|Interview with the 2002 Chairman of the ASTM Board of Directors
Richard J. Schulte
Richard Schulte describes himself as having a three-part business
life. He serves on two boards of directors, ASTM Internationals
and that of a small gas utility based in Great Falls, Montana.
He is a partner, with his brother, Robert, in a management consulting
firm, Schulte Associates LLC. And he has his own one-man home
handyman and construction company.
This cross-pollination of interests is typical of a career (see
biographical sidebar at right) that gives Schulte a broad theoretical
and practical understanding of business principles and the issues
behind standards development. In this interview, Schulte addresses
many of those issues, paying special attention to the global standards
development environment in which ASTM participates as we launch
our new name: ASTM International.
In your career, you have been involved with standardization, but
not necessarily on the technical committee level. What have you
learned about standardization issues from this macro-level involvement
that you bring to your chairmanship?
My introduction to standards development was in the gas utility
and appliance industries. My experience there was that the participants
in technical committee deliberations initially bring different
and strongly held views and approaches to their work. From the
start, however, they expect to find a single, consensus-based,
technical answer that will generally meet the needs of all the
participants who may be materially affected by a particular standard.
The final publication of a standard is a testament that success
can be and has been achieved in narrowing differences to find
single, satisfactory, technical answers to even thorny technical
But on a larger playing field, it is my experience that the search
for single, simple, satisfying, universal answers is bound to
meet failure. I bring to ASTM the belief that the operation, administration,
management, planning, and governance of large standards systems
are a matter of finding satisfaction in multiple answers. In ASTM
we need operating and administrative policies custom tailored
to individual industrial sectors and their domestic or global
business strategies. We need to be OK as both partner today and
competitor tomorrow with other standards developers, national
standards bodies and international standards organizations. We
need to be comfortable with multiple business strategies for ASTM
that may have only short life spans. We need underlying operating
and administrative processes in ASTM that are robust but flexible
enough to support frequent strategy changes that are sure to be
the hallmark of the years ahead.
My other vantage point is that I have served within an association-based
standards developer that takes a different approach than ASTM
has, so I have some understanding of why people seek to develop
standards in vehicles other than ASTM or ISO. As a product of
a small standards development committee, Im sympathetic to their
views. Ive also had experience with ANSI and its efforts to represent
the U.S., first during the implementation of the European Community.
I have gotten a glimpse of what the Europeans are trying to achieve.
So I bring to this job a very broad viewpoint as to whats going
on around the world.
You take over as chairman of ASTM during a time of increased international
emphasis for our organization. As we officially launch our new
nameASTM Internationalwhat in your view has made ASTM most successful
as a global standards organization?
ASTM has been and continues to be successful in global standards
development for several reasons. Of course, ASTM has always kept
its focus on searching out and serving the needs of its members
and the industries that employ them. Our standards, precision
and bias data, training materials, and other products are relevant
and of consistently high quality.
But even more to the point, ASTM has been forward-looking in adapting
the use of electronic media and equipping its technical committees
and staff members with the right tools for the work before them.
Especially at a time when people may find it harder to travel
for security reasons, and at a time when we want to reach out
to the global community, these tools, such as the Internet-based
Standards Development Forums, are extremely important. Through
them, ASTM now has the chance to welcome people from remote corners
of the world to come in and be directly involved in the writing
of technical standards.
Internally, ASTMs management has striven to find and clearly
enunciate an operating philosophy for its business that attracts
good people to its payroll and committees, and provides a solid
foundation for doing business with customers and counterpart agencies.
Its long string of annual business achievements has not distracted
our management. Instead, success has energized management to look
far ahead and prepare changes to those parts of the Societys
operating philosophy and business model that could become obsolete.
Simply put, its evident were walking the talk. The appointment
of a vice president of global cooperation last year is a step
in the right direction. We are devoting financial resources now
to global outreach and guarding our international marketing and
sales. Through all of these initiatives, ASTM is now inhabiting
its role as a truly international organization.
What is the role of the technical committee member in advancing
ASTMs international scope?
I believe that ASTM has to undertake a continuous education program
for its members that emphasizes the potential effects of international
standardization on ASTM, its business model, and its ability to
sustain support for its committees. Technical committee members
need to fully understand the business, not just the procedural
steps and tools for writing technical documents. At the same time,
ASTM needs to promote and reinforce the members pride in and
respect for ASTM, the institution. The organization should be
seen as more than the sum of its members, committees, software
and Web site. It should be recognized and acknowledged as a critical
part of the U.S. economy, a viable alternative to the ISO standards
development scheme, and a place that an industry should come to
first to accomplish its global or domestic business objectives.
