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Driving a New Normal

Michael D. Packer, FSME 2021 SME President
By Michael D. Packer, FSME 2021 SME President

2020 was certainly an unusual year—for SME, for our industry, and for the world. There is no question that these unusual times will carry over into 2021. Unusual does not necessarily mean bad; it just means different. Often hidden within those differences are opportunities.

People frequently think of leaders in terms of results. While results do matter, over the years I have learned that how you deliver results is just as important as, and in some instances more important than, the results ultimately delivered.

Here are some of the “hows” I’ve learned matter most, which, by the way, directly align with SME’s core values:

  • Model personal excellence, integrity, trust and accountability… all non-negotiable values and behaviors.
  • Lead from behind … shape the future, articulate a clear vision and empower the team to realize.
  • Build effective, enduring relationships …internally and externally, through transparency, constructive communication and unyielding teamwork.
  • Energize the enterprise … through diversity, equity and inclusion, building organizational talent and a laser focus on stakeholders.

I firmly believe how you lead will determine organizational health, capability and dedication to serve as a force multiplier of realizing your vision and desired results.

Each SME president before me encountered their own “unusual years” through which to navigate SME and the manufacturing industry. They, as the leadership, with support of staff, membership and partners, responded to the unusual environments, disruptive change and opportunities they encountered to adapt and build a high-impact manufacturing association and enduring legacy that stands tall today. Some of those visionaries are still with us today; some are not. In becoming SME’s 89th president, I feel I stand on the shoulders of giants. It is a profound privilege to inherit their legacy and embrace the responsibility that comes with this position.

One of the reasons I am so confident in SME’s future comes from the strength of that past. We have been navigating disruptive change—and been one of the driving forces behind it—since our founding as the American Society of Tool Engineers nearly 90 years ago.

In every decade of our existence, we have not just responded to change—we have driven it to respond to the manufacturing industry’s needs. SME has always been the organization our industry has turned to in times of change— so I welcome the opportunity to continue our leadership in the innovation, transformation and advancement of the manufacturing sector.

While I was engaged with SME as a member and advocate for many years, it was a few pivotal conversations that put me on the leadership path to this critical position. 2016 SME President Dean Bartles, PhD, FSME, opened the door, introducing me to 2010 SME President Barbara Fossum, PhD, FSME, SME’s first female president. Barbara then walked with me through the door (like my immediate predecessor, 2020 SME President Susan Smyth, PhD, FSME, NAE), articulating the value of elevating my involvement to a senior volunteer leadership level, encouraging me to run for the board. Once through the door and successfully elected to the SME Board of Directors, I met and forged a mentor relationship with 2012 SME President LaRoux Gillespie, Dr.Eng., FSME. LaRoux modeled for me the kind of SME president and lifelong volunteer I would like to follow: steady; open-minded; thoughtful and progressive; always seeking to improve SME; strengthening the community of manufacturing; and revealing to young people the exciting possibilities available in manufacturing.

To identify and seize the opportunities in front of us, SME will have six priorities in 2021; I call them the “Six Rs.”

  1. RETHINK SME. Leverage these “unusual and disruptive times” to engineer a wholesale examination and transformation of SME, its value proposition and assets. Protect our core assets but challenge the power of digital tools and human resources, not to define a “return to normal” but rather to define a new normal.
  2. REBUILD the manufacturing workforce, attracting and preparing future industrial athletes and leaders, filling the skills gap and retooling incumbent manufacturing workers within and training new manufacturing workers displaced from other sectors.
  3. REDEPLOY our assets to better serve and advance the manufacturing sector, with a focus on small-and-medium manufacturing enterprises.
  4. REIMAGINE our outreach capabilities. Digital tools, artificial intelligence and machine learning enable SME to routinely engage, on-demand or through push, all members of the worldwide community of manufacturing, in native languages, current and emerging generations, on and above the factory floor, the venture capitalists and entrepreneurs entering manufacturing to exponentially expand curated knowledge available to the community and accelerate velocity of real-time solutions, innovation, progress and prosperity across the manufacturing sector, ultimately enhancing overall quality of life.
  5. RELEVANCE to the next generation and beyond. We must continually adapt and demonstrate why an SME membership matters … measured in seconds, not hours, weeks or months. Concurrently, we must recognize there will always be a place for physical interaction and networks. SME can optimize the mix of human and digital interaction to accelerate innovation and deliver value in “lots of one.”
  6. RELATIONSHIPS—Alliances and partnerships with businesses, peers and “competimates,” educational institutions and government agencies are key to profound and comprehensive advancement of manufacturing. We need to collaborate and cultivate a 1+1 = 3 mentality.

These priorities are not set in concrete. We will check and adjust as 2020 nears its end and 2021 emerges; however, we should all understand and accept that we cannot afford to wait for the industry to return to normal. I believe that organizations waiting for a return to normal will die waiting. The organizations that are poised and prepared to create the “next and new” normal will thrive. The inspiring and exciting thing about being part of SME is that we have the industry credibility, the extensive network of experts and innovators, and the vision to define what the new normal looks like. We are positioned like no one else in the industry to lead this transformation.

As the 2021 SME president, it will be part of my responsibility to help influence our role and impact on the outcomes of new and exciting integration of the virtual and physical worlds, and to help SME emerge from these disruptive times more relevant and more respected than ever. Let’s get after it!

SME Installs Industry, Academic and Community Leaders to Governance Roles

The 2021 officers of the SME Board of Directors were installed on Nov. 12, 2020, during a virtual installation ceremony.

In its first virtual installation ceremony on Nov. 12, 2020, SME installed its incoming officers, directors and council representatives. The SME Board of Directors acts as the governing body of SME, while the SME Member Council is responsible for formulating recommendations for member recruitment, retention and engagement.

The 2021 Officers of the SME Board of Directors are:

  • President: Michael Packer, FSME,
    Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., Fort Worth, Texas.
  • President-Elect: Dianne Chong, PhD, FSME, NAE,
    The Boeing Co. (retired), Seattle.
  • Vice President: James Schlusemann,
    Prosperia International, Batavia, Ill.
  • Treasurer: Winston Erevelles, PhD, St. Mary’s University, San Antonio.
  • Secretary: Vincent Howell Sr., FSME, CMfgE,
    Corning Inc. (retired), Clemmons, N.C.

The 2021-22 International Directors of the SME Board
of Directors are:

  • Edye Buchanan, CMfgT, BriskHeat Corp.,
    Columbus, Ohio.
  • Rebecca Taylor, The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, Washington, D.C.
  • Albert Wavering, FSME, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, Md.

The 2021-22 SME Member Council representatives are:

  • Gregory Harris, PhD, PE, Auburn University,
    Auburn, Ala.
  • Teresa Rinker, PhD, GM R&D, Warren, Mich.
  • Phillip Waldrop, PhD, LSME, Georgia Southern University (retired), Statesboro, Ga.
  • Jason Wolf, Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

The 2021 appointed Member Council representatives are:

  • Zachary Bibik, Vestas US, Brighton, Colo.
  • Gabriela Darras, Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill.
  • Brett Peters, PhD, University of
    Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee.

Applicants are currently being sought for the 2022-23 International Directors and Member Council representative positions. To apply, visit

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