Kamal Taher, Director of Global Operations at AMPP, joins our podcast to explain how his department is helping members and customers around the world adjust to the combination of NACE International and SSPC: The Society for Protective Coatings.
Topics include common questions and feedback from members in different world regions; priorities in blending NIICAP and SSPC QP contractor accreditation programs; strategies to overcome concerns and objections; subject areas and markets for growth within corrosion control; and much more. See below for a complete transcript of the episode.
Source: AMPP, www.ampp.org.
Ben DuBose: In my hosting duties for today’s show, I’m joined by Michael Kline, senior director of customer experience at AMPP. Mike, good afternoon. How are you?
Mike Kline: I’m doing great, Ben. How are you today?
BD: Doing well. Thanks for taking the time to join us. Today, in our newest AMPP podcast, we’ve got a special guest. We’re going to be chatting with Kamal Taher, director of Global Operations at AMPP. Like many departments within AMPP, Global Ops is going through some changes as a result of the combination of NACE International and SSPC: The Society for Protective Coatings. So we’re bringing Kamal on the show to discuss what’s changing, what’s staying the same, and what our members and others within in the industry can expect. First things, first. Welcome to the podcast, Kamal. How are you?
Kamal Taher: Thank you very much. Pleasure to be here. I’m doing well. Looking forward to speaking with you and Mike.
BD: I think a good place to start, if you could, Kamal, just introduce yourself. Tell our audience your role with AMPP and what it is specifically that you oversee in Global Ops.
KT: My name is Kamal Taher, like you said, and I’m director of Global Operations. Previously for NACE International, now for AMPP. My job is to run the operations. That’s including business development and actually hosting courses and following up with details for our operations internationally. When I say internationally, it’s everything outside the United States and Canada. We have offices all around the world. To be specific, we have an office in Rio de Janeiro. We have an office in Cambridge. Another one in Khobar in Saudi Arabia and Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai. They’re teamed up with Global Operations personnel. We work around the clock making sure that things happen.
MK: You are wired in worldwide on AMPP members and customers. You talk with them every day, you and your team. I’m curious as to what kind of questions you’re getting from them about the merger and its effects. What are their perspectives from a global situation?
KT: Mike, there are a lot of questions, as you can imagine. During this merger, there has been a lot of changes in different operations, from education to conferences and so one. Of course, every change that happens with any other department, we get the questions. Just like with your group. Most questions revolve around chapters and sections. People want to know exactly what’s going to happen, what their roles are going to be, how they rise through the organization to reach that board member status. But things have been changing and things are not the same. Our job has been, for the past few months, is educating our members on how the new AMPP works. Of course, as you know, a lot of these questions are not answered yet. There are committees and there are professionals out there working on figuring this stuff out. As we know, we’re explaining it to our members.
BD: What are some of the priorities that you all have when, for example, you’re blending NIICAP and SSPC, basically their version of a quality control program? What are some of your priorities when you’re putting these things together?
KT: A lot of this work happens at HQ. QP is really — there’s a team around it that is controlling it. Once they come up with a new thing — when they did the change, for example, from NIICAP to QP, our priority was to communicate with all the NIICAP customers and explain to them what it means to be a QP customer now and what does it mean in terms of audits, what does it mean in terms of the periods of when we are going to do the audits. It’s been education. It’s talking to the customers and explaining that nothing has changed except that it’s no longer NIICAP. It’s QP. It’s a stronger program where we have a bigger and more professional team running it right now. It’s all positive, really, if you think about it. There are no negatives here.
Another thing is to communicate with the asset owners that trusted us to push NIICAP in the first place and worked with us to change to QP. As you know, we work with a lot of multinational groups, oil and gas groups around the world. For us to have them specify NIICAP was a big milestone. Now coming back and saying, “Well, we’re going to change things, and it’s no longer going to be the NIICAP. It’s going to be called QP.” I have to say, they’ve worked with us. They’ve been sensational. The asset owners have been incredible. I think that speaks to everything we do at AMPP. It’s all member related and it’s all member produced. The members themselves are our customers in almost all cases. They come up with the rules, and we follow the rules, and they make sure that their organizations understand why these changes happen.
