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In 2002, The Wholesaler magazine set out to recognize the leaders and influencers in the PVF industry. We wanted to honor their tireless efforts of championing the industry — from facilitating growth through their outreach and volunteer/philanthropic efforts to their relentless pursuit of being an industry advocate and ambassador. These reasons, and more, are why we created the PVF Hall of Fame.
This year, we shine the light on Kim Shelton-Brown for her fierce commitment to the PVF industry. As a tireless advocate, her volunteer efforts and philanthropic outreach and support, guidance and mentorship encapsulate excellence inside and outside the PVF channel.
It’s been an unconventional and interesting career path for Shelton-Brown, who is currently vice president of technical development for Welding Outlets Inc (WOI). She is an entrepreneurial-minded, senior business development and supply chain specialist with more than 35 years of experience in the oil, gas and chemical industries.
Shelton-Brown has a bachelor’s degree in metallurgy and material science, and a doctorate in metallurgy, specializing in corrosion. She is fully proficient and coded in these welding techniques: GTAW (gas tungsten arc welding or tungsten inert gas (TIG) and high-frequency TIG welding) SMAW (shielded metal arc welding), GMAW (gas metal arc welding or metal inert gas (MIG) welding) and FCAW (flux-cored arc welding).
And she is not slowing down. For her fierce spirit, determination, charitable giveback, ability to connect with others and offer a hand up, we celebrate Kim Shelton-Brown as our 2022 inductee into the PVF Hall of Fame.
An Eye for Detail
As a young woman growing up in Wolverhampton, England, Shelton-Brown had a curious mind and a way of surprising others by seeing the ordinary differently.
In the Shelton household, as an only child, she was surrounded by the brilliant mathematical minds of her mother, Sylvia, who worked for the government, and her father, John Albert Shelton, a pilot in the Royal Air Force and an electrical engineer. He also was a welder, with space dedicated on the property to his art and craft.
“My father had a big workshop in our garden in the UK,” Shelton-Brown recalls. “Reflecting on those memories, she smiles. “My father was an amazing mathematician — he could do math in his head like no one could — just phenomenal.” He applied the mathematical skillset along with his art of welding and fabrication, and it fascinated Shelton-Brown.
As a young child growing up without siblings, Shelton-Brown was drawn to her father’s craft; it intrigued her as much as she enjoyed spending time with her mentor. “I remember enjoying hanging out in his shop, watching him at an early age,” she recalls. At around 10 years old, Shelton could see her inquisitive mind watching what was taking place — and she was showing an interest.
One day Shelton-Brown told her father that she could tell he was welding something different than the day before. Her father asked how she knew the difference. “The colors of the sparks are different,” she said. Shelton was speechless — he never taught her the differences when welding carbon, steel or stainless. It was a natural gift and started her on the path to welding and the pipe, valves and fittings industry. And she never looked back.
“I had no idea that was a gift; Wow!” Shelton-Brown notes. “So now, when I’m walking down the shop at WOI and if the guys are grinding things, I can tell what they are just by the color of the sparks.”
‘Only Woman on the Shop Floor’
Growing up, Shelton-Brown knew her path would be anything but typical. Education was of interest, but it wasn’t the book kind. “Exams bored me; I could do it, but school was not what I wanted to do,” she says. Her father encouraged her to follow her passion.
While in high school, she had the opportunity to take part in a UK program called the Technical Vocational Educational Initiative (TVEI), a type of apprenticeship program. Shelton-Brown specialized in woodwork and metalwork work; it was the tactile and hands-on training she was drawn to.
Part of the program included an unpaid internship at British Steel, where employees would chuckle at a young female working in what was still considered a male-dominated industry.
“People thought I was a tomboy,” Shelton-Brown notes. “I had short blonde hair, and while my friends were playing with dolls and such, I was underneath the neighbor’s truck, changing a carburetor. It was just the way I was made.”
Encouraged by her father, who told her to work with metals, Shelton-Brown applied for a job at Cable Street Mills, a division of British Steel, when she completed the TVEI program. “I went for the job — and I got it; I did it for my dad,” she recalls. “And I was the only woman on the shop floor.” Always in her corner, her father was her first supporter and mentor.
As time progressed, Shelton-Brown showcased her skills and advanced within the company, eventually becoming the process control metallurgist; she allowed the path to move naturally. She went back to school because she realized there were things she couldn’t learn on the job.
