PaintSquare Daly News on Tablet
PaintSquare Daily News is available in three editions:
Industrial Only
Commercial Only
Combined Industrial & Commercial

Your free subscription also includes:
Special topical editions and Weekend Brief—a recap of the week’s top news and some great in-depth reads.

Subscribe now:


Comment |

Learning to Serve


By Warren Brand

On Overcoating Polyurea, Ego, the True Meaning of Service and an Opportunity to Participate with Me

When I started my corrosion mitigation consulting firm in 2010, I had one fundamental principle in mind: to do exclusively what is in the best interest of our clients, even above our own.

This concept isn’t new—I stole it straight from the Samurai, the translation of which is “those who serve.” And those who follow my writing know that I try to weave something about martial arts into each blog, because I believe it’s directly relevant to technical corrosion mitigation consulting in the most important dimension: using only those tools which are technically appropriate for a given situation.

I try very hard to practice what I preach, and have the aches, pains and bruises to show it.

I’ve been studying martial arts for roughly a quarter of a century, focusing primarily on combat arts. However, like pizza (Is there such a thing as bad pizza?), I enjoy and respect all the arts.

A handful of years ago, I began teaching combat Jujitsu at a local university club. It was a mixed bag. I no longer broke a sweat. I wasn’t getting attacked or engaging in sets, so I was not being physically or intellectually challenged to the extent that I was as a student.

So, for the last couple of years (in addition to teaching traditional, combat Jujitsu) I’ve been studying Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ).

I could write a book about BJJ. It is far more cerebral than anything I’ve ever done, and great fun. Akin to wrestling, it’s predominantly ground fighting. Training in BJJ is the essence of what I strive for at CCG: identifying the optimal solutions for any given set of circumstances.

If you ever want to experience magic firsthand, find a seasoned BJJ blackbelt and ask, nicely, to roll around a little bit. It won’t matter how big, strong or fast you are. You will be submitted. Why? Because he, or she, has developed the most optimal techniques to counter whatever you do. No different than what CCG does when consulting on a wastewater treatment tank or six-story steel sculpture: What are the optimal materials and practices based on the situation?

Martial arts keep me focused, centered, and in the case of BJJ, infinitely humble. I train at a fighter’s gym, where pretty much everyone competes (except me, until now—see below) and I lose virtually all of our after-class matches, or “rolling.” I’m 100 percent fine with it, because I’m there to learn, not win.

And that’s where I almost missed the mark with my most recent client. I was there to serve, but my ego got in the way and I tried to win by advocating for a course of action contrary to the wishes of our client.

Overcoating Polyurea

We were hired to evaluate a concrete cooling-tower basin for one of the largest insurance companies in North America. The basin had been coated roughly 12 years earlier and the existing elastomeric polyurea system was in excellent shape. In fact, our initial advice was to leave the system alone and do nothing. But the client indicated that they wanted to refurbish the system based on internal protocols and requirements.

Coating cross sectin
Photos courtesy of the author

A cross-section of coating cut down to the concrete. Existing material exceptionally well adhered to concrete and crazing not reaching all the way through coating to substrate.

We conducted a comprehensive condition survey and determined the system was well adhered to the concrete (adhesively), and cohesively sound. A thin oxidation layer roughly 2 mils thick was also very well adhered.

We developed a proof of concept in which we applied a variety of different elastomers as potential overcoating solutions. We then conducted pull and other tests to evaluate adhesion, ease of application and so on.

We identified one material clearly superior to the rest. It was 100 percent solids, 400 percent elongation, one-coat, with an excellent track record.

Qualitative adhesive/cohesive testing

Qualitative adhesive/cohesive testing

We presented our findings in our written report and scheduled a conference call for review. We were proud of our work. We saved the client in excess of $150,000 by not removing the existing material (which other vendors had advised them to do) and were confident we identified a material that would perform in excess of 20 years with little to no maintenance.

Yet things started to go sideways during our call.

The Ego Surfaces

After presenting our findings, the lead engineer kept asking about a different material. It was 67 percent solids, a relatively thin material requiring multiple coats. It was not as durable and likely costlier to install.

I found myself becoming annoyed. I was thinking, “Why is he asking me these details about a substandard coating system after we had done such a great job of finding a better system?”

He explained that our first choice was black, and the system he was asking about was gray.

A portion of a larger proof of concept, where repair materials were applied with different levels of surface prep and then evaluated for performance

A portion of a larger proof of concept, where repair materials were applied with different levels of surface prep and then evaluated for performance.

He and his team were concerned about potential heat absorption from the sun with the black material as opposed to the gray. I started to argue. I suggested that they build a wall around the system to keep it in the shade. He explained that a wall might reduce the airflow surrounding the towers and reduce cooling efficiency. I explained that the gray coating would likely require maintenance and possible recoating between 8 and 12 years. He said that was acceptable.

He directed us to write the spec with the gray material, the third phase of our four-phase project.

I was pissed. And of more concern, I wondered, was I doing the right thing for my client by supporting their decision to install a less-than-optimal coating system? I’ve walked away from jobs before when the client was heading in the wrong direction. I never wanted CCG, or my name, to be associated with a failure.

The True Meaning of Service

I was yanked back from the precipice of my ego shortly after a BJJ class. I was rolling with an advance belt and he would get me in a dominant position, and then hold me there—giving me the opportunity to work and escape. He would wait and loosen up just enough to allow me to progress rather than submit, or tap, me. He could have tapped me a dozen times in our five-minute round. But he didn’t. He was teaching. He was being of service. For me, it was exhausting, humbling, frustrating and fundamentally educational.

