Over 235 attendees, including 25 uniquie distributor organisations, assembled in the Grand Ballroom of the Seven Springs Mountain Resort – a destination renowned for its sporting clays, mountaintop golf course and stunning beauty – for three days of business education and networking.

Safety, partnerships and managing disruption have been in the spotlight today at GAWDA’s 2018 Regional Meeting here in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Abydee Butler Moore, GAWDA's Regional Chairperson

Abydee Butler Moore, GAWDA’s Vice-President

The Regional Meeting kicked off today with an opening speech from GAWDA’s Vice-President, Abydee Butler Moore.

She said, “Business content makes a meeting and we are so fortunate today to have three wonderful presentations from speakers who have donated their time from the industry to be here. We’re going to be starting off with a presentation on safety from kelvin Dixon, Vice-President of Risk Management at Matheson, then we have several agents from the FBI here to teach us how to spot suspicious requests for quotes (RFQ’s), because in our industry, unfortunately not everyone is out to use our products for their intended purposes. So, we’re going to learn how to identify, and what to do once you’ve identified those suspicious RFQ’s.”

First up, Dixon’s presentation, ‘Safety – A Foundation for Business’, emphasised the ability to profit from safety.

He said, “We have to change the paradigm that views safety and quality as a distractor, as something antithetical to our bottom line, to business, and to look at it as a propitious by reducing and eliminating bad things that can happen and increasing the good things that it brings. Understanding how to better manage a safety and quality systems culture is our learning objective.”

Dixon showed the audience three videos to display how safety and quality can reduce and eliminate accidents from happening and ultimately have a positive impact on businesses.

The six letters that spell safety, are viewed in this manner at Matheson:

S – Systems

A – Analytics

F – Focus

E – Empowerment

T – Training

Y – You and your culture

“Human behaviour, you will start to realise the impact that it has on safety and quality. The goal of human behaviour is to give you’re employees knowledge and tools to create a work environment that brings out the very best in them as individuals and in teams. Unfortunately, many leaders lack the behavioural input needed to fully understand and anticipate what it takes to build a great safety and quality process due to the time and effort it takes.”

“You must be able to assess trends, patterns, unusual behaviour and spikes in your IT, equipment, process equipment and procedures, but you must also do the same for your employers.”


Kelvin Dixon, Vice-President of Risk Management, Matheson

“Safety and quality analytics can help you spot the intentional, which is the violation, such as how many times employees aren’t wearing their safety glasses in a near miss accident report. The unintentional, such as how many times employees forgot to check cylinder weights prior to shipping. My point is, you must get beyond the ‘what happened’ in your safety and quality investigation to gain a deeper understanding of why employees at all levels of the organisation do and behave as they do. The key lies in your ability to analyse and assess your data such as in job safety analysis, to find that needle in the hay stack,” Dixon continued.

“We have to ensure that as leaders, we focus and connect with our managers, workers, customers and with ourselves, to drive home safety and quality which will achieve that culture change excellence.”

“The challenge for us it to create a culture that takes us from dependant – others taking care of us – to interdependent – we will take care of each other. It will not be easy, but the reward for doing so will be great.”

Building a solid foundation of safety requires:

  • Top level management commitment is imperative – and it must filter down throughout the entire organisation to the newest employee that just walked in your door.
  • Establish a policy that empowers each employee to say NO to a situation the feel is unsafe.
  • Create a reward system that recognises an employee for doing the right thing.
  • Create and maintain a system of procedures. Without proper guidance people will do what they “think” is right. They need procedures to follow so they “know” what is right.


Following a valuable networking break, up next was Programme Analyst, Anthony Bliss; Kevin Gray, member of the Social Security Administration and John Large, WMB Coordinator, FBI, with a session dedicated to ‘Reporting Suspicious RFQs: Preventing Illicit Chemical Acquisition Through Industry Partnership’.

Bliss addressed an industrial gas audience on day two of gasworld’s North America conference in Houston at the end of last year where he and his colleague, SSA Mond Mugiya, informed the audience of how to prevent the exploitation of chemicals in the creation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Bliss said, “Terrorist attack is an intimidating word. Does it affect the industrial gas industry? Yes, it does. That’s why we’re here to help prevent them from happening.”

“There are three phases of a terrorist attack. The acquisition phase, the development phase and the execution phase. We put a lot of effort and resources into outreach, awareness and intervention because that’s the cheapest way to prevent an attack. The acquisition phase provides the most opportunity to detect a potential threat.”

There has been a renewed interest in the use of chemicals as weapons, both against civilian and military targets.

Kevin Gray, said, “I know a lot of people here sell and deal with chemicals, but a lot of those chemicals can be used as precursors for chemical weapons.”

