IChemE President Urges Reform

Members voted in favor of resolutions designed to tackle the organization’s challenges

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

Incoming president Ken Rivers says the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), Rugby, U.K., must stop navel-gazing or it will cease to be relevant.

Stop navel-gazing or cease to be relevant, warns Rivers.

Rivers, former CEO of Refining NZ and current chair of the U.K.’s Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (COMAH) strategic forum, spoke at the IChemE’s annual general meeting (AGM) in London on May 21. He took as his theme “chemical engineering and leadership — the challenges faced as an institution and as a profession.”

“For IChemE and the other big engineering institutions, it is very easy to get distracted and we were distracted. We started much more than we could finish. We lost focus. We diluted effort. We’ve allowed urgent things to turn off important and good things. And in our case — critically — to become distant from our members. That’s why it’s been so important…to re-energize ourselves. As we go forward, we are going to move from a period of navel gazing — as some might say — to a period of consistent execution,” he said.

Rivers believes the organization must focus on three specific areas: its members, its partners, and society — through IChemE’s professional role as a qualifying body and influencing role as a learned society. “In short, we must bring value to our members and to the society we serve. Otherwise, we cease to be relevant,” he warned.

Earlier, members voted by over 90% to support three resolutions designed to tackle some of the issues raised during the January extraordinary general meeting (EGM) — see “IChemE Council Survives No-Confidence Vote." 

The first is to replace the existing council with a smaller, 12-person board of trustees, with IChemE members nominating and electing people for these positions.

The second is creating a congress that will advise the board on matters of interest to the IChemE. Its 40-strong membership will come from two colleges — one reflecting the different grades of IChemE membership and the other its geographical diversity.

The third resolution is to simplify and clarify the organization’s royal charter and bylaws to bring them into line with current good practice.

Rivers expressed delight with the level of support these attracted, while also noting positives of the divisive EGM: “It generated an unprecedented level of interest and engagement in the institution with over 30% of the membership voting, as opposed to the more usual 11% or 12%. The support we got there [for the IChemE’s counter motion] gave us further encouragement to move our agenda forward.”

Nevertheless, he expressed concern that the experience might make some of IChemE’s very best members reluctant to step forward to help with this process, fearing they might become targets: “Some people have been treated very poorly when they put their heads over the parapet and to this I say shame, shame.”

Five signatories to the original EGM motion were nominated for election at the AGM with one, Keith Plumb, successfully voted onto the board of trustees. Plumb, director, Integral Pharma Services, Malpas, U.K., and visiting lecturer, University of Chester, Chester, U.K., was responsible for garnering the 50 signatures that triggered the EGM in the first place.

“I was disappointed that there was no opportunity to have some discussion on the motions put forward during the AGM. Also, many of them were very long and quite difficult to understand. I think there is a case for having a meeting before an AGM at which we should clarify the text for members. This is one of the issues I will be pushing, along with my manifesto commitment to improve openness and visibility within the IChemE,” Plumb told Chemical Processing.

Plumb’s comments were echoed by other AGM attendees, with one saying: “The chair was fairly aggressive against people asking questions. So there was no attempt to persuade me one way or another. My judgement had to be based on what I had read. I thought it was a missed opportunity to engage members.”

Another criticized Rivers for seemingly focusing on the camera for the benefit of IChemE’s YouTube channel audience rather than the members who made the effort to attend the AGM.

Meanwhile, the 120,000-strong Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), London, U.K., is experiencing internal protests along very similar lines. On May 21, the organization was forced to hold the first-ever Special Meeting — effectively an EGM — in its 170-year history after enough members raised a motion criticizing governance issues. In the end, the votes and IMechE’s own blocking motion were deemed non-binding, prompting incoming president Geoff Baker to assure members that actions have been taken that will ensure greater transparency and engagement in both membership and governance processes.


Ottewell2Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can email him at sottewell@putman.net.

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