The business slogan “Think Big!” was first coined in 1911. I remember seeing (and perhaps wearing!) lapel buttons using the phrase in my 1960’s childhood. This is written to celebrate the life and contributions of one of dispute resolution’s leading big thinkers, William K. Slate II (Bill).Mark Appel
Bill Slate will be remembered for many innovations during his tenure as President and CEO of the American Arbitration Association. Among those were the dramatic investment in, and use of, Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), the development of administrative systems for resolving high-volume claims, the creation of the International Centre for Dispute Resolution, AAA’s international division, and the AAA’s early embrace of the mediation process.
I don’t know whether Bill ever received formal mediation skills training, but he possessed strong mediation skills. He was a particularly empathetic listener. From early on in his AAA tenure, Bill insisted on seeing dispute resolution through the eyes of others, be they process users or aspiring dispute resolution professionals. By way of example, I received multiple calls from female arbitrators after a session co-presented with a leading international arbitrator on the subject of “getting started as an arbitrator”. At the conclusion of their discussion, a verbal checklist of sorts, Bill asked his co-presenter; “So how would you change your advice if the candidate was a woman”?
Bill had a refreshing habit of asking others what they needed. He was also a leader, and delightfully unconstrained by what others were doing. He talked about commercial “solutions”, which led AAA/ICDR to promote mediation as part of a larger, integrated dispute resolution “toolkit”.
Bill Slate was also a significant force behind the creation and early nurturing of the International Mediation Institute (IMI). At the time of IMI’s creation, the AAA had already embraced mediation and formalised a global footprint, opening an office in Dublin, Ireland. Discussions on mediation at the AAA/ICDR senior staff level focused on how to “mainstream” the mediation process. Trust and process quality were at the heart of those discussions. Those discussions were part of the creative spark behind the founding of IMI.
When my friend and former colleague Richard Naimark approached Bill with our recommendation to create the IMI, Bill reacted like a good mediator. He helped make a good idea even better. At the time, AAA/ICDR was ready to partner in IMI’s creation with the Netherlands Mediation Institute (NMI), an early global leader in mediator certification. Bill approved of the idea and committed AAA/ICDR, with the proviso that we bring in another global partner. And so, IMI began with three sponsoring Institutions, the AAA/ICDR, the NMI and the Singapore International Arbitration Center.
I would be remiss if I didn’t add, in closing, one of Bill’s most endearing traits. He was the consummate gentleman, unfailingly kind, and with a blind eye to status. By way of illustration, I recall an interesting series of exchanges at one of the ICC/AAA/ICSID colloquia. Bill and other institutional colleagues were on the stage responding to questions. One came from a revered colleague, whose query was deflected rather abruptly by one of Bill’s co-presenters. That was followed by an off-point question from a less-experienced practitioner. After looking first to his co-presenters, Bill responded to the delegate by saying “Rather than addressing your question now, why don’t you and I have a chat over the break”.
I was privileged to know and work with Bill Slate. Bill was a big thinker and a consummate gentleman. He will be missed.