An Interview with Matt Thiel, president of AUMA Actuators

Matt Thiel, President of AUMA Actuators, Inc., in Canonsburg, Pa., and the 2022-2023 VMA Board of Directors Chair, provides some insights into why the industry is an exciting and important place to be, his views on how he’ll lead VMA over the next year, and his path in the industry thus far. Matt follows Ron Warren as VMA Chairman of the Board, who remains on the VMA Executive Committee.

VALVE Magazine: Can you give us a little background on your education and how you became involved in the industry?
Matt Thiel: I received my undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and started my career designing instrumentation used in the industrial market spaces for detecting hazardous gas leaks for personal protection as well as for process and industrial safety. While working, I received a master’s degree in management, as well as an MBA. I transitioned from design engineering to various business development and management roles. When I was approached with an opportunity to join AUMA Actuators, the electromechanical aspects of the products, the local manufacturing, in-house machine shop, and the flow control industry — all were very appealing.

VM: Why did you want to get more involved with the VMA?
MT: I was in various other industry groups throughout my career. When I went to my first VMA meeting seven years ago, my expectations were low. Throughout my first conference, I was continually blown away with how the VMA operated. Members were communicating with each other trying to solve industry problems. I had never seen this level of cooperation among industry peers. At that point, I knew I wanted to get more involved.

VM: What do you see as the greatest opportunities in the industry? What about challenges?
MT: The greatest opportunities for our industry are also some of our biggest challenges. These are workforce development and government affairs. At times, these go hand in hand. Our industry is critical to the infrastructure of the United States as well as the rest of the world. As policies are made domestically that impact infrastructure and supply, the VMA needs to be the industry leaders that provide input on the policies that impact the flow control industry. Everyone is struggling with workforce development. Attracting and retaining talent is a challenge. New approaches need to be taken to educate young students on the benefits of the mechanical and electrical trades. These are good paying, respectable careers that are overlooked by many in lieu of college. With college debt skyrocketing, opportunities could exist for government funding, tax credits for apprenticeships, and support to bring more students back into the trades.

VM: Did the pandemic or other recent economic or global events bring on any shifts or changes to the industry you think may stay?
MT: 
With the recent economic and global events there are certainly some changes that occurred in the short term that may or should stick around for a while. The first is reshoring of production and procurement. Recent government legislation is helping to drive this through programs like Build America, Buy America (BABA). With all of the supply chain issues, there has been much more effort on collaboration, planning and sourcing of products for major projects. This has been a refreshing change which may be short-lived, but ideally is how business should be conducted.

VM: How do you see VMA’s role in advancing the valve industry?
MT: The VMA needs to be the voice of the flow control industry. This can be accomplished at high levels through legislation and government affairs and at lower levels by adding more value to our member organizations, through training, meetings, materials and guidance.

VM: How do you hope to focus your efforts as a leader of VMA?

MT: Over the past few years, the VMA has been evolving as an organization. We formalized a strategic plan to give direction to the organization and established a number of committees to help advance the organization and grow membership. I want to continue to build off this strong foundation created by the previous chairs and executive teams.

VM: What advice would you give to someone joining VMA?
MT: 
Get involved. The value of the organization is what you make of it. If you join and do not attend events or meetings, you are missing out on what the VMA provides. If you attend meetings, sign up for committees. Help shape the direction of meetings and the future of our industry.

VM: On a more personal note, your challenging job must keep you busy. What do you do when you’re not wearing your business hat?

MT: I am the proud parent of two active teenagers. I spend much of my free time attending soccer, basketball and cross-country events, as well as volunteering at school functions. When I’m not doing that, I enjoy the outdoors: hiking, biking, hunting and fishing.

VM: What piece of advice would you have for those entering the valve industry–either as a recent graduate or a mid-career professional?
MT: 
Get involved in the companies you work for. Learn the entire business, inside and out. Our industry controls the world. Learn what your products are used for, the value that they bring to people, and the importance of them in the various industries. Get out in the field and see the products being installed, serviced, or in operation. Our industry controls so much behind the scenes and we should be proud of that.

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