From the President - December 2013

From the President - December 2013  by Barry Katz

Change is Needed, are We Ready?

The world changes and organizations need to evolve or face extinction. Ultimately, organizations disappear due to the lack of interest and an inability of their reduced membership to support their overhead and infrastructure. This could be the fate of HGS, if we do not consider current and future trends and accept the fact that the conditions have changed over the past few years. Change is not easy, especially for those who have been heavily involved in running the organization. But change is necessary for future success.


Let’s consider the facts as we know them. Over the past several years, largely as a result of the growth of unconventional resources, shale oil and shale gas, there has been an increase in the number of practicing geologists in the greater Houston area. Many, if not most , arrived directly from the university. The interests and needs of this new generation of professionals are different from those that have been engaged in the past. Their approaches to learning and networking are different from prior generations. They see the Internet as a key connector. Many of today’s practicing geologists are approaching the end of their professional careers and after three decades of drawing maps and making cross-sections, they are readying themselves for the golf course, tennis courts, and fly fishing. These retiring geologists will be disengaging from their profession and their needs will be shifting. Corporations, although generally supportive of professional organizations, have pulled back and are less supportive of their staff being actively engaged and are much more selective in what they fund. Majors and independents are running leaner and demanding more from their staff, with many workers feeling that they are on call 24/7. This has reduced everyone’s free time and families and friends come before professional organizations such as the HGS. Committees and positions on the boards that run these professional organizations tend to be stagnant, with the same individuals engaged. Changes, when present, are often a result of the shifting of responsibilities among the same group of people rather than the infusion of new blood. Renewals of memberships to professional organizations, such as the HGS and AAPG, have suffered over the past several years. We received notification recently that as a result of a lack of AAPG membership renewals there could be a reduction in the number of seats allocated to Houston in the House of Delegates. Drops in the HGS membership rolls have been even greater than those seen at AAPG. It is unclear, however, how much of this decrease was a result of complications associated with the transition to a new website that was fraught with bugs. Even taking this website complication into consideration there appears to be a significant reduction by choice in the membership roster.

A review of the facts has resulted in some definitive actions and the initiation of a series of discussions and debates. Problems with the website have been resolved and credit card payment can be made online and the “member only” portions of the website are really limited to dues paying members. HGS has sent a letter to all individuals that dropped off of our membership rolls during the past 18 months, when the website renewal became problematic. As of the preparation of this note, two weeks after the letter was mailed, about 10% those contacted have rejoined. The Houston membership of the House of Delegates has just started to contact those individuals that have not renewed their AAPG membership to ask them to renew and remind them of the benefits of membership.

The HGS Board, as well as a number of past-Presidents, is in an ongoing debate as to how elections should be held. The question is largely one as to whether the process continues as is or is it modified to reflect what is the new reality of reduced membership and a smaller pool of individuals that are interested in serving on the Board. By the time this reaches your desk at least part of this debate will be over. Either a change in the bylaws will be finally approved by the Board and will be presented to the membership for ratification or a new discussion will begin as to how we can increase the numbers of those members interested in serving on the Board and as committee members and chairs. In either case, whether the bylaws are modified or not, the active discussion now needs to focus on not simply having our members return to an active status but also on how we engage the next generation of geoscientists to become not simply dues paying members but active members, participating in committees and being willing serve on the Board. If we simply rely on those that have been engaged to continue to run for office we will be heading over a cliff. We need to learn what the new professionals need and want from our organization so that they will take the first step and join. We as an organization then need to work the next step, increased involvement. Relevancy is of increasing importance when we ask individuals to give more than their annual dues as they are asked to contribute their most precious of all commodities – their time. As we work toward the next generation, we also need to ensure that the needs of the more senior members are still provided for. It clearly is a balance that we must all work towards. Although this will be an area for the Board to discuss for the next several months I ask that you become engaged. Let the Board know your thoughts. Talk to those that you work with, especially those that are not members of HGS, and ask what they would like to see HGS do that would convince them to join. Let us know, so we can begin the adjustments needed. If I have learned anything over the past several months, it is that changing this organization is similar to that of changing the direction of a supertanker. The process is slow and needs to be deliberate.

On a very different note, we are now into the holiday season. I would like to take this opportunity for myself, my wife Terry, and the members of the HGS Board to wish you a happy and healthy holiday and New Year. May all your wishes and prayers be answered.

Until next time…





Barry Katz
Sunday, December 1, 2013
From the President