More Than Just a Fresh Lick of Paint

John W. Egan Co. Inc.
Written by Pauline Müller

Fresh paint expertly applied takes more than any layperson may at first imagine. Located in Newton, Massachusetts, John W. Egan Co. Inc. is trusted by industry leaders for everything from exceptional architectural finishes to heavy industrial coatings on an impressive range of projects. Over the years, the team has become well-versed in providing paintwork for educational institutes, concert halls, art galleries, pharmaceutical facilities, historical restorations, power plants, wastewater and water treatment facilities, chemical manufacturing plants, and more. In the process, it has developed a reputation for quality and excellent service.

The company is an expert in a wide variety of coating fields, including but not limited to resinous flooring, fireproofing, lead abatement, sandblasting, and water jetting. It also offers value-added services such as decorative painting or protective coatings and linings. It also has a team of experts to offer thorough coating surveys, inspection services, surface preparation, and coatings recommendations as well as quality surveyors who pride themselves on their eye for detail. As a result, its impressive client portfolio includes big names including National Grid, Liberty Utilities, Gilbane, Skanska USA, Suffolk Construction, Methuen Construction, MWH Constructors, Barletta Heavy Division, and Walsh Brothers.

This is very much a family-oriented business where several generations work along with its trusted industry experts serving clients with sincerity, top-class service, and classic craftsmanship. Some of its work focuses on serving wastewater and power facilities with the best protective coatings for their metal and concrete infrastructure.

“We are a highly engaged team… composed of the highest trained and skilled individuals in the painting industry. Every member of our team is committed to providing our clients with a level of service which exceeds expectations. [We] provide our clients with a high-quality finish product regardless of the type of painting project or its size,” President Robert Belisle, Sr.

Technology plays a big role in the company‘s work, and continuous improvement and investment in the latest equipment is part of its strategy to remain relevant. One recent acquisition is an ultra-high-pressure (UHP) water-jetting pump which can produce pressurized streams of water up to 40,000psi.

The powerful water-jetting equipment is used in the surface preparation of concrete and steel to remove coatings, contaminants, and defective substrate material. This is achieved by the highly pressurized water eroding the existing materials back to a clean, sound substrate which is suitable for coatings application work. This is another wet-method technique made possible by modern technology that contains the dust and debris of surface preparation work and protects the worker and the environment from contamination.

Its extensive investment in new technology also extends to its operational center. Staying abreast of market trends while delivering quality work fast, every time takes priority. That includes how its administrative team works in tandem with its field service staff and, of course, how the company manages those teams.

“We’re constantly updating our spray application equipment. In the office, we are, right now, updating our ability to function remotely since our office staff is now working [on] a hybrid schedule,” says Robert Belisle, Jr., Field Operations Senior Manager of nearly fifteen years.

The toxic nature of traditional paints has made environmental stewardship a vital component of being a responsible painting contractor. John W. Egan Co. takes seriously the industry watchdogs that implement strict rules to ensure environmental safety. Take OSHA’s rules governing respirable crystalline silica exposure during sandblasting, for instance. These have led to the company turning to dust-free, wet methods of surface preparation instead of using outdated means of paint removal. Through the use of these methods, microscopic particles that would otherwise have been released into the atmosphere from high-intensity friction are captured by moisture so workers and bystanders will not breathe them in.

“A lot of our work [would] have a very negative impact on the environment if we don’t do it correctly. We adhere to very strict guidelines [in terms of] containing waste so that it doesn’t get airborne and into the environment or affect the workers,” says Belisle, Sr.

There has also been a strong movement away from using volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and similar toxins that were once prevalent in paints and solvents. Not only do these harmful chemicals cause strong odors, but they also can potentially contaminate groundwater.

Using wet-method technology for paint removal and 100 percent solids or waterborne resins for application is proving to be the most sensible solution the company has found to date. In 100 percent solids resins applications, the paint is heated before application to reduce its viscosity and then pumped through specialized high-pressure application equipment.

“When there’s a need in the market, it fosters innovation. The change in materials and the research into creating these high-performance water-based materials was facilitated by the change in regulations,” says Belisle, Jr.

Two recently merged organizations responsible for influencing these regulations are the National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE) and the Society for Protective Coatings (SSPC), known in its new form as the Association of Material Protection and Performance (AMPP). John W. Egan Co. is proud to hold SSPC QP1 and QP2 certifications from the organization as these are recognized nationally and qualify the company to prepare, coat, and remove coatings from industrial and marine structures that are tremendously difficult to do. It is also a signatory contractor with IUPAT DC#35 Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

The company’s history reads every bit like the industry success it is. It signed its first clients in 1947 when John W. Egan, Sr., together with his wife Mary set out to build a painting company. Later, they were joined by their sons, John Jr. and William. Starting with very little, Egan set the example needed to take the business from its early day mom-and-pop shop roots to an astute and well-known firm.

