Pipeline people: Molly Laughlin Doran

Pipelines International speaks to Pipe Spring LLC Owner and Co-founder Molly Laughlin Doran, who was honoured with YPP’s Young Achievement Award.

What’s your educational background and experience in the pipeline industry?

I’m a second generation pipeliner. I went to the University of Texas in Austin, US, where I pursued a degree in government. I did not anticipate moving into pipelines, but graduation was rapidly approaching and an opportunity in the industry was the most lucrative in front of me.

I took a job with a composite repair company and was there for three years before I moved to a pipeline operator where I worked in the pipeline safety management systems group helping to implement API RP 1173 enterprise wide. I later moved into the organisation’s communications group where I worked on stakeholder engagement for capital projects.

During that time, I completed my Masters in Business Administration, with a focus on international business at the University of St Thomas in Houston, US. In October 2018, my husband accepted an expat assignment with his company in Brussels, Belgium, and I relocated to Europe, where I’m currently based.

What’s your current role?

I’m Owner and Co-founder of Pipe Spring LLC, a manufacturer of pipeline integrity enhancement products. We make engineered steel laminated fabrications for metal loss defects, pipe augmentation and strain sensitive conditions.

I never intended to get into the family business of pipelines. I didn’t go to school to be an engineer and I didn’t really think there was a space for non-technical backgrounds to make a meaningful difference in this industry.

I was absolutely wrong. From the second I began working in pipelines, I was able to meaningfully contribute to this industry and work with some of the best and brightest on different projects. For example, one of the most meaningful passion projects of my career has been my involvement and interaction with Young Pipeline Professionals (YPP) USA.

I learned of the young professionals’ organisations at the International Pipeline Conference in 2014 from Dynamic Risk Executive Vice President Patrick Vieth. The Young Pipeliners Association of Canada (YPAC) had a large presence at that conference and it was clear it was making great strides in the movement and was something the US needed.

I volunteered my time and helped build a robust educational organisation for young professionals and now, five years later, I can say that being a founding member and leader of YPP absolutely made my start in the pipeline industry.

Together with industry leaders, YPP has been able to live up to its mission “to prepare ourselves to accept the transfer of the duty of care for the pipeline industry”.

Since our first public event in 2015, we have held dozens of webinars, construction site and vendor visits, hosted two conferences of our own, launched a white paper competition, partnered with industry trade associations, and created a platform to develop new industry leaders and pass down the knowledge our industry needs to retain.

We have also brought together several international organisations under the Young Pipeliners International umbrella and now similar organisations in places like Australia, Canada, Europe, Brazil and the US are all coordinating to solve industry issues.

How did you come to found Pipe Spring LLC?

As an industry, for the last 30 years we have been repairing pipelines in largely the same way with little innovation. When we see a defect on a pipeline, we often repair it with a composite sleeve or wrap, a welded steel sleeve, or we cut and replace that section of pipe; however, there may be a better way.

Pipe Spring started as the brainchild of my father Shawn Laughlin. He recognised if we could combine the benefits of steel with known material properties and the advantages of modern adhesives – similar to the installation method of a precured composite sleeve – it could create a revolutionary system which could not only repair pipelines, but could also be used in non-repair situations for class upgrades, or even begin to address strain sensitive conditions that the industry had struggled with for many years.

As the owner of a start-up, my role changes every day. I am a jack-of-all-trades and handle any issues that may arise, no matter the time zone. I am mainly focused on the non-technical aspects of a growing company, like marketing, administration, business processes, etc.

My business partner and father – Shawn – is an ivy league educated chemical engineer with an MBA in International Business and has held executive level leadership positions in global companies. He owns Pipe Spring’s intellectual property and patents and has handled most of the research and development to date. Together, we are excited to launch a premier global technical sales program.

Does the company have any new developments on the horizon?

Currently, we are conducting burst testing with Dr Chris Alexander and YPP Member Dr Chantz Denowh at ADV Integrity and we look forward to bringing those results to industry in the coming weeks. It is an exciting time to be on the forefront of new technology and we are ready to make our mark in pipeline integrity!

What are your key areas of interest in the pipeline industry?

I truly have a passion for the areas of communication, public affairs and pipeline safety. There is a beautiful space where these disciplines intersect that involves stakeholder engagement.

As an industry, we have struggled in this area. We often don’t tell a positive story because we would rather fly under the radar, as pipelines have become more and more a contentious topic in the media. I firmly believe as an industry we have a great story to tell and I get excited when I can be part of telling that story. Sometimes the public doesn’t understand the work we do and how we deliver energy safely everyday all around the world. I believe we are just beginning to move the needle on public education and stakeholder engagement and there is more work to be done.

Have you been involved with any memorable initiatives?

During my time with the pipeline operator I had the opportunity to work with my team to help prepare an executive to testify at a US congressional hearing. Observing that process and being able to contribute was a monumental moment in my career.

It made me realise that even as a young professional, if you are working at a great company, you will have the opportunity to contribute – even at really big moments. I have been incredibly lucky to work for employers that do the right thing, care about their people and are phenomenal workplaces.

