coffee with jim and james
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March 11, 2021

CWJJ Episode 47: Dan Pajak

coffee with jim and james

Thursday, March 4- Does Dan Pajak love what he does? His smile should say it all, but his passion for the industry is evident throughout this week’s episode.

Rumor is there may be a little Zoom bomb appearance from some familiar faces too.

Quick Links:

UPSCO LinkedIn

Episode Transcript:

[0:00] [music]

Jim Schauer:  [0:22] Good morning. Welcome to this week’s episode of “Coffee with Jim & James.” James, before we get into this, I think I have to take you back in time to where we first met Dan. You may not remember this, but you and I were sailing in the South China Sea, on our way to Jakarta, and we were passing by that deserted island.

[0:45] Deserted, with smoke signals going up. We got out our Morse code and I thought it was SOS, but no, it spelled UPSCO. We went up to the island, I thought it might have been the “Cast Away” movie, Tom Hanks, but who was it? Dan Pajak.

[1:02] We said, “Dan, get on our ship, we’ll take you to safety,” and Dan got, “Great! Except, I want to see your log, I want to see your credentials, when was the coast guard last inspection done…” That’s the type of man Dan Pajak is. James, do you remember that incident or is that all on my head?

James Cross:  [1:20] I don’t. That’s all make‑believe, and Dan doesn’t remember, I can tell by the way he’s shaking his head that it never happened.

[1:27] [crosstalk]

Dan Pajak:  [1:27] No, you made all that up in the last three minutes.

James:  [1:29] I’m telling you. He does that, that’s his gift.

Dan:  [1:32] Brilliant.

James:  [1:32] Dan, welcome to the show. For those that don’t know Dan Pajak, he is the co‑owner of UPSCO. Dan, thanks for joining us.

Dan:  [1:41] Thanks for having me, it’s a real honor.

James:  [1:44] We’ll ask you that again later and see if that thing holds up.

[1:47] [laughter]

Dan:  [1:47] Seemed like the right thing to say. [laughs]

James:  [1:51] Jim likes to believe that we’ve met before. Dan and I actually just met in the pre‑show, but I’ve heard great things about you, Dan, I hope you can live up to it.

Dan:  [2:02] I’ll do my best, thank you.

Jim:  [2:04] That’s a lot of pressure right there, isn’t it?

James:  [2:06] No big deal.

Jim:  [2:07] Dan, let’s bring our audience in. You and I have had some really fun conversations lately, and I almost say that they’re in the realm of thought leadership. The industry is so wide, and we’re so diverse with everything, but one topic came up that really struck me, and the passion that you have for it was incredible. It was talking about core values.

[2:32] It’s not just core values of a company where they’re on the wall, you pass by them, and nobody ever sees the picture with them on there, but you really brought it into light as living, eating, breathing them, not just corporate, but also, starting with family and such. I wanted to bring up that subject today because I was fascinated by it, I truly was.

Dan:  [2:55] Core values. As you said, they play a big part in what we do both here at home, and at the office. Real quick story, last night I was hanging out with my son, his name is Cole, he’s 23 years old. Of course, he’s home after an undergraduate degree. We’re thrilled about that.

[3:15] I was telling him that I was going to be sitting back, enjoying a cup of coffee with Jim and James, and talking about core values. He started to chuckle, he said, “Do you remember when we did the core values exercise, and shortly thereafter I kind of drove home a point about how committed I was with the core values? I wasn’t thinking.”

[3:36] Just give you a little background, about 10 years ago, when our kids were teenagers, we sat down with a big stack of flashcards, and each flashcard had a word on it, something that represented a core value, happiness, joy, integrity, faith, all those things.

[3:51] I said, “Now, you pick 10 of them, 10 of them that mean something to you, that really resonated for you.” We all pick 10, then we’re supposed to whittle them down to five. These five have to be your driving core principles, your guiding light if you will, because there’s a lot of challenges in life.

[4:08] You’ve got to make decisions, and you need something to fall back on to make this decision, hopefully it’s the right decision. He picked his five, he was ready to rock. Shortly after that, I was outside and I thought, “You know, I’m going to employ him to give me some hand out in the yard.”

