In-Depth with 2018 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year Bill Shook
In 1991, Larry Kiest Jr. attended the first-ever No-Dig Show in Kansas City, hoping to check out the latest offerings in underground construction equipment and technology. At one point during the week, he picked up a brochure from an exhibitor with a system for manhole rehabilitation. He found it interesting but really didn’t give it much thought.
Not long after, Kiest, who at the time was working for his father’s contracting company, was on a job that involved some manhole repair. He recalls one manhole in particular that was located near railroad tracks. Every time the train went by, it caused brick and mortar to fall back into the manhole, making the repair even more difficult on top of the already existing I/I. The whole thing was a mess. A better, easier system was needed to seal the manhole.
Kiest quickly went back through the materials he had picked up in Kansas City and discovered the brochure detailing the Permaform system. He didn’t know it at the time but it was a moment that would change the trajectory of his career. It’s also the story of how Kiest first met Bill Shook, president and founder of AP/M Permaform, whose system for manhole rehabilitation has helped transform the market ever since.
“Bill introduced me to virtually everybody I met in the industry after that,” Kiest says. Now, 27 years later, he describes Shook as a father figure, his mentor and close friend, in addition to being a trenchless industry pioneer.
“He’s one of the original movers and shakers,” Kiest says.
In the tight-knit trenchless industry, there are many others like Larry Kiest who have their own stories about their relationship with Bill Shook. Shook’s approach has inspired countless trenchless professionals and he has helped mentor and shape the careers of many during his years in the business.
As the trenchless industry has expanded, the Johnston, Iowa-based AP/M Permaform has too, going beyond manholes and developing new products and systems for rehabilitating storm sewers, culverts and more. Shook has jokingly described the business as an overnight success story that took 20 years.
But Shook doesn’t measure his company’s success in size. “I measure our success on the impact we have had in the industry,” he says.
It’s that mindset that sets Shook apart from his peers and puts him in a unique class of individuals in the trenchless industry who take the same big picture approach.
“My legacy to the industry – as it is within my own company – is to keep on developing the best technologies that we possibly can because the market grows more and more sophisticated all the time,” he says. “And if the industry is going to prosper, you have to be in tune with what happens.”
Shook has been in tune with the trenchless industry for more than 35 years. He credits those who have taken on initiatives beyond their own business to help grow the acceptance of trenchless technology. He praises industry associations for providing the platform for this growth, and many of his own affiliations continue today.
To name a few, he serves on the board of directors of the Buried Asset Management Institute-International and the Midwest Society of Trenchless Technology. He is an active member of NASTT, ASCE, AWWA, WEF, NACE and the International Concrete Restoration Institute (ICRI). He is a past president of NASSCO, where he has been a longtime member and in 2011 was named to its Select Society of Sanitary Sewer Sleuths.
In 2018, he’s adding a new recognition: Trenchless Technology Person of the Year.
The EPA estimates there are about 25 million manholes in the United States today. Over the past 40 years, Shook and his systems have helped fix a lot of them – in fact, more than 1.8 million, his company estimates.
His exposure to the construction industry began when he worked as a company commander in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Outside of the Army Corps he also worked with a steel company based in Pittsburgh, which forced him to move around a lot as he advanced in his role. It was in the mid-1980s that his introduction to underground infrastructure came when he became a partner in a waterworks supply company in Minneapolis. Shook was tasked with heading up a new operation of the business to be based in Des Moines, Iowa. It was during this time that Shook met Carroll Trimble, whose company Action Products Marketing specialized in pouring new manholes in place. Shook and Trimble partnered with the idea of transforming the process into a rehabilitation system, thus forming AP/M Permaform in 1987.
The idea behind what would become the patented Permaform rehabilitation system was to structurally replace the manhole without digging. Shook realized that a better system was needed to stop the focal point of infiltration and protect manholes through sealing and reinforcement.
The Permaform system uses segmented steel forms assembled inside the existing manhole and fitted with a PVC or PE plastic liner. High-strength concrete is poured between the existing structure and the plastic-lined forms. The locking anchors on the liner become embedded into the new concrete forming the protective barrier on the new interior wall, creating a manhole-within-a-manhole.
Although not formally trained as an engineer, Shook says his approach to construction was always more practical.
“I think my gift is knowing a little bit about a lot of things and looking at solving problems. That can take you in all sorts of exciting new directions,” he says.
In the early days, it took Shook everywhere.
After patenting Permaform, he spent the next several years driving all across the country talking to engineers, municipalities and attending tradeshows to sell the viability of the system. His late wife, Phyllis, who became heavily involved in the business and became a fixture in the trenchless industry herself, was by his side the whole way.
It was a time when the trenchless industry was young. Insituform dominated the market in sewer rehabilitation, but complete system renewal – including stopping I/I in other areas like laterals and manholes – was not being addressed to the extent that it needed. There was a major need in the marketplace and Shook was keen on filling it.
D&S Contractors in Richmond, Virginia, became Shook’s first licensed applicator. Kiest also became one of Shook’s first applicators soon after their initial encounter, and Shook later developed the idea of creating a network of certified applicators and regional contractors as more work came in.
As other manhole rehabilitation options made their way into the market, Shook adapted. He learned to stay ahead of the competition even while still working out the kinks on his own system. He’d send contractors long distances to small, remote jobs – anything to help grow the exposure of Permaform and trenchless manhole rehab. He also continued his own on-the-ground efforts to convince the municipalities that trenchless had new benefits to offer.
