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Standardization News Search
Word from the Chairman
Within ASTM's Diversity, Common Goals

My duties as chairman of ASTM International started informally in 2001 when I was interviewed for the January 2002 issue of Standardization News. In that interview, I observed that participants in large standardization systems, such as the one maintained by ASTM, have to find satisfaction in multiple answers, wide-spectrum strategies, and uncertain outcomes. When it comes to system administration, global marketing, financial management, long-range planning, and governance by volunteers, solutions need to be custom-fitted to a wide variety of sectors.

While acknowledging this situation, I’ve still had an inclination throughout the year to look for common themes or simple guiding principles in the operation and culture of ASTM. My search has produced a mixture of both general and focused principles.

First, I came to better understand and appreciate the sharply different philosophies that distinguish ASTM’s bottom-up standards development process from the top-down method used by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and other standardization bodies with global aspirations. The ASTM and ISO philosophies are both successful in the promulgation of global standards; but they are largely incompatible. By that I mean the two philosophical systems are probably not amenable to easy melding or merger. Fortunately, however, some industrial sectors are discovering that inventories of ASTM and ISO standards can be made compatible, merged, and structured into coherent sets to meet business and regulatory objectives while avoiding duplicate development work. At the technical interfaces between ASTM and ISO committees, there are ways, through the application of technical know-how and goodwill, to make two incompatible systems serve real global standards needs.

Second, I re-learned that quality products produced on time to meet a customer’s needs are never sufficient, by themselves, to ensure business success and a reliable revenue stream. The additional and necessary ingredients for success are strong organizational and personal relationships founded on mutual benefit and respect. ASTM has a remarkable collection of relevant standards products. It is prepared to deliver those products anywhere in the world on an hour’s notice. I suspect, however, that the continuing success of ASTM now rests on building a set of organizational and personal relationships with national standards bodies, industrial trade associations, and regulatory agencies outside the United States.

ASTM has to achieve wider recognition as a provider of solutions for nations and agencies struggling, with insufficient funding and inadequate training and technology, to install relevant standards for local use and satisfy local regulatory requirements. In other words, ASTM must now be more than a standards maker and provider. Toward this end, ASTM made a great start this year in establishing new, interactive relationships with the national standards bodies in some 16 nations. Substantial additional investments in relationship building will be critical in the years ahead.

Finally, in 2002 I had the pleasure of meeting a very large number of ASTM members, staff personnel, and Headquarters managers. I suppose some of these individuals initially bring a small briefcase full of corporate and personal self interest to standards development and management in the Society. All of the people that I met, however, also came to Committee Weeks with a big suitcase full of collegiality, cooperation, willingness to share technical information, and common interest. The participants in ASTM’s standardization, business, and governance activities may arrive for committee service with the need to accomplish relatively narrow agendas, but they bring along an innate awareness that their work underlies the global economy. They come ready to sit through long meetings on hard chairs in poorly ventilated rooms, drinking hotel coffee—but behind that is the unspoken belief that today’s work will contribute to tomorrow’s health, safety, product sales, and employment for untold numbers worldwide. The women and men of ASTM apply their self interest and collegial behaviors with the knowledge that their work will be little known or acknowledged outside the standards developing community. They continue their work anyway.

The common theme here seems to be the silent expectation that cooperation will lead to a rising tide of economic well-being and technical advancement. ASTM members clearly understand that collective achievement will lift all producers and users to a level that can never be reached by pursuit of narrow monopolies in technology development and application.

During 2002 I had the duty and opportunity to distribute about 50 plaques, certificates, and pins to members of the Society and its administrative staff for extraordinary accomplishments and service. I gave out Awards of Merit to women and men who helped develop standards for drywall installed in commercial buildings; plastic inserts used in orthopedic medicine; concrete poured into floors, dams and roads; and roofing membranes that keep out the rain. The ASTM chairman spends a lot of time waiting in hotel hallways to hand out these awards, but it’s the best part of the job. That’s because the people in ASTM International are the best part of the Society.

Richard J. Schulte
2002 ASTM Chairman of the Board

Copyright 2002, ASTM

Richard J. Schulte is ASTM chairman of the board for 2002.