[4:23] I grabbed a shovel, took him over to an area where we were going to plant a tree. I said, “Now, dig a hole, I want it about this big, and I’ll be back in about 20 minutes check in on you.” I came back 20 minutes later, the shovel’s on the ground, there’s no hole, and there’s no Cole.

[4:43] I’m a little miffed, so I run into the house and I’m looking for him. Where do I find him but sitting on the couch? I said, “Cole, what’s the deal? I asked you to dig a hole and here you are, hanging out.” He said, “Dad, you know, it just wasn’t for me. I followed all my core values.”

[4:58] I go, “What do you mean you followed your core values?” He said, “Yeah, Dad, if you remember, one of my core values is leisure.”

[5:03] [laughter]

James:  [5:05] That’s my man.

Dan:  [5:06] I said, “Well, that’s really good to know.” I guess the moral of the story is, make sure you review your teenager’s core values before they set them in stone.

Jim:  [5:14] [laughs]

James:  [5:16] Dan, how does that translate in the business world, at UPSCO? Tell us a little bit about those core values.

Dan:  [5:24] Like I said, they’re the heart and soul of a strong, sustainable company. Every individual within the organization plays a part, and they’re faced with making decisions on a daily basis. As a company, we established a group of core values to help people make those decisions.

[5:48] Really, they’re the foundation, because without a strong foundation it’s just like a building, the framework’s going to crumble over time. There’s an old saying that birds of a feather flock together. Well, if those birds have the proper guidance, leadership, and purpose, we’re all going to fly in the same direction to the same destination.

[6:10] With that in mind, our core values, the way we structure them, we really wanted to make them be universal truths, because so many times you see a lot of companies out there that have these core values that no one can really attain.

[6:22] Some people just don’t have that inherent ability within them, but if we focus on things that are universal truths out there, that really resonate for people, that they can utilize at home, in their communities, and at work, then it just makes them a better human being. For that we just wanted those virtues to really drive what we do at UPSCO.

Jim:  [6:49] Let me just hop in real quick before I forget this. Did you go through the same exercise with the UPSCO team where…Did you establish core values and say, “Everybody, here they are,” or did you say, “All right, everybody, write down what’s your most important, give them to me and we’ll see where the synergies lie,” or how did that take place?

Dan:  [7:08] A combination. I felt strongly about certain things, and that they had to be human virtues that we can all attain, and aspire to, but with that in mind, we had a group of people, and it was a big brainstorming session, and we got everyone involved, so they felt a part of it.

[7:32] We didn’t have everyone in the company, but we got a good sampling and made sure that whatever we came up with we felt confident would resonate for everybody.

James:  [7:40] Dan, one thing that we do internally…It goes with the commitment we have with the industry, which is continuous improvement.

[7:50] I know one thing they teach us with core values, mission, vision, things like that, is always to circle back with your team every couple of years, every year, something, to at least make sure your true north is still true north. Is that something you guys do over there at UPSCO?

Dan:  [8:10] When it comes to the family, yes, because you start out with teenagers and their perspectives change. With regards to the business, we pretty much cast those into stone. We feel very strongly about them.

[8:24] We hire to them, we evaluate and nurture to them. A lot of times it’s the chemistry that they establish. For some people, oftentimes they come to their own conclusion that, “Maybe these core values just aren’t for me.”

[8:41] I can’t tell you how gratifying it is time and time again when we have a new hire, I’ll ask them, “So, why did you choose UPSCO?” They say, “Well, there is a lot of factors, but I guess the icing on the cake were the core values. I admire and respect them, and wanted to be a part of something.” We’re very proud of them, to say the least.

James:  [9:02] Pretty cool. Dan, let’s switch gears a little bit.

Jim:  [9:06] Oh, boy.

James:  [9:07] In the news lately, I’m sure we’ve all heard it, I want to get your view, your insight, on renewable/non‑renewable discussion. I don’t know if you’re aware, we just met in the pre‑show, but I’m sure Jim filled you in.

[9:25] Last week was something else here in Texas. I’m sure the North was laughing everywhere, but we’re just simply not built for it. It of course has brought up a lot of discussions this past week whether…

[9:38] It’s the long discussion of fossil fuels are bad, or going green on everything, whatever it is, we are hearing a lot of it. Dan, can you give us your take on the renewable/non‑renewable discussion?