It’s truly incredible working with our members internationally. Whenever there is an obstacle — and we faced obstacles during this transition — we found out that our member leaders were always the ones that stood up and took charge and made sure that whatever transition we’re making with customers is done in a proper and professional manner. Of course, we supported them in every way we can, but they really led the charge, and that’s what’s incredible about it.
BD: As a quick follow-up to that, what’s the timetable moving forward when we’re talking about NIICAP and SSPC QP. In terms of the next few months, weeks, whatever it may be, what does the rollout look like, and where are we as far as the transition?
KT: A lot of the customers have already been informed of the change. The NIICAP customers. Obviously, with the QP customers, there’s little to no change to them. But with the NIICAP customers, they have been informed. The new audits have been taking place as a QP audit. In many ways, it has started. It’s begun. The rollout has been incredibly smooth. One thing we have to keep in mind when we talk about this is a lot of our NIICAP customers were QP customers, too. So they understand the program. They have an understanding of who runs it and the professional team that takes care of it from the staff. It has not been a rough transition into this.
One thing I can tell you is the growth potential that is out there for this program is incredible. Everywhere we go, we’re seeing asset owners who are asking more questions, trying to get us to work with them so they can specify QP to their contractors. As you know, this is not an easy thing. It’s not. We’ve gone to asset owners before, and they were completely convinced with the program. They said, “We’re ready to implement. However, if I implement today, if I ask my contractors to all become QP contractors — or back then, NIICAP contractors — when would I have anyone to bid on a contract? How long will it take before they are qualified as that contractor?” It’s a tough question, because that all depends on the contractors themselves. The contractors have to submit the paperwork. When it comes to us auditing, we’re pretty quick. We can find ways to audit. Even during this pandemic, we’ve found ways to complete audits. But if the contractor is not ready with their paperwork and is not ready to complete an audit, this thing can take some time.
I really enjoyed working with a lot of our asset owners who kind of broke it down and communicated or helped us at least communicate with the contractors to say, “Within the year, we’d expect you to become a QP contractor.” Then we rolled up our sleeves and worked with the accreditation department and figured out how to roll this out with all of them. It is a challenge, but the potential is amazing.
MK: Coming at it from a different angle, you are also hearing from a lot of legacy SSPC customers. You mentioned before that have been in the QP program and there really hasn’t been any change for them. How has their reaction been? What are they looking at to gain out of the combination of the program?
KT: That’s a great question, Mike. I think they appreciate the fact that their program has not changed much, and they appreciate the fact that now it’s a larger organization with a much longer reach. If you’re a contractor, let me put it this way. If you were a QP contractor working in Brazil, now with AMPP and with the infrastructure that we have internationally, you have a bigger exposure to many more asset owners around that region. You can potentially work in Argentina or work in Chile or other places because you are part of that network. Before, they were doing it specifically for that one client that they were working with. So I think we opened up an avenue for a lot of our international contractors to expand their reach. Not to necessarily work — for example, if they’re working in Saudi, not to just work in Saudi.
We do actually have a great example of that. One of our contractors who’s got audited and then got his accreditation in Saudi Arabia has now grown and is working in Kuwait under Kuwait Oil, who specifies NIICAP and now QP and is expanding to Qatar and other places. It’s giving them that incentive. Of course, being with a multinational like we are, it’s easy to communicate with our offices internationally and get help to understand who to contact from the asset owner’s perspective. I think it’s a big positive in that direction.
BD: Let’s talk about the regional breakdown. You’ve touched on this a little bit. Obviously, as director of Global Ops, you deal with regions all over the world outside of the United States and Canada. What regions are showing the most interest in AMPP and how the organization has evolved over the last few months? Also, how are you getting the word out? What’s your messaging strategy and what type of reception have you heard in these various regions?