However, she emphasizes that college isn’t for everyone. “I didn’t get forced to do that,” Shelton-Brown says. “Kids nowadays are told they must go to college and get a four-year degree, but they don’t need it to be successful. I didn’t feel I needed a degree. I wanted to go back to school to learn how to do things correctly — to work first, then educate myself later. It’s all about passion and drive; if you want to do something, you will do it.”
Shelton-Brown eventually worked through other jobs — including deep-sea welding. It was all because of a bet she made with her father, who didn’t think she would do it. A job done on a dare opened her knowledge base of the upstream, midstream and downstream aspects of the PVF industry and the different types of metals needed. It changed her understanding of the industry.
“The industry fascinates me, and this is why I wanted to learn about materials used in different environments,” Shelton-Brown explains. “I was curious; it sparked my need to understand more. So, I went back to school and earned a degree in metallurgy.”
As she explains: “I followed where my path took me, and one of the biggest things for me is having the right people to lead you along the way.”
Her first mentor was her father; soon, the next would guide and encourage her to lands far away.
As time passed and her career advanced, Shelton-Brown interviewed for a job in the UK with Philip Cornes, a division of TW Metals - a metals supplier headquartered in Exton, Pa. She met Gail Thomas, vice president and managing director, who employed Shelton-Brown in outside sales. She thrived, and her determination and drive pushed her forward.
One day in 2008, Shelton-Brown asked Thomas why the company with all its specialties didn’t have an office in Houston; she believed there was an opportunity there for stainless and nickel alloy sales. Thomas tasked her with researching the area; Shelton-Brown spent two years flying back and forth to Houston, to study the markets and needs of the region.
In 2010, she submitted a business plan to the owner of TW Metals, who was sold on the idea and offered Shelton-Brown the opportunity to head up the new Houston office of Philip Cornes. She wasn’t planning on relocating; however, in her typical fashion of seizing life and opportunity, she talked to her husband, Adrian Shelton-Brown.
“We made a choice to move, and that is why my husband is my hero,” Shelton-Brown says. “He never questioned me; he said he trusted me and my belief that is was the right thing to do.”
So, in 2012, the couple packed, moved across the ocean and never looked back. Adrian Shelton-Brown continues to watch with amazement and pride how this trailblazer inspires others
Shelton-Brown points out that it was because of Thomas’s opportunities, encouragement and mentorship — which helped forge her path forward with focus, drive, opportunities and incredible trust — that Thomas became her second mentor.
“I have known Kim for many years, and whilst this has initially been in a professional capacity, I now also consider her my friend. I have watched her grow in stature over the years, becoming more capable as she progressed. Kim always found time to care about her team and is truly interested in helping those around her be the best they can be. She has worked so hard and is now Dr. Shelton Brown - this alone commands great respect and lots of recognition,” says Thomas.
Upon arriving in Houston, the couple was hit with culture shock. “I moved here and had no idea how to live in a different country,” Shelton-Brown recalls. “And it wasn’t just America — it was Texas!” The gas and oil industry were a new avenue for her, and she set out to learn all she could.
PVF Roundtable and Giving Back
Fate would strike again as Shelton-Brown met Dennis Fikes, then president of Energy Metals, during a cold call. He invited her to a PVF Roundtable event; Shelton-Brown remembers that during their conversations, Fikes told her it was a “terrific group”, and she would want to be involved. Fikes explained the group was not only about networking within the PVF channel, but also had a mission of raising funds to help support educational and technical training in the trades.
“When Dennis described the mission and purpose of the group, I knew I wanted to get involved,” she states. “My education was at a trade school, similar to the community colleges and programs the group aimed at supporting.” Getting involved with the group was personal, and it felt right.
During one of the first meetings, Shelton-Brown walked in and saw a small group of around 50 individuals at the Hess Club. Fikes was right — it was the start of what is now a powerful networking and philanthropic group within the PVF channel. During these events, she was introduced to other women in the PVF channel: Sara Alford, president of Newman Valves and current president of the PVF Roundtable; and Sheryl Michalak, owner of WOI and several others.
Shelton-Brown realized this was her calling — volunteering to raise funds and awareness for trade schools and community colleges. “It was like a thunderbolt hit me,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do more; I asked how I could get involved. The response was to sign up for everything! That is what I did, and here I am now.”