We can help our committees think beyond their technical activities
and devise a strategy if their hopes are to be international,
and to expose that strategy to ASTM. I know that last years correspondence
from Don [Marlowe, the 2001 chairman of the Board] to the committees
has launched that conversation. Its not enough to have a list
of work items for the next year; committees need to also have
a strategy that delineates where the supporting industry stands
in reference to the global use of the committees standards. If
a committee chooses to take standards through ISO, they need to
strategically think through the implications of that: How will
they maintain the standard once it gets there? Is it advantageous
to take it there in the first place? Only after thinking about
these things can a committee then implement a well-thought-out
strategy, no matter which avenue they choose to take.
What can ASTM do to further advance its mission of enabling standards
development across international borders?
I think about ASTM as an organization with several separate elements
that must each be continuously improved to advance ASTMs standards
development mission on a global basis.
First, ASTM has a large and continuously evolving inventory of
standards, technical publications, training programs, reference
documents and other electronic, print and video materials. A significant
portion of these materials has found wide acceptance in the global
marketplace and underlies the conduct of international business.
We are justly proud of the global use of these materials; but
I suspect that we can do more work to put these standards and
training programs into other languages. We need to advertise their
availability and even make them available to some national standards
bodies at no cost to drive the use of these ASTM documents in
offices outside the U.S.
Second, we have a family of technical committees staffed by thousands
of technical experts. Some of these committees have participants
who live and work in other countries outside the United States.
However, I believe we need to recruit substantially more international
experts, and find creative ways to permit their direct involvement
in ASTM standards development.
Lastly, ASTM has a family of cooperation and distribution agreements
with national standards bodies and other agencies in some foreign
countries. I suggest that these agreements may need to be expanded
so they cover more than the sale of ASTM standards products. We
might look to strengthening relationships with national standards
bodies and other technical agencies outside the U.S.
We will also need to become as well known for patient relationship-building
as we are for quality standards products. In the U.S. business
culture, we usually favor short journeys to quick decision-making
and action. As a U.S.-domiciled organization, we need to learn
that other cultures put a high value on relationship building
as a precursor to doing business and making decisions. To become
more international, I suspect that ASTM, its Board, and its members
may need to become more relationship oriented as opposed to decision/destination
oriented. In short, the steps in the journey have become, for
ASTM, as important as the destination or the time of our arrival.
What will be our most significant challenges in the arena of international
standardization and how can we overcome them?
In the very short term, the most significant challenge to international
standardization will be the upset, confusion, and threatening
environments created by the September 11 terrorist attack on the
U.S. and the related U.S. war on terrorism. For the time being,
the march toward one market, one standard will certainly be slowed
by the many concerns that arise from these new realities.
For the longer term, I think the biggest challenge is the one
that has developed over the last 10 years. Industries have perceived
that successful operation on a global basis has meant operating
to a single set of standards developed by a single process and
a very small number of bodies. The captains of U.S. industry have
bought into that, espousing the idea that there should be one
standard/one test in the global market.
But despite the cries of corporations, nation-states still have
powers and responsibilities to protect health and safety, guard
the environment and regulate commerce. I dont think there is
any real enthusiasm for transferring all such powers from municipal,
regional and national governments to corporations.
Nations and their local industries can provide themselves with
standards in a variety of ways: first, writing standards themselves,
or second, adopting outright standards developed by recognized
standards developers in other nations. They can participate in
the standards development programs of other nations or organizations
to influence the outcome of their processes to provide standards
for local use. Lastly, they can join other nations in international
standards bodies like ISO and IEC in writing common standards
for global application.
In some business sectors and nations, this last standards development
method has come to be seen as the shortest, least troubling route
to provide standards for both national use and global markets.
ASTMs first challenge is to support those business sectors, among
its many constituencies, who want to accomplish their business
objectives through ISO and IEC. This first challenge means ASTM
has to find some way to secure adequate recognition, acknowledgement
and remuneration when its standards and other work products are
carried or transferred by industry into ISO, IEC, or the ITU.
