A Conversation with Drew Storey, Account Executive at The Kercher Group

Drew and his family at a football game supporting Purdue

By Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC

Drew Storey has such an outgoing personality and extensive knowledge of many aspects of bridge preservation that speaking with him has always been a pleasant and instructive experience for me. I had the opportunity to talk again with Drew a few days ago for the TSP2 Bridge Preservation Blog. My conversation with him marks the restarting of my collaboration with TSP2 after almost one year of hiatus from the Blog.

Drew as a unique, multi-faceted perspective of bridge preservation that stems from a unique experience. After working over 10 years for Indiana DOT focusing on bridge preservation and maintenance, he then moved to the private sector, where he got a position as Account Executive for Bridges and Structures at The Kercher Group, a company specialized in infrastructure asset management. In parallel to this professional activity, he has been serving for several years as Council Member with City of Seymour in Indiana, where he lives. In this position he has been dealing with infrastructure plans and budget.

Could you speak of the motivations that are behind your professional career? What are the pivotal moments in your career path?

I did enjoy my time serving Indiana DOT. I worked under some very bright and motivating individuals, who gave me more than I bargained for and just enough rope to be dangerous. Their leeway allowed me to explore, develop, and innovate many state-of-the-art practices for bridge maintenance, preservation, and asset management. It wasn’t always easy though. Being the young underdog sometimes I failed, but, luckily, most of the times, I “failed forward”, as one of my supervisors used to say. This means that each time I failed I learned something new. Now I am able to reflect on those experiences and use them to make better decisions in my current position with The Kercher Group.

Just about 6 months after leaving Indiana DOT, I started to realize that my job with the DOT filled my cup with the sense of being a public servant. I guess I took it for granted that the work I was doing had an impact on so many people. I wanted to continue to serve the community. I joined a few non-profit organizations, began serving in my church in a much larger capacity, and later I decided to run for a City Council office in my hometown.

When I joined The Kercher Group two years ago, I was really excited with the opportunity to gain a different perspective on bridge preservation, to learn from this new experience, and to bring my knowledge to the table. I now frequently sit in meetings with customers that have never tackled the preservation work. I can take advantage of my past experience with Indiana DOT, lean back to it, and share my preservation expertise with them. I also bring to the table my typical work attitude, which is to get things done and not to fear trying new solutions.

Can you make an example of an innovative solution that you tried when you were working for Indiana DOT?

We were having a real hard time finding contractors that were willing, or even able, to remove drift piles. I had reached out to the preservation network and found out that up in the north-east they were using small floating rigs for this purpose. They put rigs in the water and sent out guys to pull out the drift. This solution however could not be applied to our region, where our big rivers have swift waters. It was simply something we could not do.

Then I learned that in the state of Louisiana they used cranes in order to remove the drift. I liked the idea of using a crane, but I needed something that was way more mobile than traditional cranes. So, I reached out to my colleagues that work on roadways, not necessarily on bridges. They were using wrecker companies with really large crane wreckers for installs of pipes, end sections, and even wall repairs. We came up with a way to procure their services for bridges, defined a plan of actions, and also partnered with Purdue University in order to capture time-lapse videos of how this was going to work.

We tested this solution in the field. We closed a bridge lane for a couple of hours, brought the crane wrecker in and removed a few logs. It worked really well. It was a good solution to the driftwood problem for Indiana DOT. And it was also good business for the wrecker companies that got new work that was outside of their traditional contract scope.

Wrecker companies were used to working on the highway, setting up in precarious situations and having to move very quickly. Their expertise matched our bridge needs of driftwood removal. This is an example of thinking out the box that allowed Indiana DOT to find a solution that was innovative, effective and safe.

Use of a Crane Wrecker to Remove Driift Logs

Earlier on you spoke of yourself at Indiana DOT as underdog. Why?

I mentioned being an underdog because I am not a professional engineer. I really had to climb the ladder. I recall being called out on jobs or into meetings, where oftentimes I was the only person that was not a licensed engineer. However, many times I was the guy they looked up to in order to get answers to problems.

I’m not here to say that you shouldn’t be licensed to be in bridge preservation and to do the work that we do. I am just saying that it is not necessary to have that license to be a good preservation practitioner.

You are a passionate supporter of bridge preservation. You have been involved with TSP2 bridge preservation from its beginning throughout the different steps of your career. How has bridge preservation evolved during the last 10 years?

I must say it has been such a thrill to see bridge preservation move from being a new, innovative idea to a mainstream component of any asset management plan.

When I started following the Midwest Bridge Preservation Partnership, expert people, who were long in the tooth, were pushing a new effort toward bridge preservation. Today those folks are some of my most trusted advisors. I am happy to be one of those that continue supporting this effort, which has started showing significant progress.

Before TSP2 it was very difficult for me at Indiana DOT to find trusted advisors who could share their experience about using a product or a technology. This kind of service simply wasn’t available to me. After the Partnership I was able to count on a network of people who could support me from both the DOT and the industry side.

I must say that industry partners have embraced TSP2 bridge preservation and done such a nice job of retooling and providing enhanced access to training, guidance, and specifications, which make it easier for Agencies to spin up very quickly.

Industry partners are also a key part of TSP2 effort to reach out to Local Agencies, such as Cities, Counties and Municipalities. Through the Local Agency Outreach Committee, TSP2 is speaking to Local Agencies all across the country, underscoring the value of preservation and helping them make progress toward preservation. Ten years ago, we would have never dreamt that we would reach out to Local Agencies and find them so receptive and willing to move into preservation as quickly.

How has your perspective of bridge preservation changed from being a bridge preservation insider working for Indiana DOT to being involved with The Kercher Group?