Dan:  [9:56] You hear a lot of in the news. I’ve been in this business almost 35 years, and just within the last two to three years I’ve never seen such publicity, documentaries, and a lot of things going on out there. Right now it almost seems like there’s two factions, the strong environmentalists, and the capitalist, if you will, if you want to put it that way, as far as the energy producers. It’s almost like the Republicans and the Democrats.

[10:27] It’s very difficult to deal with two extreme circumstances when the solution to all of this is just to come together and look at our options. I think the important thing is that as we move forward with developing energy policies, we have to really understand and educate our society on the merits, the science, and the facts behind our energy options.

[10:52] Right now I don’t see a lot of that going on. I see a lot of emotion. I love passion. Passion with purpose is one of our core values, but passion when it’s driven by emotion, it just leads to poor consequences. I think there needs to be some dialogue out there, and really understand, and put things in perspective of what we’re looking at, and facing.

[11:20] Jim, my God, down in Texas, what you dealt with in this last week, what would be one big takeaway for you after all of this? What’s the most important thing about your energy delivery?

James:  [11:34] I’ll take that. I think it boils down to…We want stability. I work in the industry, I’m a part of this industry, but if there would have been options for me to keep me and mine safer over that time we just went through, then I would jump on that in a heartbeat.

[11:58] If that comes from diversity, I’m aware of that. I’m educated. I’m out in the industry sitting at the same tables as some of these other people. We have clients that serve both natural gas and electric, and others. For me, when I look at me and my family, I don’t want to be in that situation again. That’s the bottom line for me.

[12:26] Now, I’d love for it to be natural gas, because of the industry we serve first and foremost, but I also understand that there’s room at the table for other things.

Dan:  [12:37] Absolutely. There has to be, there absolutely has to be. What I heard you say is reliability. That’s the bottom line. It’s not until our back’s up against the wall that we really…gets down to the brass tacks, what’s important.

[12:51] Here in Upstate New York, where I live, and a lot of the northern states, we’re prepared for extreme weather temperatures, particularly cold, where the demand on electricity is the greatest. For me, I’m very fortunate in my home to have options. I have electric, I have natural gas, a service line, and there is other fuels that I could tap into if I liked.

[13:14] It’s a great position to be in, because I’ve been in this house now for over 20 years, and not one single time have I lost gas service, but every year, multiple times a year, my power goes out, and oftentimes for multiple days on end.

[13:31] Do I want the security of my family put at risk due to the inability of the grid to deliver power when it’s needed most? Particularly, when you’re looking at the other agenda with renewables, then I’m all for them, but you have to appreciate the fact that they don’t operate all the time when you need them.

[13:55] Based on current weather patterns, I think the statistic’s around 25 percent of the time that they’re actually generating power. They need storage capacity, and right now the technology doesn’t support that.

[14:07] There has to be a healthy blend of perhaps using natural gas and nuclear as a primary source, and supplement them with the renewable, so we can all strive to achieve that green initiative, if you will, but to go from point A to point Z overnight, is that realistic?

[14:24] [crosstalk]

James:  [14:24] Dan, you kind of hit it, but if we go one way, if it’s all green, or if it’s all wind, or if it’s all one thing, still we have to educate people that on the backside of that, somewhere, there’s a natural gas plant. Green isn’t all green. You’re still not getting away from the biggest part of it.

[14:48] [crosstalk]

Dan:  [14:54] Sorry for the interruption.

James:  [14:54] [laughs]

Dan:  [14:58] We’re focusing just on power, but look at around us. All the consumables, all the technologies that have been developed over a year, I’ll sit here and argue to no end that energy is the backbone of our society. Every other industry is dependent upon the energy that we can generate, the energy we can process, and put them into the forms that enable some incredible human ingenuity.

[15:20] Quite frankly, I think human ingenuity is what we’re going to see show up here in the next few years. Some amazing things are going to happen, but the one thing I really want to stress is that with the natural gas industry, we have over a hundred years’ supply.

