From Plumber to VP: How Chip O’Neil’s Experience Helps Solve Plumbers’ Top Challenges
Thanks to his experience as a plumber and his dedication to solving real-world challenges, Chip O’Neil brings a wealth of knowledge to HoldRite. As the vice president of research and development at HoldRite’s parent company, Reliance Worldwide Corporation, Chip embodies our commitment to understanding our customers and building solutions that help them complete the job faster, safer and easier, while being more profitable.
The challenges that tradespeople face daily is hard for people to grasp if they have not lived it. I came up through the trade and worked in nearly all aspects of it. That understanding helps me create innovative product solutions for our customers and convey to our sales and marketing team members how to properly address our customers’ wants and needs.
Not only did Chip start his career as a plumber in the field, but he has served on numerous boards for uniform plumbing codes and standards and as a trade school instructor.
Read the interview below to get to know Chip better and learn why he’s one of our top product experts in plumbing at RWC.
1. Tell us about what you do at RWC.
I am the vice president of research and development at RWC. I lead the product management team, steer our new-product strategy in the early stages of conception, definition and product road-mapping, and more.
On the technical and commercial support side, some of my responsibilities include:
- Consulting with our engineering teams to assist with new product designs and criteria.
- Serving as an internal sounding board for new construction plumbing industry knowledge.
- Guiding RWC’s focus on acoustic noise and vibration isolation products and applications.
- Participating in codes and standards groups and committees, such as ICC, INCE, ASA, IAPMO, ASPE, IFC and CAA.
- Leading BIM content creation efforts.
- Hosting sales and rep team training for products and applications.
- Assisting with answering incoming technical questions from our websites.
2. How did you get here? Where did it all start for you, and what led up to your current position?
Starting out as a Plumber and Union Worker
I began my plumbing career as an apprentice in early 1981 at a very diverse company in Seattle, Washington, where we installed all phases of plumbing, hydronic and fire sprinkler systems. I became a foreman and a project manager at that company.
In 1991, I joined the union and went to work for a much larger mechanical contracting company as a lead foreman where I later became the plumbing superintendent, overseeing the field installation crews, assisting with estimating and overseeing the training curriculum.
During that time, I was also elected to two terms as the union president which included negotiating labor/management contracts. I also served on Code committees, County Appeals Boards, and was an instructor for the Union’s trade school.
Joining HoldRite in Product Development and New Business Development
In 2002, I joined the HoldRite team in San Diego to direct new Product Development and New Business Development. The main goal was to grow the company from a mostly residentially focused product line to a balanced, diverse and profitable product and services company that would be much more relevant to the plumbing industry.
With the company’s passion for innovation and the team’s family-like chemistry fueling my work, I spent nearly half of my time from 2002 to 2017 traveling and working with our sales teams and rep teams across North America. During those travels I focused on launching new solutions and training for real-world application solutions from the viewpoint of a contractor. This included meeting with customers to further understand their regional methods, code variations, and labor force differences, which served us well as we evolved our vision and execution of Product Development.
3. How has your experience as a plumber benefitted you in your role at RWC?
The challenges that tradespeople face daily is hard for people to grasp if they have not lived it. That understanding helps me create innovative product solutions for our customers and convey to our sales and marketing team members how to properly address our customers’ wants and needs.
It would frankly be impossible for me to serve effectively in my role at RWC if I had not literally lived in the shoes of our customers. I came up through the trade myself and worked in nearly all aspects of it, including:
- Service and repair
- Residential plumbing
- Commercial and industrial plumbing
- Plumbing estimating
- Jobsite field supervision
- Contractor training
- Plumbing code development
My years of speaking and teaching at plumbing trade schools in Seattle and San Diego fed my passion to teach. The joy that comes with helping the younger generation of plumbers and pipefitters to be the best they can be is something I always enjoyed. That desire to help and to teach continues to serve me well today as I help our team members and our customers to learn and appreciate new and innovative concepts.
4. How have you seen the plumbing industry change during your career?
In some ways, a lot has changed, and in other ways not much at all has changed. While codes, standards and material types have evolved, plumbers’ needs, challenges, their desire to work safely and their desire to display pride in their craft has remained consistent over my 40 years in the trade.
When codes, standards, technology and materials evolve, it can pose challenges, but change also provides opportunities for our contractor customers to distance themselves from their competitors.
5. How do you stay up to date on the plumbing industry and plumbers’ needs now that you’re no longer a full-time plumber?
Staying up to date with the plumbing industry requires a conscious effort. I have found several ways to stay informed about the industry’s trends and needs over the years:
- Take the time to visit job sites and talk to plumbers. When doing so, look for trends in materials and methods that are evolving while observing installations.
- Ask plumbers questions on job sites, in their offices and in trade show settings.
- Read trade journals and reliable industry postings.
- Stay involved in code and standards development activities and associations.
- Always look for and seize opportunities to talk with engineers, tradespeople, inspectors, reps, wholesalers, salespersons, other manufacturers, etc. Living in a vacuum or in an ivory tower would result in a disconnect from the industry and the customers we strive to serve.
6. What are you most excited about in 2021?
I believe that 2021 will be another exciting year, but hopefully not as dramatic as this crazy COVID-19 year of 2020 has been. I believe that our company, our customers’ companies, and our economy will come out from under the cloud of what we have all been through this year. When it does, we will continue to find new opportunities to grow and innovate.
This year has been very difficult for many businesses to survive, let alone flourish. But this has been true with many past cycles of change in our world and in the construction industry specifically. The companies that come out the other side as survivors will do so with a renewed passion to grow, to innovate, to care for their team members and to learn how they can do more with less.
For RWC, that desire to grow and to do more with less is something we are here to help our customers accomplish. We create and innovate products that help the insightful and resilient contractors that we serve. The desire to eliminate makeshift, wasteful and expensive ways of doing things is a worthwhile goal that we and our customers share. Fortunately, at RWC we are well-positioned to help our customers succeed in doing just that!