“I can’t help but smile when I [think of] those early days. Mr. Egan delivered paint to the jobs in the trunk of his car. Our gang boxes were homemade out of plywood, and Mr. Egan would hand deliver payroll checks to employees’ homes, even on the weekends if he did not get it to them during his normal weekly job visits,” says Belisle, Sr., who also has the painting industry in his veins.

At the age of twelve, Robert Belisle, Sr. worked as a trainee painter for his father and grandfather. He then joined John W. Egan Co. Inc. in 1982, working as an applicator for nearly thirty years. From there, he moved from superintendent to project manager until he eventually became the owner of the company in 2017. Since then, he has grown the company by around 30 percent.

“It was Mr. Egan’s work ethic, dedication to the company, and confidence that he had in me that inspired me to work my way up the company ladder. I am very passionate about the industry. It’s what gets me out of bed every morning,” he says. Much has changed since those early days of plywood gang boxes and hand-delivered paychecks.

The industry “changed a lot since I first started. [Along with the] economic environment, the labor environment is changing pretty rapidly right now,” he continues. It is lucky for John W. Egan Co. Inc.’s clients that this leader loves a good challenge.

As they work together as a father and son team, Belisle Jr. says it is important to keep their family and business lives apart. In business, there are ups and downs “and situations where people have opposing views. Usually, the best result is somewhere in the middle of those two views. Collaborating and [a commitment] to problem-solving has always been difficult, but we’ve done great at it. It also helps to streamline the communication process,” he says, highlighting what a privilege it is to have grown up in a family of tradesmen. Tradesmen “are cut from a different type of cloth… I’ve spent a lot of time around that, so it has made it a lot easier to work together.”

Teamwork is everything, and the staff of nearly eighty people knows how to pull together to deliver the best service on time. The fact that its field staff is entirely made of union members with considerably long tenures proves how well people are treated here. “This is a true testament to the culture of our company. Although these tradespersons could move on to other companies at any time because they are members of the union, they remain members of the Egan team,” says Belisle, Sr.

A healthy mixture of technology-savvy, young change makers working beside seasoned industry experts makes for a positive balance in the organization and remains one of its keys to success. It is most evident in the regular calls the owner receives from clients to congratulate the team on its professional and capable contributions to their projects. With this much positivity around, the team easily handled COVID-19 and the challenges that came with it.

“I am very proud of how our team weathered the COVID-19 crisis. As a team, we didn’t just survive; we learned, we adjusted, and we thrived!” says Belisle, Sr. proudly. Thanks to the volume of civil work it performs, the company’s services were considered critical, and it quickly adapted to the realities of remote work and supply chain issues while keeping all systems functional.

That is not all Belisle is proud of. Many projects stand out for him. Like the work that the company did on the National Grid tank on Commercial Point in Dorchester, a neighborhood in Boston, Massachusetts. This untitled work of art is affectionately called the ‘rainbow tank’ by locals and was the brainchild of Corita Kent. At 140 feet tall, this gorgeous piece of public art is not only claimed to be the largest copyrighted work of art in the world, but it is arguably also the prettiest liquefied natural gas storage tank on the planet.

There are also other flagship projects like the restoration work it did on the historical Massachusetts State House Chambers. Then there were the over 300 feet tall exhaust stacks at Manchester Street power station in Providence, Rhode Island, and the work it did on the Polar Park baseball field in Worcester, Massachusetts. It also completed a major project for the Edward M. Kennedy Institute at UMass Boston which included a miniature representation of the U.S. Senate chamber.

The team’s love of excellence also translates into its community work. Every year, each person on its staff adopts a child for Christmas. A group of solicitors collaborates with the Department of Children and Families to match children in need with gift sponsors over the festive season. Everyone at the office then picks two or three children to receive a few toys and necessities like items of clothing that they would otherwise not have had.

Paying it forward has created a culture of care at John W. Egan Co., and the company continuously improves its safety standards for everyone involved on its job sites and in its offices. “No change has had a greater positive impact on our industry than the significant improvements to workplace safety. Thanks to the individual workers, the union, and our management staff, our field staff has increased knowledge of job hazards and safe work practices, which have created a safer workplace for our workers,” says Belisle, Sr.

And as safety measures improve, so does the company. Controlled growth is planned while exceeding customers’ expectations remains the guiding focus. Belisle, Sr. also describes what he calls “the changing of the guard.” Over the next half-decade, the current management will complete the succession plan that will see Robert ‘Junior’ Belisle and Dina Cullinane, who has also been with the company for nearly fifteen years, take over senior leadership roles alongside several others who currently work in assistant managerial positions.

The company’s message to all its clients, old and new, is timeless. “If you want your painting job completed correctly, safely, on time, and professionally, you want the John W. Egan team on your project.”



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