Being an Engineer

S2E27 Why Fossil Fuels Are Not Going Away, & How To Get An MBA Without Getting An MBA | Dr. Chris Alexander

June 18, 2021 Chris Alexander Season 2 Episode 27
Being an Engineer
S2E27 Why Fossil Fuels Are Not Going Away, & How To Get An MBA Without Getting An MBA | Dr. Chris Alexander
Show Notes Transcript

Chris has spent his career solving problems in the oil and gas industry. His company, ADV Integrity, builds and performs testing on large diameter pipelines (sometimes placing millions of foot pounds of torque in bending tests). Along with running, reading, and podcasting Chris has learned to navigate the business element of engineering along with the technical side of the industry, and shares the lessons he has learned along the way with us on this episode. 

The Being An Engineer podcast is brought to you by Pipeline Design & Engineering. Pipeline partners with medical & other device engineering teams who need turnkey equipment such as cycle test machines, custom test fixtures, automation equipment, assembly jigs, inspection stations and more. You can find us on the web at www.teampipeline.us.  

Presenter:

The Being an Engineer Podcast is a repository for industry knowledge and a tool through which engineers learn about and connect with relevant companies, technologies, people, resources and opportunities. Enjoy the show

Chris Alexander:

Become voracious readers, because I don't have I got three degrees in mechanical engineering. I don't have a business degree, but I would say I could probably hold my own. Because I've probably read, I probably read four or 500 business books over the past 20 years.

Aaron Moncur:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The being an engineer podcast. Our guest today is Dr. Chris Alexander, who is an expert on assessing damage to high pressure pipelines around the world and has lived in this industry for nearly 30 years. Chris has bachelor's, master's and PhD degrees in mechanical engineering, and is the founder and president of a dv integrity, an engineering consulting firms servicing the oil and gas equipment industry. Chris, welcome to the podcast. And thank you so much for being with us today. You bet Aaron, appreciate you asking me to be part of this. Well tell me a little bit about how you decided to become an engineer in the first place.

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, so I've got probably like a lot of engineers. I like math and science as a kid. I wanted to be a Dallas Cowboys, football quarterback but figured out pretty quickly in fifth grade. I didn't like getting hit. Back when Roger Staubach was the Dallas Cowboy quarterback. So the good news is my plan B was a really good student. And so probably very much influenced by my family. So my father was a professor at Texas A&M in mechanical engineering. So he obviously was an engineer. And then my grandfather was also an engineer, he went to A&M . So I'm a third generation Aggie mechanical engineer. And that was just something I wanted to do growing up, like a lot of kids out, like playing with Legos. I also wanted to be a fighter pilot, but because I don't have good eyesight, they didn't let me do that. So they said, We don't let blind people fly if sixteens. So So, engineering just seem to be very natural. And I've enjoyed it. Having done this for 30 years, it's very different than what I thought when I was a senior name literally 30 years ago. But I strongly encourage students, I'm a chairman of a Christian school chairman of the board, and I encouraged kids to, to go into engineering, it's just a great a great career.

Aaron Moncur:

What is different about engineering now that you didn't expect back in college?

Chris Alexander:

Well, I think to be honest, it's a lot more fun. I married a real cute blonde. At A&M, about 30 years ago, we both went to A&M. And so she's taught me how to have fun. I'm a lot less introverted than I was 30 years ago. But the other thing is, I really like people. So I'm probably a little bit of unusual as an engineer, I'm, if you met me, you think I'm an extrovert, but I really enjoy management. I love sales. And the beauty of it is I can walk into a room, with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering, and I can solve problems that really help people. And so we have a whole company, I started this thing about four years ago, we get eight engineers now and a lot of really smart technicians in our lab. And on a daily basis, we're serving literally clients around the world with very challenging engineering problems.

Aaron Moncur:

I think that's a really good point that engineering is more fun than going to school for engineering. Yeah, amen. I remember it being in school. It was tough. I, I did okay. But it was a struggle for me. And I did not love engineering school. And there was some times when I thought, am I in the right place? Am I doing the right thing. But once I got into the field and started practising, I realised, yeah, I'm in the right place. This is a lot of fun. Yeah.

Chris Alexander:

And I think, probably a defence of their professors. I mean, you and I have opportunity. We work on engineering projects every day. So we could we could Wow, an audience of college kids and just tell stories of projects that we work on, that the professors don't really have those luxuries on I right now, I'm probably working on 20 or 25 projects, each one of them are really interesting. And how the students sitting in the audience is like, Man, this is what we get to do. So it's not just learning fluid mechanics, and thermodynamics and strengthen materials. It's how we apply the things that you and I learned in school, which is what makes it fun. So to me the absence of application into the oski. I think there's probably a lot kids that go into engineering. And they really get run off their first year, just because they're like, why am I doing this? But if they spent a day with you and me and got to see the fun stuff that we do, they're like, you know what? It's worth it. to have to stick it out.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, doing is better than learning about doing Amen. Well, I want to dig into at the integrity of it. But before we do that, can you spend just maybe a minute or two talking about your experience before ADB and how you got to where you are now? Yeah.

