Q&A with Mary Cannon 

Mary Cannon serves as US Sales Manager at AS-Schneider, one of the world's leading manufacturers of process instrumentation and pipeline valves. Within ISA, Cannon has long been a dynamic presence within ISA’s Houston Section, serving in virtually every section role (secretary, vice president, and president) and working to attract more young people (through scholarships, FIRST®, YAPFEST and other programs) to the automation profession and to ISA.

Could you provide some background on your education (degree/s received) and academic areas of emphasis? 

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in elementary and secondary education from Tulane University, I taught fourth through eighth grades in South Houston for one year. Frustrated with my salary level, I found myself managing four jobs at one time to make ends meet. My father suggested that I take an instrumentation course offered through the Foxboro Company, which I did. This eventually led me to my first job in the field of instrumentation at Rosemont.

I also attended instrumentation courses at San Jacinto College and gained certificates in basic areas of pressure, temperature, level, flow, hydraulics, pneumatics, and automation and controls. I also gained leadership training at Meredith College that was absolutely incredible. My involvement in ISA led me to some of the best automation sales training I could have ever received. The interaction I had with volunteers in their appointed leader roles convinced me that ISA was an organization that would help me the rest of my life and career. I regard ISA as a family of friendships. There is not enough time or space to properly convey how much these friendships have meant to me.

What initially attracted you to the field of automation (and specifically your selected field)...and when was it? Was there any specific thing that triggered your interest?

My father had a huge influence. For instance, he told me that if I wanted to drive a car, I had to understand the mechanics of how cars work. We are not talking about just changing the oil or replacing spark plugs. We are talking about pulling out the engine, honing pistons, rebuilding the carburetor and much more.

Then there was the year my Dad asked the family if they wanted to help him build a pool. I grew up in New Orleans, where the heat was unbearable during the summer. Six months later we had a pool—part above ground and part below ground—with a filtration system adapted from an old air conditioner. You get the drift. It was a part of growing up. You either learned something about automation and instrumentation or you walked to school. There’s a bit of exaggeration here, but this is a true testimony. I was kind of the "chip off the ole block" as they say and was blessed to have him as my father. I thanked him again years later as my career took off and promotions continued.

I also wanted to thank EJ Cousins, who taught instrumentation at Mobay Chemical. He taught us how to build a “live” working process simulator in our garage. My little sister even filmed the monster being built from the ground up, complete with plastic pipes, colored water, a huge reservoir, valves, automation…the works. Keep in mind adhesives were not what they are today. Actually, the whole system was amazing and truly taught me so much about how instruments and processes work. It also made me a firm believer in "hands-on" training. My own experience in building units and in explaining how valves work and meters operate has helped me train others in valve technologies.

Please tell us about your current career responsibilities (specific position, company) and background, and area of specialty in automation.

I am blessed yet again to work for a forward-thinking, internationally oriented and family-owned business with more than 140 years in the valve and instrumentation industry. AS-Schneider, Inc. is a world-wide leader in manufacturing instrumentation valves and manifolds for large bore diesel engines like the ones on ship engines and used in power generation. I serve as the US Sales Manager for specific end users in North America. We are a growing company and we have a terrific team.

How did you initially get involved in ISA? In addition, please explain your current level/degree of involvement in ISA (leader positions, section involvement, etc.) 

While working at Rosemount in 1978, a very special person, who met me at a Rosemount open house, by the name of Lister Kennedy, called me and invited me to join the Board of Directors of the ISA Houston Section! He said, ‘Mary, wouldn't that sound great on your resume!’ True story.

From that point, I never left the section board and I’ve assumed virtually all leader roles within the section, from secretary to vice president and to president (1990-91), the first female president of the ISA Houston Section. I’ve also served as vice president of District 7. I’ve served as the International Student Competition Chair for almost every year it’s been held in Houston. I work closely with my colleague, Laura Crumpler.

Overall, students and young people are my passion. They’ve been my outlet and my calling. Since I was never blessed with children of my own, I adore helping young adults with bright minds and a willingness to learn discover this wonderful field of automation.

I get involved with young people in a variety of ways. I’ve served as a judge for FIRST® Robotics Competition for many years. I contribute as the scholarship chair. I continue to run YAP(Young Automation Professional)FEST to help promote automation and ISA to young technical professionals. This year, I hope to conduct the event at an end user site.

I’d like to get back to being more involved in our location education department activities. Years ago, I was the education chair and I believe we need to put a greater focus on promoting ISA education through some type of “boot-camp” program. I recognize the value of rigorous, hands-on training that teaches, in a condensed way, the skills used by ISA professionals. The response in the past from students has been off the charts. This is the same type of training that my mentors provided to me in the past and that I continue to receive in my current position.

I also want to mention that I’ve enjoyed helping Richard Tunstall, a professor at Lee College in Baytown, Texas, implement a program called “Nexus Women in Instrumentation.” A group was formed through the program that meets every quarter. While I’m not always able to attend because of my schedule, this is a fabulous, meaningful initiative.

What ways would you say ISA has benefited you?

The number one benefit of getting involved in ISA is the incredible friendships that you make and maintain. Next comes career development, leadership development, and the opportunity to help others. ISA has made me a better person.

Do you have any advice or suggestions to young automation professionals entering the profession? Are there things that you have learned that you might pass on…to help them better develop their careers?

I’d first like to say something to all those caught up in recent job cutbacks, professionals who ask themselves, ‘Now, what do I do?’ When it happened to me, I was focused and didn’t hesitate to rely on my huge base of ISA friends and colleagues who were so willing to help me.

The value of ISA is magnified in these types of situations. My advice is simple. Don’t sit back and wait for ISA come to you; go out and join ISA today! Explore an ISA section in your area. Connect with the section president to see how you can get involved and lend a hand. You won’t regret it. There are a lot of professional technical societies out there, but none have ISA’s network and technical expertise. Getting involved in ISA will help you make connections, learn, and advance in whatever technical area of automation you’re interested in.

I’ve known throughout my career that you have to continue to learn and adapt. Lean manufacturing is the future. My company is fully automated with more than a dozen robots that approach the size of a small house. These types of technological advances allow us to provide better service, and higher quality, safer products to our consumers. Find a company, like I have, that supports your interests and leadership aspirations.

Thanks to all my ISA friends, and for reading about my story as ISA has made a great difference in my work experience and family life. ISA rocks!