11 Questions in 11 Minutes

In this article, we’re showcasing Brian Wyatt, Director at Corrosion Control Limited.

We asked him about his professional life, career advice he would give to a younger corrosion specialist, and took a peep into his private life.

Here are the 11 questions we posed in the 11 minutes we took of Brian’s valuable time.

1.     What did you aspire to be when you were younger?

I had a keen interest in aeroplanes, inspired by books I read from an early age; and chemistry, prompted by the gift of a chemistry set that led to ‘experiments’ in a private space in a corner behind a wardrobe. Later, I wanted to study metallurgy.

2.     So, how did you end up as a corrosion specialist?

I was lucky to be sponsored through university by CEGB (Central Electricity Generating Board) who planned and ran all the UK’s electrical power generating stations. I was even luckier to be allocated as a Technical Staff Trainee to the SW Labs at Portsmouth under Doug Peplow (one of three specialists in corrosion and cathodic protection at CEGB). This was at a time when most UK electricity was generated from coal or oil, and many stations were coastal and sea water cooled. Consequently, there were lots of seawater corrosion problems.

Under the CEGB system and the University of Surrey undergraduate programme, I had 14 months in industry and ‘vacations’ based at CEGB Portsmouth. One of these I spent with Doug, John Morgan (who wrote the premier British book on CP and is a Past President of ICorr), Tony Warne and Peter Hayfield (luminaries of Pt/Ti, Pt/Nb and MMO/Ti anodes) crawling inside Marchwood Power Station condenser water boxes which had been suffering from failed CP anodes.

Being with these undoubted experts in CP fired my enthusiasm for this field, and prompted me to select Impressed Current Anode materials as the topic for my final year dissertation.

As well as the power station work, which I loved, I had planned placements with British Aluminium (both at Warrington and their labs at Gerrards Cross), and BISRA (British Iron and Steel Research Association) in both London and Sheffield.

They were great times, during which I met, worked, and became friends with some wonderful people.

I guess my experience is why I am a great believer that time spent in diverse industries is fantastic for young students, particularly those in science and engineering. Both my son and granddaughter benefitted from similar experiences.

3.     What was that first job like?

By the time I graduated, CEGB had restructured its Technical Services, Portsmouth had closed, and Doug’s team dispersed. I had also realised that research was not for me.

Replying to a newspaper advert, I was interviewed for a role as a Junior Cathodic Protection Engineer at Spencer & Partners in London. First by David Lewis (later President of the Institute of Corrosion) and briefly by Ken Spencer, Founder and Senior Partner at Spencer & Partners, previously of Anglo Persian Oil Company (which became BP). They were the leading consultants in CP in the UK at a time when other expert companies were primarily contactors.

With the job secured, I worked in a cramped office with a small window overlooking Buckingham Palace Gardens. My desk had been used by John Thirkettle, who later became a close friend and colleague – he had left to join CWE, one of the competent CP contractors.

For a while Brian Martin, another close friend and very respected colleague from Australia, had a desk while he worked part-time alongside his MSc studies under Lionel Shrier. David Harvey, also a good colleague over the years, who has done much for ICorr, was also a junior CP engineer at that time.

Spencers ran what very few companies can do in present times – a closely monitored, albeit apparently informal, training scheme. I had 12 months of onsite mentoring by one of the best practical CP engineers I have ever known, Norman Sennington, and in the office with Dennis Ames and David Lewis.

As my experience grew, I undertook supervised designs and performance assessments. I can recall sitting alongside David Lewis as he critically assessed many reports that I had slaved over; they were improved afterwards.

I was then ‘let out alone’ first to a planned Bristol Waterworks Purton to Pucklechurch trunk main, were I walked every (muddy) mile, surveyed, designed, specified and inspected all the CP kit (plus, briefly, the pipe coating), supervising its installation and commissioning. The great RE later became general manager of BWW.

Gradually, I took on established inspection and remedial works at multiple ‘Government Controlled Reserve’ sites and multi-product pipelines, from my senior colleagues. I was sent to Pakistan for months to survey and then commission a large gas transmission pipeline system – which meant months living in tents on the construction site and travelling all over Northern Pakistan.

Regular visits to Abu Dhabi (I loved the desert), other Gulf States, Iran and occasionally Africa followed.

Pipelines, tanks, jetties, mainly impressed current CP, were my ‘bread and butter’.

I was encouraged to apply for Professional Membership of ICorr and what was then the Institute of Metals.

I was promoted to Associate Partner alongside Dennis Ames; Mike Allen and others joined the team.

One of my projects was to design galvanic anode CP systems for planned Trinity House monopile (MP) replacements for light ships; sadly this was not implemented (but formed an interesting link to my work now on MPs in offshore wind).

In considering the design of galvanic anodes more closely than was then documented in standards and what were then novel shapes, I had some interesting meetings with BKL Alloys Ltd, then the largest producer of galvanic anodes in Europe. They served the shipping industry and the growing offshore oil/gas sector. We got on well and they proposed that Spencer & Partners and BKL should combine design skills and products to present to North Sea platform developers.

Spencers were not happy, at that time, to work beyond their established consultancy role. BKL offered me a job as Development Manager, to bring them into impressed current and to strengthen their established galvanic anode design team. I accepted.

4.     How did your career progress?

During my time at BKL, I progressed from Development Manager to Engineering Manager.

The company moved from Birmingham to a new build factory and office complex in Telford. Again, great times.

The MD was Bill Mackay. He encouraged me to become a NACE Member, and I started to attend NACE meetings in the US and Canada. With relationships in the US with specialist companies in our field, I was involved in some challenging projects, perhaps the best of which was the Murchison project for which I led the team to design, produce, and supervise the installation of a complex, and what proved to be reliable, North Sea impressed current CP system. This used galvanic anodes and a full impressed current system, forming a hybrid system, with the galvanic anodes providing protection of critical nodes before electrical power was established.