Chris Alexander:

So I went to went to Texas A&M, got a degree in Mechanical Engineering. And then I was in the Corps of Cadets A&M, at one point was an all male military school. And so it still has the Corps cadets, and quite a few students that graduated the Quartet military contracts, I did not do that. But, but my wife was a couple years behind me, so I stayed and got my master's. And so I came to Houston in 1993 work for an engineering consulting company that that was relatively small. And my my time there almost 25 years, the company really grew. And I got involved in the the oil and gas industry, because that's what this consulting company did. And specifically, I was able to get focused on high pressure transmission pipelines, which doesn't sound very sexy. But if most people in the United States realise the role that pipelines play in our daily lives, they would be astounded. Most of our pipelines were built before 1960. And so there's a lot of opportunities to to keep the older pipelines running. And we've got brilliant people in the pipeline industry that inspect them, I tend to be in the middle between inspection and rehabilitation. So I had a distinct great career in a gentleman named Joe Fowler, Dr. Joe Fowler was the was my mentor for much of that time, and just a great leader, an incredible engineer. And so I just, I was at a point where I wanted to do my own thing. And so I started a TV, it was pretty scary. I was 48 years old at the time that I started this. But I like people, I like to help them. And so that was the foundation of how we got started, so for about a year and a half, I worked by myself, which, which is hard for somebody that likes people. And so I managed to keep things going and save quite a bit of money. And then as we rolled into 2019, convinced a couple other people to join the party. And we rented a 17,000 square foot warehouse northwest part of Houston, and started this test lab. So that's work that, that's how it all got started.

Aaron Moncur:

Excellent. Thank you for that background. You mentioned that most people don't really realise or appreciate the role that these oil and gas pipelines play. And I think you're right, it's just this thing that happens in the background. And none of us really think about what what are a few interesting things about I'm sorry, I'm being very general here. But hopefully, you should fill in the blanks. What are a few interesting points about pipelines that most of us never even consider or realise?

Chris Alexander:

Well, I think one and I alluded to earlier, since the age of our infrastructure, we're, we're doing a bunch of tests right now pipes that were built in the 1940s, and 50s. And so the manufacturing processes back in those times, were not as good as they are today. I mean, it is amazing, though, that the ductility that steel has, what we what we can do with steel. And there's a little bit pipelines from the 1920s and 30s, that are still operating. If you look on the application side, though you and I are both, obviously involved in technology, and the electricity that we have comes from primarily gas fired power plants. So when these pipelines were built in the 1940s, and 50s, it was primarily to send gas from speaking specifically of natural gas, but sending gas from the Gulf Coast, up to the northeast, where you are up there. Today, because of shale, we actually have a reverse flow. And so the big energy consumption that we have in the US is primarily here in the south driving air conditioners in the summer. And so those pipelines are literally sending gas from where you are down to us here in the Gulf of Mexico. So that's a high level overview from a specific standpoint, and also encourage students who are considering going into engineering, their real opportunities on the inspection side. So we have what are called inline inspection tools and their multimillion dollar tools that run through these pipelines, and they'll inspect and find everything from cracks dents, corrosion, if the pipeline's moved, and they can even detect that. So that drives it's this amazing technology and there's companies around the world that develop these technologies, several of them out of Germany.

Aaron Moncur:

Well, one of the things that I learned about you that's interesting is you work with your daughter, Ashley, and you have a podcast with her? We'll talk about that. I wondered how is that working with families, do you recommend it?

Chris Alexander:

You have to have a, you have to have a good relationship. And actually, Ashley graduates, from from Texas A&M next next week with a Marketing degree, we have a great relationship as I do with our other two children, is one of the things that you got to make sure you have a good relationship. Because if you don't, and you go into it, you're going to find out that probably a challenge for her is is when I asked her to do something she has to separate the fact that she's my daughter. And if she didn't want to do it, that's fine. But so far, it's worked real well. So I'll let you know in a year, how it's going.

Aaron Moncur:

I've had a similar experience. Yeah, my wife did some bookkeeping for us for a while. And I think that was a challenge separating the, like, Aaron, my husband versus Aaron, the business?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, it's not easy. And it's interesting, if you look at American history back, if you go a couple 100 years ago, sons would follow their fathers, which is some regards is what I did. But when the industrial revolution happened, really, the dads left the homes, and they went into the cities and started working. So you didn't you lost that foundation as part of our American culture. So I don't know, I'd love, I like building business. And I love the idea of our family working together, I just have to be open minded that all my kids aren't going to be engineers. And so if we're going to do business together, I have to have a little more of an open mind.

