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SME Speaks: A Day in the Life of an SME Board Member

LaRoux K. Gillespie

By LaRoux K. Gillespie, Dr. Eng., FSME, CMfgE, PE
President, SME
Member Since 1963


Many of us who grew up in SME chapters are used to the common issues of running a membership organization, but no one talks about what happens in SME Board of Director meetings. To some it is mysterious, a behind-closed-door meeting attended by only a few select attendees.

To accomplish our work, it is true that only a few attendees are present, and we do have some closed-door meetings when we discuss particularly sensitive issues involving people or business topics. I do not think any participants would consider the meetings to be mysterious, just normal board meetings.

SME’s Board of Directors discuss finances, programs, products, industry trends, new approaches, and try to identify any possible gaps. We touch more than 500,000 individuals annually in our efforts to be the premier supplier of manufacturing information, which results in many other issues to consider. The SME Member Council spends hours and hours addressing membership, chapter, and Technical Community issues. When their actions require board approval, the directors address those issues.

The meetings set strategy, approve finances, monitor finances, and Society goals. At times, the board gets into tactics for implementing our strategies. At other times, we hear how effective staff tactics are in accomplishing our goals and fulfilling our mission. Our February 2012 meeting, for example, was dedicated to developing the basic points we want in our strategy for the next five years. Developing appropriate Society strategy can be a long process, and every director shares in that along with several key staff.

The director’s role is to establish the strategies, Society vision, and goals. The directors are also responsible for defining the finances they feel are appropriate for achieving those goals. They approve money from our reserves fund to help develop new programs and meet new thrusts. They question the financial approaches we use to meet our goals and offer their insights into industry approaches that the Society could or should be using. Directors also highlight industry trends and their own industry approaches, and encourage SME to employ some of the same approaches where appropriate.

In addition, directors are expected to read 200–600 pages of supporting material for each meeting. Performance, goals, and issues for each of the major functions of SME are summarized in those documents. Directors are expected to attend the three to four board meetings each year and to participate in teleconference calls for typically one or two meetings each year.

The directors elect the Society’s officers at a fall meeting. The officers then become an Executive Committee, which perform much of the pre-meeting work needed to help the board run efficiently. These officers (who are directors) may spend 10–16 hours a week addressing more of the week-to-week issues and pre-meeting preparations. One director is selected each year to help on the Executive Committee. While not an officer, he/she shares in the Executive Committee’s workload and decision making.

Directors are also assigned to be ex-officio members of SME committees, so they can provide board input to the committee where needed and asked, and they also report back to the board when issues emerge needing board or management attention. Several board members are active members of committees, such as our Building Committee, which searches for potential new facilities for SME. Several years ago, that particular committee recommended selling our building and finding a new home to prevent millions of dollars in renovation needs. That was an economically excellent call because we followed their advice when the market was at its highest. They are now reviewing options for the future, although we will be at the same location for some time yet because we just concluded an extension on the lease of our building.

These committee assignments require a few hours a year outside the board meetings. The more active committees may require many more hours a year. Director Mark Michalski, for example, is one of the individuals driving our Leadership Series, which are presented four or more times a year. The series are held for two days per conference, in addition to hours of preconference planning.

Other directors participate once a year in a leadership meeting. Others represent us in a variety of organizations and societies, which involve time outside board meetings.

We look to the directors to bring in new ideas, enhance our approaches and business tools, and point out issues we are too close to recognize. They challenge status quo, spark new ideas, question "Why do this?" or "Why wait?" They introduce us to new industry leaders, which further broadens our insight and impact. Some meetings are pretty mundane and others are more spirited. All contain candid, frank thoughts that we encourage.

We truly have an excellent Board of Directors. They come from many different industries and levels within industry. They bring strong financial and business background. As a board, the diversity that is present provides stronger solutions. It sometimes amazes me to see the many discussion ideas and solutions offered congeal into a unanimous decision at the end of a meeting. Further, it is truly exciting to see the brilliance and insight provided in some discussions. You know you are among some exceptional leaders. We are very fortunate to have the mix we have on our board.

