When he was 10 years old, Oscar H. Thackery began rebuilding vintage British motorcycles and has restored more than 200 of them during his lifetime.

His first one was salvaged from his grandfather’s scrap metal yard, where people frequently dropped off their old motorcycles in the northwestern English town of Blackburn.

“One day, my dad said, ‘We will take one of these motorcycles home and rebuild it,” said Oscar, the Global Refractory SME for the Reliability group who spends most of his time at Orion plants worldwide finding ways to improve operations.

The first father-and-son project was an ugly, rusty red BSA Bantam, commonly used by the British postal service. BSA stands for Birmingham Small Arms. Along with motorcycles, the company also made guns. Its corporate logo features three rifles.

“I remember riding the motorcycle in the farm fields around our village,” Oscar said. “That’s when my passion for these bikes really took off. By the time I was 16, I owned about 16 motorcycles.”

He said his lifelong hobby complements his job at Orion because it keeps his mind grounded in the hands-on, practical side of his work. It enables him to easily shift from theory to on-site problem solving.

“When people in our plants know that I can turn a wrench and weld a bracket, they really appreciate that,” he said. “Having the practical knowledge about how to get these things correct — like replacing bearings — it’s what our maintenance crews experience every day.”

Half of his tidy garage in the Houston suburb of Porter is taken up with four vintage British motorcycles and tall black tool cases. Shelving along the back wall is packed with neatly organized plastic bins of cables, carburetors, gear boxes and other spare parts that he has collected over the years.

Parked in the front of the garage is a black Norton 850 cc Commando, one of the last to be produced when it was made in 1975. Oscar bought the machine in 2010 from a widow who had stored it in a barn in Waco, Texas, after her husband died. He spent 18 months rebuilding it.

“People often ask me, ‘Oscar, do your motorcycles run?’” he said. “And I tell them, ‘Of course they run. I wouldn’t have them here and not running.”

Just before Oscar turned the ignition key on the Norton, he warned, “When they start, they sound like a bag of nails.” The machine quickly rumbled itself awake. The exhaust pipe started vibrating and making loud barking and growling noises. It was ready for the road.

“See, once it gets warm, it behaves,” he said.

The vintage motorcycles are often sold for between $20,000 and $25,000 at auction — a large sum of money for the machines.

During the weekends, Oscar enjoys going for long rides through the forests in northern Texas. He has never had a motorcycle break down on the road. Filling up the gas tank often takes a long time.

“Every time I stop at a gas station, someone will ask me, ‘Is that a Norton or a BSA?’ Oscar said. “They will want to take a picture because their dad had one. Sometimes you can get caught at the gas station for 30 minutes because someone wants to talk and take photos.”

The speedometers and tachometers on the bikes are all mechanical, like a Swiss watch. Repairing them can be expensive. Oscar gets his instruments serviced by a watchmaker in Ohio who spent three months with an expert in England learning how to rebuild them.

All of Oscar’s motorcycles have a story.

He has a 1970 Triumph Tiger, whose original owner was a veteran who bought the bike when he returned from the Vietnam War. He rode it all over the country before storing it in a lean-to. It was in bad shape when Oscar began rebuilding it. The gas tank — painted with an avocado color called “Spring Gold” — has a distinctive patina.

“What amazes me is that it has 63,000 miles on it, which for a motorcycle is quite a lot,” he said.

In front of the Triumph is a 1961 BSA Spitfire that Oscar bought from a farmer in Oregon. Before the purchase, the last time the motorbike ran was in 1982. After changing the fluids and adjusting the magneto, the Beeza started on the first kick.

The Spitfire was an export machine for the US market that was demanded by the U.S. dealers for desert racing in the 1960’s. It is made for the track, and Oscar has raced it against Triumphs and Nortons in Texas.

“I got second place in the final race, but I did win my heat,” he said.

When Kiran Valluri was 10 years old, one of the world’s worst industrial accidents happened in her home country of India. A gas leak at a pesticide plant killed at least 2,000 people in the central city of Bhopal. She learned about the disaster from her parents, whose morning routine included reading the newspaper to her as she prepared for school.

Kiran felt a powerful urge to help the victims, but over the years, Bhopal faded from her memory. Her interest in mathematics, physics and chemistry inspired her to major in civil engineering in college.

“That’s when everything came back to me about the Bhopol incident,” said Kiran, Orion’s environmental, health and safety leader for the Americas. “That’s why I chose environmental engineering for an MS degree. I’ve worked in the environmental field ever since then.”

