Podcast Transcript: Key Priorities for the Integration of NACE, SSPC

Cynthia O'Malley

Cynthia O'Malley, chief integration officer at NACE International (Houston, Texas, USA), offers an inside look at the integration process between NACE and SSPC: The Society for Protective Coatings (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA).

O'Malley, who is also executive director of the Master Painters Institute (MPI), explains why her background has uniquely positioned her for the important role. Other topics on the podcast include key priorities and considerations throughout the integration process; how members can provide or access feedback; and the future integration timeline entering 2021. A complete transcript of this episode is available below.

[introductory comments]

Ben DuBose: Cindy, good morning. How are you?

Cynthia O’Malley: Good morning. I’m doing fine. Thanks, Ben.

BD: To start with, tell our listeners a little bit more about your background. I know you've had a lot of experience over the years with both NACE and SSPC. For anyone unfamiliar, give some details about your experience and why it positions you fairly well to lead this effort.

CO: I appreciate that, Ben. It’s been quite a journey. I guess I’ll start all the way back at kind of the academic level. I went to Penn State, and I studied food chemistry and organic chemistry. Fell in love with organic chemistry. I can just hear people cringing on the line now. But fell in love, yup, with organic chemistry because it gave me a whole different view of the world. It showed how things were connected at a very basic level. I think I ended up — I’m not sure if there still is — but I had a bachelor of science degree in food science, but I had a concentration, which is what they called it at the time, in organic chemistry.

I started my career at Nabisco, the cookie and cracker company. At the time, it was located here in Pittsburgh at a place called Bakery Square. Fun fact: That’s now the Goodwill headquarters here in Pittsburgh. When Nabisco moved to North Carolina, I decided to stay in the Pittsburgh area, and I took a position with a firm that was in the coatings industry. So, I guess I kind of fell into the coatings industry. They hired me because of my connection with quality assurance.

While I was at Nabisco, they had a rigorous training program for statistical process control, which was connecting data in a way that you can deliver on the products the brand promised the industry. I found it fascinating. I loved using it. I was able to apply that across the industry to the coatings industry to testing of coatings and delivering on the brand promise of coatings to the industry. I started there and began developing a quality program for this organization and ended up, over time, managing their laboratory services, and then consulting, and then vice president of their professional services department.

All of that stemmed from development, taking the skill sets of those teams that I was working with and the people that I was working with. Really it was an exciting time applying their skill sets to delivering on services that that organization was providing. That did quite a bit to give me my current view of what can be accomplished, for sure. I also received a master’s, an MBA, and that was an international one, which again gave me a different view of the world. I studied in Prague, and I studied in Sao Paulo, and I achieved my degree through the University of Pittsburgh. I did that later in my career. Well, it’s been about five years ago that I completed that degree.

At that point, it was the right move because I was serving in a role that was managing a corporation, so enterprise-wide considerations were more important. During all of this, I served as a member leader of both SSPC and NACE International, and actually served the industry as president of the board of the American Coatings Association’s regional society, which was the Pittsburgh Society for Coatings Technology.

Looking back, some of my favorite member leadership moments, where I worked with Joyce Wright, who is now SSPC’s current president of the board of directors, and we were heavily invested in developing and nurturing the Women in Coatings and the Culture Impact Program at SSPC. I was also vice chair of STG 04, which is the surface preparation standards for NACE International. I worked closely with NACE Technical Activities leadership. At the time, it was Cris Conner, who is now the president-elect of NACE’s board of directors. While I was a member of both organizations, I actually worked with what I’ll call the rising leadership, but I also maintained some and saw the importance of the quality of their programs.

I maintained an SSPC Protective Coatings Specialist certification, and I also maintained the IMPACT Plus Navigator qualification — when I was a member, of course. I also was a presenter at the technical programs or symposia of both organizations during their annual conference and events program. As I said, before NACE International, I was vice president of a coatings engineering and inspection firm. During that time, my leadership goals were focused on identifying, certainly developing, culture; aligning core values with brand identity; and supporting the future growth and expansion of services.

In 2018 is when I joined NACE International as executive director of the Master Painters Institute. It’s a subsidiary of NACE International. At the time, I was managing the contract in North America for the testing for the Master Painters Institute. It was just going to that next level to running that organization. Now, as the integration officer, I’m able to capitalize on all those strengths that I’ve seen in combining with NACE, with organizations that completely make sense to deliver on that, on the brand promise to the membership and the customers of both organizations.


BD: Why did NACE want to create a new position to lead the integration with SSPC? We had Tim Bieri, president of the current NACE board of directors, on the podcast a couple weeks ago, and he was explaining that the BOD is largely detached from this. Why is it important for your position and also for these ad hoc integration teams to guide this on a much more personal level?

CO: Well, the board is involved to a degree, though the process of bringing these two organizations together certainly requires more time than can possibly be asked or expected of volunteer member leadership. Plus, in addition to that, combining NACE and SSPC and all the components of each organization is a lengthy process, so there needs to be, I would say, someone or a role that is a consistent oversight of the process.

