AGU’s Board Meeting, December 2019: A Newcomer’s Perspective


By Catherine McCammon, Member of AGU’s 2019-2020 Board of Directors 

As the newest member of AGU’s Board of Directors, it was no surprise to be asked to summarize the Board meeting held on Saturday, 7 December 2019. There’s value in the perspective of a newcomer, and I was happy to contribute a bird’s eye view.

This Board meeting comes at a watershed moment for AGU. After years of planning, AGU’s Centennial ended with a huge birthday bash at Fall Meeting 2019, AGU’s CEO Chris McEntee will step down after a remarkable term of leadership, and we will say farewell to the strategic plan that has been AGU’s road map over the past 10 years. In turn, we hail AGU’s future through development of a new strategic plan and a comprehensive search process for a new CEO. This is indeed an exciting time to be part of the AGU community.

The Board meeting started with an in-depth look at AGU’s finances. AGU is in an enviable position of financial strength and maintains its capacity to invest in strategic initiatives that benefit its communities. There are risks and opportunities on the horizon, so the specifics of AGU’s financial position were scrutinized by the Board. After many questions and extensive discussion, the Board approved the 2020 budget. Transparency continues to be a priority and strategies for how best to frame and communicate AGU’s financial picture to its members are on the horizon.

Following the fiduciary part of the Board meeting, we began a prelude to strategic planning using the concept of “generative governance” to encourage outside the box thinking and an exploration of topics in new and different ways. As outlined by Chait, Ryan, and Taylor in their 2005 book Governance as Leadership: Reframing the Work of Nonprofit Boards, boards that are equally adept at operating in all three modes of governance (fiduciary, strategic, and generative) add value to the organizations that they govern. Our generative discussion focused on a research paper addressing a new strategy for diversity and inclusion in the geosciences, cleverly setting the stage for the next agenda item.

Next up was the new AGU strategic plan. There has been much prior work, and a summary is given in the report from the last Board meeting. Our task for this meeting was to refine key elements of the strategic plan: AGU’s definition of itself as well as its vision and mission. A wide-ranging discussion followed with high-level thoughts intermingled with occasional excursions down rabbit holes, but all skillfully managed by the chair. A writing team took over the task of compiling the Board’s thoughts into a more coherent document that was presented to the AGU Council the next day.

The final agenda item concerned the search for AGU’s new CEO. We met the representatives of the executive search firm and it’s clear that AGU is in good hands. All in all, I came away from the meeting with a strong sense that AGU is on a good course to its future.

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