Thom Mason talks about decision to leave ORNL

2/27/2017

Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thom Mason announced that he is stepping down.

In an email sent to ORNL employees, Mason said he was leaving for a position with Battelle as senior vice president for laboratory operations.

In a separate release, ORNL said Mason would work in Columbus, Ohio, at Battelle’s corporate headquarters.

“It has been an honor and a pleasure to work with all of you at ORNL,” Mason wrote in the email. “I take great pride in the accomplishments of the lab for our community and nation. I am especially grateful as I look back on the many successes our team has accomplished.

Mason has been director at ORNL since 2007. His new position will begin July 1, a decade to the day that he began his role as director at ORNL.

Mason will work with Executive Vice President of Global Laboratory Operations Ron Townsend, another former ORNL employee. Townsend left his president role at Oak Ridge Associated Universities in 2009. Mason said he would report to Townsend.

“Certainly, the fact that I’ll be able to bring my perspective, having run one of the labs, will be helpful,” Mason said Friday afternoon. “Of course, over the years I’ve had opportunities to (work with and) learn about the other labs.”

He said his decision to step down had nothing to do with the new Trump administration and the reports of different DOE research arms being cut back. Mason said information about the new president’s energy policies have been vague, but his decision to leave was because it was time to move on.

“I’ve always felt at some point in time it would make sense for both me and the lab to do something different,” he said. “I think it’s healthy to have someone with new ideas come in.”

Mason’s departure has been speculated for several years now. In a January 2015 story in the News Sentinel, longtime Department of Energy reporter Frank Munger called Mason a “hot commodity” and he openly questioned how long Mason would remain at ORNL.

Before that, in 2011, Mason said he receives calls from “headhunters” wanting him to work at other facilities at least once a month.

Mason played a large role in leading the launch of the Spallation Neutron Source. As president and CEO of UT-Battelle LLC, which manages ORNL for the U.S. Department of Energy, he was instrumental in the discussions that led to the creation of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation. While Mason was at ORNL, the lab fielded back-to-back No. 1 supercomputers.

Last May, Mason was awarded an honorary doctorate in science by the University of Tennessee.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1986, before earning his doctorate in condensed matter sciences from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1990.

UT-Battelle Board of Governors will hold an open search for Mason’s replacement. When asked if longtime ORNL Deputy Director for Science and Technology, Thomas Zacharia, would be considered, Mason said he would be an “obvious candidate as will others.”

Shortly after Mason’s announcement was reported by the News Sentinel, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, tweeted his thanks to Mason: “Congratulations to my good friend Thom Mason on his promotion. Sorry to lose him at ORNL.”

McNally sent his congratulations in an emailed statement.

“Thom’s tenure at ORNL has been exemplary,” he wrote. “His work has advanced ORNL’s overall mission and expanded its reputation at the premiere (sic) laboratory in the nation. He is an active and valued member of our community in Oak Ridge. He will be greatly missed.”

University of Tennessee President and chairman of the UT-Battelle board of governors, Joe DiPietro, said in an emailed statement that Mason has been an outstanding leader.

“Thom has been an exemplary scientific leader and we’re fortunate that he will continue to be engaged with Oak Ridge National Laboratory as he uses his experience and expertise to benefit DOE (Department of Energy), Battelle, and other labs where Battelle has a management role.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander said Mason has been a “transformational leader” at ORNL in an emailed statement.

“During his tenure, Thom has led Oak Ridge to new heights in supercomputing, science, nuclear energy, and advanced manufacturing,” Alexander wrote.

“National laboratories are critical to our nation’s competitiveness and because of his leadership Oak Ridge will continue to play a vital role in our nation’s future. I congratulate Thom on his new role at Battelle.”

Sen. Bob Corker said Mason’s leadership has been critical to the lab’s success in the past 10 years.

“The Oak Ridge National Laboratory plays a critical role in our country’s energy security, and Thom Mason’s leadership has been an important part of the lab’s success over the past decade,” Corker said in an emailed statement. “I wish Thom the best in this next phase of life and thank him for his dedication to ORNL and the Volunteer State.”

Gov. Bill Haslam praised Mason’s work at ORNL.

“As director of the lab, Thom has been a great partner, both while I was mayor and now as governor,” Haslam said in an emailed statement. “Under his leadership ORNL has been not only the best national lab in the country, but a great asset for us in recruiting jobs and stressing the importance of education.”

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by TYLER WHETSTONE

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