After 65 years, he’s still on the job
Bill Salot has worked at the same chemical plant in Hopewell for 65 years
Bill Salot was 23 years old, fresh out of the Army, engaged to be married and looking for a job when he first arrived in his brideto-be’s hometown of Petersburg.
It was April 1953. Dwight D. Eisenhower had recently taken office as president. The Korean War was still raging.
Thanks to his mechanical engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Salot soon got an engineering job at what was then the Allied Chemical and Dye Corp. factory in Hopewell.
“There was a big expansion in the works at the time,” Salot recalled. Engineers were in demand.
“I was lucky,” he said. Sixty-five years later, Salot is still on the job.
At age 88, he rises on weekdays at around 4 a.m. for breakfast and some early-morning reading — usually either Christian reading or engineering publications — before heading from his home in Colonial Heights to work at the plant, now part of AdvanSix Inc. He aims to arrive by 7 a.m. but admits that he sometimes misses that by a bit.
Salot is a senior reliability engineer, part of a team that keeps the infrastructure humming at the plant, a massive complex of buildings and winding pipes that covers about 200 acres. The plant makes caprolactam, a key ingredient in the material Nylon 6, which is used in such products as automotive and electronic components, carpets, sports apparel, fishing nets and packaging.
“The object is to get reliable equipment to start with, and maintain it to keep it going, and analyze it, if it fails,” Salot said.
“The problems are interesting,” he said. “Some of the problems are challenging like a sport. It is not only trying to solve a problem, but trying to do it better than anybody has done it before.”
During his career, the plant has been through some name changes, from Allied Chemical and Dye Corp. to Allied Chemical Corp. to Allied Signal Corp. to Honeywell International, and now AdvanSix Inc., which was spun off as a separate company from New Jersey-based Honeywell in 2016.
His professional longevity also puts him in rare company.
Only about 6 percent of all workers have been with their current employer for 25 or more years, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Average employee tenure across all industries and organization sizes is eight years, according to research by the Society for Human Resource Management.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have data on how many people over 85 remain employed, but 8 percent of people over 75 are employed, compared with 60 percent for the population as a whole.
Last week, Salot’s colleagues at the plant and executives for AdvanSix gathered to celebrate his career, which includes a long list of accomplishments and leadership roles such as being past chairman of the Central Virginia section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He also has published a lot of technical papers with titles like “Economics of High-Pressure, Steam-Methane Reformer Catalyst Tubes.”
The training center at the plant was renamed the Bill Salot Learning Center in his honor, and a new sign was unveiled at the building.
“You embody the idea of lifelong learning,” AdvanSix President and CEO Erin N. Kane told Salot during the ceremony.
Salot approached the honor with self-deprecating wit.
“When I was your age, I never dreamed I would see my name publicly displayed,” he told the crowd after the new sign was unveiled. “Now, it has happened twice. I have got one in my parking space, too.”
“I haven’t decided yet which one I want to be buried under,” he quipped.
His family members were in attendance, including his sons Jeff and David, daughter Sue and grandson Cody. They all live in Colonial Heights. Salot’s wife, Louise, passed away in 2015 at age 85.
His sons attribute his professional longevity to diligence.
“He put one foot in front of the other, until he walked around the world,” Jeff said.
“I am the youngest son, and I am likely to retire before he does,” David joked.
Salot attributes it to a higher power.
“I think the overriding factor was God guided me here, and this is my way of serving the Lord,” he said.
Technology has changed quite a bit in Salot’s career.
“The changeover was, I walked in one morning and I had a computer,” he said.
Tucked away in his desk, Salot still keeps his slide rule, a handheld device for doing complex mathematical calculations, commonly used by engineers in the days before electronic calculators and computers. Salot has had the slide rule since he got out of college. Occasionally, he’ll show it to a young engineer, almost as a kind of artifact.
The AdvanSix training center was renamed in honor of Bill Salot on Tuesday. The plant was formerly known as Honeywell International, as well as Allied Signal Corp., Allied Chemical Corp. and Allied Chemical and Dye Corp.
The 88-year-old Salot still keeps his slide rule tucked away in his desk.