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End of watch: Reflecting on the responsibilities of the ACS Board of Directors

by Pat N. Confalone, Chair, ACS Board of Directors
December 4, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 48

Credit: Peter Cutts Photography
Pat Confalone.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography

Unlike Congress, the American Chemical Society Board of Directors has term limits. It has been my honor and great privilege to serve our society on the board for nine years, the past three as board chair.

“End of watch” is a phrase often used by the military and law enforcement to indicate the completion of a shift or retirement from active duty. My watch began in 2007 just when the financial markets were on the verge of collapse and the Great Recession was about to commence.

Working closely with ACS management, the board of directors had to take immediate action guided by the ACS finance department. Those were difficult days that required hard choices such as freezing the defined benefit pension plan, capping the society’s financial contributions to the retiree medical plan, calling for a hiring freeze along with a workforce reduction, and eliminating open requisitions for new hires. Without these difficult steps, the society would have become technically insolvent in 2008 to 2009.

As employment in the chemical industry began to track the downward spiral in the general economy, we ramped up the many services for unemployed chemists and established an entrepreneurial initiative to help members interested in chemically based start-ups.

Fortunately, those challenging years are largely behind us, allowing for a laser focus on all the wonderful programs that ACS offers.

In my years before election to the board, I often wondered, “What does the ACS Board of Directors do?” I am now in a better position to answer that question.

In my years before election to the board, I often wondered, “What does the ACS Board of Directors do?” I am now in a better position to answer that question, and I offer the following responsibilities and accomplishments of the board, not in any particular order: (1) Develop guiding principles for expanding the global presence of ACS and determine the best execution strategy; (2) oversee the financial health of the society, ensuring prudent stewardship over our budget, which today exceeds a half-billion dollars; (3) develop and approve an annual strategic plan, articulating goals and objectives with defined metrics and timelines; (4) conduct regular external compensation reviews for the chief executive officer and the executive leadership team, linking compensation to agreed-upon annual objectives; (5) approve multiple ACS national awards and nominations to U.S. national awards; (6) approve our operating and capital budgets as well as the strategic imperatives of our information units, ACS Publications, and CAS, ensuring a sustainable future for the society; (7) set targets and priorities for our development office; (8) debate and approve ACS public policy statements and policy priorities, which may vary from year to year; (9) execute our annual Society Program Portfolio Management process to ensure that all our programs are performing to expectations, resourced to win, and positioned ideally within our portfolio of programs; (10) promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education initiatives such as Science Coaches, Chemistry Ambassadors, and the highly successful American Association of Chemistry Teachers; (11) develop capabilities to enable chemistry-based entrepreneurs to successfully launch start-ups, fostering future job creation for chemists and chemical engineers; (12) set guidelines for the society on scientific freedom and human rights; (13) continue to oversee the ACS Fellows Program, which was approved in 2011; (14) ensure success of a board public access and diversity stakeholder working group; (15) approve the launch of new ACS journals and editorial appointments; (16) work with the board-level committees, especially the Committee on Professional & Member Relations and the Committee on Public Affairs & Public Relations, to meet their many important objectives; (17) collaborate with the External Affairs & Communications unit in support of public outreach and government affairs advocacy; (18) participate in many ACS committees via board representation in a liaison relationship; (19) conduct strategic planning retreats and financial planning conferences; (20) establish the basis for ACS International Chemical Sciences Chapters and form alliances with international chemical societies; and (21) search, select, and recruit top talent for the society such as CEO and his or her direct reports.

A number of additional responsibilities are required of the board chair, such as attending the Editors’ Conference and the Governing Board for Publishing quarterly meetings, visiting the Royal Society of Chemistry to engage in collaborative efforts in a “precompetitive” space, and participating on advisory boards such as the Green Chemistry Institute and the C&EN Editorial Board.

My parting thoughts at the end of watch are best summarized in my Aug. 22, 2016, Comment in C&EN titled “Governance reform: Toward a modernization of ACS.” I view the need for streamlining and simplifying our governance structure and our operational processes as currently the most important undertaking for ACS. I am confident that at the end of that challenging journey, we will realize greater efficiencies and agility, thereby freeing more human and capital resources to carry out the many wonderful programs that ACS offers to the chemical enterprise.

I will close by asking all members of the society, in all capacities and capabilities, to work toward this future state as we welcome the new board chair on Jan. 1 for that person’s “start of watch.”

Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.

CORRECTION: This article was updated on Dec. 13, 2017 to reflect that it was the ACS Defined Benefit Pension Plan, not the ACS Defined Contribution Retirement Plan, that was frozen in 2009.



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