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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 International’s 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 problems.

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, I’m sympathetic to their views. I’ve 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 what’s 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 name—ASTM International—what 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, ASTM’s 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 Society’s operating philosophy and business model that could become obsolete.

Simply put, it’s evident we’re 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 ASTM’s 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 year’s correspondence from Don [Marlowe, the 2001 chairman of the Board] to the committees has launched that conversation. It’s 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 committee’s 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 ASTM’s 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 don’t 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. ASTM’s 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 nation’s 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; and
• Will help national standards bodies meet their internal revenue requirements.

Developing nations need support in using, creating, and maintaining standards—especially with regard to their regulatory concerns—and 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 English.

We could provide financial support to non-U.S. national standards bodies to help them identify and fund local participants as ASTM committee members.

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, ASTM’s 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 can’t eat.

What is ASTM doing to welcome Latin American countries into the fold?

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. You’d 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 industry’s 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 ASTM’s 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 of services.

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. ASTM’s ongoing investments in electronic means for producing standards should provide an important tool for marketing ASTM’s services to associations that may ultimately elect to leave standards developments to others.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add as you embark on your year as ASTM’s 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, ASTM’s 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 ASTM’s 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

Richard J. Schulte, vice chairman of ASTM’s Board of Directors, is a founder and active partner in Schulte Associates LLC, in Brecksville, Ohio, a consulting firm providing business development, marketing, planning, reorganization, and other management services to gas and electric utilities, equipment manufacturers, and product testing agencies.

Schulte received his BS degree in electrical engineering from South Dakota State University, and an MS degree in aeronautics/ astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He started his professional career as an officer in the U.S. Air Force analyzing intelligence data and supervising the testing of components for air-delivered weapons. Schulte has subsequently worked for Stone & Webster Management Consultants, Inc; the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI); the American Gas Association (A.G.A.); International Approval Services (IAS); and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA International).

Schulte’s career has principally been concentrated in the planning, operation, and management of electric and gas utilities; management of research programs for electric power equipment and gas appliances; supervision of testing laboratories for military weapons, electrical apparatus and appliances; and reorganization of energy-based enterprises. For 14 years, he also participated in bi-national and international standards development activities on behalf of the gas sector. In 1994-95, Schulte was a member of the National Research Council Project Committee which made recommendations to Congress on international standards, conformity assessment, and U.S. trade policy.

Schulte is a former director of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). He is a current director of Energy West, Inc., a gas utility serving parts of Montana, Arizona, and Wyoming.

A member of the ASTM Board of Directors since 1996, Schulte served as chairman of the ASTM Finance and Audit Committee in 1999.