Industry Pioneer and Nexus Family Connection
John Kropp, Nexus Structural Engineer, introduced us to a true refining and chemical industry pioneer in June. John’s father Oscar joined us for lunch for a unique and fascinating look back at our industry, key processing breakthroughs and the leading players. We’re happy to share some of what we learned with you.
Oscar is from the “greatest generation” of chemical engineering innovators. Using hand calculations, slide rules and charts, he worked with other great minds to make spectacular impacts in process engineering and environmental protections – many of which are still in practice today.
After graduating with a chemical engineering degree from Michigan State in 1937, Oscar started his career with The Standard Oil Company, Ohio (SOHIO) working in its research laboratory on the Western Reserve campus. Oscar noted his good fortune with his first job out of college. He quipped that most of his classmates who graduated in the depths of the Great Depression were pumping gasoline.
In the mid-1930s, when Oscar began his SOHIO career, oil refining mostly consisted of a thermal cracking and distillation processes. Little physical property data was available to design processing equipment.
The laboratory experiments in which Oscar participated were used to guide the design of distillation columns and other equipment. Once built, the equipment was tested to determine if the results matched the actual production data. If not, the equipment was repurposed for other uses.
During this time, Oscar came to know of inventors Jesse A. Dubbs and his son Carbon Petroleum (C. P.) Dubbs. The Dubbs and their patents became part of the Universal Oil Products Company (UOP) started by J. Ogden Armour, a meat packer from Chicago. Armour provided the initial seed money and kept the firm going through its first years as it lost money. Most of the losses were incurred during lengthy legal battles with petroleum firms, including Esso, which used technology competing with Dubbs.
Once the U.S. joined World War II in 1941, Oscar and the SOHIO research and engineering team were required to work seven days per week. Their work supported the war effort with the development of the alkylation process and methods for recovering benzene.
Alkylation was used to produce high octane fuel for fighter airplanes while benzene was used for producing explosives. The first SOHIO alkylation unit was constructed at the company's Toledo refinery, which is still in operation today.
Oscar participated in the development of other refining process improvements following the war, including the Fluidized Catalytic Cracking process (FCC) which is still a mainstay of refining today.
In the early 1950s, Oscar, as SOHIO’s representative to the American Petroleum Institute (API), worked along with other oil company engineers to reduce the environmental footprint of oil refining. Oscar was instrumental in the development of the API separator used to separate oil from refinery wastewater. The API separator is still in use today as the first step in most refinery wastewater treatment processes. Oscar also worked to tackle other local environmental air and water challenges in Cleveland.
At the same time, Oscar worked with the SOHIO team to successfully transform a laboratory discovery into a commercial operation to produce acrylonitrile, a valuable building block for other chemicals and acrylic fibers. The team produced acrylonitrile on a commercial scale while launching a chemical company. Proceeds from licensing and producing acrylonitrile helped fund SOHIO’s Alaskan Pipeline in the 1970s.
Randy Graham Retires from Nexus Engineering Group
Randy joined Nexus in 2011 when the company had 30 employees, a Home Office staff of three (consisting of Randy, Neal Curran, and Karen Pahner), and one major client (BPH).
Initially, Randy’s focus was on finding and developing new clients, including Husky Lima Refinery, MarkWest, Vadxx, and Toledo Refining Company.
When Nexus developed a multi-discipline engineering staff in Cleveland, Randy’s role transitioned into working with Deltek to manage projects, and to develop the project management controls and tracking systems that are now in place. As the company continued to grow, along with the growing need for additional resources, Randy also took on the responsibility for identifying and recruiting new talent for Nexus.
“I have very much enjoyed my time spent at Nexus and am very excited about the future of the company. I will be anxious to watch the company continue to grow in the years to come.”
Earlier in his career, Randy began his engineering career alongside Jeff Herzog, while they worked together as instrument engineers on a project at the Sohio Refinery, which is now Husky Energy’s Lima Refining Company. Randy rapidly progressed through Sohio Refinery, and then through BP, taking on various management roles during those years. He then moved on to senior leadership roles at Travel Centers of America, helping them double their size and expand their market reach over the course of a twelve-year period.
“Working with Jeff had been both enjoyable and an incredible opportunity from earlier in my career and now through retirement.”