KT: I have to say, it has been a very positive journey. One thing to think about is the two organizations, the two legacy organizations have complemented each other with this merger. We didn’t have in legacy NACE, for example, the C7, C12 programs, which are applicator-based programs, and we couldn’t push them outside around the world. SSPC was beginning to take that journey and go international with these programs, but now that we’re together, under the AMPP umbrella, we’re finding that there are a lot of customers out there, including large oil and gas companies, that have completely adopted these programs now that we are one organization. The organizations that had adopted these programs but were looking to push their employees to go further now have that ability to go into CIP and CP and so on and so forth. It’s creating — between the two organizations right now, we are closing the loop on the corrosion mitigation process.
The way we picture it, and that’s part of your question, is we let the asset owners and contractors and government organizations that we work with around the world, we’re letting them know that we are now the one-stop shop for your corrosion mitigation needs. If you’re looking for applicator training, then that is us. If you’re looking for material performance, well, we have MPI, and that’s part of our organization. If you’re looking for inspector programs, then we do have that with CP and CIP. We also have programs like IMPACT that look at the entirety of your corrosion mitigation program and we can audit you and let you know if you need more resources or how you could transform your organization to really control your corrosion issues.
With our organizations getting together, it really has given us an incredible platform. I forgot to mention standards. It all begins with standards. Now the amount of standards that we have, and the diversity of standards that we have is really helping us when communicating with government organizations. They’re looking for our standards. They’re happy to have them all in one place. They’re happy to know that we not only have the standards, but we also have the training and we also have the coatings testing and so on. It’s been a positive journey. In the past three months, incredibly positive.
MK: I imagine that there are some regions that are more active than others. You mentioned oil and gas. I imagine that the oil and gas producing regions of the world, there’s a lot of interest. Are there some other regions or other countries specifically that are kind of clamoring to become more involved and get their affiliations with AMPP solidified?
KT: You’re right about that, Mike. We have — like you said, it’s not just oil and gas. We’ve been working with oil and gas as two separate organizations and now as AMPP for over 75 years. That’s a relationship I think that’s always been a very strong partnership. But we’re also working with other industries, in the water/wastewater, in the infrastructure and so on. It’s not just the companies. It is, like you said, it’s governments. If you look at what happened recently with IMPACT and how there’s a new study coming up for IMPACT in Canada — so now we have an IMPACT study for the United States, we have one in Canada, and we have one for India. I can tell you, there are many other countries, like Jordan and Israel and many others that are looking on working with AMPP to create their own IMPACT study and figuring out what their corrosion cost is and how to mitigate it.
Another thing is, we’re getting a lot of attention from water and wastewater companies in the Middle East. We’ve been working with SWCC, for example, which is the largest desalination company in Saudi Arabia. We’re in a place right now where it is becoming that close partnership just as we have with oil and gas. If you remember, water specific is just as precious as oil in many of these countries. Taking care of your assets, making sure you’re doing all the right corrosion mitigation when you need to, is what will keep your asset running and what will keep water flowing to the customers. This is becoming a big thing. I’m glad you asked that, because I think a lot of the times, when we say we’re AMPP and we talk about our history, I think people overlook that part of our work. We’re not just an oil and gas corrosion mitigation association. We work with everybody.
Now with the QP program, for example, as we mentioned before — here, the QP program in the United States work in a big way with bridges and tunnels, with the DOTs around the country. Internationally, the QP program works specifically for the oil and gas companies. Well, we’re changing that now, because of the history that the QP program has had in this country. We’re educating the customer on how they can utilize this program for their infrastructure needs. We’ve talked to — in countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia and in Southeast Asia — we’ve talked to ministries of transportation, ministries of public works, and we’ve introduced them to these different programs. I can tell you, the reaction has been, this past year, incredible. They want to know more. They want to move forward. The pandemic has slowed things down in a big way. But even with the pandemic having cost us a lot of momentum, we’re seeing a huge potential.
