SSPC, NACE Leadership Discuss Unified Efforts


On March 18, SSPC: The Society for Protective Coatings and NACE International announced that both organizations were discussing possible “synergistic opportunities” between the two. Last week, PaintSquare Daily News sat down with the leaders of each organization—Bill Worms of SSPC and Bob Chalker of NACE—to learn more.

PaintSquare: Regarding a potential merger, what’s in it for each organization?

Bob Chalker: First of all, our mission is to serve the industry, so what's in it for NACE isn't as important as: Is this the right thing to do for the industry? I've been at NACE for nine years and the first couple of weeks I was there, I was approached by a NACE member—actually a couple—that said, “You know, it makes sense that NACE and SSPC were one organization and not two, or at least were working together cooperatively.” This has been a consistent theme over the years.

What’s in it for [NACE]—SSPC has a great relationship with the contractors and the applicators in the coatings industry. NACE has a very strong relationship with asset owners, with the engineers and the specifiers. And we believe that by bringing these relationships together we’d do a much better job making sure we are providing the highest quality services for our members.

Bill Worms: I'll reiterate what Bob said. It's really not about SSPC or NACE, it's about what's best for the industry. We're really here just to serve the members and it's going to be up to the members to decide what's in it for both organizations. But from my perspective, when you look at what NACE has been able to do over the years on an international basis, they've done a very good job of getting their message out internationally. I think they've done a great job promoting their inspector program, too—as you know, that's an area where we have overlapping programs, but when you look at the industry as a whole, CIP is in a lot of different places all over the world and to a much greater extent than PCI.

PS: Both of you brought up what’s in it for the industry. How will the industry benefit if this happens?

BW: When you look at it from an industry perspective, there’s an opportunity to start with standards. When we cooperate on standards and do a joint standard, it takes eight to 10 years on average. As one organization, you can potentially get that down to a much more reasonable level. When we work on our own, it's probably about three years and together you can maybe even benefit more from that, getting out standards at a faster rate.

The other aspect is international presence. You don't have duplication of efforts whether internationally or based on specific programs. If you're able to take the best of the programs where we overlap, and if you have two people working for each organization on that program, now you have four working on the same program, so you can have more reach and more relevance on a global basis.

I believe another thing that's an an advantage, and something that NACE does well, is their work in Washington, D.C. If you were to put two organizations together with as much influence and membership as NACE and SSPC, you’d have a much louder voice and a greater relevance as it relates to regulatory efforts or lobbying.

BC: The other thing is just making better use of the resources that we have. They come from the industry, either by members paying dues or by allowing their people to volunteer with our organization[s] or by purchasing our products. And right now, a lot of those resources end up going into duplicate efforts. We’re both maintaining IT systems, we've got marketing programs that overlap and in the case of CIP and PCI and inspection, we're trying to maintain two programs that compete. I think the industry—and I believe this is why our members think this—the industry would be much better served if we were making the very best use of those resources as efficiently as possible. Get rid of that duplication and then repurpose those resources—whether it's volunteer time, money or staff time—to create new and better programs and continue to support the industry in a new ways, or making the programs we have the best they can be as opposed to spending time and duplicating efforts.

We both have conferences. Our members have to attend both. Wouldn't it make a lot more sense if there was just one industry event?

BW: General, one-stop shopping, right? You have potentially one conference, one membership, one organization that you go to, from soup to nuts. You span the industry from the craft worker to the engineer and everywhere in between.


PS: You mentioned the standard work that you’ve collaborated on. How might a merger affect existing standards and then how might it affect future standards and standard development in general moving forward?

BC: We’ve worked hard to collaborate on standards when we think it’s best for the industry. But what happens now when we've had to cooperate or tried to cooperate, [we’re] running the standards through two parallel systems. Interestingly, they are both ANSI-accredited systems—they’re both good systems, but they're different systems. They don't match up well and they don't time well, and we have to get two committees’ approval. We have to maintain this infrastructure. There's a cost to maintaining standards, so the big improvement will be how quickly we can respond and develop and bring standards forward to the industry [and] making the best use of our volunteers’ time.

BW:  The other thing you asked is what's going to change in the future. I think it's premature to go there, but I wouldn't foresee that the standards that are already existing would change much; as Bob mentioned, there isn't much overlap. In the standards industry, you’re looking for gaps in standards or needs for standards. I believe that with the name recognition of a NACE and SSPC—those joint standards—they would remain as-is.