[15:35] When we consume natural gas, we’re generating over 50 percent less carbon emissions than any other fossil fuel. The infrastructure that’s in place, we have close to three million miles of pipeline out there. It’s there to be used.

[15:52] Whether it’s in the form of natural gas, or we inject some cleaner burning hydrogen into it, look at all the renewable gas potential that’s out there, with the agriculture, the landfills, and things that we can tap, and carbon capture all that methane, put it into our pipelines and deliver it to the end user.

[16:11] I wouldn’t put it past our industry to be able to create a net‑zero carbon emission environment in the decades to come. Let’s not forget what our potential is.

Jim:  [16:28] Dan, you brought up a few points that I wanted to hit on. One was geographic. When I lived in Minnesota for 20 years, I couldn’t imagine not having a natural gas‑fired furnace to get through that winter. Now, in the South and Florida, I can’t imagine being without air conditioning.

[16:45] Maybe a solar application at some point could be a good thing for here. You have to think about it regionally and stuff like that. The other thing, I saw a really neat episode on social media, they were talking about everything we’re talking about.

[17:01] They said, “Equated to your 401(k), do you take all your money and put it into one area, and that’s it, or do you diversify it?” People in the audience all diversification.

[17:13] Think of the same thing, there’s a lot of good things to have, natural gas, coal, solar, wind, hydro, blend them all together, and have them be the best as they can be, do what they do the best in the applications that work the best for them.

Dan:  [17:30] Who knows? 10, 20 years from now, we may be talking about something completely different that’s not natural gas, that’s not wind or solar.

Jim:  [17:37] That we don’t know yet.

Dan:  [17:39] Maybe we don’t know yet.

[17:39] [crosstalk]

James:  [17:40] In fact, Jim, the other day we had Stuart Saulters on, from APGA, and he was talking about the same thing. He said, “We’ve got to remember that we have all this infrastructure in place for natural gas.” I love that you brought up that same fact. I feel the same way.

[17:58] I think that we can get somewhere where we can still have all these people, still in work, still doing what they love and we need them to be doing, but be innovative, and finding an alternate solution to it. I love that you brought that up.

Dan:  [18:15] Just like everything. Everything has its positives and negatives. Behind those positives and negatives are people that operate in certain ways and fashions.

[18:23] From a standpoint of natural gas delivery, the NTSB has statistics that show that we’re .01 percent accidents. That’s three million miles of pipeline, and we have next to very few incidences of accidents. I think that says a lot for industry, it really does.

Jim:  [18:46] Absolutely. Dan, your passion, every time we talk on the phone, I always enjoy it because it gets…What we planned to have a two to five‑minute conversation turns into 30 minutes, and they’re good, they’re robust, they’re very mentally invigorating. James, do you mind if I go into this next question?

James:  [19:08] By all means, steal my thunder.

Jim:  [19:10] I have to steal it, just because of that. James and I have to ask this question together. Dan, do you love what you do?

Dan:  [19:23] You really need to ask that question? [laughs]

Jim:  [19:25] No, I don’t.

James:  [19:30] Look at that smile. Of course.

Dan:  [19:31] Like I said, I’ve been in this business almost 35 years and I absolutely love it, for the simple reason. There’s three reasons, really. I think the first reason is that every day we wake up, we play a part in delivering life‑sustaining energy. That is awesome. I think everyone that’s out there listening that’s in our industry, be proud of that, man.

[19:51] I mean we walk softly, but behind, what we do is very, very significant. Two, I’ve never once woken up in the morning, looked at myself in the mirror, and questioned my integrity. This industry demands integrity, and if you don’t have it, it chews you up and spits you out, because we can’t take any risks.

[20:14] It comes down to the products we put in the ground, the materials, and the people behind it, because it all comes down to the people. That segues into my last reason why I like this business, is that I have lifelong friends out of this journey…

Jim:  [20:32] We do.

Dan:  [20:32] and some of the finest people on the planet, least that I’m aware of. In that time I’ve really encountered some awesome characters that have helped me create some great memories. Isn’t there some, like, three guys that we know, that kind of fit that bill?

Jim:  [20:51] Wait. What are you doing [inaudible] ?

James:  [20:58] A Zoom bomb background.

