Podcast Transcript: Tim Bieri on 2020–21 Priorities for NACE International

Tim Bieri, corrosion management engineer at BP and president of the 2020-21 NACE International Board of Directors, joins the podcast to discuss the next year for the association. Topics include leadership within corrosion control; navigating logistical challenges related to COVID-19; and the impending combination of NACE with The Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC). A complete transcript can be viewed below.

Source: NACE International, www.nace.org


[introductory comments]

Ben DuBose: Tim, good afternoon. How are you?

Tim Bieri: Hi. Good afternoon, Ben. Doing very well. Great to be here.

BD: I briefly mentioned your bio with BP and your role with NACE at the moment, but before we go too in-depth, give our listeners — anyone who isn’t familiar with you — a little bit of backstory as far as your career within corrosion control and also your involvement with NACE over the years.

TB: Sure. I have nearly three decades of service, professional career, that spans actually over three different companies. So maybe a story of threes. It all started when I answered a newspaper ad in Columbus, Ohio, to go to work for a company named CC Technologies. I found corrosion by chance as opposed to a dedicated search. The first half of my career was largely focused on cathodic protection, mainly in the oil and gas space, though there were plenty of concrete structures, docks, and other structures that we applied cathodic protection to that I tended to work on over those years.

I ended up in Alaska, working on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and overseeing some cathodic protection upgrades to the buried portions of that pipeline, which was a fantastic experience. And ended up working for two different companies while in Alaska. I transitioned from CC Technologies to Coffman Engineers, which is a multi-discipline engineering firm in the Northwest.

Then, ultimately, I went to BP in about early 2004. With BP, I got to learn on the inside of the pipe, so corrosion inhibition, flow, erosion. Now I understand somewhat what’s going on on the outside and what’s going on on the inside. In 2009, I transferred with BP to Houston, and I’ve been in a central engineering role since that time. We look out for managing not only the health of corrosion engineers inside of BP but keeper of our internal standards and practices as well as providing support to our global operations and global projects.


BD: As far as your role with NACE, you mentioned having an active role with regards to standards and processes at BP, when did you get involved on an industry level? What was your motivation for wanting to take on the types of leadership roles that led you to your current role with NACE as far as president of the board for this current year? Where did that all start in terms of you going beyond just your “day job” with BP or any other company and also wanting to get involved on an industry leadership level as well?

TB: I joined NACE at the encouragement of my line managers at the time at CC Technologies. In fact, all three of my companies that I’ve worked for have been very supportive of staying engaged with a professional association. I initially joined NACE just as a member at the encouragement of my line management at CC Technologies. All three of the companies I’ve worked for have been very supportive of my involvement with NACE over my career. When I ended up in Alaska, I started attending our local meetings and eventually became a section officer for the Alaska section. Helped sponsor and put on area conferences that occurred and became involved in the Publications Committee, which is where you and I first met along the way.

BD: Correct.

TB: Progressed from a member of that committee up through the director for that activity committee. I also have been an instructor for NACE, teaching cathodic protection and internal corrosion. A variety of technical committees. Certain education committees. Course development for Internal Corrosion for Pipelines, the advanced course. And my participation grew, I’d say, organically, not by plan. I enjoyed my experiences at the section level, which drove me to want to have experiences at more of a federal level, I guess, at the overarching NACE level.


BD: For any of our listeners that aren’t already aware, NACE runs on a fiscal year from July through June. So your predecessor had the responsibility, the unforeseen dynamic of COVID coming on the scene in March. He obviously did not know what was going to happen when he took the role a year ago. Now you, as it turns out, are the first president of the NACE board to take on that role while knowing what’s out there in the world right now with regards to COVID.

Of course, it’s had a tremendous impact on the industry the last few months, not just in terms of how we do business, but also CORROSION 2020, for example, did not take place due to the pandemic. It’s had all sorts of impacts on industry gatherings, and that goes beyond just the obvious business, the B2B things, that have really transformed in our industry and so many others around the world. For you, how different is it, taking on this role during a pandemic? What are some of the unique considerations that you and the board are weighing right now, and probably will be for the next few months, as you try to navigate what the best role is for NACE in the industry while we’re still dealing with COVID-19?

