2017: Sam Bailey innovates with leadership, education
Twenty years ago, Sam Bailey envisioned a career spent in classrooms, inspiring and guiding curious students through the fascinating and frustrating universe of mathematics.
Instead, Sam fueled his passion for teaching – and learning – as supervisor of Alyeska’s brilliant-and-busy automation engineering team. Sam’s team is responsible for automation aspects of Alyeska’s operations, on the forefront of TAPS innovation as the pipeline passes 45 years of operations. Solving complex, often urgent issues to solve is a perfect fit for Sam, who last year was named the Atigun Awards Engineer of the Year for his acumen and leadership.
“I think I learn as much if not more from my team as they do from me,” he said. “Being on the automation team, you have to be innovative, you see a lot of creativity and problem solving. Day to day, you go into work expecting to continue doing something you’ve been working on but don’t get to it because there’s an unexpected shutdown and we have to investigate the abnormal conditions. There’s never a dull day.”
Handling this type of workload takes the rare critical understanding of the technical aspects of the TAPS’ control system, which Sam has continued studying during his 13 years at Alyeska.
“As I dug into the literal black box that is automation, I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of what Sam and his team do every day to keep the pipeline operating safely,” said Tom Marchesani, acting VP of Engineering, Risk & System Integrity. “SIPPS, our pressure protection system, has upwards of a million lines of code. Add to this the station control panels, other PLCs, and the entire digital control system of the Terminal and you begin to get an idea of the breadth and depth of his responsibility. And you would never suspect the weight of this behind his easygoing and affable manner.”
Sam admits he gets excited helping his team develop new solutions and efficiencies for TAPS operations. And others notice.
“One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Sam is that he’s a working supervisor, a leader who is there to serve his team, not the other way around,” said Klint VanWingerden, Pipeline/Valdez Director who was formerly Sam’s supervisor. “Sam understands the headwinds of getting this kind of work done, so he supports his team in a way that he couldn’t if he wasn’t in the trenches with them.”
Klint added, “I have talked with him about being a supervisor and he found it awkward to manage performance because he was part of a high-performing team. I told him it’s more about getting obstacles out of their way. When everyone is talented and working their tails off, and in a culture cultivated by Sam, they make big improvements and changes.”
Sam said he feels a pay-it-forward responsibility to the 10 members of his team and others he works with. That’s what his Alyeska mentors – TAPS SMEs and engineering legends like Bill Frichtl, Jim Roddick and Norb Chowaniec – did for him when he started out at Alyeska, a busy project engineer learning on the fly.
“I was really green and they all had a lot of patience; they were amazing,” he said. “Being around them was why I worked a lot of weekends because they were such a huge resource for me.”
He added, “I have memories of people’s patience with me, right? So, I increasingly find myself as the guy who now understands the process and the workflow at Alyeska. They trusted me with a lot of responsibility. And the stuff I felt like I was drowning in as an engineer, now I help others navigate those processes.”
Tony Dodge, a former Alyeska engineer who worked with Sam for years, concurred: “Sam loves to help and share the knowledge he has with others. Everyone says, ‘Sam doesn’t say no.’ That’s not because he is scared to say no, it’s because he genuinely wants to help.”
And he’s at his best in situations where deadlines are tight and stress is high.
“I’ve seen firsthand how this team responds during a shutdown, when the clock is ticking, when the Pump Station 1 tanks are filling, and the gremlins that hide in these thousands of lines of code threaten to require proration of production,” said Tom Marchesani. “In this pressure-cooker, the camaraderie and technical acumen of Sam and his team really shine.”
Klint added, “Sam and his team have the ability to break down complicated systems and problems into easier solutions and break down complex components into a simple system.”
Sam’s path to automation engineering wasn’t exactly linear, but he couldn’t resist its pull. After moving to Anchorage from his hometown of Unalakleet as a youth, Sam was an ANSEP student and eventually an Alyeska intern (2002). He focused on his own electrical engineering schooling, including getting his bachelor’s degree at University of Alaska Anchorage. While balancing work as a teacher and telephone technician, he realized that classrooms weren’t the only place he could spend his career teaching, learning, and solving problems.
“I loved that job – I’d install comms closets, and an engineer would come and inspect my work,” he said. “In the back of my mind, with my education and experience teaching math, I thought, ‘You know, I could do that work.’ I always encouraged my strong math students to consider engineering. I guess I ended up taking my own advice.”
He joined Alyeska permanently in a BFEP position and cemented an engineering job, and led sessions at ANSEP focused on calculus and other math classes for young students. He said he’ll forever be a teacher, helping others learn and enjoy what they’re doing.
“I love teaching,” he said. “I may go back to it after my career to keep my mind busy after retirement.”