Courtesy of SSPC: The Society for Protective Coatings

Last Week, SSPC leader Bill Worms (pictured) offered his thoughts on the proposed SSPC/NACE talks.

BC: As new technologies are coming down the road, new manufacturing processes, new methodology, there are going to be needs for new standards. I don't know what those are sitting here, but history says that there's always a need for new standards because there's always new technology and our ability to respond to that is critical. Particularly today, we, the industry, want to create [our] own standards; we want to control our own future and destiny. There's a lot of other groups out there who would like to create those standards in our industry. So, by working together and becoming as efficient and effective and quick to market as we can with standards, our members benefit because of that. They don't get something forced on them potentially from an entity that lacks coating- and corrosion-specific expertise, rather as an industry we have control over our future, and again, that energy and effort being used effectively is critical.

BW: I don't want to lose sight of something Bob mentioned earlier, that with standards or even training development, it's volunteer fatigue. If you look in the industry—not just our industry—everybody's volunteer work for nonprofits is going down. And like Bob said, in a lot of cases, we use the same volunteers. So they're volunteering for NACE, they're volunteering for SSPC, splitting their time. If we were joined, hopefully you would have a quicker turnaround and more people that are willing to participate.

BC: We believe at NACE the most valuable and rarest asset that we have available to us is our volunteers’ time. And it becoming rarer and rarer because they're becoming busier and busier with their lives, just like we all are. So anything that we can do that allows us to use that effectively is a smart thing for us to do.


PS: How do you foresee existing training and certification initiatives being handled? For example, the inspector programs that each organization has—do you foresee them being combined into one? And how might certification holders among your memberships be impacted by this?

BC: I think it's too early to tell what that answer’s going to be. Right now our members are talking at the highest levels of the organization as to what the board structure will look like. Eventually we'll get down to looking at each of the various aspects of what we do. We're just way too early in the conversations to be able to say this is what's going to happen with any specific product, service or program.

PS: So can you share any information on what the board structure will look like?

BC: We don’t know. We have a team of five representatives from each board working together and they've had a couple of phone meetings and met face-to-face during the NACE conference, but it's really just getting started.


PS: Many in the industry believe that SSPC and NACE have vastly different cultures. Have you discussed or thought about how the cultures will blend? Also, we’ve heard from some SSPC members that there’s a concern about the contractor’s voice being lost and concern about adequate representation for the coatings industry itself. Can you speak about that?

BW: One of the basic tenets that Bob and I, our staffs and the board members who have been involved are all in agreement on is that NACE and SSPC will remain as brands. There’s brand loyalty to both of them. Having said that, we also agree that it's going to be a merger of equals. Even though the organizations are different in size and revenue, the intent is to have equal representation from both organizations at a board level and to try to move forward with that so no one's voice is lost.

You have two organizations that have been around for 70 years or more. No one wants to lose that. No one wants to upset the industry or the members who have that brand loyalty. Again, we're here for the members. It's going to be up to them to say how they want it organized through their board representation.

BC: Bill and I have been through mergers before in the for-profit world. It’s challenging to get through and culture is often one of the stumbling blocks. So we're very aware that the culture has to be done right. You can't just ignore it. It needs to be groomed or curated and invested in to make sure that it's a positive culture and there's no group that can be left behind.

The contractors have a very legitimate concern. On the other side of the house at NACE, we have people who have been in the corrosion industry but not on the coating side of it and they have a concern that they might get left behind in this because all of a sudden we build this very large organization that has a heavy focus towards coatings. So we can't ignore any of our constituencies. We've got to listen to them all and make good decisions. And this is both staff and our member leaders, making good decisions that will protect the interests of all of our organization. And ultimately in the end, this goes to a vote of the membership. So they will have a voice. Plus, the future will be designed by member volunteer leaders. So they'll have a strong voice, and, if there is a new organization, what that new organization will look like.


PS: Neither of you were around for the previous merger talks, but can you lend any perspective as to why you think those previous previous efforts failed and why it may be different this time around?

BC: One of the things that we agreed to early on, at the very first meeting of member and staff leadership from both organizations, was we were not going to look backwards. Now that doesn't mean we're going to ignore what happened, but we're not going to focus on it. Honestly, neither one of us were there. We hear rumors, we hear stories, but that's all they are. We have looked back over some meeting minutes of course, but that is just reflective of the conversation. Our focus is, what are we going to do going forward to make it successful?