Two of the most common chemicals used, which need to be highlighted, are sulfur mustard and chlorine. The association collaborated with US national labs to determine the most common methods of producing sulfur mustard and determined the most critical components for manufacturing it. The next stage was to identify the companies that manufacture, distribute and sell these types of equipment. Over 100 US based companies were identified by FBI agents (WMD Coordinators).

The study was centred around the sales of five types of chemical equipment, but this has expanded. 400 suspicious RFQ’s have been reported to the FBI. Of those 400 there were 30 known proliferators, 58 probable proliferators and 68 which did not have enough data. This is where the industrial gas industry comes in. The FBI need the corporation of the industrial gas industry to help fill those information gaps to build the full picture.

The FBI have been hard at work building a peer-to-peer network to share unsolicited emails or suspicious sales inquiries by individuals or companies. They have designed a matchmaking system to identify common threat-actors and encrypted and anonymous submissions. Unconventional method to monitor treaty compliance.

To help the FBI, the industry must talk to personnel involved in procurement, convey the concern and possible threat. They must create procedures for identifying suspicious RFQ’s, forward the identified suspicious emails to the U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of investigation.

The day’s final session,‘Transitioning to the 3rd Generation and Lessons Learned from a Young CEO’ with Alex Kennedy, CEO of Red Ball Oxygen, discussed his generation, succession planning and what it’s like doing business in our industry from the perspective of a young CEO.

Most importantly, Kennedy talked to the audience about his strong beliefs on how to run a business which he learnt from his father, Gary Marten Kennedy.

He said, “I grew up going to work with my dad, (President of Red Ball Oxygen at the time) seeing him go to work at 6:30 in the morning, attending the weekly sales meetings, growing up alongside a lot of the customers. Everything he did was with the customer in mind and he really instilled that dedication to customer service in me. He would go to horse races with customers, he went to their kid’s baseball games, they were at my wedding, they were at his wedding. Everything we did evolved the customer.”


Alex Kennedy, CEO, Red Ball Oxygen

Kennedy continued, “I’ve taken the things that I’ve learnt from my dad, evolved them and used them as corner stones for how I should do my job. The first lesson is, It’s not all about the numbers. I think what’s more important than numbers, is having the right perspective. What I’ve come to realise as the CEO of a company and after the loss of my father, is that I must have my own perspective and my own feelings on how I do my job and what it means for the company to have success.”

“I didn’t want to sacrifice the long-term goals for the short-term numbers. That’s the perspective that I’m talking about when I say it’s not all about the numbers for me. We can manipulate the profitability if we want, we can do things that have short-term positive impacts but those won’t match-up with our long-term goals.”

The second lesson which Kennedy spoke of was the companies culture. He said, “I wanted everyone (at Redball Oxygen) to understand that I was looking at all of our traditions with a fresh set of eyes. It was very difficult for me to come to grips with how to evolve our culture and loosen some of our standards without tarnishing the message that customer service is still what we’re dedicated to.

“I closed our all our branches on Saturday’s within a year of becoming CEO. I eliminated our facial hair policy, which I felt was important to evolve with the generations that are coming through now.”

Kennedy’s final lesson was the importance of developing a sense of identity. He said, “As a third-generation owner and as the CEO of a company, I think it’s important that I develop my own routine and come to work every day pushing in the right direction.”

GAWDA update

The meeting concluded with a GAWDA update from Brad Peterson of Mississippi Welders Supply and the 2019 GAWDA President-Elect. He provided the dates and locations of the upcoming Regional Meetings:

  • 11th-12th July, Maumee Bay, Ohio chaired by Bob Ranc, Eric Wood.
  • 18th-20th July, Cle Elum, Washington, chaired by Jim Wright
  • 6th-7th August, Tulsa Oklahoma, chaired by David Hanchette
  • 13th-14th August, N. Stonington, Connecticut, chaired by Jay Kapur
  • 3rd-5th October, Hershey, Pennsylvania, chaired by Bryan Keen.

GAWDA’s 2018 Annual Convention will be held on the 9th- 12th September in Seattle and will feature guest speakers John Rossman, former Amazon Executive and Drew Carter, President, Maritz Motivation Solutions.

Delegates will now enjoy a delicious lunch buffet before boarding the shuttle to the mountaintop golf course.

Later this evening, Economy Welding will be hosting this year’s reception at the Mountain Club.

Tomorrow, distributors will reconvene for breakfast and the workshop, ‘EBITDA: Use or Abuse, the True Meaning’, led by Bob Hogan, President of Hipereon Inc.

Follow the meeting

A full review of the GAWDA Seven Springs 2018 Regional Meeting will be available in the upcoming August 2018 US edition of gaswolrd magazine.


Help the FBI’s to identify possible proliferators by reporting suspicions quote requests to:

SSA Kevin Gray at kigray@fbi.gov

(202) 324-0969


MAPA Anthony Bliss at awbliss@fbi.gov

(202) 324-0616