Aaron Moncur:

There you go. Yeah. One of ATVs focuses is helping companies understand risks through real world testing. Are there any specific examples of how you have helped a company accomplish this that you can share?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, we're right in the middle of doing a really neat project, and as I said, we've got this huge warehouse. And we've got, I should have probably sent you some pictures so that people can get on our website and see what we're doing. But we've got a big bending beam that we'll do, and I'm not making this number up, it's 3 million foot pounds and bending. This so we can load a 30 foot sample up there. 30 inches in diameter. Of course, your podcast, folks aren't saying this. But you got 30 inch time or two and a half feet foot diameter 2530 feet long. We we do four point bending, and we've been the heck out of the pipe. And so we've got a project that we're working with an operator, we're eventually going to do what's called a joint industry programme, a GRP. And j IPS, basically, you get a lot of pipeline companies that will put money together, and they combine their resources to solve very challenging problems. So we've used this big four point bin beam, and we're bending girth weld. So when you weld pipelines up, you have a weld that joins them. It's called a girth weld to run circumferentially around the pipe. So these girth welds were installed in the 1930s 40s, and 50s. And they didn't have the inspection technologies that we have today. For the most part, the welds are extremely good. But what we're doing is looking at older welds that might have defects in them. And we're reinforcing that with composites, which is pretty much the world that I live in, I was even the basis of my PhD work. So we take this 30 inch diameter pipe, we put composite carbon fibres around the pipe, and then we conduct a bending test. So that's just a great example. We're actually looking at dancing technologies, we're helping the pipeline industry, integrate these technologies, we're validating them in our full scale Test Lab, just to make sure that they perform. And because our pipelines in the US are regulated, we have to demonstrate to the office of pipeline safety, that these these repair technologies work. And the great a great place to do that is in full scale destructive testing.

Aaron Moncur:

Interesting. is still still what is most typically used for pipelines, or is the industry moving towards more composites or newer materials?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, so there's, there's two camps. One is you have the existing infrastructure, it's all steel. And so we're using composites to repair pipelines or do you have corrosion or dense or like in this application girth welds were finishing up a joint industry programme looking at reinforcing cracks with carbon epoxy technology. So on the older existing infrastructure where we were using composites to repair them, on the new infrastructure side, there is an increase in use of non metallic materials is going to take a while steel is so forgiving, because you got ductility that's anywhere from 20 to 40%. So you can really bend things Non metallics, a modern carbon, you might have 1% strain to failure. So there's not a lot of damage tolerance. So I don't think anytime soon we're going to be building our national infrastructure as non metallics. But I do think within probably the next 15 to 20 years, we're going to continue to see more and more that technology.

Aaron Moncur:

And these pipelines, I mean, they traverse what the full width of the country, right? Yeah,

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, there's, there's hundreds of 1000s of miles of transmission pipeline. So you got, you have transmission, which just like a transmission power line, right. And they tend to be large diameter anywhere from 12 to 48, 42 inch, then you have distribution, which comes into our houses at smaller diameter. And then you have gathering lines, which if you've got wells in the field, that's how you gather the oil and gas from the field. So you have three types of pipelines that exist in the US. And if you add up the transmission, gathering, and distribution is literally millions of miles of pipeline.

Aaron Moncur:

And where are they all going? I mean, some of it's coming from the the fields, right, where they're pulling crude from under the ground and go to refineries. refinery, where does it go from there?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, so that'll typically go wherever the population is, right? So so you're gonna, you're going to process it. And so I'm not a refinery expert, but I know enough to be dangerous. And so you'll be able to pull out diesel, and aircraft, fuel, plastics, gasoline, and so they have a distillation process that pulls different parts out, and then they just send it to market. So that's the point that it goes from engineering to more of the business side. So there's a marketing person that says, hey, we need, this much plastic or this much gasoline. And so that's then you transport it to the areas where it's used.

Aaron Moncur:

Okay. And what's the health of the the gas industry these days? I mean, we're moving more and more towards electric sustainable renewable energies. Has that had much of an effect yet on your industry?

Chris Alexander:

Well, I think it's having an effect on the oil side. But on the gas side, we're only going to see an increase. And because, yeah, and I think part of it is without getting too political, I feel like sometimes people don't understand and course you and I do, but they're like, well, I want electricity from my car. So I'm just going to plug it into the wall, there has to be something on the other side of your wall. That is, right. And so I feel like at times, I wish I could get on an aeroplane and go to DC and to stand before Congress and say, Look, I'm offering these things that you want. But you have to understand the power has to come from someplace. So it either comes from I got a phone call from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission this morning, the NRC. So it's either going to be nuclear power, natural gas, fossil, like coal. So something has to fire, the the steam, the steam lines and our power plants. And at this point, the best source of energy is going to be natural gas. So we're still building big natural gas pipelines. And that's going to continue to be a big part of our national infrastructure.