TB: Great question, or great list of questions in there. Two things. First, when you elect to run for the office, you're doing that almost two full years in advance. So you really have no idea (a) who you're serving with and (b) what the conditions will be while you're serving. I only have the one data point to look at, which is what does presidency look like in the midst of dealing with a global pandemic, because I don’t have a data point what it looks like to not have that around. It certainly is very challenging. On the negative side, a lot of what NACE does is try to bring people together. Bringing people together for education courses. Bringing people together from a networking standpoint, let’s say at section meetings or at conferences. Formal education classes. Seeing new products and services at an expo where companies are displaying them. A lot of it revolves around face-to-face. So that is a huge impact to the way we have traditionally done things.

Fortunately, we’ve been very nimble, I’d say, to be able to pivot to delivering blended education courses, where we have remote, instructor-led classes. Kind of like what we’re doing today, you can do that virtually and still have the interaction and still have the learning take place. There’s many of our sections that are having virtual section meetings, where they’ll have invited speakers and exhibitors be able to share their programs and services. We are adapting. I think this will be with us for some period of time in terms of just the impact of the pandemic.

But I also think it will have changed things probably permanently in many respects. You no longer have to get on a plane to go have a quality meeting with somebody in another part of the world. It doesn’t replace the social interaction and the ability to build relationships, but it does certainly allow you to be more places without the constraints of the travel.


BD: A couple of specific follow-ups to that. First, for anyone listening who might not be aware, what’s the role of the board in all of this? You mentioned events, you mentioned education courses. Just give a little bit of background for anyone who isn’t clued in on the specifics of how NACE works, on what role the board has in helping shape those decisions. Then, secondly, beyond that question about the board, you mentioned — and you're correct — that education we’ve successfully transitioned that to a blended format in recent months. What hasn’t happened yet on the conferences, the meetings front, we’re still seeing some cancellations. Corrosion Technology Week. I believe most of our area conferences in the fall.

What are your thoughts — I’m not asking you to be on the spot with anything — but what are your thoughts on if we get to 2021, should NACE potentially consider doing more virtual events in the conference sphere? Is that something that you and the board have talked about and are looking at? Where do you fall in regards to taking virtual, beyond if necessary, the education component?

TB: Yes, I guess, is the short answer. What does the board do? The board helps set the strategic direction and provides the fiduciary oversight that NACE runs well, is managed well, helps provide the direction for NACE staff and members to execute where we think we need to go. In the case of, let’s say, virtual conferences, that is something that is being looked at very seriously. I know that Jacob Adams, who is the NACE director for conferences and exposition, is looking at that very closely.

We’re working to pilot that — maybe pilot isn’t the right word, it’s known technology, it’s just maybe new to us. So we’ll be doing that with one of our conferences in Europe later this year. It’s in the November time frame on corrosion management. That was an in-person course or class, and that was an in-person conference that now has transitioned to being a virtual conference. We’re also looking at virtual components for CORROSION 2021. On the plus side of this virtual aspect, again, it can allow for greater participation from individuals that might not have been able to travel to attend and receive that content. You can also record it and deliver it later. There’s lots of opportunities with how we package this content going forward.


BD: Beyond the factors related to COVID — another thing that’s unique to the 2021 NACE board and anyone involved in leadership over the next year — is of course the combination of NACE with SSPC, The Society for Protective Coatings. I know the board itself is not directly overseeing that combination. There are some separate committees comprised of both NACE and SSPC representatives that are looking into what the best ways are to merge, to combine. But in terms of the board role, what are the priorities when it comes to the combination of these two organizations? From a board perspective, how are you all planning or delegating for that come January, once that combination starts to take full effect?

TB: Well, there was a framework that was proposed to the board of governors for SSPC and the board of directors for NACE International during the first quarter of this year. Both of those boards unanimously approved that framework. Part of that framework involved the creation of a transition team, which is member leaders and staff from both NACE and SSPC working together to try and bring or help us transition from two independent organizations to one integrated organization. So a lot of the day-to-day, the activities that are taking place now, most of the focus is all on how do we successfully bring these organizations together? That has its own cadence and its own team that meets weekly and bi-weekly from a transition team standpoint.

