Olympic Dreams

By February 27, 2014September 3rd, 2014Industry Benchmarks

If you are like me, you probably have spent some time either watching the winter Olympics or following the medal count of your respective country, a rival country, or a particular athlete.

The Olympics are filled with defining moments for individual athletes—some are good, some not so good. Likewise, our careers are filled with defining moments: from choices we make to projects we are involved in.

As I think back through my career in CQA, it is loaded with defining moments. Heck, even how I ended up performing CQA in the first place and making a career out of it are defining moments loaded with interesting and humorous stories that revolve around six dollars and twenty-five cents! But that is perhaps a story for another time.

One of the first defining moments of my career was at my first place of employment. I was working in a computer room across the hall from the company president and adjacent to the vice president—that alone had me a bit nervous! At one point on this particular day, I heard the President in an obviously heated phone exchange with the landfill manager from the site I recently performed my first geosynthetics CQA job on. Given the president had the phone on speakerphone, and his door was not shut, nor was the door to computer room shut, it was hard not to hear what was going on.

What do you do in that situation—get up and shut the door to the computer room? I didn’t have the guts to do that (and doubt it would have helped anyways given the loudness of the conversation) —whether it was right or wrong, so I tried to focus on my work at hand and tune out the conversation. And the only thing I can remember from that conversation is this defining moment: the President of the company told the landfill manager “I’m the certifying engineer and we are going to this my way or I’m not certifying it!”

I believe that statement defined who the President was, and what he believed his company stood for. To me, it also defined excellence as being unwilling to compromise on your values (as well as putting the fear of God in me to do a good job for him!).

To get the most out of any athlete not only involves commitment on their part, but usually a coach who can push the athlete to the limit. The next major defining moment that I can recall occurred about three years after I overhead the president’s conversation mentioned earlier. With approximately 40-acres of geosynthetics CQA experience under my belt, I was made the lead CQA monitor for simultaneous construction of a 20-acre cell and a 6-acre cell in southern Michigan.

There were many challenges in running a crew, keeping track of documentation, and finding time to have a significant presence in both ponds that were perhaps a couple tenths of a mile apart. Many of the methods I use for CQA today are a direct result of this experience and perhaps are defining moments within themselves; however, the moment that sticks out in my mind came as a result of marking destructs that continued to fail.

The destruct failures were all attributed to an extrusion weld operator who had performed the majority of work extrusion work on a tie-in to an existing cell. The area was a mess, literally. The weld was located at the toe of a small separation berm, with about five to six feet of exposed liner to work with between the toe of the berm and existing waste. The liner crew did their best to manage the leachate in the area and keep the seam area dry, and there were no visible indicators that the weld would be suspect.

The first destruct failed, then the bounding samples; failures kept amassing in both the before and after direction (the after direction now also included caps of the former failure). Eventually, the before direction was bounded on a patch welded before the tie-in area but the after sample continued to fail. I received a call from my supervisor one day that I needed to stay late for a meeting regarding the destructs.

This meeting was not an ordinary meeting by any means. And, the whole meeting was focused on where I should select my next bounding destruct. The meeting not only consisted of people regularly on site, such as the liner installer foreman, and the landfill manager, but now my boss was involved. In addition, the landfill had a VP of operations present and the installer had vice-presidents and other high ranking personnel present, all flown in from Texas for this particular meeting.

Throughout the meeting, everything focused on the history of the destruct failures and where the selection of the next destruct should be. Although I kept silent and barely spoke except when asked a question, to me the choice was obvious—keep going in the direction we had been, following the welding of the operator. The suggestion of the installation firm was to have me skip to a patch the operator welded that was not on the tie-in. The owner simply wanted the issue resolved, no matter what. When asked what I thought about moving the destruct to the other patch, I expressed my concern that we already had a precedent of suspect welds established in this location that the regulatory agency surely would pick-up on and question if we moved the destruct. More deliberation continued.

The job of an Olympic coach is to teach, train, mold and develop an athlete into achieving their best potential. Perhaps that was the theory behind what my supervisor did next in this meeting. After all of the deliberation, my supervisor was asked by the landfill personnel where the next destruct would be placed. My supervisor summarized both positions, and then said “I will leave it up to Glen.” The room went silent, everyone turning to me and anxiously awaiting my next words. What would you do in that position?

Although I knew my answer within a couple seconds, I took what probably felt like an eternity to those awaiting my words to give my answer; after about twenty seconds, I said, “It goes on the tie-in.” I am sure everyone left the meeting angry—nearly everyone angry with me and me somewhat angry with my supervisor for throwing the decision in my lap.

Still frustrated the next day, I let another CQA technician mark the destruct—I was confident the results would be the same regardless of where the sample was located.  When the results came back failing, this technician said, “I am surprised because I marked it in the best-looking location possible.” Sometimes, you feel like everyone is throwing you under the bus. However, as I look back on the situation, I realize that it was really a defining moment in my career—I could stand up successfully for what I believed in, much like the president of the first company I worked for. Likewise, I learned in that meeting that even a relative newcomer to the industry offered thoughts other people had not considered, and that it was important to get those thoughts out on the table no matter how intimidating the venue might be.

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