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It’s About Greatness: A Personal Pumps & Pipes Testimony by Bill Kline

September 2018 Newsletter

The twelfth annual P&P Symposium will be held on December 3, 2018, at the Houston Methodist Research Institute in Houston, Texas. This year’s theme is “It’s About Greatness.” Bill Kline, PhD, manager of drilling and subsurface at ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company and P&P cofounder explains how this year’s theme embodies the P&P experience.


Bill Kline points to something up and to the left while students in lab coats and adults look on.
Bill Kline teaching students at P&P 10.

I rolled into Houston from Ann Arbor, Michigan on April 6, 1980, driving a yellow Ford Maverick with three on the tree and no air conditioning. Armed with a brand new chemical engineering PhD, I had no doubt that Houston was where I was meant to be. I wanted to experience greatness, and greatness lived in Houston.

I knew of Houston from Time magazine covers (DeBakey, Cooley, Mercury/Gemini/Apollo), from the social debates of the seventies (Mohammed Ali, King/Riggs) and from the great adventure I was preparing to enter, the global search for energy. I knew of Houston from its audacity in building the world’s first domed stadium and a medical center that dwarfed everything that had come before, and from an arts district second only to that of New York. I identified Houston with mechanical bulls, the Galleria, and another 1980 arrival, Nolan Ryan.

We often tell students that greatness is within them. I agree with the sentiment but not the geography.  Hardly anybody is born to greatness. Greatness comes when ability meets opportunity and example. That’s what Houston continues to offer: opportunities to do great things and lots of people showing how.

There are many organizations that promote interdisciplinary awareness and collaboration.  Pumps & Pipes is about seeking greatness and expecting to find it.  Our various themes over the years—The Neighbor’s Toolkit, Better Together, Expanding the Ecosystem—recognize that the best way to experience great new ideas is to hang out with people who live great ideas on a daily basis. These are the people that are reinventing cardiovascular intervention, building the capability to travel to Mars, or setting extended reach drilling records (remarkably like cardiovascular intervention, by the way).  Similarly, we encourage students not just by pointing out that professional work is fun and rewarding, or that it will make them a good living, but also by showing them that the greatest reward comes from doing great things with great people.  At Pumps & Pipes events, astronauts sit with surgeons, students with members of the National Academies, and everybody connects via “Matching Minds” data analytics.

Attendees at the first international P&P event in Doha, Qatar pose together on April 28, 2011. Bill Kline is in the bottom row, third from right.
A young man wearing blue NASA coveralls speaks with a middle-aged man wearing a suit and tie.
Astronaut and cardiovascular physiologist Kjell Lindgren, MD, chats with cardiovascular surgeon Alan Lumsden, MD at P&P 11.

The robustness of this idea is proved by the fact that Pumps & Pipes has flourished for twelve years under the direction of three part timers with day jobs. With more formal organization and some dedicated resources, we know we can do more in the areas of bringing thought leaders together, encouraging collaboration, and inspiring students.  Doing more in those areas is worth our while, because those are the elements of greatness.

When we work together, everybody wins.  Three decades after publishing chemical engineering papers from my engineering thesis, I became a coauthor of my first medical journal article, having convinced Houston Methodist to put a working gravel pack model into their MRI suite. Today the equipment we built for that collaboration is saving lives by imaging the performance of heart valves.  I consider that greatness.  The yellow Maverick brought me to the right place.

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