FORMER DUPONT TAC REP AND BOARD MEMBER HONORED AT AMERITAC 135
MTI’s TAC Meetings around the world have often felt like reunions, bringing colleagues together who haven’t seen one another for many months. The vibe at the June 2021 AmeriTAC Meeting was special in that regard since the North American members hadn’t met in person for more than a year. Among those attending was longtime member Steve Springer, who had taken a short hiatus from MTI after retiring from Chemours in 2018. Springer, who spent the great majority of his career with DuPont, was on hand to accept the organization’s highest honor. He was named MTI’s 18th Fellow. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Metallurgy (Lehigh) and a master’s in Materials Science (Duke), Springer went to work for DuPont in 1977.
He began attending TAC Meetings in the late 1980s. “What I remember is my fondness for that because I had been to NACE meetings, and they were fine, but NACE just didn’t scratch my itch for getting a handle on good practical knowledge that I could immediately take and use,” he recalls. “When I went to MTI, I realized that here were well qualified people that had been down the road that I was going down and had great advice, things to remember, techniques to use, comments about vendors, and the whole works.
I thought this organization can really help me!”
He quickly learned that getting involved in projects would not only benefit his company but help him grow as a professional. Thirty-plus years later, Springer has participated in so many MTI studies that it’s hard to remember them all. “I love the projects that MTI is doing, no doubt about it,” he shares. “A lot of them were collecting a lot of information and putting it in a publication. I got in that ‘parade’ because that was the kind of stuff I was looking for. But I found that as I advanced in my career, the stuff that I really liked was when MTI got into the metallurgy and the materials science of it. They got into projects that were tough to do but were rewarding because it hadn’t been done before. For example, even though I wasn’t on the Project Team, I really loved the whole thing around getting higher allowable stresses for some of those titanium alloys into the code. I could really see where we influenced the industry with what we knew and what we did.”
Among other interests, Springer says he has been fascinated with MTI’s work on Intergranular Cracking of Cast Material, CN7M, a super austenitic stainless steel. “Time after time, we experienced unusual failures of CN7M castings in DuPont,” he explains. “I found reports from 60 years ago that described the same thing that was happening to the CN7M castings but in different services. It was like we had not gotten anywhere. ‘Why is this?’ I really started getting into that, and we did some good work with John DuPont at Lehigh University, who helped us understand some things around heat treating the castings. That was very rewarding because it was good solid metallurgy. It was a long-standing issue that I thought we could improve on.”
Project research isn’t the only value of MTI membership that has drawn Springer’s praise. Peers he has worked with/for have had an impact on him, and many of those business
and mentee relationships have developed into long-term friendships. “Greg Kobrin, who was our Principal Consultant at DuPont (and an MTI Fellow since 2005), was very influential in just bringing MTI to my attention and how to conduct yourself in the community,” he notes. “Greg was Mr. Class and certainly a role model for me.” Springer adds that there were many people at MTI who influenced him, including Galen Hodge, John Aller, Dale Heffner and Gene Liening, among others. “With those guys, there is a common characteristic, although I can’t put my finger on it,” he points out. “But they were just like the cream of the technical knowledge, of involvement in the community, and of treating people right. I always felt accepted when I would be working with them. I just gravitated toward them and would observe them, and the proof was in the pudding. You could see what they could get done by doing what they did and the way that they did it.”
MTI offered Springer his own leadership opportunities, often putting him in the spotlight at TAC Meetings and giving him the chance to prove himself in front of those he admired. From providing project team updates to participating in live technical forum debates, the collaborative process opened new avenues for him to polish his public speaking and other communications skills. “Companies can do that during your career, but MTI offers that almost immediately if you so choose,” he observes. “You can get involved with MTI, be a new person, pick out a project, and work on leadership development, and you won’t get that in many other places, I don’t think. There is the actual mechanics of doing that, but there is also hopefully instilling in others a vision. Maybe it’s just a vision of how to conduct yourself as a professional. That’s a more subtle leadership aspect.”
Although he has taken on many important roles within MTI, Springer never envisioned that he would be named an MTI Fellow. He is about as humble about the honor as one could be: “I’m flattered beyond all description. I looked at the website and saw the pictures of all these icons in the business and of all the people who passed through MTI. There are only 17 names, and I’ll be the 18th. That is just astounding to me!”
It means so much to him that he has to pause to gather his thoughts. “I think early on, the term Fellow just meant some technical powerhouse, and it still is very important,” he continues. “But as I get older, I’m thinking that it’s these other qualities (like leadership and professionalism) that really define what a Fellow is. It took me a little while to pick up on that, but I can see it in that list of the folks we have there.”
That said, Springer hopes to be more than another name on the honor roll. He plans to pass along as many best practices and words of wisdom as the members are willing to absorb. “I am looking forward, in the twilight of my career, to just trying to help out and impart knowledge to folks who I can lend a hand to and give them some ideas of what the experience has taught me,” he says. “I think that it’s a daunting challenge because the way that I grew up in the business is nothing like these young folks are growing up in the business with limited resources, limited funds, limited capability to travel and participate in things like this. The lack of colleagues around them that could help mentor them and steer them in the right direction, and the amount of effort they have to go through to get the network, that just fell in my lap. I’m a little intimidated by thinking that I could help them, but I’m willing to try.”
In truth, Springer hasn’t wasted any time. He is already putting the principle to practice, relaying lessons learned over the last five decades. “In my training of younger people in my consulting business, they would say, ‘How did you work this job? How did you approach this problem?’” he reports. “I thought, ‘Gee, how did I do that?’ The answer was, “I really don’t have a cookbook technique, but what I always came back to realizing was that I tried to treat my customers with respect. If I didn’t know the answer, I would tell them I didn’t know the answer, but I would promise to get them an answer in a certain time period. I would hold to that commitment. Just by having good moral guidance and treating people the right way, everything else fell into place.”
Overall, things seem to be coming together nicely for MTI’s latest Fellow. He plans to continue taking on a limited number of materials consulting gigs in order to help fund hobbies and other interests, like toys for his remote lake house in rural Tennessee. WEHL Consulting, his business, is derived from the first initials of his four grandsons, who also play a big role in his life these days (and may be the benefactors of those toys). “Anything I can do to be active with them and my wife is fun,” he smiles.
After receiving his award face-to-many-faces at AmeriTAC 135 in Louisville, Springer is eager to get back to his loved ones, a good long drive due southwest. He is shaking hands with the small crowd that surrounds him, enjoying well-deserved recognition, saying “goodbye” for now. But the materials scientist in him can’t help but discuss some of the exciting project ideas floating around the room. “I’m just looking to help out where I can,” he tells us. “I just want to keep the ball rolling on some things.” Guess what they say is true: you really can’t keep a good man down. Congratulations to MTI’s newest Fellow, Steve Springer. Welcome back to the vibrant technical community that you helped build and continue to support! Click here
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|A Legacy of Excellence
The MTI Fellow Award was created in 2000 to recognize individuals who have been instrumental in developing the organization’s advancement in becoming a leader in the chemical processing industry. MTI Fellows are awarded a plaque, lapel pin, a special Fellow ribbon designation for meeting name tags, and letters of commendation. They receive lifetime invitations to attend MTI meetings and access to the Member area of the MTI website where they are encouraged to lend their expertise by participating in person and online. Visit www.mti-global.org/about/fellows to learn about all 18 MTI Fellows.