This is a tough one to answer. I do not think that my perspective on bridge preservation has dramatically changed since I started working for The Kercher Group. I strive to continue seeing things through the lens of the Agencies and the eyes of the people who are closest to the struggle, since I believe these people make the best decisions. I put my old Indiana DOT hardhat on, you know the one with all the scratches, every time I can and I work to be a part of the client’s preservation team.

My role at The Kercher Group is to provide guidance to my clients, which is much like the role I served at Indiana DOT, where Districts and field staff leaned on me to get guidance or direction related to bridge maintenance and preservation issues.

My role is also to be a trusted advisor for the clients of The Kercher Group. In this role I help them develop skills that allows clients to manage problems on their own. I can say that I make a really good splash with an Agency when I teach their people to “fish on their own”. Here is where I feel as if my perspective may have changed slightly. From providing guidance at Indiana DOT, with The Kercher Group I have become a trusted advisor that helps Agencies develop new skills.

As I said before, I believe the best decisions are made by the people that are closest to the work. In Lean Six Sigma, we would call that “connecting with gemba”, “gemba” means “the place where value is created”. It is proved that these people can make the best decisions on how to solve problems in a long-lasting way.

What is your outlook of bridge preservation as a City Council Representative? From what I know, the Council deals with major projects and infrastructure improvements.

First, I would like to step away from focusing on bridges for a moment. Although my initial exposure to preservation was in bridges and culverts, I was able to expand my area of interest within Indiana DOT. With each promotion I got exposure to new types of assets, where true preservation practices were needed.

I like to find the root causes of problems by applying the “The 5 Whys” methodology. This is one of my favorite exercises. Most frequently, at the end of “The 5 Whys” analysis, it boils down to the fact that the owner does not have a good asset management plan.

While preservation at Indiana DOT has come a long way since when I was employed there, Local Agencies, like the City of Seymour, have struggled to put effective strategic preservation plans into place. Oftentimes, elected officials concentrate on major projects or on taking care of the worst ones first. People want to hear about these types of projects. Also, these projects make headlines which elected officials like to rally around. Unfortunately, preservation tends not to be all that headline worthy. At City of Seymour I try to reverse this trend and I do focus on changing culture. I help build and implement asset management plans that are dedicated to preservation, which is generally a very effective and sustainable practice. Being able to gear local policies toward effectiveness and sustainability is very rewarding for me as a public servant.

Based on your experience as a City Council Representative, is the general public aware of bridge preservation? If so, do they support bridge preservation policies?

I believe the general public hasn’t heard the word preservation enough to develop awareness. Neither people have seen their respective Local Agencies developing infrastructure policy around the preservation idea.

The general public has an expectation that Transportation Agencies will do the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time, and want to be informed about it. As a result, I am seeing more and more Agencies providing a constant flow of information through their favorite media outlets, such as newspapers and social media. These outlets can be used for some powerful, pointed messaging. Agencies should capture communication opportunities in order to promote preservation, for example by showcasing good case studies where the positive impact of preservation can be emphasized.

While it is not the only way, communication is certainly an essential mean for giving the general public the transparency into decision making practices that are based on the preservation principles.

In your opinion what are the major challenges that bridge preservation may face in the next 5 years?

I was speaking to a couple university faculty members recently about their perspective on preservation. They were quick to point out their support for preservation and how they consider asset management planning as an essential element in order to implement preservation strategies. However, they were just as quick to describe how they have not necessarily designed curriculum around the idea of “taking care of what you have”. Without a dedicated curriculum, knowledge and understanding of preservation can only come from the work experience itself, as it was for me when I was employed by Indiana DOT. I do not envision that younger generations will be well prepared to hit the ground running with preservation. Thinking otherwise may be optimistic.

At Kercher we take preservation education seriously. I always enjoy watching new staff members hear the stories of how preservation and asset management have moved communities forward. Their light bulb quickly lights up when they do realize they have a group of preservation practitioners that are willing to guide them.

Could you share something about your personal life? How do you spend your free time? Do you have a favorite hobby?

Like many fellow preservation practitioners, I must say that my wife and kids get their fair share of bridge background photos while on vacation. All joking aside, I spend a fair amount of time trying to make other people happy. I own a DJ business where my wife and I coordinate and entertain guests at wedding and reception events. It has been a real joy being a big part of bride’s and groom’s Big Day for more than 18 years. The folks we serve often have large crowds. I find it very enjoyable to bring a few hundred people together on a dance floor.

Folks that know me are never surprised that I am so comfortable being the master of ceremonies of these events, or when I tell them I have been voted the best DJ in our area for many years. Being in a small town has its perks. One is that there’s not much competition in the DJ world, which might result in being named the best.

Do you have any links that you would like to share with the?

Just a few plugs for some things I am passionate about:

1. The Kercher Group has been such a great firm to work for and has really given me the opportunity to make an impact in a big way to Agencies across the country.

2. AASHTO Bridge Preservation Partnership has recently deployed its own LinkedIn page. This will be one way of staying connected to some of the best practitioners in the Agencies and in the industry. I look forward to meeting more folks there.

Chasing Bubbles, a documentary about the journey and the spirit of Alex Rust – From IMDB

The documentary “Chasing Bubbles” (see YouTube) is an inspirational story of a great friend of mine. Alex Rust, who graduated from Purdue University School of Engineering, decided to live a much different life than most. My hope is that his story of sailing around the world will push viewers to chase their dreams and live life to the fullest.

The documentary is also a true preservation story. Alex made it through the hardest challenges focusing on taking care of the small problems when they were still small. He could not afford to tackle major problems alone while in open water out in the ocean. One can say that he truly applied preservation and maintenance practices to his boat. He truly kept his boat in a good state during the long sailing journey.

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