Then there is approximately 100 individuals, both members and staff, involved in subject-specific integration teams that are looking at how to bring the certifications programs from the two organizations together, or how to bring education programs together. So there are some areas of overlap between NACE and SSPC that we want to integrate together. Then there’s some areas where there’s minimal overlap. Those are easier to bring forward and decide how we’re going to move forward. That’s all taking place actively. Those integration teams meet generally on a bi-weekly basis and [are] making good progress. The goal is to have a launch date of our new organization early in January, but that by no means means the work will be completed to have everything in place. It will probably have a strong plan of what finalization looks like over the next 12-plus months.

So that’s the brunt of the activity that is taking place from a leadership standpoint. We still have NACE activities, and NACE as an association is still running. We have education, we have decisions around conference. That was a board decision to agree that we wouldn’t hold conference. Those are big, weighty decisions. We have to be able to pull or global board together, be able to share the information, the context, and what we think is going to happen and be able to then have a position as an outcome from those meetings. So there’s still board activity that takes place, but it’s less about the strategic direction of the organization today because we’re bringing NACE and SSPC together, and that will require new strategic direction once we have a new organization.


BD: [general comments on podcast] As we wrap up, Tim, this is going to be probably the hardest question that I’ve ask you so far because there’s so much uncertainty to it. When you hand off in 2021 to the next person to get your job, what’s the expectation for where we’re at. There’s so many balls that are in the air that we’re juggling right now that most people do not have when they are president of the NACE board. A lot of people have had it a lot easier than you, I think, at the moment when it comes to COVID, when it comes to the combination of NACE and SSPC. There are so many unique, big, big-picture things that are going on, will be going on for the next at least few months.

When it comes to 2021 and it’s time for you to hand off, what makes for a successful year for this board? At least in terms of the factors that are within your control. Let me preface it with that, because certainly you cannot control the virus, I know that. But in terms of what’s controllable by the board, what makes for a successful year? How’s that?

TB: I think success, what would success look like, I think success would look like maybe three things. I think NACE as an organization adopting and implementing technology at a wider scale than what we have historically, that would help facilitate virtual interactions, help facilitate collaborative working environments that help increase our global participation.

I think number two would be having a successful launch of our new organization in early January. Again, there’s plenty of work to be done, but we want to make sure that we’re bringing the value and not harming the members. We’ve pledged that we don’t want to increase turmoil and disruption in their lives. We want to increase the value that a new organization would bring. Three, have a little bit of fun along the way.


BD: I think that’s always a pretty healthy outlook, Tim. What does fun look like for the board? How can you, to kind of humanize this, what are some of the ways that you can make this valuable for the people who are committing their time to it?

TB: If you’re not getting more out of it than you're putting into it, then it feels a lot like work and folks are less inclined to volunteer. What does it look like? I think we have to maintain some of the personal connections that it’s difficult to do virtually, but certainly as a board we have all met prior to not being able to travel. So we do all have some personal connections. Maintaining those, taking some time out where you're having maybe some social interaction, virtual though it may be, where it’s not business. You know, have an evening conversation where you're talking about things other than work. And it’s kind of hard to pull virtual pranks on folks, but we’ll have to come up with something to have some more spirited fun.


BD: There you go. I ask because I think that’s sort of a universal theme that a lot of people, a lot of companies, a lot of organizations are all going through. I think we’re all certainly learning together, but from industry leaders such as yourself, that type of advice goes potentially beyond just the NACE board and it might be applicable to other organizations of our listeners as well. With that, I will bring this to a close. Tim, thanks so much for the time, and hopefully we’ll get you on again to talk in the next few months about how some of these things are going. Does that sound good?

TB: Yes, I’d be happy to provide an update. There are updates on NACE and SSPC websites on “frequently asked questions” and various Town Halls that have been posted as well. So there’s more information available.


BD: Great point. Before we sign off, for our listeners, again NACE.org is the website for the association. That’s where you can get all sorts of updates about everything as it pertains to the SSPC combination, the latest developments with COVID, what it means for education, what it means for events. All those sorts of factors. www.nace.org is the website. Also, as far as the corrosion industry as a whole, if you’re not already subscribing to Materials Performance, I urge you to do so. It’s the official membership magazine of NACE. And you can get daily updates at www.materialsperformance.com.

If you want to take away any information from this podcast, remember, www.materialsperformance.com, www.nace.org. Those are your hubs for corrosion information, both daily news as well as, of course, events, education offerings. Basically one-stop shops for everything going on with the corrosion industry.

[closing comments]