“He used to have this van,” Kiest recalls. “I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of miles he had on it, but he’d drive all across North America, city to city, promoting his original manhole rehab system.”
Fast-forward 30 years and AP/M Permaform is going strong, now with a network of 50-plus certified applicators in the United States. The company has grown through innovating and developing new cutting-edge solutions to keep it at the forefront of the market.
“We always advanced in our technology because either we identified the need, or engineers identified it, or our applicators told us,” Shook says. “We created new solutions in response to identifying the needs.”
AP/M has also introduced Permacast to the market. This system is a family of mortars and epoxies engineered specifically for manholes and applied using the patented vertical spin cast method to ensure uniform and consistent application. In 1996, the company introduced ConShield, an anti-microbial admixture that protects against corrosion by preventing bacterial growth on concrete surfaces.
Beyond manholes, as the market for stormwater rehabilitation gained traction, AP/M’s answer was CentriPipe in 2003. Used for culverts and large-diameter sanitary sewer pipes, CentriPipe creates a new, structurally-sound concrete pipe inside the old one using its spin cast method horizontally.
“Bill always had a level of integrity about him,” says John Jurgens, co-founder of Trenchless Resources International and now a senior civil engineer with the City of Seattle, who became friends with Shook on the tradeshow circuit in the 1990s. “He wasn’t all about selling. He was always looking to help answer questions. He came up with some pretty good products but he recognized that it wasn’t just about the product. It had to be applied properly. He invested a lot in training for his contractors to learn how to do jobs right.”
Acceptance of Trenchless
Over the course of his career in the sewer business, Shook has seen the acceptance of trenchless technology expand significantly. He says he still attributes competition as being a driving factor in technology advancement and owner acceptance.
“It’s the nature of the business,” he says. “Part of our goal is always to be two steps ahead by making the investment in new technology and listening to the customer about what the problem is. Some people don’t understand this, but it’s good that the competition came along in the second or third generation [of the industry]. It helps with the acceptance and there’s so much work out there to do, it’s good for the industry.”
Shook, again looking at the larger picture, adds that the trenchless industry is still young and has not yet realized its full potential. Once it does, that will in turn benefit technology companies in the market.
“We are an industry still in its infancy,” he continues. “The industry is only 50 years old. That’s really early in the scale of how technologies go. You’re always fighting the battle of introducing new and emerging technologies when working with very conservative cities and engineers. They need a cost-effective solution, but they’re risk adverse. They have to spend a lot of time overcoming those hurdles.”
Shook sees that changing, noting there are several cities that have done a 180-degree turn on their old view of trenchless as a last resort to now viewing trenchless as a first option. “The technology supports the position that it’s earned,” he says.
Shook has also made it a personal mission to be involved with and help grow the many educational initiatives in the trenchless industry. He first became a member of NASSCO in 1987. Since that time, he helped introduce NASSCO’s Pipeline Assessment Certification Program (PACP) and Manhole Assessment Certification Program (MACP), the industry standards for condition evaluation coding of pipelines and manholes, respectively. Shook later served on the board of directors and through his tenure as NASSCO president in 2006, helped advance other goals of the organization.
“Our industry relies on volunteers, and we have volunteers and organizations that deserve a lot of credit,” he says. “Organizations like NASTT and NASSCO have a vested interest in helping the industry. So, from the very beginning, it was my goal that anything I could do to help the industry was going to help us too.”
Shook always has a positive perspective on trenchless technology. He’s made a career out of solving problems and advancing technology but it’s his passion for advancing the industry that has made him a true trenchless guru.
“A lot of people have made working in the trenchless technology industry their career,” Kiest says. “I think Bill Shook has made it his life.”
Shook is also impressed by today’s growth of the market and remains adamant that much greater opportunity still exists.
“The trenchless industry has a lot of young people with vision,” he says. “But we’re not fostering enough internal growth so that the baton gets passed on. When our industry started, Europe was looked at as the premier provider of new technology. American ingenuity really had to step up to the plate. Now, we’re in a global market and it’s going to grow because [other countries] have the same problems. I talk to young engineers all the time and I tell them that if you want to be a civil engineer, this is the industry you want to be in.”
Going forward, Shook has no plans to leave the industry just yet and says as long as he can make an impact, he’ll stick around. He attributes three primary things in his life as keeping him motivated.
“Faith, family and friends,” he says. “And there are a lot of people in this industry I count as friends.”
He credits his team at AP/M Permaform, especially Keith Walker, Dr. Valery Tokar and Joe Cherry, for excelling in their leadership roles within the business. He also gives a ton of credit to his wife, Miriam, whose business skills and enthusiasm have played a vital role in AP/M’s success. Once their responsibilities begin to decrease, Bill and Miriam hope to spend more time together outside of the office with their six children and 17 grandchildren, as well as devote more time to their involvement in International Cooperating Ministries.
Shook’s thoughts on being named the 2018 Trenchless Technology Person of the Year?
“Surprised, shocked and honored,” he says of finding out he was this year’s recipient. Shook says he is most humbled by being included in a circle of industry leaders who share the same goal of growing the industry and not just their business.
“I’m standing on the shoulders of people who went before me. And other people will stand on my shoulders because we want to help our industry reach a higher level,” he says.
“I have respect for the people who have come before me, because every one of the previous recipients demonstrates the same concern for the industry and a willingness to go beyond the rewards for building their own business. They’ve been interested in seeing the industry grow and have been willing to make themselves available to help other people grow.
“If somebody asked, ‘Bill, what would you like to be remembered for?’ That would be it.”