And as I was heading home that night, dripping in sweat, I was thinking about the specification I had to develop with a “sub-optimal” coating system.

And then it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I had dropped the ball with our client. I had been more concerned with my ego, and what I thought was in their best interest, than what was actually in their best interest.

I’m a materials and corrosion guy. I’m a numbers and facts guy. But they had a broader, better, far more informed point of view of the situation that I had neglected to appreciate. It was not for me to judge what was optimal, or of ultimate priority to them. It was for me to present factual data and let them direct me as to what, in their judgment, was optimal.

It was my job to set aside my ego, and I had very nearly failed.

An Opportunity to Participate with Me

After decades of martial arts training, I had never competed in a formal setting. It was antithetical to my core focus as a student of combat martial arts.

Yet something changed this past year when one of my daughters was visited with metastatic thyroid cancer. She’s 21, a Division 1 soccer player and doing very well (despite having unrelated knee surgery last week keeping her from playing in her senior year). Her long-term prognosis is excellent.

Yet, I was shaken. And angry.

And then I heard about a not-for-profit BJJ competition called “Tap Out Cancer.” It was an opportunity for me to put some of my decades of training to use, and, in doing so, be of service to all of us who have been touched by this scourge.

So, on Oct. 20, I will be competing in a BJJ tournament. At 56, I will be fighting men from 40 and up in the “super-heavyweight division.” Which, in my case, is essentially the old fat guy’s division.

For me, the competition has nothing to do with winning. My ultimate goal is to not get hurt, not hurt my opponent and raise as much money and awareness as possible—to make some difference, and, selfishly, to feel in some small sense, of service.

And, what I keep thinking about is how fortunate my family and I are that my daughter is on track for a full recovery. And how I suspect that many of the other participants don’t have as rosy a story to tell—and that the heartbreak of many other participants must be profound.

I am raising money through “Tap Out Cancer” for cancer research. The support through friends and family has been profound and humbling. If you feel compelled, I would be honored and touched if you would consider participating; more information and a link to donate are available here.

Amounts are irrelevant. It is suffice to say that it’s the thought that counts.


Warren Brand

Warren Brand’s coatings career has ranged from entry-level field painting to the presidency of two successful companies. Over nearly three decades, he has project-managed thousands of coating installations and developed specs for thousands of paint and coating applications. NACE Level 3 and SSPC PCS certified, Brand, an MBA and martial-arts instructor, now heads Chicago Corrosion Group, a leading coatings consultancy. Contact Warren.



Tagged categories: Coating Materials; Consultants; NACE; Protective Coating Specialist (PCS); Protective coatings; Specification writing; SSPC; Coating inspection; NA; North America; Overcoating; Polyurea; Quality control; Quality Control

Comment from Lydia Frenzel, (9/30/2018, 1:35 PM)

I read your conversations fairly often for your insight. Yes-giving back to the community keeps one in balance. I found "Service above Self" in Rotary, and opted to talk about breast cancer in 2011 by periodic postings. Wonderful to hear about "Tap out Cancer."

Comment from Warren Brand, (9/30/2018, 3:41 PM)

Hi Lydia, thanks for taking the time to write, and for your service. Kind Regards, Warren

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (10/3/2018, 11:28 AM)

"Old fat guy division" sounds like me with the Ride to Conquer Cancer. :) This smoky August marked my 10th year participating. In spite of the event being shut down half way through the first day of a two-day event (yes, the smoke was that bad), I still sat my not-so-svelte rear on the bike saddle for 50+ miles and ~3,450 ft of climbing. Good on you, Warren, for having a Samurai view (I used to train in Shinkage-Ryu kenjitsu and other things) and for giving back.

Comment from Warren Brand, (10/5/2018, 11:04 AM)

Hi Michael. Thanks for taking the time to write back. 50 miles with a more than half mile climb? I'll stick with my 5-minute rounds. Very cool about your martial arts training. Oosss! And thanks for your service as well. Kind Regards, Warren

Comment from Christine Gunsaullus, (10/10/2018, 5:15 PM)

Always enjoy reading your blogs, Warren. Thanks for sharing your stories and knowledge.

Comment from Mark Henry, (3/17/2021, 7:41 AM)

This is a nice article. The information about concrete sealing is authentic. What a well-written article.

Comment from Yang Ruflo, (9/15/2022, 12:51 AM)

Same technique is used in our team in painter hamilton. Though we use different equipment to pull it off.

Comment Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.

Tarps manufacturing, Inc.

Modern Safety Techniques

Paint BidTracker


NLB Corporation

Quikspray, Inc.

base painters

PreTox Products - NexTec, Inc.


Technology Publishing Co., 1501 Reedsdale Street, Suite 2008, Pittsburgh, PA 15233

TEL 1-412-431-8300  • FAX  1-412-431-5428  •  EMAIL

The Technology Publishing Network

PaintSquare the Journal of Protective Coatings & Linings Paint BidTracker

EXPLORE:      JPCL   |   PaintSquare News   |   Interact   |   Buying Guides   |   Webinars   |   Resources   |   Classifieds
REGISTER AND SUBSCRIBE:      Free PaintSquare Registration   |   Subscribe to JPCL   |   Subscribe to PaintSquare News
MORE:      About   |   Privacy Policy   |   Terms & Conditions   |   Support   |   Site Map   |   Search   |   Contact Us