A Conversation With … Graham Torr
You wouldn’t know it by his quiet demeanor these days, but Graham Torr was once a head banger of the heavy metal variety. Torr -- who is President/CEO Bernie Haviland’s right-hand man for all technical service issues, specialty product research, development and marketing – belonged to several rock groups in the 1980s, and a careful eye on the Internet will reveal a few photos of Torr as lead singer of ‘Brother Orchid’ in its full glory, including spandex and wild hair (but hey, who in the 80s didn’t wear that?!). But don’t let the music fool you: Torr is one of the most respected people in the finishing industry, serving on the board for the southwest Michigan NASF branch and spearheading the recent SUR/FIN show. He holds AESF diplomas in study courses ranging from electrochemistry to electrofinishing, metallurgy and has attained CEF-3 registration … talk about your heavy metal!
Overall, how do you think the SUR/FIN conference went?
GT: Speaking from my position at Haviland and my close affiliation to the southwest Michigan branch of the NASF, I believe it was a great success. Attendance was enthusiastic and considerably up from last year, and it was great fun to see all our old friends and make new ones while partying right here in our home town. Grand Rapids has always had a thriving surface finishing industry, and together with everything else we have to offer locally, it made a lot of sense to host SUR/FIN. Hopefully we’ll see everyone back again in the future.
How difficult was it to plan and put on this event from the perspective of a local chapter?
GT: Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly the time has come and gone and all that was accomplished in the months leading up. All the branch members were honored by the decision to host here in GR and were therefore fully committed, doing whatever they could do to chip in. However, a huge amount of credit belongs to Dan Meyers from Master Finish Company and John Bereza, Haviland Enterprises Inc.Haviland Enterprises Marketing Manager, (also as local branch board members), who devoted much of the energy required. The main objective was that everyone had fun, and I feel mission was accomplished!
In regard to finishing associations, how important is it for businesses to join and support local and national organizations?
GT: I can’t stress enough how important this type of participation is to the future of our industry in the U.S. The NASF offers excellent education programs that help share knowledge and information on technologies both old and new, and help keep us viable. They are a particularly credible voice speaking out for us in Washington in an ever environmentally conscious world. By way of an example, I was disappointed to hear recently that one of our local members was considering opting out of his membership, citing that his individual contribution would carry little or no impact on our organization and that the NASF would be around for years to come, with or without him. It’s frightening to imagine what would happen if that ever became the general consensus and then funds slowly became unavailable for us to have appropriate representation in DC. There is definitely strength in numbers, so I would urge everyone active within the surface finishing industry to join the NASF to help them speak out on our behalf.
Tell us about your background in the finishing industry.
GT: It was initially by accident. I started out at a job-shop plating facility in Benton Harbor, MI as a tank maintenance/process control operator to make ends meet. Luckily for me, the company offered many different finishes that enabled me to learn a multitude of plating processes from a “hands-on” perspective, something that I believe was invaluable to my education in the business. That coupled with assistance from the aforementioned programs offered by the AESF (as was then) and support from my suppliers, I was able to develop other skills necessary to eventually move on to plant management. From there on, it was just part of a natural evolution that made the switch for me to chemical supply through my interest in SF tech, research and development. I joined Haviland Products Company in 2000 becoming Technical Service Manager in 2001.
We understand you have some musical talents that maybe not too many in the finishing industry are aware. Tell us about your musical background.
GT: You know what they say … everywhere ya go, the kids wanna rock! I think that’s true. At least it was for me and I came to the U.S. from England in 1990 to pursue that dream. After that, it all gets a little foggy for the next couple of years. I traveled fairly extensively and saw a lot of the U.S. that tourists don’t usually see. Good times and I wouldn’t change a minute of it. Especially as that’s how I met my wife, Sherri.
Where do you see the finishing industry headed in the next 5 to 10 years?
GT: Unfortunately, I think that a lot more of the mass-finishing business may move further off-shore. However, I see a lot of exciting stuff in the way of development in new technologies towards continual performance improvement and pursuant to environmental and regulatory pressures.
What was the best piece of personal or professional advice you were given?
GT: There have been a few nuggets of wisdom passed along over the years but here’s a couple that immediately spring to mind:
1). “Just at the point when you think you know it all, it will invariably bite you in the @#$!” - Walter Boron, Haviland Products Technical Service, 1994.
2). “You may want to observe the “24 hour” rule on this one” - Bernie Haviland, 2001 and several times since (Great advice, but extremely hard for me).
What book are you currently reading, and what past reading would you recommend?
GT: Unfortunately I don’t seem to have the attention span that I used to have to be able to really enjoy a good book. Especially with work schedules and family life. However, I‘m struggling through “Under Fire: An American Story” by Col. Oliver North whenever I get chance. As for recommendations, I think I’ll leave that to the New York Times Bestseller list.
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