A Conversation with Tim Woolery, Vice-President of ACT
By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC
There is always something new to learn when you speak with Tim Woolery, the Vice-President of Advanced Chemical Technologies (ACT) (see LINK) out of Oklahoma City, OK. Tim has an extensive knowledge of protective sealers, both in the Lab and in the field. He is also very familiar with bridge preservation having been an active and enthusiastic member of the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Partnership since its beginning.
Could you speak of your career that led you to be the Vice-President of ACT?
About 10 years ago, after spending 30 years with a wood coating company specializing in solvent-based finishes, I was ready to move on and do something that would be more fun.
It happened that Kevin Brown, the owner of ACT, asked me to come on board and join the company. I remember saying something like this to him: “I want to attend a trade show, and, if it looks fun, then we will talk about your proposal”. So, I went to the NEBPP TSP2 bridge preservation meeting in Newport, RI. It was my very first experience with the TSP2 Partnership. After I got there and worked the show, I realized how committed the attendees were to bridge preservation. I also recognized the value of contributing to the maintenance and restoration of our country’s infrastructure. Definitively, the bridge preservation business looked like a worthwhile venture, something I would really enjoy getting into. That’s kind of how it started, from participating in a TSP2 show 8 years ago.
I went from materials for the protection of wood to materials for the protection of concrete. However, the fact that I had to deal with a completely different substrate, chemistry-wise it was an easy transition for me.
Are you involved with the design of chemical formulations and with new product development at ACT?
Yes, I love working on Lab projects, then moving to the field for trials and finally to a saleable product. When I was in the wood coating business, I ran the Laboratory for 11 years, also doing new product development.
Working on the formulation of new, innovative materials for ACT is one of my pleasures. We developed silanes with corrosion inhibitors and we have just completed a new silane product that provides both oil and water repellency.
This new product, which is designed for parking garages, protects concrete floors from stains caused by oil drippings. Cars are always leaking oil thereby making a garage floor look bad, as if it has never been cleaned. Owners want to be able to clean the oil off by power washing. The new water and oil repellent silane product from ACT makes it possible. Oil drippings bead up instead of soaking in and flattening out and therefore they can be easily removed.
What are your responsibilities as the Vice-President of ACT?
In addition to helping with the Laboratory, I am responsible for ACT Customer Service and Sales. We have 7 independent representatives to promote our products around the country.
What are your core values as a leader of ACT? And what expectations do you have for your employees?
I can summarize my values in three words: participation, education and fun.
I grew up professionally in the culture of an employee-owned company, where everybody acts like an owner and participates in the business. To do so, it is essential that employees have the proper education. In other words, they must be equipped with information that can allow them to make good decisions. I do not want my employees to ask me what the right decision is for them to make. I want my employees to be educated so that they can take good decisions on their own. This is also essential for their personal and professional growth.
If you participate in the business and have the necessary tools, work should be fun. If work is not fun and if you cannot work with enthusiasm, it is better to quit and choose a different job.
I expect that my employees at ATC be dedicated, enthusiastic and passionate about the business. I do not want them to be reactive, just answer the phone, do quotes, etc. I want them to know why they are doing what they do, have a knowledge, be proactive and really participate. When I am travelling, I do not worry about my phone ringing all the time. I have a great team of people who is able to step in for me and take care of the customers.
ACT offers a number of silane-based sealers for the protection of concrete and masonry. What are your most successful products for bridge preservation?
In 1976 ACT was the first importer of silane sealers in the USA. The company has been in the silane business out of Oklahoma since 1977. It was in Oklahoma in 1977 that, for the first time in the USA, silane sealers were used to protect a concrete bridge.
After many years, we have added epoxies healer-sealers, overlay systems and corrosion inhibitors to the product line. However, silane remains the core and most successful product of ACT.
I understand that ACT’s product offer has moved from the 40% to the 100% solid formulation for silane sealers. Why?
The reason why 40% reactive sealers were formulated depended on the fact that silanes used to be super-expensive. In the late 70s it was not even conceivable to sell silanes for $100 per gallon. Reducing the concentration to 40% made silanes more affordable. Today, with more silane producers around the world, it is possible to get the 100% reactive formulation at a reasonable price.
What are the challenges that ACT has encountered in promoting its products for bridge preservation? Do you have any advice for overcoming these challenges?
Probably the main challenge we have encountered entails the process of approving products in the Qualified Product List (QPL) or Approved Product List (APL) of the Departments of Transportation (DOT). The management of this process is complex. It also varies from State to State since each DOT is organized differently from another.
The process can also be expensive. For example, in 2019 a DOT required the NCHRP 244 Northern Exposure test in order to keep our product in the Approved Listing. All the other States use the Southern Exposure test. Nobody had really run the Northern Exposure test. So, we had to run an additional test that costed $8,000. If for whatever reason, we had not passed that test, we would have needed to run it again thus doubling the cost.
The DOT approval process is definitively a major challenge. The other challenge entails dealing with silane specifications that have not been written clearly or are too vague.
My advice is simply to have patience. You must solve one problem at a time.
