Building Bridges for AMPP’s Future Generations

Paul Vinik shares hands with AMPP CEO Alan Thomas after cutting the ribbon to officially open AMPP’s 2024 Exhibit Hall. Photo courtesy of AMPP.

Paul Vinik inspected hundreds of bridges as a structural materials engineer. Now, as AMPP’s chairman of the board, he wants to give the same opportunity to the next generation in the coatings and corrosion industry.

Vinik, who today manages corrosion services in the Southeast and is executive vice president for Greenman-Pedersen, Inc., took some time out of his busy schedule during the 2024 AMPP Conference + Expo in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA to discuss his career journey and his hopes as board chairman.

Vinik became board chairman in January, succeeding Amir Eliezer.

“It’s very humbling because this organization means a ton to me,” Vinik says. “I want to pass that same advantage on to the next generation. For me, that’s why I’m here. I want to be able to pass on the technology, but even more so to pass on the ability to make a living in this world. AMPP gives individuals an opportunity to succeed in a career path and a great environment to collaborate.”

Humble Beginnings

Vinik grew up in Port Tampa, Florida, USA, attending public schools before heading to the University of South Florida, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering.

He studied polymers in graduate school before beginning his career as a process engineer in the fertilizer industry, which he notes experiences severe corrosion but has little involvement with AMPP. This was where he was first exposed to corrosion mitigation and techniques like anodic protection of sulfuric acid coolers.

After the fertilizer plant went bankrupt, he moved to the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), where he worked for 14 years and progressed from chemist administrator to state structural materials engineer.

Eliezer says those beginnings allow Vinik to better relate to AMPP members because he comes to his position as someone other than a CEO or an asset owner.

“He started from the basics, and he’s very proud of where he came from,” Eliezer says. “He understands its value. He’s not arrogant, and he’s a team worker. He listens, he hears. He doesn’t need this position just for a checkmark on his checklist. He feels that he represents the people.”

Early Association with AMPP

Within two weeks of his employment with FDOT, he was sent to Coating Fundamentals at the annual SSPC (Society for Protective Coatings) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA to take coatings classes. This was a pivotal occurrence in his career, SSPC and NACE, the National Association of Corrosion Engineers, later merged to become AMPP.

Not only did he receive invaluable instruction, but there he met Dick Drisko, a longtime SSPC writer, editor, consultant, and educator who headed the Navy’s corrosion program, and also Frank Palmer, who worked in the maritime industry for decades. Between them, he received the best hands-on and technical training all in one class.

“They were both just stellar individuals,” Vinik says of Drisko and Palmer, with whom he remained in contact until Drisko’s passing in 2015. “I was able to talk with Dr. Drisko and ask him questions and collaborate for years after the class. It’s just a huge piece of my career, and I am very grateful to have these types of individuals to learn from and lean on for help. It was as if I had a dictionary that I could open and get the right definition.”

Those relationships helped to propel his career.

As state structural materials engineer at FDOT’s State Materials Research Park, Vinik’s group was responsible for cathodic protection on more than 100 bridges and the state’s structural steel coating program encompassing 10,000 bridges across Florida. His work as a civil servant in corrosion fostered his relationship and strong association with AMPP.

Board Chairmanship

Several years into his FDOT career, he joined the AMPP Board of Directors, and then he ran to become vice chairman of the board for 2023.

He has committed uncountable time to AMPP as a director and board vice chairman and chairman, but he also looks forward to a future when he will have time to teach AMPP classes and continue to connect with the industry’s next generation.

The married father of two daughters, Sophia and Sarah, wants to help give the younger generation the same opportunities that were available to him as young engineer.

“When I look at my kids, I’m hoping somebody’s out there in whatever career path they choose doing the same thing,” he says, “to guide them along the way.”

As he has traveled around the country to AMPP events, Vinik feels a deep connection with his industry colleagues.

“I’m a technical guy, and AMPP is full of technical people, so I just fit in,” he says. “People have the same sort of mindset, and we speak the same language. We have familiar and common traits. It just seems to be where I fit.”

Eliezer affirms that Vinik’s technical prowess sets him apart, calling him “one of the best in the world at what he does.”

Corrosion Awareness

“Corrosion,” reads the profile on Vinik’s LinkedIn page, “is a thief in the day and night.”

“That’s just to make people aware that corrosion doesn’t stop,” he says. “You can go and ignore it, but it’s still progressing.”

Raising public awareness about the need for corrosion prevention is a key duty of AMPP in Vinik’s eyes.

“I don’t think that public awareness is anywhere near where it should be,” he says. “People continue to lose lives; bridges have collapsed. And it’s not an issue until something happens. And then everybody says, ‘Oh my gosh,’ but it’s happening way more frequently than it should. AMPP absolutely has a role in raising that awareness not only in the transportation industry, but in every crack and crevice on planet Earth where corrosion can initiate.”

A major hurdle to raising not only awareness but also funding for corrosion prevention is the political process.

“No one wants to appropriate money for something during their term if they can push it to the next term,” Vinik says. “They think ‘if I can use $15 million to build a high-profile park that a lot of people are going to see, I’d rather do that than go paint that bridge.’”

He notes that he has worked on many bridges to keep them safe and that, at its heart, AMPP is about public safety.

“Public safety is paramount,” he says, “and that’s what we do whether it’s a building or a bridge or a distillation column at a refinery. It’s this organization that leads to sustainability, durability, materials performance, and ultimately public safety.”

Referencing the 2021 Champlain Towers South condo collapse near Miami, Florida, which killed 98, he adds, “without this organization, that would be a much more frequent occurrence.”

Conference Week and Staff Summit

“I feel like I’m caught in a whirlwind and I’m still looking for Dorothy,” he says to explain what the week-plus of conference is like for the board chairman.

Meetings start at 7 a.m. and continue until midnight.

“It’s just continuous, and it’s a lot of work, but it’s fun work. It's all the things we’ve been talking about at Mach 10. Everything that breathes and develops over the year comes to realization at Conference.

The Friday before Conference, the entire AMPP staff met in New Orleans for a Staff Summit, getting face-to-face time with colleagues and strategizing for the future.

“You can’t get to know your co-worker on Teams,” he says. “It’s like me saying I know Harrison Ford because I’ve seen his movies. The content was good, but the overall message to the staff was that you’re worth investing in. With all of the remote work today, there’s a lot of wisdom in bringing people together face to face.”

Working with Alan Thomas

AMPP CEO Alan Thomas joined the association in April 2023 and has put a strong emphasis on “one AMPP” after the merger.

“We complement each other very well,” Vinik says. “We both bring different ideas, different approaches, and that’s the camaraderie and teamwork that the executive staff and executive team need. It’s refreshing to see things going forward. Once things are decided, he’s not going to just let them sit.”

He says a new face at the top of the organization is bringing new ideas and a new direction.

“We weren’t in a bad place,” Vinik says, “but I like the new place a lot better.”

Advice for Next Generation

AMPP provides opportunities for students to enter the world of coatings and corrosion through scholarships, student chapters, and more. Vinik encourages students to find ways to get involved now for an early start on an engaging, fulfilling career.

“If you want to engage, there are plenty of opportunities within this organization for young individuals to catapult themselves into corrosion. This organization brings workforce development, trains individuals for the corrosion field, and provides the expertise that our industries need and require.”

Eliezer said Vinik is the right person in the right place and time for AMPP.

“He’s exactly what’s needed because he understands that what he’s doing is for the needs of the future,” he says. “He is here for a purpose.”

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the May 2024 print issue of Materials Performance (MP) Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

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