Retiree's Lunch Update October 2020

Written by  Dr Richard Thwaites, FRACI CChem

Published 2 November 2020

Over the years some excellent people have joined the RACI.  Unfortunately, many of them then left again within a year or two.  Our Retirees, in contrast, are generally among those who have stuck around for much longer than average.  In some ways this is good, but as Guest Speaker for our October Retirees’ Virtual Lunch, RACI CEO Roger Stapleford, pointed out, this skews the age distribution of RACI membership:  we have too many in the 55+ age group category, and not enough younger members.  The challenge is, working out how to retain our early career chemist members once they have finished university and embarked on careers, particularly careers outside academia, so that they continue to be associated with the Institute for many years, like our Retirees.

Roger told us a bit about himself in his pre-RACI life.  He graduated from Loughborough University in the UK with an Honours Degree in Industrial Chemistry, worked in South Africa in the mining and minerals industry, acquired a couple more degrees in Business Management and Commerce, took on a logistics role in the rubber industry, and a general management role in the textile industry before migrating to Australia where he set up his own consultancy business in Perth.  He joined the RACI as CEO in March 2010 at a time when significant upheavals were taking place within the Institute, including consolidation of Branch and Division accounts, generating a certain amount of unrest and the closing down of a couple of Divisions.  At the time, the Institute as a whole was incurring an annual loss of around $500k, obviously not sustainable in the long term.

Roger went on to explain how the financial position of the Institute has improved since 2010, but pointed out that whilst income from membership subscriptions has been largely unchanged since 2014, running costs have increased.  He emphasised how important it was for RACI events and functions, including webinars and seminars, to generate surpluses to support annual running costs.  He indicated that taking on the role of Professional Conference Organiser (PCO) for the various events in house, and acting as PCO for outside organisations, had the potential to reduce costs and generate income for the RACI, but that the COVID-19 pandemic had thwarted plans to take this further.  He noted that the net cost of “Chemistry in Australia” had reduced from $160k p.a. in 2010 to less than $40k p.a. currently, thanks to increased income from advertising and reduced printing costs (since the majority of members – other than Retirees – prefer the online version).

Roger then described some of the key requirements to maintain Institute viability.  These included developing programs to retain younger members, such as mentoring, careers information and networking programs, pushing for better surpluses on all events, running most future conferences in house and looking for other sources of revenue.  The Institute has a challenging future, but some good features include a slight upturn in membership numbers despite COVID (following many years of declining membership), a new enthusiasm for on-line meetings involving many more members than the previous in-person gatherings and a general confidence among younger members who recognise the value of membership and networking opportunities in the context of career opportunities.

The meeting thanked Roger for his interesting and thought-provoking address.  He has made a copy of his Power Point presentation available from the Victoria Branch Co-ordinator.

We look forward to our next Retirees’ Virtual Lunch on November 10th at 12 noon, at which our Guest Speaker will be Sally Woollett, Editor of “Chemistry in Australia”.  Everyone welcome!


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