After nearly 30 years in the business, the first woman to chair North America’s largest trenchless organization is as engrained in the industry as ever before.
For Joanne Carroll, the trenchless industry is personal. It hits close to home, reflecting both the values she was raised on and influencing her approach to the work she’s come to love.
“My parents taught me how to fix things and how to make things last longer because, like most people, we lived on a budget,” she says. “Having that instilled in my core, I get a real high out of seeing a problem, developing a solution and being a part of making it last longer.”
In the trenchless industry, approaching problems head-on with innovative solutions is the name of the game, and it’s a game Carroll has been playing for more than 27 years.
Carroll got her start in the construction business early in her career when she became involved in a clerical position working with architects to renew commercial office and retail buildings. That position evolved to managing those buildings, as well as restoring historic ones, and the job became Carroll’s introduction to dealing with specifications and drawings.
After that, Carroll’s career focused more on finance and accounting until she took an office manager and controller position made available by a new group of investors in the company Raven Chemicals, now known as Raven Lining Systems. At the time, Raven was a small company working on introducing a new concept for repairing underground structures with 100 percent solids ultra-high build epoxy. It was Carroll’s first introduction to the underground construction business.
“There was so much to learn,” she says of her early years of being introduced to the trenchless market. “Raven literally started from one man’s idea and quickly grew to a small team focused on quality products and innovative solutions for buried structures. I enjoyed working with a chemist, Sam Sumner at Shell Chemical, where I soaked in knowledge of epoxy formulation and applications.”
After a couple years, Carroll gave her first presentation on manhole rehabilitation at a regional Water Environment Association seminar. It would be the first of many. In 1995, Raven Lining Systems was sold to Cohesant Technologies, but Carroll continued her role as vice president, eventually becoming president. By 2006, she was promoted to vice president of Cohesant Technologies where she continued working with epoxies being utilized in the protection and rehabilitation of buried infrastructure.
It was around this time that Carroll says she also began to realize the value of going beyond her day job to contribute to the overall development of trenchless technologies and the acceptance of new approaches. She considers these accomplishments as one of the highlights of her career.
“It was a time of innovation and teamwork that everyone should experience in their lifetime,” she says of her time at Raven Lining Systems.
In 2008, Carroll joined RS Lining Systems dba RS Technik as a senior vice president responsible for bringing epoxy-based CIPP technology for gravity and pressure pipe to the Americas. RS Lining Systems was sold to HammerHead Trenchless in late 2016 and Carroll’s position became vice president of materials development for HammerHead.
Earlier this year, Carroll separated slightly from HammerHead, launching her own consulting company, Subtegic Group, based in Cary, North Carolina. Through Subtegic Group, she says she will focus on providing consultation on the identification, development and use of “strategic underground solutions.” Her primary client remains HammerHead Trenchless.
Carroll has a simple way of describing the state of the North American trenchless technology industry today.
“It’s real,” she says. “When I first got involved, it was just beginning to gain some traction. Now, there’s more structure to ‘trenchless technology’ as an industry and use of these technologies has undeniably multiplied many times over. The industry is established and continues to mature.”
Carroll has played an important – and trailblazing – role in that maturity.
During her time with Raven Lining Systems, Carroll met an individual named Roger Dollar who had been giving unbiased, educational presentations across the country. She says Dollar inspired her to begin presenting at industry conferences whenever possible, knowing there was a strong need to connect owners with available and innovative trenchless products.
“I prided myself on the ability to market my company’s products in an informative way that permitted specifiers to qualify products for their specific needs,” she says.
Carroll first submitted an abstract for the North American Society for Trenchless Technology’s (NASTT) No-Dig Show in the late 1990s. It was rejected out of concerns of being too commercial.
“It really upset me!” she recalls. “But Art Kidder, who at that time was with the City of Houston and on the Board of NASTT, encouraged me to get more involved, so I did. Along the way, I met many other individuals who influenced my path through their actions and encouragement.” Carroll adds that the initial rejection of her No-Dig paper also reflected the fact that real industry growth was occurring, as evidenced by the increasingly stringent requirements over the quality of the No-Dig technical program.
From that point forward, her involvement in NASTT, as well as many other industry organizations only grew, as she became a core participant in trenchless technology advocacy and leadership.
Carroll served on NASTT’s Board of Directors from 2000 to 2006. She served as the No-Dig Show Program Chair in 2005 when the show was held in Orlando. In 2006, she served as the chair of NASTT – becoming the first woman to ever hold the position.
“There are a lot more women involved today than there were when I started,” she says. “I find it refreshing and fulfilling to see how they are having a positive impact on our industry.”
Carroll has also served as an ASCE Pipelines Infrastructure Committee Secretary and Member, Pipelines Conference Chair in 2002, and was a co-founder of NASSCO’s RehabZone.
“NASTT has done a good job of getting student chapters throughout North America at various universities,” she says. “However, I also believe there’s a real need for program development at vocational or technical trade schools.”
Carroll says one idea she’s been thinking about is furthering educational opportunities beyond those already available through universities. She’s considered the idea of a “trenchless trade school,” whereby an individual could become certified to use, install and inspect trenchless solutions through both online and hands-on training.
“Employee turnover is one of the greatest challenges in our industry,” she says. “I’d like to be a part of identifying ways to promote the trenchless industry while creating a place for all people, with or without a college education, to experience the myriad of trenchless products while gaining knowledge that will better their chances at achieving personal and career success.”
Carroll says she credits companies that take the initiative to offer training services to contractors installing the products they make or represent.
“I’m very proud of the commitment from the Charles Machine Works family of companies with the recent completion of a large training facility at HammerHead Trenchless in Wisconsin that is dedicated to education for the rehabilitation and replacement of buried pipelines,” she says.
“The industry is continuing to grow with a sound foundation of proven solutions and continued innovation. Organizations such as NASTT, NASSCO and UESI are delivering more opportunities for education which builds awareness for those seeking and providing solutions.”
Carroll recognizes that in the trenchless industry, products are being developed not only for their capabilities to perform today, but on how the solution will or can evolve over time.
“Social responsibility ranging from the materials products are made of, health and hazard issues surrounding installation or use, environmental impact during and after construction, all influence the development of products today,” she says.
Going forward, Carroll remains committed to the trenchless industry and says she has no plans to leave the market she believes has yet to reach it’s potential. If you ask her about her favorite part about working in the trenchless industry, her answer is simple – the people. For Carroll, the trenchless industry is truly a family business. She met her husband, Gil Carroll, who now works as director of business development for Applied Felts and Maxliner, through the industry. She also has two brothers, a brother-in-law and a daughter-in-law all working in trenchless.
“There are so many wonderful experiences and people I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with,” she says. “I cannot even fathom the image of what my life would’ve looked like without all the people I’ve had the privilege to meet, work with and enjoy as friends.”