A Conversation With...Joelie Zak

When a fire struck Reliable Plating in Chicago, one person who was instrumental in helping the company gets its feet back on the ground was Joelie Zak, vice president and senior EHS consultant for Scientific Control Laboratories.


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When a fire struck Reliable Plating in Chicago, one person who was instrumental in helping the company gets its feet back on the ground was Joelie Zak, vice president and senior EHS consultant for Scientific Control Laboratories. She dealt with government regulators who were worried about the chemicals used by the company, but Zak stepped in to calm nerves and assure the feds and the state that things were under control. She's a certified AESF Foundation trainer for the Introductory & Regular Electroplating Courses, Industrial Wastewater Treatment, Pollution Prevention, and Regulatory Compliance Courses. She also has presented multiple technical papers and served as a technical session chairman at the national NASF conventions, and was the first female president on the national American Electroplaters and Surface Finishers.

Tell us what Scientific Control Laboratories does for its clients.
J. Z: Since 1938, SCL has been helping the finishing industry, along with other manufacturers, with metallurgical testing, chemical testing, and metal finishing troubleshooting services. In the past 25 years, we have expanded to include accredited environmental testing and compliance services, along with a variety of other engineering services related to the finishing industry. Last year we became NADCAP accredited for a variety of aerospace test procedures, which we hope will diversify and expand our client base. We also have become involved with juvenile product testing for lead and other hazards.
What is a typical day at SCL like for you? Where do you spend the majority of your time?
J. Z: I wish there was a typical day! Like many small business owners, I wear many hats involving management issues, marketing/sales improvements and my regular job of consulting. Yesterday, I was at a conference, then helping finish some lab reports, and interviewing a new lab tech. Today, it's been website optimization and completing a consulting project for a client. Primarily, I try to stay focused on working through issues our clients are facing and on projects with them. Next week I'll be at a client's facility in Tennessee helping them to develop process control procedures and testing protocols for their plating operations. I really enjoy helping our clients and getting to know their issues.
Your company was instrumental in helping to get Reliable Plating back up and operating after its fire. What advice would you give business owners about preparing for a disaster?
J. Z: Those first 72 hours after the fire were quite an experience. The emotions were high as all of the regulatory agencies involved had different priorities and were fighting for turf on which of their issues would be resolved first. Having someone familiar with the local, state and federal regulations and codes involved was important in helping prioritize those issues. I suggest reviewing the emergency action plans with independent professionals involved with the insurance, environmental compliance, and legal matters of the business at least annually.
What do you think is the greatest challenge to the finishing industry?
J. Z: The greatest challenge in the U.S. to the finishing industry, in my opinion, is not necessarily the economy or trade issues, although those challenges are significant. I believe the greatest challenge is getting the finishing industry to come together as a single voice with regard to government affairs and technical education. Through the NASF, the industry has successfully worked with OSHA and EPA to improve our reputation and visibility, as well as stave off burdensome regulations. The NASF is the only voice that the finishing industry is currently speaking through. However, the organization needs more members of the finishing industry to join and make that voice bigger and stronger. I hope to see that change in the very near future.
What book are you currently reading, and what CDs are you playing in your car?
J. Z: I am reading a memoir entitled 'Lit' by Mary Karr, which is about a woman discovering her faith. In my CD player in my car, I have Holly Williams (Hank Williams, Jr.'s daughter). I listen to music just about every chance I can and enjoy just about all music genres, especially country/folk music.
What's the best business advice you've been given? 
J. Z: Take each day at a time and don't sweat the small stuff.