BD: It’s interesting that you bring up the pandemic because I feel like right now we’re in an interesting spot, in which things are clearly on the upswing in the United States with the rollout of vaccines. We’re getting back to in-person events at AMPP and lot of other industry organizations. And yet at the same time, there’s a lot of other areas in the world that are certainly still struggling with COVID and have not had the luck that we had in regard to cases going down, the vaccine rollout, etc. Is there anything that members in those areas are looking for AMPP to do to stay engaged with them while they’re still dealing with the pandemic?
KT: Unfortunately, you’re right, Ben. The pandemic is under control here in this country and is under control in many other countries. But unfortunately, in the majority of the countries we deal with, it’s still a problem and it’s still causing concern to a lot of our members. I have to say the departments, the various departments within AMPP have really stepped up. Whatever they’ve done in the past year, year and a half, has affected our members in a very positive way. From the rollout of virtual learning to the webinars and the virtual conference that happened in the past few months, we’re getting a lot of positive response from our international members.
As a matter of fact, in the conference, we had a 30% increase of international members attending versus the in-person. These are incredible numbers, but it also tells you the amount of people that are interested in the AMPP content and they’re interested in what we roll out. They want to be a part of it. Having a hybrid program going forward, having — which is what the conferences department is doing — is all going to be a positive thing going forward. It’s definitely going to be — the members are going to truly embrace this. Of course, as we move forward and the pandemic starts getting under control in different areas, I’m sure people are eager to be face-to-face once again.
But even without that, I think we’ve learned a few lessons here. It’s easy to break down our customer base and our members into international and U.S. based because our headquarters are here in the U.S. But what we’re finding out, because of all the content that’s been going around virtually this past year and a half, we’re finding a big level of engagement from our international members into the programs that we’re hosting and the programs that are coming up. I think we’ve learned some really good lessons here. We need to keep it up. If we have a conference here in the U.S., it’s great to have a hybrid model to include people who have been carrying a big burden traveling from 7,000 miles away, at times 10,000 miles away, to the United States to just be a part of this. Moving forward, I think that’s going to increase our membership. You’re going to see a lot of people who couldn’t afford to engage with us before are going to be engaging with our different committees and with our different technical groups. I can’t see the negative in continuing a virtual model parallel to what we’re doing right now.
MK: In your travels, virtual such as it has been for the past year and a half, as you mentioned, and as we’ve gone through this merger, we know there have been some — we’ll call it some less than enthusiastic responses sometimes, domestically and internationally. But particularly internationally, there seemed to be a real struggle with members of the former SSPC and NACE with accepting this merger. How do you handle that? What do you say to these folks? How do you put a positive spin on it and convince them of the opportunity that lies ahead for them and for all of us, frankly?
KT: Mike, you hit the nail on the head there. It’s all about outlining the opportunity. With every change, there’s always that feeling of dread, that feeling of — and I believe a lot of the negative reactions we get has more to do with the fear of change rather than what the change actually is. We’ve gotten customers, members and asset owners who have contacted us with, let’s just say, some heated-up questions on what a certain change might mean to them. After talking with them for 10, 15, 20 minutes, you find that these questions kind of start to disappear and they’re more interested in the opportunity that this merger brings rather than the challenges that are facing us at the present. The Global Ops team are really incredible at doing this. They always manage to communicate well with the members and letting them see what’s beyond today’s changes to see the opportunity that is coming in.
One thing — we haven’t dealt a lot with concrete corrosion with legacy NACE, yet we’ve had many customers, specifically in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia, that have asked us about it. “Do you have any courses? Do you have any content?” And yes, we did have a few courses here and there, but not a big content that we could deliver. Now, after combining the two organizations together, we have a library of stuff. We have a lot to share with the clients that are interested in that kind of corrosion. Corrosion under insulation is another one where some of the legacy SSPC’s members were asking about. Now they’re getting more and more information about it.
