SCPD meeting

[Image above] John Dowdle introduces speakers at a recent Structural Clay Products and Southwest Section Meeting. Credit: ACerS

One of the benefits of being a member of an ACerS Division is that it is relatively easy to establish new friends and contacts who share common interests, technical knowledge, and industry challenges.

Just ask John Dowdle, director of sales at Old Hickory Clay Company. Dowdle has been an ACerS member since the mid-1980s, and he has developed many friendships and business contacts during his career.

Pathway to ceramic engineering and ACerS

Dowdle earned his bachelor’s degree in ceramic engineering from Clemson University after transferring from Brevard College, where he played tennis and was enrolled in pre-engineering. Clemson runs deep in his family, including his father, who also has a ceramic engineering degree from Clemson.

“I had grown up a huge Clemson fan as a kid, but it really wasn’t on my radar for college until after a couple of visits during my time at Brevard where I really fell in love with the campus,” he says.

“When I arrived on campus for orientation, I went to see Dr. Gilbert Robinson, who was head of the engineering department,” Dowdle recalls. (Robinson had previously taught Dowdle’s father at Clemson.) “I had met him once during a homecoming football game a few years back with my dad, and knew he would be a good resource to help me with my options.”

“[Robinson] asked me what I wanted to study, and I said, ‘maybe chemical engineering.’ He said, ‘no you need to be right here in the ceramic engineering department!’ He had convinced me that there was no better place to be … [and] he signed me up right then and there,” Dowdle adds. However, Dowdle says he has no regrets about enrolling in ceramic engineering.

Dowdle says his father made sure he knew at an early age the importance of a strong work ethic. “I worked at a brickyard during summers as a teenager,” he recalls. “After those hot summer days and the physical work, I was ready to go back to school,” he adds, laughing.

While at Clemson, Dowdle became involved in Keramos and was invited to join Tau Beta Pi, a national engineering honors society. He eventually joined ACerS as a student and maintained his membership while working for companies Leviton Manufacturing Company and Prince Minerals.

Building a network through ACerS SCPD

It was these early years when Dowdle began building his professional network. His career path took him through various positions, including lab work and quality control, product development, technical services, business unit manager, and sales, before joining his current company—Old Hickory Clay Company—as director of sales.

(Old Hickory Clay Company mines, processes, and blends ball clay and kaolin clay for a number of various industries in North America and internationally, including ceramic and porcelain tile, adhesives, sealants, sanitaryware, dinnerware, fiberglass, electrical insulators, automotive, brick, ceramic arts and pottery, and other niche industries.)

John Dowdle in his home office. Credit: John Dowdle

As an ACerS member, Dowdle joined the Structural Clay Products Division (SCPD). He considers Division membership to be a good resource for him.

“You have the opportunity to network with customers, suppliers, and equipment manufacturers—you get exposed to everybody in multiple industries,” he explains. “For me, personally, the networking has been a huge benefit.”

Dowdle attends ACerS Annual Meetings as well as the SCPD and Southwest Section meetings. He eventually became more involved in the SCPD, working his way through various officer positions—first as secretary, then vice chair, chair-elect, chair, and is currently serving as trustee.

He has organized Division meetings and programs, sold sponsorships, set up plant tours, and facilitated technical sessions. Additionally, Dowdle has given a handful of technical presentations and conducted webinars over the years at Division and Section meetings, and at the National Brick Research Center (which holds its meetings in conjunction with the SCPD and SW Section meetings).

“When you become involved, you put yourself out there,” Dowdle says. “Even though people don’t know you personally, they know who you are. And it may lead to a new business opportunity down the road.” Being in sales, Dowdle says ACerS meetings are an opportunity to see multiple customers in one location. “It’s always important to visit customers face to face, but having multiple customers at one location leads to multiple opportunities.”

“I’ve met a lot of great people and made a lot of good friends over the years,” he continued, “and I’ve always enjoyed seeing them when I go to these meetings. And even those I don’t really do business with, I still look forward to seeing them. You never know who your next contact or resource may be.”

Left to right: Harold Newman, John Dowdle, John Dowdle Sr. Credit: John Dowdle

“The chance to network at ACerS meetings has been one of the biggest reasons I have found so much enjoyment working in the ceramic industry,” Dowdle adds. He explains that having that network of colleagues, business ties, and many great friends adds to his enjoyment working in this industry. “There’s no better place to be,” he says gratefully.

“Even though ACerS is a large society, there are smaller groups like the Divisions and Sections to get to know people,” he says, “so if you get involved and stay involved for years, it becomes very much like family.”

To learn more about joining and becoming involved in ACerS Divisions, visit this link.