Virginia's News Leader
A 'one-in-a-million' engineer, Bill Salot has worked at the same Hopewell plant
for 65 years
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Reid Blackwell - Richmond Times-Dispatch
May 27, 2018
Bill Salot of AdvanSix was honored with the re-naming of the plant's training center in Hopewell, VA Tues. May 22, 2018. The plant was formerly known as Honeywell International, as well as Allied Signal Corp., Allied Chemical Corp. and Allied Chemical and Dye Corp.
Salot and his family members gathered at the plant last week with colleagues and executives to celebrate his 65-year career. Salot said he has never seriously considered retiring.
Bill Salot was 23 years old, fresh out of the Army, engaged to be married and looking for a job when he first arrived in his bride-to-be’s hometown of Petersburg.
It was April 1953. Dwight D. Eisenhower had recently taken office as president. The Korean War was still raging.
Thanks to his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Salot soon got an engineering job at what was then the Allied Chemical and Dye Corp. factory in Hopewell.
“There was a big expansion in the works at the time,” Salot recalled. Engineers were in demand.
“I was lucky,” he said.
Sixty-five years later, Salot is still on the job.
At age 88, he rises on weekdays at around 4 a.m. for breakfast and some early-morning reading — usually either Christian reading or engineering publications — before heading from his home in Colonial Heights to work at the plant, now part of AdvanSix Inc. He aims to arrive by 7 a.m. but admits that he sometimes misses that by a bit.
Salot is a senior reliability engineer, part of a team that keeps the infrastructure humming at the plant, a massive complex of buildings and winding pipes that covers about 200 acres. The plant makes caprolactam, a key ingredient in the material Nylon 6, which is used in such products as automotive and electronic components, carpets, sports apparel, fishing nets and packaging.
“The object is to get reliable equipment to start with, and maintain it to keep it going, and analyze it, if it fails,” Salot said.
“The problems are interesting,” he said. “Some of the problems are challenging like a sport. It is not only trying to solve a problem, but trying to do it better than anybody has done it before.”
During his career, the plant has been through some name changes, from Allied Chemical and Dye Corp. to Allied Chemical Corp. to Allied Signal Corp. to Honeywell International, and now AdvanSix Inc., which was spun off as a separate company from New Jersey-based Honeywell in 2016.
His professional longevity also puts him in rare company.
Only about 6 percent of all workers have been with their current employer for 25 or more years, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Average employee tenure across all industries and organization sizes is eight years, according to research by the Society for Human Resource Management.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have data on how many people over 85 remain employed, but 8 percent of people over 75 are employed, compared with 60 percent for the population as a whole.
Last week, Salot’s colleagues at the plant and executives for AdvanSix gathered to celebrate his career, which includes a long list of accomplishments and leadership roles such as being past chairman of the Central Virginia section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He also has published a lot of technical papers with titles like “Economics of High-Pressure, Steam-Methane Reformer Catalyst Tubes.”
The training center at the plant was renamed the Bill Salot Learning Center in his honor, and a new sign was unveiled at the building.
“You embody the idea of lifelong learning,” AdvanSix President and CEO Erin N. Kane told Salot during the ceremony.
Salot approached the honor with self-deprecating wit.
“When I was your age, I never dreamed I would see my name publicly displayed,” he told the crowd after the new sign was unveiled. “Now, it has happened twice. I have got one on my parking space, too.”
“I haven’t decided yet which one I want to be buried under,” he quipped.
His family members were in attendance, including his sons Jeff and David, daughter Sue and grandson Cody. They all live in Colonial Heights. Salot’s wife, Louise, passed away in 2015 at age 85.
His sons attribute his professional longevity to diligence.
“He put one foot in front of the other, until he walked around the world,” Jeff said.
“I am the youngest son, and I am likely to retire before he does,” David joked.
Salot attributes it to a higher power.
“I think the overriding factor was God guided me here, and this is my way of serving the Lord,” he said.
Technology has changed quite a bit in Salot’s career.
“The changeover was, I walked in one morning and I had a computer,” he said.
Tucked away in his desk, Salot still keeps his slide rule, a handheld device for doing complex mathematical calculations, commonly used by engineers in the days before electronic calculators and computers. Salot has had the slide rule since he got out of college. Occasionally, he’ll show it to a young engineer, almost as a kind of artifact.
“For a while, it was faster than the first pocket calculators,” he said. “Pretty soon, the calculators got better and I stopped using it.”
When it comes to using computers, “I still don’t know nearly as much as the young kids who come out of school,” Salot said. “I just learn the things I need to know to do what I need to do.”
Some of his colleagues say that’s just Bill being modest.
“He is very innovative. He is always on top of new technology,” said Steve Stenzel, a reliability engineering leader at the plant.
“He has a good knack and ability for taking a very complex and difficult problem we’ve been having and he will come up with a very elegant solution that’s almost simple,” Stenzel said.
Craig T. Euen, a manufacturing improvement leader at the plant, said Salot is “a one-in-a-million engineer.”
“It is amazing, his technical competence,” Euen said.
Engineering isn’t Salot’s only talent.
When he was growing up in Detroit, Salot learned to play checkers, and play well.
“I grew up in the Great Depression,” he said. “My father was out of work only one year, but my grandfather was out of work almost the whole time. Whenever we visited, he would teach me how to play checkers. I was less than 5 years old.”
It became a lifelong hobby, and Salot has won the Virginia Checkers Championship several times. He is the reigning champion from last year’s tournament.
Salot’s father was a skilled craftsman who encouraged him to pursue engineering. After earning a mechanical engineering degree in 1950, Salot planned to work in the automotive industry in Detroit. He even started work for General Motors, but then got drafted.
“I did not much enjoy being in the service, except I met my wife at the time,” he said. “She was from Petersburg and, when I was released from the service, I went home and told my folks I was moving to Virginia.”
He and Louise were married in September 1953, a few months after he started work for Allied Chemical.
Salot said he has never seriously considered retiring.
“I would not have anything better or more enjoyable to do if I retired,” he said.