The second challenge is for ASTM, itself, to remain a viable alternative
to ISO/IEC/ITU. ASTM has to be successful in marketing other standards
development methods as even more efficient than those of ISO,
IEC and ITU. We must demonstrate, every day, that ASTM standards:
Are produced on a timelier basis;
Contain the latest and best thinking in technology;
Can be accessed with more ease at a reasonable price;
Are more accepted, used, and useful in the marketplace;
Can be used by national standards bodies to address their nations
domestic health, safety, environmental, and commerce needs;
Provide excellent opportunities for committee participation
and balloting by non-U.S. participants;
Can be used by nations in different stages of economic development;
Will help national standards bodies meet their internal revenue
Developing nations need support in using, creating, and maintaining
standardsespecially with regard to their regulatory concernsand
having a voice in the international standards environment. What
can the standards community as a whole do to welcome developing
countries into our community and ensure their voices are heard?
There are several paths we can take, with regard to information,
monetary assistance, and geography. With regard to information,
we might go further to provide national standards bodies access
to the inventory of ASTM standards materials at greatly reduced
or zero cost, and provide ASTM documents in languages other than
We could provide financial support to non-U.S. national standards
bodies to help them identify and fund local participants as ASTM
Thirdly, to ease the stresses of geographic distance, we might
plan and hold ASTM committee, governance, and training meetings
in non-U.S. locations. We are taking step one with our April Board
of Directors meeting and accompanying workshops, which will be
held in Mexico City.
Philosophically, ASTMs task now is to find out what the actual
requirements of developing nations really are before we start
supplying them with food they do not want or cant eat.
What is ASTM doing to welcome Latin American countries into the
I have noticed that the American focus has always been cross-ocean,
east and west, and, as a culture, we have pretty much ignored
the Latin-American countries from Mexico right on south. Youd
think that they would be our natural allies. The European Community
has shown us the importance of regional ties, with their commitments
to regional thinking, and we, as a nation and an organization,
can follow their lead.
Toward adopting a proper focus on our Latin American neighbors,
ASTM has added directors from Colombia and Mexico to its Board.
Their ideas are already helping to shape the ways that the Board
thinks about ASTM and the activities it should undertake to remain
a potent force in international markets. In addition, we have
begun to sign memoranda of understanding with certain Latin American
countries, beginning with the MOUs signed with Colombia and Uruguay
in late 2001, and we hope to sign more in the future.
You worked for some time with the American Gas Association. What
is the role of associations within their respective industries?
How can an association be helpful in forwarding its industrys
needs on the global stage?
Association-based standards development activity helps association
members control their own destiny. Through standards development
programs, association members can level the economic playing field
in a particular business sector, find consensus among knowledgeable
parties with similar business objectives, and promote product
safety and performance improvements on a timely basis.
ASTM is a strong advocate for relying on marketplace forces to
determine when, where, and how standards development should be
undertaken. In the distant past, ASTM was such a strong advocate
for its own standards development methods, that the Society viewed
association-based standards programs as kind of second-class activities.
In the past five years, ASTM has made its talk about association-based
standards development more positive and more congruent with ASTMs
own advocacy for reliance on the marketplace. ASTM has come to
see associations in a much more favorable light as another viable
kind of competition. ASTM is doing a much better job of positioning
itself to help associations provide standards services by marketing
ASTM standards development tools, know-how and a flexible menu
I think there is going to be a continuing role for associations
in standards development in the U.S.; however, growing requirements
for and increasing sophistication in electronic means of standards
development, balloting and distribution may make it hard for associations
to keep their standards programs up to date. ASTMs ongoing investments
in electronic means for producing standards should provide an
important tool for marketing ASTMs services to associations that
may ultimately elect to leave standards developments to others.
Do you have anything else youd like to add as you embark on your
year as ASTMs chairman?
My thought is that the future development paths of global businesses,
the events of September 11, military activities abroad, and the
still unfolding U.S. standards strategy may produce uncertainty
for ASTM. This is a time to be patient while nurturing multiple
business strategies for ASTM. Fortunately, ASTMs solid reputation
and continuing achievements in producing and distributing high
quality, useful standards make this workable. My job as chairman,
along with the other Board members and ASTMs management, is to
continue analyzing promising business opportunities and strategy
changes while watching carefully for the optimum time to spend
resources to hit worthwhile future targets. //
Copyright 2002, ASTM