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January 20, 2003
Volume 81, Number 3
CENEAR 81 3 p. 42
ISSN 0009-2347



I recently had an opportunity to read a neat little book: "Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson. While it has been around for three or four years, I usually dismiss this kind of thing as just another gimmicky management advice book and ignore it. But this book was distributed in December at the first ACS Board of Directors meeting I attended as a member, and it is very short (fewer than 100 small pages), so I decided to read it. I was glad I did. It gets you thinking.

The basic ideas of the book can be quickly summarized. The "cheese" in the title refers to what one thinks of as important in life: job, money, freedom, family relationships, whatever. Most people get to feel very comfortable when the cheese is provided regularly and in large quantity--in other words, when things are stable and going well. But how do you handle change in life? How do you react when someone moves your cheese? Some try to ignore the changes, or merely look for someone to blame, and suffer as a result. Others accept the fact of change, whether quickly or eventually, and adapt, taking it upon themselves to look for the new location of the cheese.

There are lessons here for all of us, especially for those of us vitally interested in the future of the chemical enterprise and ACS. After nearly a decade of booming performance, the national economy has been doing poorly for some time. Federal deficits, after many years of decline, are on the rise again. Long-term stock market declines have affected both personal and institutional pension funds. Many states are facing large deficits, and state universities are under great budget pressure. The 2002 ACS member survey showed the highest rate of unemployment among chemists in 30 years (C&EN, Aug. 5, 2002, page 37). Business Week (Sept. 30, 2002) predicts that if the economy doesn't turn around soon, there will be rising unemployment among managers and professionals.

Over the long term, membership may grow, and new products and services will be developed. In the nearer term, though, we need to adjust our thinking to the new realities and accept the fact that times have changed.

Similarly with ACS. The 1990s saw an increase in society membership and a huge increase in publishing and information activities and associated revenues. It was easy to think that growth was permanent and inexhaustible. Of course, it wasn't. As the economy turned down over the past two years, membership leveled off, advertising declined, and for the first time in many years, ACS had a deficit in 2001 and another in 2002. On top of all of this, later this year the board will embark on a search for a new executive director in preparation for John K Crum's retirement at the end of the year.

Clearly, someone moved our cheese. We need to recognize that times have changed, and we need to adapt. ACS already has developed a wide range of education and career services available to all members. Additional changes are needed in the society itself.

Over the long term, membership may grow, and new products and services will be developed. In the nearer term, though, we need to adjust our thinking to the new realities and accept the fact that times have changed. During the boom times, it was easy to get pet projects funded. Almost anything that made sense was funded. That can no longer be the case. While the society is currently very healthy, with overall revenues still growing, we experienced a modest deficit in 2002 and could have another deficit this year. We need to prioritize and look for savings wherever possible. That means that many of us (including me) may be disappointed on occasion. It also means that the board and staff have an increased responsibility for eliminating waste and watching expenses while preserving and developing as much as possible those things that are of value to the membership.

Personally, I will work with the board, council, and staff to preserve and improve education and career programs of proven value to the membership within a context of fiscal restraint, to encourage the board and staff to continue searching for cost-efficient ways of conducting business, and to help to develop a process that will identify an excellent executive director to lead the society in 2004 and beyond. In other areas, which I cannot discuss because of the legitimate need to protect the confidentiality of some areas of board business, be assured that I and the other members of the board will work hard to promote the interests of the members of this great society. In all events, your comments would be welcome.

Change is inevitable, but not all change is positive. We all have a special challenge this year to be careful, to be creative, to be optimistic yet realistic. Notwithstanding the enormous growth of publishing and information services over the past few years, ACS at its heart is still a membership organization. The members, through their elected representatives on the council and board, can and should affect the future direction of the society. Alone, no one can perform miracles, but with clarity of purpose, together we should be able to determine the new location of our "cheese."


As a service to its readers, Chemical & Engineering News publishes ACS Comments. These messages from ACS officers and committee chairs provide insight into the workings of the society. They are available on C&EN Online at The site has ACS Comments archived back to 2000.

For more information on ACS governance activities, go to the ACS website at

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of the ACS Board.


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Copyright © 2003 American Chemical Society

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