Aaron Moncur:

Okay, well, I'm going to take a short deviation from the technical side of our conversation. One thing that I thought was really interesting that you had shared with me earlier was how you created individual introduction videos for each of the engineers on your team, probably not just the engineers, probably for everyone on your team. How have you used these videos? And and how do you think they've helped your company,

Chris Alexander:

So in the consulting world, and it's it's like, what you do, but it's a little different is that we'll take a young engineer, and we'll teach them about a certain discipline develop some expertise. And within typically three to five years, they need to have some niche areas that when they walk into a room, people know that, hey, they can do finite element analysis, or they're great at data acquisition, or they're good at metallurgy. And so even though I'm an engineer, I guess in my heart, I'm a little bit of a marketing person, a PR person, if you spent more time with me, you wonder if I was even an engineer. So, so we, when we started the company, I started hiring people, my goal is to help them become subject matter experts and and then to promote that, so that they always have things to do so in the consulting space you're always selling yourself. And so we're using technology and my daughter, Ashley is, in our eight, we started to cut the call add marketing, to help our company as well as other companies really market themselves. So I like you can tell I like to talk and I enjoy being on videos and enjoy doing podcasts. And so one of the things that we're just working with our engineers is like, let's make little short videos. Nobody's going to watch a 30 minute video you talking about yourself, but in two or three minutes, you can say well I went to school what I like to do, and people just get to know you. And I'll be honest with you, Aaron, some of it's driven by me watching our kids. They live their lives on YouTube. And it's a lot more entertaining. I'll admit, I love to read, but it's more entertaining, watch videos and read books.

Aaron Moncur:

I love that. I think that's such a great idea. I also saw on your website that ADB is a regular donor to many organisations in your community. I recently read a book called I like giving, which was a great collection of little stories about people giving. And anyway, I've been thinking about the idea of giving lately and and I wondered, what is the role that giving has played in your company?

Chris Alexander:

Well, ironically, it's actually the reason I started the company. I love to give, I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. And so he drives what I do. And I know sometimes that's not really popular for people to say that, but I'm okay saying that at 52 years old, he feel comfortable with it. But, Aaron, I started add to make a lot of money. There's nothing wrong with that. But I want to get to a point, we're pretty close to that, where I am able to live on a lot smaller amount. And I read a book, that's about 15 years ago, called radical on this guy just said, we with at least within the church, that we just need to get to the point where people who make a lot of money, give a lot of money away. And so my goal, at some point, is to be able to get a million dollars a year away. And, you see on our website and I'm not at that point yet, but I'm trending in that direction. And Matter of fact, of the think the second year, I had the company I was I was able to give more than I'd ever given before. And so I just we have several organisations that we give to on a regular basis. And then, from time to time, like at A&M , they needed somebody to sponsor some students, and we gave some money away. So, that's, that's why I do what I do, we have been very successful and have a lot, a lot of neat things, neat cars, and a beautiful house. But at some point, once you accumulate those things, you need to really look at the money you're making. It's like, what am I doing with this?

Aaron Moncur:

What is the purpos, right? Exactly?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, yeah, there's, you probably read, but Simon Sinek, wrote a book called 'Start With Why,' and actually got my dad reading it right now. And he just says in this book, and I think he's brilliant and exactly right, if you can get the why, right, the how, and the what fall in the place, so as a leader, if you help your organisation understand, this is why we're doing what we're doing. The how in the world will take care of it play itself. And so, my Why is I want to make a lot of money, so I can get most of it away, not so I can just put money in the bank. The other part of this, which dovetails is I love to work, and assuming I'm going to have good health, I'm not necessarily saving for retirement, and it means it doesn't mean that I'm not putting money in a 401k. But I know a lot of people my age, they're trying to maximise everything they save, but they're not living their life, right. So if I've got the choice between this is still a number out there. So I can save 50,000 a year or I can get 50,000 year away. Why not give more away if you're going to work, I just don't envision myself retiring. So in one sense, it takes the pressure off the need to save for retirement to get more money away.

Aaron Moncur:

That's a very interesting standpoint. Thanks for sharing that.

Chris Alexander:

Yeah. So we'll see how it goes. 10 years from now when decrepid can't work, but right now.

Aaron Moncur:

Well, I also read that you love running. So I'm guessing you've got a lot more than 10 years not

Chris Alexander:

To do. Yeah, God gave me good knees. I'm still running 15 to 20 miles a week. So I'm gonna keep doing that as long as I can.