During his retirement, Randy plans to dedicate more time to helping others. He currently serves on the boards of two non-profit organizations: “Solutions at Work,” which is dedicated to helping people who have developmental disabilities, and “Building Hope in the City,” a non-profit dedicated to restoring Cleveland to God by developing and linking people, communities, and churches. Randy is also very involved with “Care for Aids,” a non-profit organization dedicated to helping those affected by HIV learn how to manage their disease through an innovative model of care that engages local leaders, churches, and communities in caring for families affected by HIV and AIDS.
Randy also plans to spend more time golfing, traveling, and being with his family that now includes four grandchildren.
Tom Fries Retires from Nexus Engineering Group
Over forty years of professional refinery experience
Tom joined Nexus in 2006 when Nexus was entering the Toledo, OH market. With nearly 30 years of professional refinery work already under his belt, he accepted a temporary position with a company to assist with implementing their Integrity Management Standard at a major refinery, which made use of his experience in developing and consolidating legacy engineering standards. That temporary role lasted 11 years!
Over the years, Tom helped Nexus manage several major projects in the refinery industry and often acted as the engineering liaison between the client staff and various engineering contractor staffs. With his vast experience with chemicals and petroleum refinery, he was a respected addition to the Nexus team.
“I had planned to retire several times but working with the great people at Nexus was continually both rewarding and fun. Besides, Jeff would not let me go!”
After earning his Bachelor and Master of Science in mechanical engineering from Iowa State, Tom started his career in 1977 at BP (formerly Sohio) where he spent most the 1980’s split between their Refining and Chemicals Divisions. He spent the next decade at another professional engineering firm headquartered in Cleveland. During his time with Nexus, Tom spent most of his time traveling between Cleveland and Houston.
Tom has had such titles as engineering liaison, engineering manager, mechanical services manager, project manager, technical assurance manager, engineering services manager, and many others.
Tom has an impressive 40-year career in an industry that has seen major changes in technology, equipment, infrastructure, regulations and corporate mergers and acquisitions. He spent the last 11 years at Nexus Engineering Group at the request of Jeff Herzog. Working first full-time and gradually tapering off to 3 days, 2 days, then 1 day a week.
“Working with Jeff (Herzog) and Marianne (Corrao) was an absolute joy. They represent the integrity and commitment that is so valued in our industry.”
Tom currently lives in Avon Lake, OH with his vivacious wife Margie of 32 years. He has 2 grown children, who are his greatest joys.
As he cruises off into the sunset he plans to continue his passion for traveling with his favorite companion, Margie. He leaves his mark on Nexus as someone that could bridge the gap between engineering firms and client staff – a trait that is extremely valued in the industry.
Jack Strnad Retires from Nexus Engineering Group
Forty-four years as a piping professional
Jack started working at Nexus Engineering group in April of 2014 as Senior Piping Designer. His biggest project while at Nexus was working in the field in the summer of 2017 at chemical company client in Walton Hills, OH. There he spent several months redeveloping and fixing inadequate piping systems in coordination with their onsite construction firm during a plant renovation, keeping the project on track.
Jack says the best thing about working on piping these days is using the latest technology, such as 3-D modeling software, to design and layout systems.
“I remember making many drawings and even ¾ scale physical models that took days and weeks to create. Now with 3-D software, the efficiencies are fantastic. It’s really a great tool for engineers,” says Jack.
While Jack has only worked at three companies in his 44-year career, he’s seen his share of management changes, mergers and acquisitions. His favorite experience has been with Nexus.
“There are really great people here at Nexus and management really wants to see them succeed,” he says. “The Cleveland office is fantastic and everyone here is willing to put in the work and help one another to get the job done,” he said.
Officially trained as an artist, Jack developed skills to draw detailed piping systems early on. After taking additional courses at Cuyahoga Community College, he became an expert at piping systems over the years.
Jack has worked in over 30 cities across the US and once spent time in Taiwan on a job where he actually drank snake blood from a street vendor. As Jack transitions into retirement, he plans to start restoring his 1977 MGB sports car in his spare time – his third in his lifetime. He enjoys metal detecting and Psyanky Ukrainian egg decorating in his spare time.
Jack lives in Broadview Heights with his wife Nancy of 36 years and they have two adult sons. He’s been to Italy, Japan, England and Ethiopia and plans to do more traveling with his wife soon.
All of us at Nexus wish Jack a healthy and happy retirement and thank him for his years of service with the company.