides’s thoughts on this subject as the speaker at the ACS Board of Directors’ open meeting in Boston. If you are attending the Boston national meeting, I encourage you to attend this session, which will occur at noon on Sunday, Aug. 16, at the convention center.

Like our profession, there are aspects of our society that also require examination. We need to continue to strengthen our service to members, while recognizing that their needs are changing. Our membership must reflect the full scope of the practice of chemistry. Our industrial membership has been drifting down recently. It is important to understand this tendency at its root causes and to reverse it. We need to update our value proposition for chemists and engineers in industry, and for their employers.

We cannot ignore the fact that we are operating in a challenging job market and also that more and more of the world’s chemists are practicing outside the U.S. and the other developed countries. Increasingly, our journal authors are in developing countries. More than half of CAS revenues originate outside the U.S. These new realities must be reflected in all aspects of our society.

Although there are challenges that we face within ACS, and in our profession, there are greater challenges that scientists face in society at large. Science has never had more to offer people, and yet often this science is neither understood nor accepted by the public. This gap between scientists and the public is too big for any one organization and any single scientific society to close, but ACS has not ignored the role that it can play. Our members are participating in this dialogue, and are informing it with sound science. Our educational and outreach efforts are critically important, as together we work to achieve the ACS vision: Improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry. I am proud to be part of this effort in my new and exciting role.  


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