Kiran shared her story during a panel discussion at Orion’s principal executive offices in Spring, Texas. The event celebrated the U.N.’s International Day of Women and Girls in Science.  The wide-ranging discussion included topics such as overcoming gender stereotypes, pursuing promotions and making your voice heard in meetings.

The panel was moderated by Nicole Lewis, Orion’s senior director of operations in the Americas, who has a chemical engineering degree, MBA and 20 years of experience in industry. Also on the panel was Jennifer Stroh, Orion’s director of specialty sales and marketing for the Americas. She has a B.S. in chemistry and a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering.

Not ready yet

Women are often denied a promotion because they are told they are “not ready yet.” The panelists discussed how they have overcome such a misperception or bias against them.

“It’s important to find your network, find your group, find your mentor,” Nicole said. “I was fortunate early on in my supervisory roles to find someone who believed in me and would work with me to make sure I was ready. And I still stay in touch with that guy to this day. We probably talk once every couple of weeks.”

Nicole added she also took some risks in her career. “When people said, ‘Hey, I don’t think you’re ready,’ I dug in my heels, and I said, ‘I know I’m ready, and I know I can do it,’ and I did it. Sometimes you have to take those scary moves.”

Kiran noted that men often get promoted for their potential, while women must prove themselves to get the same things. “I hate to say that. You have to volunteer and do additional work. You need to work hard,” she said.

Also important is building good relationships — not only with your direct supervisor but also with a variety of different members of the leadership and management team, Jennifer said.

“Throughout my career, I have made a variety of what I call unsolicited pitches,” she added. “Seeing a problem, digging through the details, realizing how it can be done better, then telling anyone who would listen.”

Becoming a plant manager

The panel discussed the challenges women face becoming a plant manager in the chemicals industry. Nicole, who has worked in the role, said she has seen a shift over the years. Orion has three plant managers who are women.

“Looking at when I got out of school and started working in plants, being the only woman there, if I wore my coveralls out into the plant, all the contractors would say, ‘Who’s this woman in the plant? What is she doing here?’”

Although there has been progress, she said, women still have a ways to go. “I had the opportunity to go to a Society of Women Engineers conference this past year,” Nicole added, “and I met quite a few young engineers who said, ‘I’ve never met a female plant manager.’”

Claiming space in meetings

Studies have reported that during meetings, men interrupt or talk over women much more often than women do it to men. The panelists discussed how they claim their space and protect their airtime.

“If I have a point, I will interrupt,” Kiran said, noting that keeping quiet or feeling intimidated could put the company, employees and the community at risk when it comes to environmental, health and safety issues.

Nicole tries to look on the bright side and recognize that people interrupt because they are passionate and have something to share. “I’ll write down what I want to say. When they are done, I will speak. There are many times when I say, ‘Hey, hang on, I’m almost finished, just let me finish this thought.’ You have to read your audience and understand what’s the other person’s intent.”

Jennifer added that the meeting’s leader should be cognizant that someone is getting cut off and help redirect the discussion. But there are times when you can’t win, she added, and it’s not possible to be heard in a meeting.

“For me, I say the topic isn’t over until I say it’s over, even if the meeting ends,” Jennifer said. “You can still call those individuals. You can still get your point across. Data is your friend. One of my favorite sayings at work and at home is just because you’re loud doesn’t make you right.”

Meet Orion’s Ironman

Dimas Marchi has had demanding jobs at Orion, working as a plant manager for many years in Brazil and now serving as the senior director of global manufacturing excellence.

Despite the heavy workload, he still finds the time to be a world-class Ironman triathlete and marathoner in his age group.

How does he do it?

Almost every day, Dimas wakes up early to train between 4:30 a.m. and 7 a.m. “On the weekends, I’ll do my long runs and bike rides,” he said.

The training is paying off.

In 2022, Dimas ran the Boston Marathon and finished in 2 hours and 53 minutes, an outstanding time on a tough course racing against the best runners in the world. He placed 117 – in the top 5% of his age group, which included 2,297 runners.

Dimas also competed in the 2022 World Championship Ironman triathlon in St. George, Utah.  After his strong performance in the race, he was ranked No. 41 in the world in his age group.

An Ironman race is one of the most challenging events in the world of sports. It starts with a 3.86-kilometer swim. Athletes then ride 180 kilometers on a bike before running a marathon – 42 kilometers.

Dimas said his demanding training regimen actually gives him extra energy for work.

“It’s mentally cleansing and destressing,” he said. “I start my work in the morning more refreshed.”