She joined the PVF Roundtable group and immediately volunteered to help organize events and raise funds. In 2018, Shelton-Brown joined its board of directors.
“Kim joined the board and immediately raised her hand to be on the scholarship committee; she works with board member Harold Armstrong (Armstrong/Weatherly Associates) to manage the trade schools and programs and funds raised by the group,” Alford explains. “In addition, she is the lead board chair for the Young Professionals committee. Kim is instrumental in the growth of the PVF Roundtable and where we are today. I am sure I speak for everyone on the PVF board that we are honored to have her and call her our friend.”
Shelton-Brown is a natural when it comes to interacting with trade schools and students and offering mentorship. She is tasked with actively pursuing colleges and trades schools to support their programs; she soon found the need for mentors and guides. “I went out to the colleges, and when they found out I understood welding and manufacturing, they asked if I would join their committees,” she says.
In addition to being vice-chair on the Houston Community College Foundation (HCCF) Fundraising Committee and auction chair board for the upcoming 2022 HCCF 50-year gala celebration, she is an active member of the advisory boards of Lee College and San Jacinto College.
But it’s as a PVF Roundtable member and volunteer where she knows she is making an impact.
“Kim is an exceptional person that our industry desperately needs and appreciates,” says Steve Letko, counselor to the president, Weldbend. “She has shown her resolve in obtaining her doctoral degree; her unselfish commitment to our industry, her associates and the PVF Roundtable Board; and participation and leadership at our charitable events. A well-rounded, balanced individual who exudes class; I am one of her most loyal fans!”
The need for spotlighting the trades and their career path is personal for Shelton-Brown. As a tireless volunteer with the PVF Roundtable and other groups, her giveback is a long list of helping others work in an industry she loves. In addition to her other voluntary work, she is a volunteer with ASM International, an association of materials-centric engineers and scientists dedicated to informing, educating and connecting the materials community to solve problems and stimulate innovation around the world.
Her involvement with ASM came about from a simple request. While working on a project with Chevron, its corrosion engineer asked Shelton-Brown if she would speak to the female members of his team. He indicated the women on the team could benefit from seeing the success of another female in the male-dominated industry. “Of course I said yes,” she notes. “It’s all about showing people you can do this, regardless of gender.”
A Passion for PVF
Since moving to the United States, Shelton-Brown has worked for several prominent companies, including several years with distributor MRC Global, also headquartered in Houston. “It was my first experience of corporate America, and I am grateful for the education and the tremendous leadership at MRC Global,” she states.
However, she realized her heart was on the manufacturing side and was asked to join fellow PVF Roundtable board member Sheryl Michalak to be a part of WOI.
“She allowed me to create an opportunity within the company to use my skillset,” Shelton-Brown says. “I have always been in awe of Sheryl for her hard work and determination. As a female owner, she is the first to arrive and the last to leave. She drives so much passion into her work every day. Recently, I gave a tour of the shop and asked if this person would like to meet the owner. I saw her — a ways in the back, with steel-toed shoes covered in God knows what and picking out flanges. That’s the difference — she doesn’t just sit in the office.”
The duo also has a close friendship, “We are like sisters,” Shelton-Brown says.
Recently, Shelton-Brown was at a trade school career fair and saw a colleague from MRC Global — they strategically placed tables next to each other. Students came over to inquire about both companies, and a group kept growing around her table – to ask about welding opportunities at WOI. “It’s ironic that we have welding in our name, but do not weld,” she smiles.
Over and over, she was asked, “Can you put me in touch with someone we can talk to about welding?” Shelton-Brown smiled her Cheshire cat smile and said the crowd that formed around her table was staggering. The moment she started speaking the language about welding, they were hooked — they found a mentor. “I must have had more than 200 emails from that day,” she recalls. And she answered them all.
The one question Shelton-Brown is asked repeatedly is, “What drives you?” She answers: “Simple. If you don’t have passion for what you are doing, move on. I wake up and think about what WOI is doing today, how we can be more efficient, and how we can have more customers. If you don’t wake up thinking that in the morning, don’t go and do something else.”
She adds: “My passion is people, and I don’t look at the negative; I look at what the potential is. People need to see that if you want it — go get it. If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
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