SME President's Page

Hugh Miller

Where did the time go?
A word of thanks and a crucial look ahead for SME's future

It's difficult to believe that my term as SME President is quickly coming to an end. Barb Arnold and several past presidents warned me how fast the year would fly by and not to be overly ambitious in terms of the initiatives and strategic objectives I hoped to accomplish. It was sage advice to which I should have given more credence; but, as with most things in life, time always seems to be the limiting factor. I'll give the same advice to Bob Schafer and hope he heeds the lessons learned by others better than I did.

While it's convention for the president's last article to primarily focus on the major highlights and accomplishments of the past year, I thought I would deviate a bit and instead address what I see are the future challenges facing the Society and give formal recognition to the volunteers and staff that make SME so relevant, productive and vibrant to the industries it represents. A recap of this year's accomplishments will be presented during the awards banquet on Wednesday night (Feb. 26) at the MineXchange 2020 SME Annual Conference & Expo in Phoenix, AZ and discussed in the 2019 SME Annual Report.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this past year and feel honored for the opportunity to serve the Society. The breadth of activities and professional disciplines represented by SME is immense and ever-increasing in response to the changing nature of the industry, the perceived needs of the membership and opportunities to create additional member value through growth and expanded services/benefits.

Much of the focus this year was devoted to the development of the 2020-2025 SME Strategic Plan that incorporated a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) structure of analysis for the organization using data derived from numerous constituencies within the Society. Overall, SME is doing extremely well despite modest growth in membership, and it continues to be well-positioned to capitalize on new opportunities and to address any conceivable threat to the organization. It is important to emphasize that SME leadership has elected not to concentrate on growth as a strategic objective, but rather on improving products, services and member value as the primary drivers that will facilitate member growth organically. Growth needs to be strategic and not done without due consideration of the total direct and indirect impacts on the organization and existing members.

A major challenge that SME has been struggling with for several years is expanding its footprint internationally. While the mining industry is global in scope, and international growth represents a natural progression of SME's technical mission, it comes with some apprehension due to financial inequities and the ability to adequately provide international members the same benefits and services at an acceptable cost as those available to members in North America. That said, it's exciting to see the rapid growth in student and professional membership in Latin America thanks to a group of very committed members and the excellent work of EngineZone, SME's contractor in Latin America. Similarly, potential collaborations in India, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and those countries represented by GMPA sister organizations will, and do, provide avenues for SME to broaden its influence and make substantive contributions on a global scale. As most would expect, a large number of prominent challenges facing SME are also closely aligned with those of the mining and underground construction industries. Among these include how to effectively address the negative perception of mining and tunneling to a general public that fails to understand the importance of minerals and infrastructure to our standard of living. It's hard to convey our value to those who are predisposed to an inaccurate image based upon legacy issues and historic practices. Other dire issues are the recruitment and retention of talent, the significant threats facing academic degree programs in mining and mineral processing, the continued onslaught of detrimental regulatory and political risks and workforce diversity and inclusion. SME has attempted to integrate these issues into its strategic plan and, with the help and guidance of many, formulate initiatives to make meaningful advances to address these challenges.

As the scope of SME programs and services expand, some of the burden associated with finding ways to fund them falls on the SME Foundation (SMEF). The SMEF represents an incredible group of people devoted to soliciting the resources from companies and individual donors needed to financially sustain activities ranging from academic accreditation and professional licensure to minerals education and outreach. The Ph.D. Fellowship and Career Development Grant programs represent a tremendous commitment to develop the next generation of faculty and keep these degree-granting programs sustainable. I extend my sincere thanks to the volunteers and staff engaged in these efforts and the many companies and individuals who have generously contributed in support of these activities.

During my travels this year, I was privileged to meet many people with professional backgrounds I probably wouldn't have met otherwise. I strongly believe that the best part of SME is the personal relationships you develop and the people you meet. I think it was Tim Arnold who once said there is something unique about folks in the mining industry that bonds us together. I totally agree and suspect the tunneling industry is much the same. I want to personally thank everyone who selflessly volunteers to make SME the organization it is today, from the individuals who work behind the scenes at the local sections to those who do the heavy lifting in the divisions and the countless committees that comprise the Society. I sincerely appreciate all the insights, comments and suggestions I received from concerned members with ideas on how to make SME better. This input has been immensely valuable. I also want to thank the SME and SMEF boards and several of the past presidents, including Barb Arnold, John Mansanti and Tim Arnold; it's been an honor to have worked closely with them over the past three years. I look forward to the upcoming presidential terms of Bob Schafer and Bill Edgerton and hope they relish the experience as much as I have.

I would be grossly negligent not to expound on the professionalism, talent and devotion of the SME staff. They are simply the best, and I am forever indebted to many of them for their help, guidance and friendship. The success of SME as a volunteer organization stems from its leader, Dave Kanagy. Last year, I spent nearly as much time with Dave as with my wife, and through this experience have developed a true appreciation for his contributions to SME. I cannot emphasize how fortunate SME is to have Dave as its executive director. He is an outstanding professional and an even better person.

It's been a distinct privilege to serve as the 2019 SME President and I've enjoyed the experience. I hope that SME is able to provide you and other members of the Society with value that exceeds your expectations and the benefits needed to achieve your career objectives. Thanks again and I wish you all the best. Take care and be safe.