What about do you think of inviting people who are in charge of DOT approvals at TSP2 Bridge Preservation meetings?
It would be a good idea to invite the “Materials Division” engineers to the TSP2 meetings because ultimately these people decide which products can be used for bridge preservation.
Having the Material Division Engineers attending the breakout sessions together with Engineers form the Bridge Office and Bridge Maintenance Leadership would add great value to the conversations at TSP2 meetings.
In addition to bridge preservation, ACT is active in other sectors, such as parking garages and architecture. Can you make a comparison between the challenges that you have encountered in these fields Vs bridge preservation?
Silane projects for parking garage floors are a sizeable part of our business. On the other hand, we are not overly strong in what we call the vertical architectural market. This is an area of opportunity that we are working on.
The use of a product in the DOT business is based on the approval of the product by the DOT and its inclusion in the QPL or APL, while in the parking garage and architectural business the product must be in the specifications. To do so, it is essential to pay a service, like MasterSpec, since architects download the specs from these portals. One cannot grow the business going to one architect at the time. It is too slow.
With parking garages, it is essential to be specified by consultants like Walker or Desman. If you can get them to put your product in the specs, then they send these specifications out to all their offices throughout the country. This is a good way to get business. Otherwise, as I said before, you have to be on those engines that the architects use for specs. If you are in, you have a chance to be specified. If you are not specified, it is really a hard time convincing a contractor to change the specifications.
How has the business changed for ACT during the recent months when we are copying with the COVID pandemic?
Not travelling has been the biggest change since the pandemic began. Typically, I travel two weeks every month, participating in conferences, training events, demonstrations and sales calls. So far this year I have not flown at all. However, I have driven to several states to work with county maintenance crews to help establish bridge preservation programs using silanes.
I also participated in my first Zoom presentation as a presenter for the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) conference. Even though I prefer speaking to a “live” audience, it turned out well and I had an opportunity to answer questions.
You are a member of the Innovation Technology Demonstration (ITD) TSP2 National Working Group. Could you speak of the value that ITD brings to bridge preservation?
I think the ITD program is a great concept. It represents a faster way to get new and innovative products adopted by the Departments of Transportations (DOTs).
One of the challenges I see with this program is that the ITD process goes from industry to DOTs, while it should be the opposite. DOTs should call industry asking for innovative products and services that meet their needs. Industry should respond to this call. Otherwise industry runs the risk of developing innovative solutions for what they perceive as major problems, which, however, may not be a concern for the DOTs.
I am not sure that all DOTs quite understand the concept of ITD. To facilitate this understanding, there should be more DOT representatives in the ITD Working Group team. I also think that ITD presentations at the TSP2 Bridge Preservation meetings should be done by the DOTs involved with this program rather than by industry representatives. My concern is that ITD presentations can be perceived as “sales oriented” rather than presentations that focus on innovative “solutions” to DOT problems.
You have been participating in TSP2 Bridge Partnership meetings, both National and Regional, as a vendor for several years. Has ACT benefitted from your participation in these meetings and how?
It always boils down to people. When you come to these events you get to meet a number of bridge preservation people. You develop relationships that usually don’t happen across the desk at office meetings. Even more important, you can gain the trust of the DOT people, who can appreciate your technical expertise, your willingness to participate in the meeting events and your commitment to bridge preservation.
I am a committed believer in the TSP2 program and in what this program is doing. I show my commitment by giving presentations, participating in the round tables and being available to share knowledge. Hopefully over the years people have come to recognize me as a resource to the bridge preservation community.
The participation in the TSP2 events has been truly beneficial to ACT’s growth. Before getting into this business, I did not know anything about bridges and what was done to maintain them. I have learned a lot and gotten a great education through the program.
Before getting into this business, I did not know anything about bridges and what was done to maintain them. I have learned a lot and gotten a great education through the program. TSP2 has been very valuable to me personally.
When TSP2 meetings are going to restart in 2021, what are your recommendations to vendors in order to take the maximum advantage from their participation?
I think that vendors who attend the TSP2 Bridge Preservation meetings and sit at their booth all the time do not understand the value of these meetings. My advice is for the vendors to be active participants, sit at the conference and learn about the problems that DOTs have and the solutions they adopt. It is also important to participate in round-table discussions, hearing conversations and questions. Otherwise one does not get to know DOT’s concerns and needs. In summary, vendors have to get out of the booth, participate in meetings, and be a potential resource for the solutions to problems.
When I present silane sealers at TSP2 meetings, I position myself as a resource for the bridge preservation community. I never mention the commercial names of ACT products. I do sell my products but I share my knowledge and experience with the silane technology. If the silane technology becomes more widely adopted, it will be good for everybody in the industry, including ACT. Rising tide lifts all boats.
Can you share something about your personal life? How do you do like spending your free time?
I live in Oklahoma, so hunting and fishing have always been my spare time passion. Big game hunting and upland bird hunting keep me busy during the fall and winter months. In the summer I can be found at Lake Eufaula fishing and dragging grandkids on skis behind a boat.