[21:00] [laughter]

James:  [21:00] Just like that.

Jim:  [21:00] A Zoom bomb.

Chad Cuvo:  [21:02] I was [inaudible] out of it, but I probably would have hurt myself.

James:  [21:05] Well, welcome, guys. How are you doing? Well, well, well, look who we got on the show.

Ted Peet:  [21:11] You guys know each other? You come here often?

James:  [21:14] It’s our first time. How are you guys? Welcome back to the show. I think y’all are our longest‑standing guests, maybe.

Joe Serrett:  [21:24] Grazie.

James:  [21:25] Most appearances on the show. 17 times.

Joe:  [21:29] 17 times. 17 appearances. Good, good to see you guys. How are you…?

James:  [21:34] Well, we stole Dan for the day. That was our goal. He’s been an awesome guest. It’s exciting to see you guys because we all started this journey together.

Chad:  [21:47] That we did.

James:  [21:48] A wild, wild journey.

Ted:  [21:50] It’s coming up on a year. Can you believe that?

Joe:  [21:54] No, I can’t.

James:  [21:55] I can’t believe I didn’t know y’all a year ago.

Chad:  [21:58] Yeah, that’s kind of wild thing, way to think about it, James, actually. I mean that, that is crazy. I knew Jim. That’s unfortunate, but I did.

[22:06] [laughter]

Ted:  [22:08] I knew Jim’s better half.

Chad:  [22:10] Oh, sorry, Jim. I forgot you were here.

Jim:  [22:12] Oh, yeah. You guys want just me to bring Tammy in. She actually says…

Chad:  [22:15] Is she there, please?

Jim:  [22:16] [inaudible] on the show today?”

Joe:  [22:17] It’s legitimately the only reason we talk to you.

Ted:  [22:19] Yeah, legitimately.

James:  [22:22] Well, you guys have done wonders in the industry this year. You’ve led by example and we’ve enjoyed watching it. We shared it with our groups and our folks, all throughout. I just couldn’t imagine going through this past year with us both not having a soundboard and a way to keep our own sanity, because Lord knows we didn’t have a clue what we were doing when we started.

Jim:  [22:51] You ain’t kidding.

James:  [22:52] Much like we started this, this episode today, Dan said, “I trust you. Just…whatever.” Here we are.

Ted:  [23:00] He’s never said that phrase to us, that’s weird.

[23:02] [laughter]

Joe:  [23:02] No, but I think he brings a good point. We talked about this in the very beginning. We started doing this for a bit of normalcy, and we thought maybe it would be a couple months. We really weren’t sure how long, and now approaching a year, here we are.

[23:17] We’re almost 52 weeks into doing these shows, and I think from our end, James, we didn’t even really know you before this, and now we can’t wait to actually meet you in person, we never have.

[23:30] I can say that about a lot of our guests. We get to meet some really great people, and communicate, and get to know a lot more about the industry, and share some of that message to other people. So, thank you, guys, for doing what you do. It’s been awesome to watch you guys succeed, and grow, and do the things that you’ve done as well. It’s been pretty cool.

James:  [23:47] It’s been a blast.

Chad:  [23:48] I always love when Joe talks because I don’t have to say anything after he’s done. Great.

[23:51] [laughter]

Jim:  [23:52] That’s it. Mic drop and be done.

[23:56] [laughter]

James:  [23:56] I did want to bring up one thing while we have 17,000 UPSCO people on our show today. Y’all have an expo coming up pretty quick, I think it’s March 16th.

Chad:  [24:08] 16th, 17th, 18th, yep.

James:  [24:11] All three days.

Ted:  [24:12] Shameless plug.

James:  [24:13] Y’all shamelessly plug it real quick, all the way. Go ahead. Somebody.

Chad:  [24:17] Joe.

James:  [24:21] Joe.

[24:21] [laughter]

Joe:  [24:22] We did an expo back in December that was fun. We had a good time with it. Chad and I spent a lot of time learning. The first one was not without snafus, but we thought, again, in this time, we’re still dealing with this pandemic, and we’re not able to get to things like we used to.

