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Communications of the ACM

Communications of the ACM

A New Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of ACM

ACM President Alexander L. Wolf

Credit: Imperial College London

I sometimes reflect on what makes ACM so special, so unique as a professional society. I can easily come up with several good reasons, including the extent to which responsibility, authority, and budget control are devolved to our 37 special interest groups or the strong support we provide to our fellow volunteers in building a broad range of community service activities (the "good works" of ACM). But alongside or, perhaps, underlying these very visible special and unique features is the largely invisible special and unique relationship that exists between volunteer leaders and ACM headquarters staff. This is a relationship characterized by mutual respect and trust, and a deep understanding of each other's motivations, aspirations, and priorities. Not that there are no conflicts and sometimes even some tensions, but as in any healthy relationship, it is the manner in which you approach and overcome problems and challenges that matters, not the fact they may exist.

What is the secret to ACM's incredible success in building its volunteer/staff relationship? From where did it come and how do we ensure it continues? This is something that has been literally decades in the making (starting well before my time as an ACM volunteer) and something that as President I feel a great responsibility to preserve and nurture.

"Bobby Schnabel's contributions, to the computing community in general and ACM in particular, have been nothing short of stellar."

From my point of view, a watershed moment in the building of that relationship occurred in November 1998 when John Whiteholder of a Ph.D. in computer science, a former university professor, an industrial research lab director, and a past president of ACM, transitioned from his role as a longstanding volunteer to that of chief executive officer (the first person to hold that title) and executive director (the traditional title of someone who heads the staff of a non-profit organization). For the first time, the most senior member of staff would be someone from our technical community. What John did with that opportunity is, simply put, legendary. While previous ACM EDs contributed fundamentally and substantially to our success, John brought a different kind of experience and perspective to the position, one that in the context of computing's explosive growth in importance and ubiquity (John took up his position in the same year that Microsoft Windows 98 was released and Google was founded) could not have been more timely for our profession. Together with ACM COO Pat Ryan and the rest of the headquarters staff, John worked tirelessly with ACM volunteers to guide our association on a path toward its standing today as the world's leading international professional society of computing engineers, scientists, educators, and students.

With John's impending retirement after nearly 17 years, it fell to me (much to the relief of some recent past presidents!) to lead the process of finding a CEO who could ably sustain and even grow ACM's success, but more fundamentally perhaps, continue the excellent working relationship between volunteers and staff. From the outset we aimed, once again, to attract someone from our community: someone with the right combination of experience leading a major organization, a history of deep knowledge of ACM, and an acknowledged technical standing in computing. I called upon a diverse set of highly respected computing professionals to serve on a search committee: Vicki Hanson (chair), Muffy Calder, Vint Cerf, Stu Feldman, Mary Jane Irwin, Matthias Kaiserswerth, and Peter Lee. I asked them to come back with a recommendation to the ACM Executive Committee, the leadership group charged in our bylaws with making the appointment decision. After receiving a remarkable number of truly outstanding applications and carrying out a thorough review and interview process, the committee forwarded a name that was unanimously accepted by the ACM EC, with the unanimous concurrence of the full ACM Council.

I am extremely pleased to welcome Robert (Bobby) Schnabel as the new CEO and ED of ACM. Bobby will take up his position on November 1, and, in the interim, I have named Pat Ryan acting ED. Bobby is without question an ideal person to serve in this role going forward. He comes to us from Indiana University, where he is Professor and Dean in the School of Informatics and Computing, leading the school through a remarkable period of growth in size, stature, and funding. Prior to this he spent 30 years at the University of Colorado at Boulder after receiving a Ph.D. in computer science from Cornell University. Among many other senior duties and positions in Boulder, Bobby founded and directed the Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society (ATLAS) Institute and served for nine years as campus CIO. Bobby's technical background is in numerical computation, having published over 100 scholarly articles in the area, earning him advancement to Fellow of both SIAM and the ACM.

Bobby's contributions, to the computing community in general and ACM in particular, have been nothing short of stellar. Early on he served as chair of an ACM special interest group (SIGNUM) and later editor-in-chief of the highly respected SIAM Review. He will step down as founding chair of the ACM Education Policy Committee, which under his leadership has played a pivotal role in convincing policymakers of the importance of an early and substantial computing education. Bobby was a co-founder of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) and was a board member of the Computer Research Association (CRA). Bobby is currently a board member of, serves as chair of the advisory board of the Alliance for Hispanic Serving Institutions, and is a member of the U.S. National Science Foundation Computing and Information Science and Engineering advisory committee. These are but some of the many important activities that have seen him take a leadership role in our community, building a broad and secure foundation for his challenging new duties at ACM.

Although I am sad to see John leave, I am extremely excited to have Bobby take up the role at ACM. Bobby brings with him a special passion and bright new ideas that will help continue the great tradition of leadership, innovation, openness, and growth that have marked the history of ACM.

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Alexander L. Wolf is president of ACM and a professor in the Department of Computing at Imperial College London, U.K.

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UF1Figure. Bobby Schnabel assumes the role of ACM's CEO and Executive Director on Nov. 1, 2015.

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2015 ACM, Inc.


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