Georgeann Bilich, SPE Vice President–Communications, Retires: Far-Reaching Career at SPE Spans 4 Decades

Georgeann Bilich joined the SPE staff in 1974 as the preprint coordinator. She retired on 27 March 2014 as SPE vice president–-communications, directing all SPE print and electronic publications, as well as external and internal communications, public relations, and energy education. During this 40-year time–span, Bilich at one time or another worked within or managed almost every aspect of SPE.

Grounded in Excellence

“My career was shaped early on by two individuals who have been very important to me,” said Bilich. “Tom Sullivan, JPT editor at the time he hired me, gave me my first real professional opportunity and inspired me to be the very best editor I could possibly be. And Dan Adamson, who joined the SPE staff in 1965 and served as SPE executive director from 1979 to 2001, inspired me to strive for excellence in whatever I did. I am happy to say that both remain my close friends.”

Sullivan explained that after he was promoted to JPT editor in 1974, “one of my first tasks was to hire a new ‘preprint coordinator.’ A preprint was the raw—unedited, unreviewed—printed version of a technical paper slated to be presented at the ever-growing number of SPE worldwide meetings.”

He interviewed several prospects. “But one stood out above all: a newly married young woman from Detroit who’d just moved with her architect husband to Dallas to seek their fortune,” Sullivan said. “Intelligent, savvy, articulate, personable, Georgeann Bilich was eager to work at her first real job. Plus she had a degree in journalism from the University of Michigan—I wouldn’t have to teach her how to fact-check, write, and edit. Georgeann took to the job like a duck to water.”

But Sullivan knew “she’d not be content for long—and I didn’t want to lose her.”

So, starting with the January 1975 issue of the Journal of Petroleum Technology, Bilich was promoted to assistant editor, responsible for editing 8 to 10 technical papers each issue. Not only was the quarterly SPE Journal also her responsibility, but as part of the four-person JPT team, she also acted as a staff liaison for several SPE committees.

One of these was the Monograph Committee.

“To achieve an edit-ready monograph manuscript often took years of back-and-forth negotiation between reviewers and authors,” Sullivan said. “Georgeann sparkled as a mediator—forging consensus out of chaos. Then, of course, she had to edit the monograph.”

The first monograph Bilich worked on was Advances in Well Test Analysis—still available through the SPE Bookstore and described as a “classic volume.” She has fond memories of working with its author, Robert C. Earlougher Jr., from 1975 to 1977, when the monograph was published.

Before Sullivan left SPE in 1977, he and Adamson, then SPE general manager, chose Bilich as the first—and only—woman to serve as editor ofJPT. Forty years after Sullivan selected Bilich to join the SPE staff, he said, “She is a perfectionist in the best sense of the word. Without question, Georgeann Bilich is the best hire I ever made.”

While Bilich left SPE from early 1979 to early 1985, she worked as a freelancer on another SPE book.

“Georgeann and I worked together to produce SPE’s first textbook, Well Testing, which was published in 1982 and is still in demand today,” said John Lee, professor and Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen distinguished university chair at the University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering Petroleum Engineering Program. “We had no template; we had to invent and innovate as we progressed. We became a team from the start. We met regularly at SPE headquarters. We discussed, agreed on, and implemented strategies we considered helpful, and developed our own template for SPE textbooks. We even selected my favorite color, red, as the standard color for SPE texts, in contrast to the blue that was then used for monographs.”

Lee developed deep respect for Bilich. “Georgeann displayed not only strong professional communications skills—many have those,” he said, “but also a human warmth, dedication to providing exactly the professional advice and assistance I needed to achieve my task (which she has demonstrated in working with so many other SPE members), and concern for excellence that so many lack. We were a good team, and our relationship will always remain one of the absolute highlights of my career.”

Wide-Ranging Challenges

Bilich rejoined the SPE staff in March 1985 as technical publications manager, with added responsibility as JPT editor starting with the December 1992 issue.

“Georgeann was responsible for hiring me in 1986 as the editor of SPE Reservoir Engineering,” said Holly Hargadine, now assistant director–technical activities. “A key project we worked on, in the early 1990s, was creating a digital library. We digitized 20,000 to 30,000 technical papers—formerly housed in file drawers—scanning and putting them on CD-ROMs.”

This effort led to the establishment of SPE’s e-Library, leading eventually to today’s OnePetro online technical paper resource. “The body of technical knowledge SPE built—and continues to build—through its technical papers (now part of OnePetro) is an achievement equaled by no other professional society,” said Bilich. “I am proud I played a role in that.”

In the mid- to late 1990s, an SPE staff reorganization created the roles of staff directors. Bilich became a director, overseeing member services, publications, conference programming, and event management (other than exhibit sales and management). Among many other achievements, SPE’s Applied Technology Workshops were established under her management.

Bilich played a key role in the merger between SPE and the Petroleum Society of Canada. “I was a member of the team that worked out the merger agreement,” explained Bilich. “After the merger in August 2009, I was responsible for starting up the SPE Canada office in Calgary, working with the first SPE Canada Board of Directors, and implementing other SPE programs in Canada. I continued in this role until April 2013.”

Bilich was also instrumental in starting SPE’s Oil and Gas Facilities, now in its third year, that appears in print and online, and HSE Now, established in 2013, SPE’s first curated online publication. She was named vice president–communications in 2013.

Quality, Integrity, Commitment

Mark Rubin, SPE’s chief executive officer and executive vice president, worked with Bilich starting in 2001, when he was appointed SPE’s executive director. “Georgeann’s commitment over 4 decades has contributed to SPE’s efforts to evolve into a successful, global association,” he said. “She made an enduring impact through the employees she’s mentored and the members she’s worked with and advised. She earned the respect and appreciation of members and staff and always endeavored to ensure that SPE never strayed from its commitment to quality.”

Nurturing quality is integral to Bilich’s everyday work habits. Glenda Smith, SPE director–innovation, strategy, and analytics, worked for Bilich on technical publications for 12 years. “Georgeann is continuously an editor,” she said. “Whenever you gave her any document to read, you just accepted that it would come back with marks all over it. A good editor like Georgeann can always improve a written document.”

Katrina Anderson can attest to the effect of Bilich’s pervasive integrity. “Within 2 hours of interviewing with Georgeann in 2010 for a job as her executive assistant, I got a call offering me the job,” said Anderson, now also communications administrator. “Working with Georgeann has been, by far, the most enriching work experience of my life. She was a wonderful mentor, both professionally and personally. Her acts of kindness, encouraging words, and wisdom always pushed me to learn more, be more, and do more—the epitome of a great leader.”


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