[24:39] Jim, you and I have been to a million trade shows together. We wanted to just be able to continue giving it to the industry, and allowing people to have an educational platform where they come and learn. Chad and I have worked on this pretty much every day for the past five, six weeks, but we’re excited to bring it into CORROSION Expo.

[24:58] We have some of the greatest minds, and some of the best presenters in the industry, talking about things from basics of cathodic protection in corrosion, all the way to topics I can’t even say, because I don’t even understand.

[25:11] [laughter]

Joe:  [25:11] It’s been a lot of fun, and again, we’ve also gotten to meet some really interesting people that we wouldn’t have had an opportunity to meet in that regard as well. It’s free. We are able to offer professional development hours.

[25:23] We’ve put together a little tandem thing with AMPP, which is the artist formerly known as NACE, and the other organization that I can never remember, Chad, on its own.

James:  [25:34] SPPC? Is that it?

Chad:  [25:36] An SSPC, yeah.

Joe:  [25:38] They’ve been really gracious with their time. We have two of their employees’ directors that are going to be doing the keynote speech. We’re really thankful for them, and it should be a lot of fun. Like I said, it’s free for everybody, so, join if you can, and maybe you can learn a little bit of something.

[25:51] I don’t have a corrosion background, I’ve been in the industry for going on 11 years, now, and I don’t really know that much about corrosion, so I’m pretty excited to watch some of the things, just so I can learn a little bit more about what some of these people do that we talk to every day.

Ted:  [26:03] So glad he said that, I almost feel bad for not having a corrosion background in two and a half years.

Joe:  [26:08] [laughs]

Chad:  [26:08] Listen, I’m the one with the most corrosion background, and there’s still things on that schedule that I can’t pronounce. Even my corrosion background doesn’t touch on what some of…

[26:18] The amazing part, to me, is we probably have at this point, where I think we’re three weeks out, we have almost over 75 people in each class, already, which is pretty wild.

[26:27] It should just be a lot of fun, and to find that, the only thing you left out, Joe, was the www.upscoexpo.com. We got stuck in the “www” thing yesterday, because I couldn’t say right.

Ted:  [26:39] World Wide Web.

Chad:  [26:41] Thanks.

Ted:  [26:41] World Wide Web. I got you.

James:  [26:42] I had your back on that, I was about to ask where they can go.

Chad:  [26:46] [laughs]

James:  [26:46] That’s awesome, man.

[26:47] [crosstalk]

Joe:  [26:48] I was just [inaudible] .

James:  [26:49] And you answered that it was free, which was my other question. Guys, it’s been a blast. Dan, you’ve been an awesome guest.

Dan:  [26:56] Thank you.

James:  [26:56] Jim, you want to take us home?

Jim:  [26:58] Yeah, let me take us home. I have to tell you, Dan brought it up that this business, this industry, is built on relationships, network, ethics, everything, and I have to say in a very serious [inaudible] .

[27:11] This is a very micro example of that people come together for the good of the industry, bringing different knowledges, different skill sets, and we’re always learning in the industry, and that’s a really…I’ll say it, fun. It’s fun that we have the ability to say, “I want to learn more about corrosion” or whatever, and our peers support us in that.

[27:33] It doesn’t matter where we are in our journey, the energy in the industry, we always try to be better and be safer, and that’s wonderful. This is just a great example of it. The Expo is a phenomenal example of it.

[27:42] So, please, audience, do go to upscoexpo.com, register, it’s free, and it will be fun. You can meet some interesting people, learn some great things. Please do that. Again, our thanks. James and I want to thank Dan for coming on today. You have been absolutely a joy to talk to and very passionate. That’s great to see.

Dan:  [28:07] Thank you much.

Jim:  [28:07] We thank Connections for Life for doing a fun little Zoom bomb today, bringing it all together. I will say, again, we’re going to do a year anniversary show soon. Everybody be on the lookout for that.

[28:20] On behalf of everybody on the screen and James and I, thank you for joining us for this edition of Coffee with Jim & James. We will see you next time.

[28:28] Until then, please, everyone, always stay safe. Have a great day. We’ll see you soon.

Dan:  [28:35] Thanks, guys.

James:  [28:35] Bye‑bye, everybody. Thanks, Dan.

[28:37] [music]

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