I think there’s strength in this merger in terms of content. The fact that within AMPP we have a department specifically concentrating on content and content development and making sure our content is accessible and is fresh and is ready for the members, it’s a game changer. You will see — a lot of the members who were maybe not quite on board with this merger, you will find them coming back and really understanding that there’s a lot for them out there. All they have to do is press a button and get that content.
Like everything, Mike — and I’m sure get a lot of these questions, too, a lot of the “what’s happening tomorrow” and “what is happening today” with a specific program. Yes, for a lot of this stuff we don’t have an answer to — because there are members just like that member who’s calling and asking about the specific program who have formed committees and are working to solve that problem. Until we get that all sorted, we’re just going to have to make sure that we keep highlighting what the future looks like for this amazing merger.
MK: Kamal, I think you’re right. The genius in the merger I think really lies in the content in a lot of ways, because the combination of the two organizations and the content that we have to offer is going to be a huge strength.
KT: I believe that. I can tell you, Mike, when the, let’s say, the rumors of the merger started coming out internationally, there was a lot of intrigue and there were a lot of questions. And I can tell you that, between the day we started integrating until today, a lot of these questions have been answered. I really am a firm believer that all the questions will be answered in due time. It is important for us not to be only focused on what’s happening today and try to start laying the groundwork for what we need to happen in the future.
We do work for an incredible organization with incredible members. There is not a day that passes where one of our international members is being a leader in pushing AMPP forward to the governments or the associations that are in their countries or whether it is to the asset owners or whether it is just trying to help the staff figure out how to increase their presence within that country. I don’t see that happening anywhere else in private businesses. I think this is a unique thing for associations, especially like ours.
BD: The last question that I have, when you talk about the feedback that you get from many of these members around the world, how much is similar and how much is different when it’s a former NACE person a former SSPC person? What are the differences, if those exist, in terms of the themes of the questions you get from each distinct audience?
KT: It’s incredibly similar. It is incredibly similar. I think what it shows, it shows that we’re not that different between the two organizations, and it makes sense to merge as one organization. By the way, the members internationally, for the most part, know each other or are in the same circles in many cases. A lot of the asset owners that we deal with on a daily basis use products from both organizations. The transition for us, when it comes to making sure that our members’ and clients’ needs are met, is not difficult.
The main obstacle is to make sure that the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed, make sure those details are set and pushed forward so that the members and the customers understand exactly how the new flow, in terms of business and in terms of working with this association, goes. Like I said earlier, a lot of the questions are, “Well, I’m a member in Peru,” for example. “And I’d like to join a committee. What steps do I take?” These come from both sides, whether it’s SSPC or NACE. That interest in “how do I engage? What do I do to engage?” Language barriers are there, and of course the fact that we have infrastructure in terms of offices and staff around the world is a huge support and a huge help. But we’re also working on translating and making sure that a person in Korea who is interested in joining a technical committee that started somewhere here in Texas or somewhere around the U.S. with a few American engineers, has the capability of joining and sharing their thoughts and giving feedback on how that — whatever this technical committee is working on — how that affects the person’s work in Korea.
This is the concern that most international members have. “How do I be more involved? How can I share my perspective? How can I make my contribution to AMPP work for my company and my country?”
BD: That’s basically everything that’s on my list. Mike, is there anything else that you wanted to add before we sign off as far as questions for Kamal?
MK: No, I think we hit them all and I appreciate it, Kamal. I think you gave great answers. I think there’s a lot to look forward to in these opportunities that we’re bringing here as AMPP. I’m glad you and your team are out there on the front lines bringing it to the world.
KT: Mike and Ben, I can’t thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to talk to you today. Sorry, I can be longwinded sometimes when I answer questions, but I am very passionate about the work we do internationally for AMPP. So thanks again.
BD: No worries. And yes, it was absolutely great information, and I think this is a good point in which we can wrap it up.