BW: There's nothing more I can add to that. We can learn from history, but we weren't here to experience the history and a lot of it is hearsay with a number of perspectives from different people. So, for me to comment on it would be out of place.


PS: What do you see as the biggest challenge or obstacle with these talks actually resulting in a merger?

BW: Well, the first thing that needs to happen is for both of the boards to agree that they want to move forward and both of the boards to agree on a board and organizational structure that will work for both sides. I think Bob and I—knowing the members we have on each of our sides—are confident that we have people that know the industry, and know our organizations. If something is going to happen, I think we have the right teams in place to be able to do that.

BC: I think one of the other challenges with these types of organizations that we've already addressed, is a tremendous loyalty to the brand and to the programs, and as Bill said, one of the early decisions we made is both brands will be protected. We’ve done some homework and talked to other organizations that have been successful and that was one of the messages we received. Protect the brands. So we put that in place right from the beginning.


PS: Have either of you had any kind of responses from your memberships?

BC: One of the best metrics was a poll that you guys did, it showed 85% of the people that responded were positive. It wasn't a huge sample size, but it was still significant enough that it's a good indication of where the mind of the industry is. The other thing I’ll say is, we went public with this the week before our annual conference. Our conference started on that Friday. We went public on the Monday before. We came in to that conference prepared for everything that we could be prepared for because we weren't sure how the members would respond. We thought it would be positive but you never know. We had talking points and prepared for challenging questions and we brainstormed [about] what could be concerns. And the truth is, the overwhelming response—whether it was somebody walking up to us in a hallway or it was actually in a meeting—the overwhelming response has been positive.

BW: I was at the NACE conference also and it was basically the same response that Bob just articulated. It was mostly positive. Again, some of the people were mentioning losing their voice and I think those are valid concerns which will be addressed, but overall it was more positive than negative by a pretty wide margin.

BC: There are legitimate concerns and there are probably some illegitimate concerns, but there are concerns out there. And as long as we're listening and addressing the concerns, the overall intent and direction is being supported by the indsutry. But there are smaller issues, like questions you’ve brought up that we’re not ready to answer yet. What will happen to the education programs? What do these new standards look like? So those kinds of things are going to have to be answered as we go through this. But at the 30,000-foot level, to have one organization serving this industry—that was very, very strongly supported.


PS: Is there any kind of timeline? What are the next steps and when are the next steps?

BW: The next steps are being put together through these board teams. They’ve put a schedule together over the next couple of months, with calls every couple of weeks to discuss various aspects of what needs to occur or what we might want to do together. Again, it's very early in the process. I think everybody's just trying to get their legs under themselves to determine what are the key next steps and pieces of information we need to know, and what information do we want to go out to the membership with to see what their pulse is—are they in favor or are they not in favor of this?

One of the things we want to make sure we do is get out information as quickly as we can and to be as transparent as we can.


PS: When do you see an actual membership vote taking place?

BC: We'd like to see something in the next 18 months to two years. This is not a fast process. You've got to give the time for the teams to work together. They are volunteers, they’ve got full-time jobs and regular activities and a family life. So the amount of time that they’re able to dedicate to it is limited as well. Plus, there are other volunteer responsibilities. They’re still on our board of directors and officers and serving the organization in other ways. We're not trying to rush it. We're trying to get it done as well as we possibly can.

BW: I think the other thing is that all of the discussion in the industry and even in this interview has been merger-related. It might not even be a merger. If it goes to a merger, that time frame is probably in play, if it's just working together closer on standards and trying to pick a process that fits both organizations or if it's a common conference, those things might be a lot quicker.


PS: Are you saying that this whole thing may conceivably end up with just a shared conference and two separate organizations or just a partnership in “this” but not in “that,” is that a possibility?

BW: Everything's on the table right now.

BC: Everything.

We want to hear [the membership’s] voice. So we've set up a web site at NACE keeping our members and customers up to date with what's happening. Also on that is an email address——where people can send in their thoughts and ideas and we're getting a lot of them and we're using those thoughts and ideas in our planning and discussion. It's also a place where people can ask questions and if we're capable of answering the questions, we will. So it's really important that the industry or members or customers are giving us their feedback.

BW: We have the same thing set up on our website also.

To get more information, provide feedback or ask questions, visit or


Tagged categories: AF; AS; Asia Pacific; Associations; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Latin America; Mergers; NA; NACE; North America; OC; Program/Project Management; SA; SSPC

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