Monday, March 3, 2014

STLE: Happy 70th!

STLE has clearly reached another milestone in its growth and development as a relevant society serving the Tribological world and the Lubricants industry.  Happy Birthday STLE!

STLE’s path to 70, like that of most people, is a growth process marked by many shifts and changes which have molded and tempered the organization into what it is today.  Most of my career has been in some form of research and development with various divisions in two different companies.  If we didn't create change: new services, products and processes, we didn't survive.  Indeed, it is some these changes in STLE that I would like to note here.

When I joined STLE in 1981, we were strongly driven by the technical program at the annual meeting.  Most papers were also critiqued by a notable expert in the area in a five or ten minute presentation following the paper as well as the typical question and answer session.  Let me tell you the ‘fur got to flying” in some of those sessions!  At the time, the Aerospace Industry Council, Solid Film Lubricants, Non-ferrous, and Seals technical committees were very strong.  They, on their own, hosted astronauts to speak, published their own technical books and manuals, and even held independent mini-conferences in their subject areas.  The only other activity at the annual meeting was the hospitality suites sponsored by various member companies.  This was their only real chance to interact with current or potential customers other than in the hallways and at an off-site restaurant.

Then, beginning in the late 1980s through the leadership of BOD member, Ed Kane, we began a golf outing, and later a trade show area, and the commercial marketing forum.  These changes caused a real fur-fight among many of our members.  Some claiming that all these commercial activities would dilute the technical program, that STLE would lose its technical reputation, change the whole temperament of the annual meeting and the society in general, etc., etc.  While others said, “We (Industry) are paying for everything anyway; we ought to get something out the meeting.” Further, they said  these changes would broaden the scope and content of society, add new members and companies, increase revenues, etc., etc.

And, indeed that is just what happened. The society is more than double in size and now there is something for everyone and yet STLE’s technical reputation is still intact.

Another big change, initially spearheaded by past-president John Hermann, who is now with ExxonMobil, was the increased emphasis on developing an international presence.  This prompted, in 1987, the change in the name of the society from the American Society of Lubrication Engineers (ASLE) to the current name to reflect our more international outlook.  Needless to say, there was again a lot of fur-flying over that change.  As late as 1998, when I joined STLE’s staff and would visit various sections, there were people who would still tell me that it was the stupidest thing we ever did.  We really didn't quite know how to develop international relationships and are still learning, but we have come a very long way from those early US/Canada centric days: we currently have ongoing relationships with many groups: in North America – ASME, SME, ABMA, and ILMA; we are members of the International Tribology Council (ITC) and STLE hosted 2005 World Tribology Congress; and we have active joint programs in: Asia (JSTLE, KSTLE, CTI and TSI), Africa (SAIT and Ghana), Europe (OilDoc, LubMat and UEIL), South America (Bolivia), and Caribbean (Trinidad).  Somehow, we seem, yet, to have survived again.

Probably the biggest sea-change, that caused loud shouting in Board meetings and elsewhere, was the introduction of the Certified Lubrication Specialist program (CLS) in 1993.  There were those who said that we would make ourselves open to law suits, we would no longer be viewed as a technical society, we don’t know how to do it, and we don’t have the resources to administer it.  And, indeed, we learned some harsh lessons along the way, but we steadily learned and grew the program and added new certifications as well.  Our credibility in the marketplace is excellent, about 1/3 of our members hold some kind of certification and those certified according Lube ‘N’ Greases magazine earn more money and have more people reporting to them than their uncertified peers.  So, I guess, once again, we seemed to have survived.

Now we have broadened the way people can access the Society utilizing technology solutions.  Again we are still learning, but now have live and archived webinars; podcasts; digital publishing of three organs: TLT, Letters and Transactions; Tribology Netbase, an online electronic library; and online membership directory; and social media tools: Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr, YouTube, this STLE Blog.

So, once again to me, change is normal, or it had better be, without change you won’t survive.  The proof of that is STLE turning 70 this year, certainly different from when I joined, but stronger and better than ever.

Happy Birthday!

-Robert Gresham, Director of Professional Development, STLE

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