Aaron Moncur:

Excellent. But I'm going to take a real short break here and share with the listeners that team pipeline.us is where you can learn more about how we help medical device and other product engineering or manufacturing teams develop turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines to characterise inspect, assemble, manufacturer and perform verification testing on your devices. We're speaking with Chris Alexander today who is founder and president at ADV Integrity and is also an avid reader as he just mentioned. In fact, he started a podcast with his daughter called Business By the Books. Can you tell us a little bit about the podcast and how it got started?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, so searching I, I really I love to travel but with COVID I've gone I've taken one trip and 13 months I went to Tulsa about three weeks ago. So anyway, fortunately had a good time in Tulsa, but it's probably not everybody's destination for vacation. And I was in Colorado about five years ago just went up there by myself for a couple of days and took some books with me. And so I'm sitting on the back porch and coming from Houston, in the summer is just hotter than Hades here so we get away and I was just thinking about all the books. I love to read. So I'm an old.com guy. So I got on godaddy.com and bought business, buy the books calm. And so the idea I had about five years ago was that I would just basically talk to people about different books that I had read. So my daughter, Ashley is really good at technology. And so she started making videos. And I was like, why don't we just do something together. So we bought all the equipment to do live streaming and podcasts and all the stuff that you've got really good microphone like, I can see you've got one there. And I pick 50 books. So I've probably got eight or 900 books in my library. So I spent probably two or three weeks going through and pulling out 50 that were my favourite books, and I pulled them off. And then I have a forum that I go through. And some of these books Aaron I hadn't read in 25 years, like one of the books was Zig Ziglar. see at the top, I think I read that thing in late 1994. And so I got these books out. And so I have a little one page summary on each book. And so as seen, I will sit down and we'll do a podcast, like what you're doing. And she'll ask me questions about the book. And they're typically 20 or 30 minutes. So one of the things that's really funny is I love to read, and I read some as a kid, but I think when I probably got into my 20s I just loved to read, and I started reading a lot of business books and those kinds of things. So a couple years ago, asking when she was a freshman at A&M, she called me and she said, Daddy, she said, I figured out what you've got. And I'm like, Okay, let's see, what do I have? She goes, You got klepto amnesia. And I'm like, Okay, that sounds really impressive. What is it? And she said, Well, I'm reading the I'm thinking psychology class. And it's people who attribute things that they hear or read from other people to themselves. So what I realised as I was reading these books, like the seat at the top is I had this part, like a life philosophy on something. And what I realised is I got it from Zig, Ziglar, 25 years ago. So of all these books I've read, and I'm typically reading three or four books at a time, every book, I take two or three, sometimes 10 things, and I integrate them into my life and my business philosophy. And so I don't think I've ever read a book that I didn't get something from So I sound like an old guy when I say this, but I really encourage young people become voracious readers because I don't have I got three degrees in mechanical engineering, I don't have a business degree. But I would say I could probably hold my own. Because I've probably read, I probably read four or 500 business books over the past 20 years. And and so I read a book, and then I come to work, and I apply it. And if it didn't work, I tweak it. So the thing is, I'm a big advocate of getting degrees, but you don't have to limit the fact that you don't have a business degree from being successful in business.

Aaron Moncur:

I'm curious about the the life of philosophy that apparently you took from Zig Ziglar, can you share a little bit about that?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah. And I think probably in the title of the book says it very well, that if you want to get to the top, it's not look at me from the top, I'll see you at the top. So what it means is that you just really make it your life's goal to help people. So when I read that book, I was in my probably in my mid to late 20s. And I wasn't managing anybody I was I was just a grunt in an engineering company running finalement models and running full scale tests. But what I realised is if I want it to be successful, I really need to help people. So you fast forward the clock, 15 years, I started managing people, what I realised is because I had had a really good career, my goal, and especially right now, my goal is to help all of the people in our organisation, have great careers, if they're 28 years old, and they're going to work for the next 30 years, I want to do everything I can to help them have a great career. So anyway, that's one of those concepts that Zig Ziglar talked about. I mean, that book is probably written in the 1960s, probably before I was born. And it's just a great life philosophy that I didn't realise that writing a book 25 years ago.

Aaron Moncur:

That's wonderful. Well, what are some of the the your favourite books maybe 234 of your favourite books that you can share?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, I think probably my one of my favourite books, and I don't know, if you've read this is called the Five Dysfunctions of a team by Patrick lencioni. Yeah, yeah, it is. It is my I think it should be required reading for anybody who works. And certainly for anybody who's a leader. So it just talks about the Five Dysfunctions of a team. The two bottom ones are organisations that are dysfunctional have a an absence of conflict, or a fear of conflict, and a lack of trust. And so in any organisation, if you're going to be successful, you got to have those things and so I think they're good, they're good, that's a good book to read. Because if you can build that into your culture that people feel comfortable having conflict, it's just, it's just a great thing. One of the other books that and as I said, I've got 50 of them, but one of them that really impacted me is What Got You Here Won't Get You There. And once again, it's, it's another one that is the title says at all early in your career, you're rewarded for individual contribution to an organisation. In the latter part of your career, you're rewarded for your ability to get people to move toward contribution organisation. And so Marshall Goldsmith wrote that book and, and this is a great job talking about, what got you to be successful where you are, you need to constantly look at that and say, Look, what was successful yesterday, I may need to adapt.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, well, I'm going to pull the compensation back to engineering specifically and ask you what, what are some of the common traits or behaviours that you see in the best engineers with whom you've worked over the years?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, so it's a that's a great question. As silly as it sounds, it's the ability to do basic engineering. And so you got degrees in engineering, like I do. And so you go back to typically somewhere between your sophomore and junior year, and I'm a mechanic's guy, but you got to the point where you could derive MC over I, and you understood material properties and those kinds of things. To me, the most powerful engineer is an engineer that can walk in the room, he didn't have a bunch of books, he didn't need a calculator, but he can just sit there. And he understands the mechanics enough in the fundamentals that he can, he can sit down and solve problems. And once again, it goes back to stuff that you learn probably in the middle part of your college careers and engineer, it's not graduate level things. So my I heard a story about my grandfather that my dad told me that he was he was an engineer at General Dynamics, and probably had a couple 100 engineers working for him. And they couldn't figure out how to solve a problem. And so this is back in the days when people had slide rulers. And he'd say, what, guys, let me let me go office for an hour or so. And I'll come back. And so he would go in his office and hit run some calculations. And he'd come out, and he had guys working for him who had PhDs, they weren't using slide rules, or using calculators, and probably even running early stage final models. And he'd come out there, and he would be able to solve that problem. And so to me, great engineers can still see through all the chaff and all the complexity, and they can get down to the fundamentals and solve problems, whittle those complex problems down to the fundamentals. Exactly. Yeah. So that to me, that's a great attribute for an engineer. And if you're going to be a leader of engineers, you need the ability to do that.

Aaron Moncur:

Well, how about hiring engineers? I'm sure you've had your fair share of experience hiring engineers over the years. How do you assess engineering candidates? And not just from a technical standpoint, but from a culture standpoint, as well?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, for the most part, have had great success in that, and I had a guy Tell me years ago that you hire for attitude, and you train for skill. And so I think about the eight engineers that we have here, ABV, and they're all brilliant guys. And they can, they can solve really difficult problems, but they get along with people. And, to me, that's a challenge sometimes in engineering, because you don't, we're all fed when we go to school is like, you're really smart and and then you graduate, you realise all the people that didn't graduate with you. And so you, you enter the workforce with a certain amount of confidence, slash perhaps even arrogance. And that confidence is very important. But if it prevents you from welcome Well, with other people, it just you're not, you're not going to last. So we've been we've been very successful here at ATV that we've hired really good people. In one sense, it's easier to hire younger engineers, because they haven't, for lack of better words been corrupted. So the other thing, other requirement that we have is all of our all of our engineers have at least Master's. And that was something that I got from my previous employer that I think was a good thing. Because as consultants, we need engineers who can solve problems pretty quickly. And I'm not saying that the only people who are good engineers have graduate degrees at all. I'm not saying that. But in the consulting world, we need engineers that come in and pick things up pretty quickly. And it's just easier to do that with that there's some vetting that goes on in graduate school that we're taking advantage of.

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah, so it's an easy filter for you.

Chris Alexander:

Exactly. Yep. Yeah. And I had a guy tell me one time that you go to college for your parents, but you go to graduate school for yourself. So very few parents are gonna encourage you unless you're a doctor or a lawyer to go to graduate schools.

Aaron Moncur:

Especially if they're footing the bill. Yeah.

Chris Alexander:

It's exactly right. They want to get a role.

Aaron Moncur:

Well, as it relates to being an engineer, what what would the doctor Chris Alexander of today, say to the Chris Alexander, who was still in college or just about to graduate 30 years ago?

Chris Alexander:

Oh, that's a good question, Aaron. Well, I think one thing is a probably, and I probably need to tell myself this on a daily basis, but just have fun. I was always uptight, and I don't know if it's just an engineering trait. But in school, I was always nervous, because I was getting ready for a test. And I never felt like I was quite good enough. And then you start working and get the pressures of family and work and running a company in the hat is I mean, can be extremely successful that you've either got, I was gonna say too much money, but you never had too much money in business, but you got too much work, not enough money and those kind of things. So the conversation I probably have to myself is just enjoy things a little bit more, study hard, but don't be completely wrapped up. And, having to study all the time.

Aaron Moncur:

I'd love to dig into what you said a little bit more the dealing with the stress of I mean, we can frame it in the context of running a company selfishly, that's why I'm asking it. But we all deal with stress. How do you deal with stress? How do you kick back and chill out a little bit?

