A decade ago, it would have been very easy for James A. Gibbs to step back from his illustrious career, rest on his laurels and enjoy the carefree life of retirement.
After all, at that point he already was an award-winning geologist, a past president and honorary member of AAPG, a best-selling author and widely known for his entire career of excellence.
He also had proudly supported the AAPG Foundation, both as a Trustee Associate and since 2006 as a member of the board of trustees. Enthusiastically. And as he told EXPLORER correspondent Louise Durham in 2008, “Enthusiasm is the most important thing ...
“If someone is really interested in something, they’ll find ways to participate in it,” he said, “and if they have enough desire and interest in it, somehow they become a leader.”
Gibbs’ enthusiasm for the AAPG Foundation proved to be important for not only the Foundation but for geoscientists around the world. And then some. Because not only did Gibbs reject going quietly into that long good night, he embraced a new future.
Shortly after making that statement about enthusiasm, Gibbs was elected chairman of the AAPG Foundation – the start of a decade of exciting growth for both the Foundation’s size and impact on geoscience education and professional development around the world.
And now the era has come to an end. Gibbs, chairman of Five States Energy Capital LLC in Dallas, Texas, announced in early October that he was stepping down as chair. He immediately became a Foundation Trustee Emeritus and a permanent member of the Foundation’s Members of the Corporation.
Simultaneously, the Foundation announced that board member James S. “Jim” McGhay, an Honorary AAPG member from Tulsa, has been elected to succeed Gibbs as Foundation chair.
Growth and Accomplishment
“It’s been an amazing experience and honor to have been part of the Foundation for so many years, one that I’ll never forget,” Gibbs said in announcing his decision. “I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish during the past decade, but now I believe it’s time for someone else to have a turn with that experience.”
Those accomplishments included growth for the Foundation’s portfolio – an undeniable measurement of success – but also innovative changes and wide-reaching impact for Foundation-backed programs, including outreach through the Grants-in-Aid and the L. Austin Weeks Undergraduate Grant programs; the Deana and Paul Strunk Military Veterans Scholarship Program; the Visiting Geoscientist and Distinguished Lecture programs; and a host of other geoscience and educational initiatives around the world.
You can emphasize the “geo” in educational focus for both Gibbs and the Foundation over the past 10 years.
“One of my favorite duties as chairman has been introducing the Foundation’s Teacher of the Year, which annually rewards teaching excellence and outstanding leadership in geoscience education,” Gibbs said, pointing to just one example of his and Foundation’s favorite programs.
Under Gibbs’ leadership the TOTY presentation has become an increasingly popular segment of every AAPG annual convention – including the 2020 meeting, which was held virtually – and now attracts nominations from schools previously unconnected to AAPG’s geoscience educational emphasis.
“Working with students or young people to help them find a career in the geosciences or find their niche in business?” he said. “It’s the thing I get the most satisfaction about.”
A Leader for the Moment
The timing of Gibbs’ leadership of the Foundation felt fortuitous on several occasions – his tenure, like the profession itself, was marked with challenging financial pressures, rapidly changing industry dynamics and a transition in the tradition of contributing to foundations.
Oh, and a pandemic.
Succeeding in that world demanded not just enthusiasm, but intelligence, flexibility and innovation.
“Working with Jim Gibbs as Foundation chair over the past nine years has been a front-row seat to a workshop on leadership as he worked with the Trustees to forge the path for the Foundation,” said Foundation Executive Director David Curtiss.
“Under his leadership, not only did the Foundation’s portfolio continue its growth trajectory, but the Foundation refocused its efforts,” Curtiss continued, “and Jim deftly managed relationships and concerns with a strong commitment to our mission.”
Fellow Foundation Trustee Michael Wisda praised Gibbs’ tenure with very specific words – he found him:
● Inspirational – not only as the author of his practical, popular books, such as “Becoming an Independent Geologist” and “Finding Work as a Petroleum Geologist,” but also in the way he “always looks to converse with young professionals at meetings.”
● Inclusive – as a champion, for example, of such expansive programs as Geoscientists Without Borders and the Inspirational Geoscience Educator Award.
● Insightful – his passion for the Deana and Paul Strunk MVSP, and Paul Weimer’s Interactive Geology Project.
● Disciplined – in his priority toward improving the Foundation’s website.
● Unflappable – Stock market drops? Public trends in donation habits? “He held steady,” Wisda said. “He showed no panic.”
Foundation Trustee Larry Jones also quickly pointed to specific examples of Gibbs’ leadership as factors for success over the past decade, including:
● The board’s change to Vanguard Financial for financial advice
● Developing ways to ensure continued support for popular student programs, such as the Imperial Barrel Award
● Development of the Deana and Paul Strunk MVSP
● Reaching his stated goal of securing $50 million in Foundation assets
“Everything became much more difficult as COVID arrived,” Jones said, “but we continued to function.”
And helping to make that a reality? Gibbs’ “love of AAPG, and the mission and goals of the Foundation. Jim Gibbs is focused, and considerate.
“He studied a problem and developed a game plan, vetted it with the other trustees and key staff, and honored the opinions of all members of the board,” Jones said – an apt description for a recipient of the AAPG Michel T. Halbouty Outstanding Leadership Award.
“He was calm and never put people down,” Jones added. “When a decision was made, he saw to it that it was carried out.”