By this time, my friends Tony Warne and Peter Hayfield were heavily involved in the novel ICCP anode design.

Soon after, RTZ purchased BKL from GKN, forming IMPALLOY (I claim credit for the name, Imperial Alloys and BKL Alloys… an idea that came to me in a pub in Shifnal with colleagues from both companies).

A team of us decided that we might do better on our own, and Bill Mackay, Bob Brittain, and I, along with a small group of engineers and admin staff, formed Global Cathodic Protection. My replacement at IMPALLOY was Bob Crundwell, another past President of ICorr.

Some interesting and challenging times followed, both technically and commercially:

  • I formed a joint venture in CP of steel in concrete, Tarmac Global, with the then successful civil construction firm Tarmac.
  • I led the development of the ‘Global Surveyor’ an early close interval potential and combined DC voltage gradient survey system, and we supplied some large and complex fixed offshore CP monitoring systems.
  • During this time I was President of ICorr; also challenging as, when I took over the role, we had very little money in the bank.

Eventually, I and our majority shareholder disagreed on the direction of the company. So I left. Since then, I have worked as an independent consultant in corrosion and, primarily, cathodic protection.

In my consulting life, I’ve had the good fortune to have lots of work in steel in concrete (I was involved in the first Midlands Links CP trial and secured the first commercial Midland Links CP contract… and made a profit!). I have continued to work in the pipelines field and was honoured to be President of CEOCOR, the European technical body in this field.

I have also worked for various MOD coastal sites and other coastal and estuarine ALWC/MIC affected assets. I’ve worked on pipeline projects around the world – some great fun, some not so much. I’ve also worked on lots of offshore CP, first in oil and gas and now in renewables.

Along with many others, I have put a lot of time into the ICorr CP Training and Certification Scheme.

5.     What have you enjoyed most about your career in corrosion?

The competent and wonderful people that I have worked with, or met in conferences and professional bodies, all over the world. Many are now friends. I have learned, and continue to learn, from them.

I have worked for years in Standards Development; again, making lots of friends, sometimes having ‘strong’ discussions, and always learning.

I have enjoyed my ‘expert witness work’, with the intellectual challenge of attempting to ensure every word on the page is accurate, can be defended, and is resilient to what may be a very unfriendly, but extremely bright, barrister.

I have worked for years with decent and supremely competent folk such as John Thirkettle, Chris Lynch, Robin Jacob, and Martin Mowlem. All with their different strengths. All ICorr Members. I have enjoyed the same with overseas members of CEOCOR and, historically, NACE.

6.     What career advice would you give to a young corrosion specialist?

  • Get out of the office, get dirty, collect your own data, record but challenge data that ‘looks wrong’. Seek advice and learn every day.
  • Somehow, and I know it is harder now, spend time in good-quality conferences (EFC, CEOCOR, AMPP, MCF seminars).
  • If challenging, do it with circumspection. Standards can be wrong, or not ideal for the project that you are working on. Do not design by rote but remember, the standards have been developed by experts and so only divert when you have a secure and documented basis for doing – best discussed with and reviewed by a peer.
  • Say no when it is not safe for you, or if your employer or client wants you to leave something that is a risk to others.
  • If necessary, present a coherent case more than once; if you fail to persuade, consider if you wish to work with them.
  • Continue to train.
  • Participate, and share expertise – you will gain by it.
  • If you do not know, there is no shame in saying so. It’s best if you can direct enquiries to someone who does.
  • Finally, enjoy your work. If you are not enjoying what you do, change.

7.     What is in store for corrosion professionals?

There will be a shortage of personnel to work alongside you; we are not training or retaining sufficient graduates or engineers (by whatever route) and you may not have the strong support that I enjoyed.

The converse is that there is more work to do and more scope to divert your career to areas where you can achieve what you want and do what you enjoy most.

8.     What have you gained from your membership of ICorr?

Friends, contacts with other competent professionals. People who I might wish to work with or consult on issues outside my expertise. Many of the key influencers in my professional life are ICorr members; a significant proportion are past Presidents.

Let’s get personal with the corrosion professional!

We know that corrosion professionals aren’t all work and no play, so we asked Brian three final questions to learn a little more about him personally.

9.     What’s your favourite food?

I confess to being a ‘foodie’. There is little that I dislike, and I enjoy anything that is well prepared, from simple to complex – though it should be fresh and as high-quality sourcing as possible. However, I particularly love French and Italian food and products.

10. What do you like doing most outside of your professional life?

Apart from food, I guess my greatest weakness is cars. I am not alone – there are others senior in ICorr with this ‘addiction’!

I have loved driving across Europe and the quieter parts of the UK. Sadly, I find the latter to be seldomly pleasurable now.

I also enjoy sitting quietly with my wife, with a decent glass of wine, and looking across a good view. This might be at home, elsewhere in the UK, or overseas. It’s even better after a nice drive, with the rest of the family present, while we are enjoying good food.

11. Tell us a secret about yourself, something that might surprise fellow members (and something we can print!)

I am an ‘Essex lad’, born within a mile of the main gate of Ford’s Dagenham factory. We escaped when I was 10 and my father’s electrical engineering business became profitable. I never owned a Ford! Even though their products benefitted from the oversight of that great engineer and manager Richard Parry-Jones FREng.

What do you want to ask a corrosion specialist?

The ‘Essex Lad’ has spoken!

Now, over to you. Let us know what you’d like us to ask the next ICorr member we put in the hotseat for 11 questions in 11 minutes. Send us an email, and we’ll try to include your question.