Chris Alexander:

Well, it's funny, we talked over the weekend. Some people have hobbies, and my younger daughter common she said, Daddy, your your work is your hobby. Yeah, I feel the same about myself. I love it. I love I love to work, I'll admit, I woke up this morning, we had a team's conversation goes some of our engineers, and one of the guys said, Look, I'm just gonna take a couple days off, go spend some time with my family. And I was like, Man, that's a great idea. So I think for me to unwind, I love to read, we talked about that before. So all this, my ideal scenario is if I could get on an aeroplane and go to Colorado for myself, by myself for probably like two or three days, and do a little running in the mountains and just think I'm also a big journaler. And I love to journal and I started journaling back when I was a kid, and even in college, sometimes I'll get my journal from A&M and out and get it ut, just to remind myself of w o I was. So I think doing journa ing and reading I do like b ing outside, so we've got a co ple acres that I'll get out. No, no, mow the yard have what I all the lawn, more epiphanies And you got to find something you enjoy doing to unplug so hat when you got to come bac to work that she got new id

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah. Well, speaking of epiphanies, I had a small epiphany the other day, in the shower, we're all good epiphanies come. And I've been thinking about stress a lot lately, because I've been I've been stressed out where we're growing a little bit, which is exciting. But there are challenges that come along with that. And I've been feeling a lot of stress. And one of my coaches shared with me that stress is a reaction to focusing your attention on an uncertain future. And if you can come back to the right now and just for a little while, stop, stop thinking, stop placing your focus on that uncertain future that can help. And I think there's a lot of wisdom in that. And the epiphany that I had, was, this is why I like TV so much, which is embarrassing to say that I really like TV, but I do I love just watching a show on TV because I it's one of the only times when my brain stops going. And I can just think about right now, what am I watching right now? This is entertaining you right now I'm not thinking about who do I need to hire next week? I'm not thinking about how are we going to get this project done on time. And and take that epiphany a little bit further. I thought about physical exercise that you're you're a runner, you know this, you at some point you'll you'll get exhausted, your body won't be able to continue putting that power out and moving your body and you have to rest you have to stop and rest. And I think all of us understand that intuitively about physical performance and physical exhaustion. But I think it's it's less intuitive when it comes to mental performance and mental exhaustion. And if if we're always placing our focus on that uncertain future, and I think all of us do this just automatically we don't even think about it. It just happens. We can get burned out mentally but if we can stop and just think about right now give ourselves a little bit of a break from that, that uncertain future. Then it's just like taking a break from running right? You let your body cool down, you let your body gain its energy back and then you can pick up again.

Chris Alexander:

Now that's a good point. Well, and I think that's why, this is the business owner is his business. This is predicated on the ability of to think about new ideas, right. And so if you, if you run out of ideas in business, you're in trouble. And so I think that's a lot of what I do, like on the weekend, I mean, I worked a little bit, but I spent less a weekend just hanging out running, reading, hanging out with the family. And for me, I get I, most guys build their houses around garages, I built our house around my study. And so I'll walk in that room, and it's a two story studies got all my books up at the top, but I spend, probably 1000 plus hours a year just in that study, just thinking and thinking of ideas. So. And to me, that's a recharge, right? I've got new ideas. The other thing I was gonna say, I think sometimes one of the reasons that we get stressed out, is we don't plan well. And so one thing that we did, I had our ad v marketing, ladies, there's four ladies in that. And then I had the senior engineers, and there were four of us, and then our BD guy. So we had nine of us in here, and we spent about three hours, strategically planning what we're gonna do for the next three months, we're gonna do videos, brochures, podcasts, and live streams, some different things. And to me, that reduces my stress level, because we're being intentional in going out and getting work. And not all of that is going to generate work, but it's like going fishing, if you throw one, one hook in the water, you're going to catch one fish. But if you have a net, or you throw 1010 hooks out there, the likelihood of catching fish is much better. So for me, what's reduced my stress in our organisation is having brilliant people who are driven to go help clients. And I don't get stressed out like I did probably two and a half or three years ago, because there's a lot of us rowing the boat, versus the early part of the company, I was primarily the guy that was doing most of the rowing. And so anyway, I think, if you're, if you do a good job, as a leader in you develop people around you, it doesn't mean that you're not going to have stress, but it changes. And if you get really good people around you, you get counsel, and so your stress levels should be significantly lower than when you're doing driving things by yourself.

Aaron Moncur:

And the planning point is a very good one. I mean, to me that that just goes back to the uncertain futures, if you have a plan, it's much less of an uncertain future, much more of a near near certain future.

Chris Alexander:

Well, and I think for a lot of businesses that you you can probably more be more strategic than you realise. I mean, I love having a consulting company, if we want to put a joint industry programme together, or we want to help a client, we can make a decision to go get that work. And, we, as a company, we've interfaced with bankers, and sometimes I'll come out here and look at our p&l on our balance sheet. And we've grown very quickly. And I think a lot of it's God's blessing. But I also think, because we've been very strategic, and go at going out and getting work. And I think that's, that's one of things I love. And so basically, I'm applying a lot of the engineering principles that you and I learned in school to building business, which is why I think engineers who are business savvy, they have an incredible firepower that the average person who just is thinking like a business person that have.

