A Legacy of Leadership: Kathie Morgan on Serving as ASTM's President

Ahead of her retirement, ASTM’s outgoing president Kathie Morgan reflects on her career, the relationships she formed with the ASTM community, and what comes next.
JP Ervin

In 1984, Kathie Morgan left her ASTM International job interview convinced she wouldn’t be getting the position. During the interview, James A. Thomas, then vice president of standards development, repeatedly asked why a recent chemical engineering graduate didn’t want to pursue a job directly in that field.

“I remember coming home disillusioned,” Kathie explained. “I was excited about the opportunity and the organization, but when I was repeatedly asked about why I didn’t want to be an engineer, well, I really didn’t expect to get the job.”

But get the job she did. Fast forward 40 years, and Kathie advanced from that first position as staff manager in technical committee operations (TCO) to serving as the organization’s president – succeeding Thomas, who himself spent many years at the organization’s helm. Today, many staff, members, and partners have come to see Kathie as an inextricable part of the organization.

FOR YOU: 125 Years of ASTM International

Based on her stories – which range from eagerly looking forward to committee weeks, to the committee on plastics (D20) throwing her baby and bridal showers, to traveling the world on the organization’s behalf – the feeling of entanglement is mutual. “I think a lot of people lead two lives: a work life and a home life,” she says. “For me, it was never that. My career and my home life blended beautifully over 40 years. The staff and members of ASTM have become such a family to me.”

Kathie will retire this year, to be succeeded by Andrew Kireta Jr., previously president of the Copper Development Association. Ahead of her retirement, Kathie talked about what ASTM has meant to her, how the institution has evolved across five decades, and what comes next. (Hint: She isn’t going anywhere anytime soon!)

40 Years with ASTM International

After taking the TCO position she never expected to get, Kathie worked closely with technical committees for the bulk of her ASTM years. She recalls her TCO days as a career highlight.

“That’s the side of the house I grew up on, and it’s also where I learned the value of standards,” she says. “I’ve always found the meetings to be a real source of energy. They almost became six-month reunions of sorts, where you looked forward to seeing everybody and catching up. Some of the most enjoyable memories I have are those times spent talking to members about their issues, listening to their needs, and asking what we can do to make things better.”

It would be easy for Kathie to talk about her service to members or other personal accomplishments. But in conversation, she prefers to tell a story of a changing world and the way ASTM kept stride. What emerges is a portrait of someone who proudly shepherded a vision — and sat front-and-center as the world evolved.

When I ask how different today’s ASTM is from the one she joined in the 1980s, Kathie laughs. “What has changed? You could write a book on this,” she says. “When I started, we didn’t even have voicemail. When I came back from lunch, the first thing I did was check the bulletin board for pink telephone messages. I lived through the days of a fax machine being the latest and greatest innovation, then being able to electronically scan ballots to record votes. Then I saw the move to a fully digital path, from creating a standard all the way through publishing and delivery, the development of Compass, and beyond.”

Of course, the biggest move may have been Kathie’s shift to the president’s office. Named president of ASTM in 2017, she recalls feeling excitement but also the gravity of the role.

“It was a very exhilarating moment because I was following Jim Thomas, who had been a real mentor to me and was an icon in the standardization world. While it was exhilarating, it was also very humbling. It felt very weighty because ASTM had 30,000 members and an amazing staff. This was a large organization making a positive impact globally, and now I was responsible for it.”


Under Kathie Morgan's leadership, ASTM reached the milestone of 125 Memorandums of Understanding.

Kathie initially thought of the responsibilities that came with the role, but she admits she was surprised to learn the post also held meaning for many other people. Many women in particular saw a great deal of importance in her promotion.

“I was contacted by a lot of women who remarked on the significance of my appointment as president of a standards organization,” Kathie says. “I hadn’t thought about it when I was initially appointed. But here was a whole stakeholder group who was looking to me to reflect positively on what women can do in an executive management position. I hope I represented them well and encouraged them to keep reaching higher.”

Kathie says she witnessed a significant expansion in ASTM’s vision during her career, citing four key shifts in particular. In addition to technological adaptation, she says ASTM cemented its status as an international organization; expanded its role as a service and solutions provider; and championed emerging sectors such as additive manufacturing, exo technology, robotics, and aerospace.

“We’re at the point of total digital transformation in the delivery and use of standards, how standards are consumed, and what standards developers do for the world,” she explains. “That has also facilitated the internationalization of ASTM and allowed our basic philosophy of direct technical engagement to work more effectively around the world. This has been crucial for us as we have gathered input from experts around the globe and stepped forward to provide solutions across industries.”

Kathie’s tenure as president saw many developments that embodied this vision: the formation of the Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence (AM CoE, 2018) and Exo Technology Center of Excellence (ET CoE, 2019); the announcement of a chapter in the United Arab Emirates (UAE, 2019); the acquisition of Wohlers Associates to provide market intelligence for the AM market (2021); the launch of the emerging technology program, ASTM Xcellerate (2022); the opening of an office in Singapore (2023); the release of Compass Points, which allows users to more easily pinpoint critical components of standards in ASTM’s Compass portal (2023); and the signing of ASTM’s 125th Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) partnership (2023).

Kathie also championed DEIB efforts, established the organization’s Core Values, formed its first four student chapters, and led a multi-year planning effort to mark the organization’s milestone 125th anniversary in 2023.

“Perhaps the most challenging time of my presidency was the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kathie reflects. “Navigating this unprecedented health crisis was about caring for our staff, being communicative, and providing reassurance in what was a very anxious time for everyone.”

Despite overseeing significant transformation, Kathie maintains that ASTM is not wholly different from the organization that formed more than a century ago, let alone the one she took charge of in 2017.

“What hasn’t changed over these many years are the fundamental values and philosophies that made our standards process so successful in the early years,” she says. “It goes back long before me, to when the founders of this organization formulated a vision. It still works today. That is what’s amazing to me. They found a secret recipe 125 years ago. Yes, it’s been tweaked, but the main ingredients are still the same.”

Moving Forward

While the roots of ASTM may endure, the community will feel the absence of Kathie’s passion, friendly demeanor, and unforgettable laugh. Quick to answer her own emails and ever happy to chat with a new staff member, she will be missed in the halls of ASTM headquarters and lobbies of conference hotels across the world.

Kathie says it will be equally difficult for her to say goodbye. “I’m going to miss contributing to the organization on a daily basis and all the great people I’ve had the chance to work with. If you look at a who’s who of the standards world, I had a chance to learn from, be coached by, and listen to so many individuals. As I said, it’s been intertwined with my life forever.”

Kathie also says she hasn’t quite cemented plans for what comes next, only to note that she looks forward to spending time with her family and volunteering at the nursing home that cared for her mother. And, she suggests, ASTM won’t be completely out of the picture after all.

“I can’t totally disengage from ASTM. When I finally do stop working, the next day I’ll be filling out an application for the committee on consumer products (F15) so I can be of some service to the organization from the volunteer side. My husband constantly comments that I’m one of the most prolific consumers he knows. F15 has meetings at ASTM headquarters too, so hopefully I can bring my experience and laugh back to the ASTM hallways again.” ■

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