What challenges have you had to overcome during your career?

Being a second generation pipeliner has many benefits, but it also means that occasionally people think you got your start because of your family connections.

During the first three years of my career, my father was President and CEO of the company I worked for and it was my obligation and responsibility to outperform and overwork everyone to prove I was there for the right reasons.

I took that obligation very seriously; however, I knew the pressure was always on and every move I made was going to be scrutinised. I took the next few years after that to work for a different employer and really find my way in pipelines and it was probably the best thing for my career.

Now, I have decided the return to working with my father but this time the tables are turned and I am the boss. I also now have a greater sense of confidence that I have proved my own value in this industry and have stood on my own two feet.

I know I have had to earn every opportunity that has come my way and I am now incredibly proud to be able to launch a global family business and continue to leave a legacy in pipelines for my future children.

Why is it important to be involved in industry associations?

I believe the best thing anyone can do for their career is to give back to the industry that has given them an amazing quality of life and abundant opportunities. The pipeline industry has given us exactly that for many decades.

As young professionals and millennials, we have a responsibility to prove ourselves and giving back demonstrates we are the next generation of leaders and stewards of our industry. YPP is the best way I know to improve technical skills, learn about issues spanning the entire pipeline lifecycle and is an opportunity to network with a variety of industry executives, leaders and regulators.

Getting involved with YPP USA is a no brainer. The first and immediate benefit to every single member is a network of peers and friends that simply makes working in pipeline more enjoyable.

The next level of benefits has to do with the educational and leadership opportunities. Every year we elect new Work Group Leads and every two years a new group of officers is installed.

There are also benefits, such as access to industry associations like the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA) Foundation. The INGAA Foundation has graciously allowed our members to be involved even if their employer is not a member and has made YPP USA a member organisation.

Another benefit is our network of senior advisors. We have industry leaders in different disciplines of the pipeline lifecycle that volunteer their time and have made themselves available to us when we would like their assistance. It is benefits like this that make YPP USA the best organisation to join for your career.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out in the industry?

Find your passion! Don’t be afraid to learn about other areas of the pipeline lifecycle, and get involved and put in the work even if it means spending time working ‘after hours’.

What issues should young professionals be considering?

Young professionals need to question the assumptions and traditions of the establishment. We need to comprehend why things have been done and identify ways they can be improved.

For example, one specific opportunity we have is that for several decades the engineering thrust of the industry has been evaluating concepts such as ‘fitness for service’ or ‘fitness for purpose’, an excellent and required goal to maintain pipeline integrity. In the future we need to ask, can we do it better, what would better mean or what would better look like, rather than focusing on concepts like fitness for service.

We need to be searching for greatness. This will require that we look at problems with open eyes and open minds.

At Pipe Spring LLC, we practise this concept and will soon introduce an integrity enhancement system that provides intrinsic third-party damage mitigation. Third party damage remains a leading cause of unscheduled releases.

With no compromises to integrity, quality, performance, or even cost, a pipeline can be repaired or enhanced with intrinsic mitigation of potential future integrity threats. We can make the pipeline better.

The industry has been challenged to have zero as its goal. This means zero unscheduled releases and zero accidents. Young professionals need to take this drive toward zero as a challenge, and contemplate what ‘new’ and ‘better’ may mean.

The same thing the industry has always done may not achieve zero, so it is time we think outside the box and do more. As the Owner of Pipe Spring, I look forward to having a small role to play in this effort. Zero is possible!

How have you seen the industry change?

I think high profile pipeline projects are the impetus. The status quo had to change after media firestorms like the attention the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) received in the US. After DAPL was in the news, I had friends questioning why we need pipelines and asking me all kinds of questions about the work we do in this industry.

There is clearly a lack of understanding in the public domain about energy infrastructure. We have to communicate our key messages to the public louder and more clearly than ever. Our social license to operate depends on our ability to share our story in a positive way.

We have a positive story to tell and must no longer be afraid to tell it or draw attention to our industry. The attention is already here whether we are prepared or not!

Do you have any predictions for the future of the industry?

I think the future is bright; however, we will have to keep continually adapting to a changing culture. The workforce coming out of college today cares about things like the carbon footprint of a company and corporate social responsibility more than ever.

In order to keep attracting and retaining top talent, our industry needs to craft messaging for the new workforce about our efforts to protect people, property and the environment. The pipeline industry has a powerful story to tell and needs to tell it in a new way.

About the YPP Young Achievement Award

YPP, in partnership with the Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Management (PPIM) Conference and Exhibition, has established annual awards to recognise young professionals in the industry. The Young Achievement Award recognises the achievements of individuals under 35 years of age who demonstrated a valuable and original contribution to the industry. In 2019, the award was jointly presented to Ms Doran and Tran Mah-Paulson and. An interview with Mr Mah-Paulson was published in the Spring edition of Pipelines International.

This article was featured in the Summer 2019 edition of Pipelines International. To view the magazine on your PC, Mac, tablet, or mobile device, click here.

If you have a person you would like featured in Pipelines International contact Assistant Editor Chloe Jenkins at cjenkins@gs-press.com.au

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