An organization’s cutting edge is an exhilarating and risky place. The leaders who create and ride this edge have to view their natural trepidation as a way to grow rather than a reason to retreat.
Kitty and Jim Thomas (center) share a toast with cooperation agreement partners from the Shanghai Institute of Standardization in Shanghai.
For most of the last 32 years, Kitty Kono has been at ASTM International’s cutting edge, both initiating and managing many of the changes that have taken this organization in new directions. To anyone who has worked with Kitty in all these years preceding her Aug. 31 retirement, her ability to do this comes as no surprise and is evident in her natural optimism and drive to succeed.
Raised on a dairy farm in Bucks County, Pa., and educated at Hollins College, Roanoke, Va., Kitty was a little overwhelmed by the city office environment when she joined the Philadelphia-based staff of ASTM in 1975 as a secretary in developmental operations. “I thought it was an amazing organization,” Kitty says. “I felt so fortunate to have the chance to work with these scientists and engineers. I was quite intimidated by it all.”
First headshot as SN editor in chief, 1982
Intimidated, perhaps, but Kitty was up to the varied challenges she would face in the coming years. In her career trajectory at ASTM International, Kitty has never let fear of the unknown get the better of her, making her one of those great navigators of the inevitable process of change.
After she worked in support positions in developmental operations representing ASTM at trade shows, researching membership trends and ushering in changes such as the dissolution of the old ASTM district program Kitty took on the position of staff manager in 1980. The roster of committees for which she acted as liason included D10 on Packaging, E18 on Sensory Evaluation of Materials and Products, E13 on Molecular Spectroscopy and Chromatography, E12 on Color and Appearance and others.
Kissing the Sphinx in Egypt
Kitty’s next promotion was a 90-degree turn from managing technical committees to managing writers and words as editor in chief of this magazine from 1982 to 1988. She loved SN, she says, and jokes that “the deadlines aged me quickly. But I enjoyed the planning process and acquiring articles talking to authors and making rich, full magazines. One of our achievements was to get the secretary of the Department of Commerce, Malcolm Baldrige, to write an opinion piece for SN in 1987.” Quality guru W. Edwards Deming also wrote for SN during Kitty’s tenure; she remembers establishing a correspondence with him that extended to his advising her to run a new headshot of herself in the magazine a quality guru indeed.
In 1988, ASTM created the Institute for Standards Research, and Kitty took her next leap into the unknown this time into the realm of fundraising as manager of the new ASTM subsidiary. The purpose of the institute was to raise funds for research that would support the development of ASTM International standards. In her eight years with ISR, during which time she was promoted up to executive director, Kitty oversaw the funding and development of research for fire testing, clothing size measurements for women aged 55 and older, medical and dental devices, skid resistance and much more.
In 1996, Kitty accepted the position of Washington, D.C., representative. The agenda for the early days of her new position was quickly set by the enactment that year of the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act. The act requires the federal use of private-sector standards whenever possible. “A lot of my job entailed encouraging federal agency participants to get more active in ASTM technical committees and to use ASTM standards,” Kitty recalls. Another and much more time-intensive project Kitty undertook was getting citations of ASTM International standards up to date in the Federal Register. For the successful completion of this goal, she gives credit to a veritable army of ASTM technical committee members and federal employees who did the hard work of updating those references once she and her staff had found which were outdated.
Throughout her five-year tenure as Washington representative, Kitty established positive relationships with many federal agency representatives, connections maintained today as personal friendships in many cases and as positive bridges between ASTM’s current Washington, D.C., staff and the federal government.
While Kitty served as Washington rep, changes were afoot in the standards world beyond the U.S. capital. “All the time that I was in this position,” Kitty says, “a lot of things were happening internationally. The World Trade Organization had come into being out of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement had been established and signed in 1995. That agreement became such a key part of standardization, with its requirement to use ‘international standards’ without defining what an international standard is. Suddenly, we needed to get out there and let the world know ASTM is open and international.” To further this goal, ASTM senior staff created the position of vice president of global cooperation in 2001.
Kitty’s personal interests in world travel and her professional development dovetailed to become her unique resume for this final career position. “All the layers of my ASTM experience helped me do this new job,” Kitty says. “As Washington representative, I had started to travel more, going to regional standardization meetings and becoming acquainted with leaders of national standards bodies in the Western hemisphere and Asia-Pacific region. When the global cooperation position was created and I accepted it, I felt like I had found the place meant for me.”
ASTM International’s Global Cooperation division has had “a phenomenal evolution” in the last six years, Kitty says. “When we began in 2001, we were feeling our way knocking on doors, meeting and greeting. And since then we have opened an office in Mexico, re-opened the Washington, D.C., office, and created the China Consortium on Standards and Conformity Assessment. We have built relationships with 48 mostly developing countries through our memorandum of understanding program. Now this year we have created a technical assistance program, in which we are providing training in the use of ASTM standards to our MOU partners.” (ASTM International’s accomplishments in global cooperation are detailed in the article beginning on page 30.)
James A. Thomas, president of ASTM International, who has worked with Kitty since she arrived at ASTM in 1975, comments that, while Kitty succeeded in all her varied jobs at ASTM, her career has culminated in the post that suits her best. “Her position as vice president of global cooperation has combined her whole background at ASTM International and her personal skills her ability to reach people, her enthusiasm, her passionate commitment to the success of ASTM and her unshakeable belief in ASTM as a truly global organization.”
The decorations on the walls of Kitty’s office at ASTM International show this seamless continuum of her personal and professional passions portraits of the Nepalese she took while at Mt. Everest base camp, group photos of ASTM open house participants, an impressive world map that represents a lifetime of travel memories to Kitty. After the photos and hangings come down at the end of this month and Kitty enters the next phase of her life, ASTM International will still be the richer for her substantial legacy, one that has helped position ASTM as a great international standards developing organization and given many of us on a personal level a model we will remember affectionately for her contagious optimism and zestful living.