A chief integration officer is certainly a dedicated role. It provides the strategic and operational leadership to support that integration. We want NACE and SSPC merged into one new organization to serve the coatings industry. I would say that the essential components or responsibilities are certainly to establish a strong working relationship with members of the senior management teams, the staff, the volunteer leaders; to definitely engage more collaboratively and build consensus across the organization; and to serve as a role model in supporting the association’s mission, vision, and values.

Additionally, providing leadership, coaching, consultation, and expertise to more than 20 ad hoc products and services integration teams and growing — I should say 20 plus. They have been established by a member-led transition team. That’s kind of the combination where those folks came from, board of directors of both organizations. So, to facilitate that in the establishment of the new organization, I believe that’s the major point of the role. Without a direct focus on that, it could take longer than is necessary, and we don’t want to remain two organizations. We want one organization that better serves the communities out there.


BD: You already discussed this a little bit, but tell our listeners a little bit about the priorities during this merger process. At a high level, what is it that you're trying to do when you combine these two organizations?

CO: We want to encourage our staff and our member leaders to search out and implement the best practices and new, innovative concepts in the establishment of this new, united organization. I would say there’s probably, off the top of my head, I can think of five overarching reasons or considerations. We want to continue to provide value, of course, to our members and volunteers, and perhaps even enhance that value. We need to listen to the customer to do that. Our customers — we need to listen to them so that they have a voice. We need to create alignment of the shared vision and goals. We need to build alliances and professional relationships that benefit the new organization’s programs and offerings. Above all, I think we have to have a way of doing this with as little disruption as possible to our stakeholders.


BD: What’s the timeline like as we embark upon this? Are there certain benchmarks that you're trying to achieve in terms of getting certain things done by certain dates?

CO: There are certainly key milestones that each team has agreed upon. All the integration teams will be providing recommendations to the transition team. Again, that transition team is made up of the board of directors from each organization. They’re intending to do that. It is scheduled to do that by late fall. The reason for that is to have plans in place at the beginning of 2021 to align with the launch of the new organization.


BD: What type of feedback have you gotten so far as far as members or those on the transition teams about how this is going? What type of response have you heard as you guys are now going about this process?

CO: There’s a great deal of excitement and positivity. Remember that members of both organizations voted overwhelmingly for combining these two organizations. So there’s a lot of energy. There’s certainly a lot of momentum. There’s so much opportunity for the communities that are represented by these organizations to have significant impact on the protection of materials that affect our society, that affect people, that affect our environment. To be honest, there’s also a lot of pressure on those of us that are involved to get it right, for those very reasons.


BD: What does 2021 look like, since that’s when, at least on paper, this is supposed to get towards the finish line? I know you're not able to go too far into specifics, and for that matter, a lot of things are probably up in the air. But what does the first year that there’s a true combination potentially look like?

CO: January 2021, let’s kind of start at the beginning for 2021 with the launch of the new organization. I would definitely call that the starting line, whereas perhaps out in the industry folks are referring to that as the finish line for integration. I really see it as the starting line. I’m a marathoner, so my background is a very long preparation period leading up to an event.

I can tell you that the preparation is the exciting part to me, because if you're really prepared for the event, post-event you get to reap all the benefits of all the training that you did leading up to the event. I kind of see it that way. 2021 certainly holds the promise of capitalizing on the opportunities identified and all the hard work of combining the mission and goals of these two organizations into a unified, stronger alliance. All the work that’s being done now is really going to pay off. We’ll start seeing it pay off in 2021, but there will still be a lot of work to be done as we embark on 2021.

What should our members expect to see? Certainly, streamlining of activities and probably the early phases of some of our efforts to combine. But it certainly won’t be an overnight change either. I think 2021 is going to be very dynamic. It’s certainly going to take a while to determine how to combine things like our conferences, our education programs, and our certifications. Those changes will be made carefully, certainly after much thought, and in some cases, members may not see those changes until after 2021. But there will certainly be many benefits to be had for our members and customers in 2021.


BD: If people want more information about the merger, about these processes, or if they just want to provide feedback, what’s the best way that they can do that? I know NACE has had a few Town Halls that they put together about the process. But generally speaking, what’s the best way to get more information or for them to provide feedback moving forward?

CO: We have set up those series for Town Halls. A couple have occurred. Those updates are twice a month. From now through December of this year, we’ll have updates on the websites. You can go directly to the websites, and they’re identified as the merger NACE updates. The Town Halls are scheduled approximately once a month from now till the end of the year. So there will be many more Town Halls, but if you want immediately, alright, where are all the updates from all the different places updates happen, shared, pulled together, I would definitely go to the NACE website. Then you can browse the summary of all the different updates as we prepare forward.


BD: Cindy, any final words as far as thoughts, advice, outlook for any of our listeners as now we’re entering the fall? We’re truly getting in the home stretch. I know we mentioned January 2021 when we were talking about the timetable. Any last words you want to throw out there for our listeners as the journey really starts to pick up?

CO: Yes, I would say please take a look at, go to the sites, and look at those updates. There is a way for you to give us your feedback. There are many folks from both organizations working together for this. We really are excited about the opportunities in NewOrg and would really appreciate everyone’s feedback and letting us know what they think about where we should go. We appreciate everyone’s feedback.

BD: Sounds great.

[closing statements]