Mysterious? No. Inspiring? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Busy? Yes. True leaders? Yes.

Take the time to meet the directors when you have the opportunity. Ask them what they do, and thank them for all the time and effort they spend to make SME better. Ask them if the meetings are mysterious, and watch the expression on their face when you do! ME


Jon DeVaultComposites Visionary Honored


Jon DeVault (pictured on the left), who is often referred to as "Mr. Carbon Fiber," was recently honored with the 2012 J.H. "Jud" Hall Composites Manufacturing Award on March 14 in Mesa, AZ, during SME’s Composites Manufacturing 2012 event. As president of DeVault and Associates, DeVault has extensive knowledge of the carbon-fiber industry. Previously, he was an executive at Aldila Materials Technology Corp. and at Fiberite, Inc. Before joining Fiberite, DeVault spent three years at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) planning and implementing a strategy to reduce the cost of polymer-matrix-composite structures. Earlier in his career, he was president of the Composite Products Group, Hercules Aerospace Co. DeVault has been a member of the Suppliers of Advanced Composite Materials Association, the Society for the Advancement of Materials and Process Engineering, and the American Defense Preparedness Association. He received the SACMA Material Leadership Award in 1996. DeVault holds a bachelor’s and a master’s in physics and mathematics from Baylor University.

SME’s J.H. "Jud" Hall Composites Manufacturing Award is given annually to an individual who has contributed to the composites manufacturing profession through leadership, technical developments, patents, or educational activities. As this year’s recipient, DeVault was acknowledged for being instrumental in developing the automated-fiber-placement manufacturing technology and in expanding the composites business worldwide. The J.H. "Jud" Hall Composites Manufacturing Award is sponsored by the Composites Manufacturing Tech Group, which is part of SME’s Plastics, Composites & Coatings Community. Nominations are currently being accepted for 2013 and can be submitted at



Sustainable Composite Skateboard Westec Winners


Members of SME’s California State University, Chico S139 student chapter were the grand prize winners of the 2012 Manufacturing Challenge held in Los Angeles at WESTEC 2012 on March 27. The students won the competition by creating a manufacturing system for producing a sustainable composite skateboard. They designed and manufactured the tooling and full production system for the creation of 10 sustainable composite skateboard decks and truck assemblies, which include CNC-machined base plates and welded hangers. The details in the team’s project included not only the design, analysis, and fabrication of the sustainable composite skateboard, but the tooling and fixtures for mass production and the project management plan for the entire project. The materials used in this ready-for-market product were chosen with an emphasis on sustainability by using a natural plant-based flax fiber to replace traditional petroleum-based, carbon-fiber composite material. The five main presenters of the project were SME student members Cody Leuck, Louk Hendricks, Duke Schimmer, Nicholas Gniadek, and Tony Arena. Eighteen students in the Sustainable Manufacturing Program from Chico State made the trip to participate in this year’s Manufacturing Challenge, and it is Chico State’s twelfth win since 1987. Other participants included 18 teams from 15 colleges, such as Cal Poly Pomona; Western Washington; Brigham Young University; University of Colorado at Denver; California State University, Los Angeles; and California State University, Northridge. The next Manufacturing Challenge will be held during SME’s AeroDef Manufacturing Exposition and Conference, March 19-21, 2013, at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, CA. Visit for participation details.



Award Nominations Currently Being Accepted


Each year, SME recognizes its members and the manufacturing community with several different awards. The following awards are currently accepting nominations:


International Honor Awards—These seven awards recognize significant contributions to the field of manufacturing engineering in the areas of manufacturing technologies, processes, technical writing, education, research, management, and service to the Society.


Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award—This award recognizes manufacturing engineers, age 35 or younger, who have made exceptional contributions and accomplishments in the manufacturing industry.


Award of Merit—This award is bestowed on outstanding SME members who have made valued, balanced contributions to the Society’s professional activities and growth.

Nominations are due August 1. To submit your nomination, please visit

This article was first published in the June 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF








Published Date : 6/1/2012

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