Expert Q&A: How to Succeed in the Corrosion & Coatings Field
You don’t really learn this industry until you get your hands dirty. Education is critical, but the ability to take that education and apply it in real life is what really separates successful people from those who don’t succeed.
In his 60 years in the corrosion business, Louis D. Vincent has become an icon of integrity and leadership. He is the former president of NACE International, a well-known teacher and mentor, and the renowned author of reference manuals that have influenced corrosion professionals for decades. In this interview, he tells us how he got his start in the business and where this great adventure has taken him.
Q: Experience is not only the best teacher, but it helps people get the best jobs out there. Whether in cathodic protection or coatings, where can young people get the best experience foundation?
A: Internships are great starting points because the young person gets to work alongside experienced leaders within that company and that industry. I have known many young men who worked as blaster painters during the summer months to earn money for college. Many of these men became leaders in the industry because of their combination of education with hands-on experience. I have known people from South America who could not find work in their home countries, despite the benefit of degrees in engineering, who are now able to support their families as a result of jobs they were able to get because of that internship experience.
Q: How valuable is taking professional courses from organizations like SSPC or NACE for furthering one’s career?
A: These courses are extremely valuable because they offer a combination of knowledge and experience. Instructors are chosen carefully. They share their real-world experience with the students. Many students keep communicating with their instructors from the job sites long after the course is completed. It is not unusual for me to get emails from NACE-Certified Coating Inspectors and Coating Specialists in the Middle East and Africa on a regular basis.
Q: What’s the best way for someone to promote themselves to ultimately build a solid reputation?
A: The first thing is to get a certification from an organization like NACE in whatever your field is. If it’s coatings, you can get certified from SSPC and FROSIO as well. But for cathodic protection and chemicals, NACE is the only globally recognized source.
To build a reputation, the first thing the owners look for is: Do you have certification? In other words, did you really learn something before you went out and started working? Or, did you work first then go back and learn? Whichever the case, a certification has a great value.
But if you really want to build a reputation, you’ve got to publish. It must be something that can be presented at a conference or published in an industry magazine. This indicates to a prospective employer or owner that you really know what you are talking about. You can’t hide your light under a blanket. The presentations at NACE conferences are extremely valuable because the attendees are all prospective employers or clients.
Q: There are several organizations globally offering inspector training, for example. Is the training that’s available today sufficient to make proficient inspectors?
A: The training today is excellent. The question is whether the training you’re getting is applicable to the field you’re in or where you want to establish a career. For example, with training for marine coatings inspection, a great deal of it is applicable to industrial and vice versa, but if you’re going to be in a field, you need to know that field completely. (For an introduction to marine coatings be sure to read Coatings for Marine Applications & Offshore Platforms.)
Training is excellent, but you have to apply yourself and get out in the field and make a few mistakes. You have to learn the common sense side of the business.
From classes I have taught, it seems that young people today want a fast success. You’re really not an expert until you’ve made a few mistakes and learned how to correct them. It will probably take 3–5 years in the field to get proficient as an inspector. You have to get quite a few jobs under your belt, seeing not only the mistakes you make, but also the mistakes that contractors make, so that you can learn to anticipate problems and try to avoid them.
That doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen in a classroom or by reading book.
Q: What particular challenges do young people face today?
A: I see young people wanting to learn it all in a book, and use it all on the computer. But the problem is you don’t really learn this industry until you get your hands dirty. You must get out and apply what you have learned, and find out what the real world is like.
The real world is not in that book. It’s in the field.
A good example is paint chemists. There are only a few schools that actually teach paint chemistry. Most people graduate with a degree in engineering, organic or inorganic chemistry or a related technical discipline, and they have never formulated a single gallon of paint. Where do they learn it? They end up working side by side with an experienced paint chemist, learning to apply what they learned in books to what is the real life of actually making a gallon of paint. (Learn what goes into a gallon of paint in The Composition of a Paint Coating.)
Education is critical. But the ability to take that education and apply it in real life is what really separates successful people from those who don’t succeed.
Young people today are too fascinated with computers. They think the whole world is in a computer. Can you tighten a valve online? Can you hold a paintbrush online? Can you troubleshoot a cathodic protection system online? All that knowledge has to be applied practically and you can’t do that on a computer or in a book.
Q: What is the importance of building relationships to build a career?
A: Let’s say you’re new, and you’ve only been in the industry five years. But you’ve gotten enough experience and knowledge on a particular subject that you write a paper and present it at a conference. You begin to build relationships with people at the conference who hear your presentation. You build within that circle, and that circle grows. The longer you’re in the industry, the more relationships mean.
A good example is myself. After all these decades in the field, I do not advertise or promote business in any media. Everything I get is based upon previous relationships or referrals from people that I have worked with before.
You build relationships based upon knowledge and experience.
Q: What do you consider to be the highest achievement of your career?
A: I consider my highest achievement to be the Munger book, Corrosion Prevention by Protective Coatings, and keeping Chuck Munger’s work alive. He was the finest guy in corrosion and coatings that I have ever known. He had great personal integrity, and was always willing to share his knowledge with anyone. I wanted to keep the technology in his book up to date so that people would still refer to it as the Bible when it comes to corrosion and coatings work. Munger is the father of inorganic zinc coatings in the United States. Together with Victor Nightingall in Australia, they are the ones who really got inorganic zincs going.
Q: What was the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
A: Hold to high integrity. Chuck Munger was my mentor. No matter what tests were run in his lab on coatings under development, he would not allow them to be sold commercially until they had been field-tested.
Q: You’ve held many positions in your five decades in the industry—everything from an entry-level sales person to company president, even NACE President. Was there one opportunity or event that propelled you from being one of the many, to being one of the few?
A: Back in the day, I was a salesman selling the Amercoat coatings to the offshore industry in South Louisiana. Ameron International had a joint venture in Japan. Ameron President Chuck Munger, along with Ameron Vice President of International Operations, Lucien Minor, sent me to Japan as Vice President-Director of the company there. That got me into the international market and gave me a broader understanding of the world market than any sales or marketing assignment could.
It was also my first direct involvement in manufacturing of both protective and marine coatings. The joint venture partner, Inouye Shokai, also operated a contracting company specializing in marine tank linings, so I received valuable hands-on experience that I would not have had in the sales and marketing part of the industry. (Take a deep dive into this topic with the article The 5 Most Important Considerations when Selecting Internal Tank Linings.)
It was also a valuable learning experience working within different cultures because Amercoat Japan Ltd. was responsible for all of Asia and Southeast Asia. Ameron International also had a technology transfer agreement with Dimetcote Ltd. in Australia, so I was able to gain a valuable background on the original development of inorganic zinc along with the organic coatings developed by both Amercoat and Dimetcote.
Between my career in coatings and my experience in teaching coatings courses for NACE International, I have been to 67 countries. Interestingly, that is more than most Secretaries of State for the United States of America. Not bad for a poor Cajun boy from South Louisiana.