Aaron Moncur:

Right, engineers are trained problem solvers.

Chris Alexander:

Exactly.

Aaron Moncur:

Yep.

Chris Alexander:

And business has problems, for sure.

Aaron Moncur:

Thank goodness, otherwise, we'd be out of a job.

Chris Alexander:

Exactly. Thank God for entropy.

Aaron Moncur:

What are a couple of the biggest problems that you face at work?

Chris Alexander:

Well, I think a lot of it is, is personnel in not that we have problematic people at all. But it's you just want to make sure that everybody is accountable, and that they know what's expected of them. So I think I think that people part of the business is the hardest part of it. I do think we have in our industry, we have a changing oil and gas industry. We it's amazing the animosity, this directed toward the energy industry, and it's like we're just trying to get down here to help people have energy at their homes and their cars. And the pipeline industry so vilified. It's like, how do you think you get gasoline in your car or power in your house? Don't don't shoot us we're just trying to help so I think that's a challenge too, is not knowing where it's gonna go. I as a business owner, I'm glad I'm in the pipeline industry, but you look offshore here in here in Houston, the offshore energy industry 15 years ago it was blowing and going it's been decimated with with a low price of oil and really administration's that are that are hostile to offshore drilling. So anyway, to me, the people part and then the vision for where things are going. Those are the greatest challenges for me and running a business

Aaron Moncur:

Yeah. Understood. I'm stealing this question from Tim Ferriss. If you could put anything on a billboard for engineers to see, what would it be?

Chris Alexander:

Oh, wow. Become an engineer, change the world.

Aaron Moncur:

Inspirational. Yeah.

Chris Alexander:

Yeah. And the thing is almost everything you do in engineers touched it, right? I mean, I've got a bag of chips here and peanuts and engineer, that works. Yet planners, those peanuts don't just get in there. magically, an engineer had to build an assembly line, the computers that were on the internet, engineers, literally changed the world. And the other thing I like about engineering is it's very objective, right? If I go out in the lab, and I pressurise a pipe, it blows up. It doesn't mean I like it or dislike it, it's very objective, it's like, well, I like this pipe better than another, it's gonna blow up at a higher pressure. It is what it is. And when I was in school, I really didn't like the English classes. Because if the professor didn't like what I was writing about, even if it was well written, he might not give me a good grade, versus, my McCain's class MC over I was MC over I, it was either right or wrong answer. So I like the black and whiteness of being an engineer.

Aaron Moncur:

Much easier to define success as an engineer, then

Chris Alexander:

Exactly.

Aaron Moncur:

The history made or Yeah, or something.

Chris Alexander:

Yeah.

Aaron Moncur:

All right. Well, Chris, before I let you go, is there anything that we should have talked about that we haven't hit upon?

Chris Alexander:

Yeah, I don't think so. I more maybe one last thing I'd say is I really, not sure the the demographics of who listens to your podcast. Um, but I'd like to think maybe there's some some high school students out there who are thinking about careers. And yeah, you and I both, if we had to do it over again, we would have become engineers. It's a it's a great career. But in order for our nation to be competitive, we need engineers, and there's a lot of opportunities. And you and I both run businesses. So we've, we've been a benefactor of being able to do engineering, but also run businesses. So I just encourage more students to become to consider engineering as a career. From a financial standpoint, you look at starting salaries. Right out of undergraduate school, I would argue engineers probably had the highest salaries. Now, kids go to law school, medical school, but I'm talking about right out of a four year degree, there's probably and if you're a parent, listen, this, there's probably not and better investment in a for education than getting an engineering degree.

Aaron Moncur:

Well said, All right. Chris, how can people get ahold of you?

Chris Alexander:

Well, several ways. If you're on LinkedIn, you can find me just LinkedIn and I'm at a Houston our website is advintegrity.com and you can see me that way. And then I've got an email which is [email protected] If you email me, I can't guarantee I'll get back to you. Aaron knows that. Aaron and I probably both get a couple 100 emails a day, but I'll do my best to respond. But would certainly be glad to entertain any questions that you might have about what we're doing.

Aaron Moncur:

Wonderful. Well, Chris, thank you so much. I really deeply appreciate you spending some time and sharing your insight and wisdom. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Chris Alexander:

You bet Aaron thanks for the opportunity.

Aaron Moncur:

I'm Aaron Moncure, founder of Pipeline Design and Engineering. If you liked what you heard today, please share the episode. To learn how your team can leverage our team's expertise developing turnkey equipment, custom fixtures and automated machines and with product design, visit us at teampipeline.us. Thanks for listening.