Mar 04, 2020

Industry Icon: Pay it Forward

Researcher leverages honesty, passion & compassion to humbly shape the direction of the water industry

Frank Brigano, industry icon, water quality products, water treatment
Frank Brigano, WQP's 2020 Industry Icon

Honesty and integrity coupled with a passion for the work you do are the key values that drive Frank Brigano forward. Brigano, now vice president and senior research fellow for Marmon Water Inc., has worn many hats throughout his career in the water industry. Those who have been fortunate to work with him say that he has humbly and tirelessly worked to push the industry’s best interests forward throughout his career, marking the characteristics of a true industry icon. 

From Sanitizers to Final Barrier

Brigano has been working in the water industry for nearly 50 years, “depending on where you want to start,” he said. He received his Bachelors in Biology/Chemistry from the University of Cincinnati, Masters in Microbiology from the Ohio State University and Ph.D. in Environmental Science from the University of Cincinnati. After completing his Ph.D. in 1979, he had hoped to work with the U.S. EPA, but the EPA was undergoing a reduction in force at the time. 

“I definitely considered other career paths,” Brigano said. “I always was interested in the environment. My original goal was to do something with the EPA and my doctorate degree was even on an EPA grant looking at the effects of particles on the disinfection of viruses and water, so I always thought in terms of more municipal type water.”

Brigano has always been drawn to work in the environment though, a desire he attributes partially to a strong environmental movement in the early 1970’s when the EPA was formed and partially to the influence of his uncle, Dr. Pasquale V. Scarpino, who was a microbiologist and one of his most influential mentors. Brigano even considers himself a “tree hugger” today.

Ultimately, Brigano started working for Olin Corp., which developed swimming pool sanitizers at the time. There, Brigano developed the disinfection requirements for a new spa line that are still in use today. While Brigano was employed there, Olin Corp. purchased a company out of San Antonio called Continental Water. Continental Water was working to develop a “water store concept” but was struggling to take off, so Olin Corp. asked him to join the venture as the technical lead for the business unit, called Aqualux, which marketed water treatment equipment made by Continental Water. What resulted was what Brigano fondly recalls as “the most entrepreneurial fun I have had my whole career.”

From 1986 to 1988, working with Continental Water enabled him to work closely with a small team to develop a business while exploring new skills. It also put him in a position to expand his water industry network and meet leaders in the point-of-use/point-of-entry (POU/POE) industry. Two of those leaders were Nancy Culotta, former vice president for Food Safety Product Certification and Consumer Products for NSF and former general manager of NSF’s Drinking Water and Wastewater programs; and Regu Regunathan, former president of EverPure and current president of ReguNathan & Associates Inc. When a position opened up for the director of process development at Culligan in 1989, Culotta recommended Brigano to Regunathan and “the rest is history,” Brigano said.

“He worked well with any and all personal at all levels in an organization,” Regunathan said. “That is probably his biggest strength and positive attribute. He finds natural ways to work together with all around him.”

When Brigano started at Culligan, he was the director of process development and worked on several influential projects, including a small systems initiative demonstration project in Freestone, California, that went on to win awards from both the EPA and the state of California for providing potable water to a small community. Brigano worked his way up the ladder and transferred to EverPure, which was owned by Culligan at the time, as the vice president of research and development (R&D). He then continued on to become the head of R&D for Culligan, EverPure and Plymouth Products (also owned by Culligan at the time). 

Brigano, right, and inventors pose with patent awards for the issuance of a U.S. patent for microbiological reduction chemistry at KX Technologies.
Brigano, right, and inventors pose with patent awards for the issuance of a U.S. patent for microbiological reduction chemistry at KX Technologies.

“I enjoyed it, and I loved Culligan. It was a great experience, and I am still in contact with a lot of people there,” Brigano said. “Even the president I worked for–him and I communicated this week.”

In fact, Mike Reardon, former president and COO of Culligan International who was Brigano’s supervisor at the time, said the two still call one another on each other’s birthdays. Reardon, who was one of the founders of US Filter which purchased Culligan, first met Brigano in 1998 after the acquisition. 

“Frank has always been what I would characterize as a brilliant scientist,” Reardon said. “But humble and passionate about the business, and a compassionate teacher for folks like me that are trying to learn things. He always demonstrated a great deal of patience.”

The defining characteristic that sets Brigano apart from other scientists is the ability to look at problems both from a technological perspective but also from an entrepreneurial side while considering all parties involved.

“Sometimes you have a subject matter expert that has difficulty transitioning to the entrepreneurial side and figuring out, ‘Okay, here is the answer, but how do you make money?’” Reardon said. “Frank was always the consummate entrepreneur, so he understood the technology and understood advances, but he always sought to make the innovation or the evolution of a product in a manner that was good for the customer, but it was also good for the investors.”

One aspect Brigano has enjoyed about his work with Marmon Water is the ability to travel and focus internationally. Above, Brigano poses with the AquaWorks team.
One aspect Brigano has enjoyed about his work with Marmon Water is the ability to travel and focus internationally. Above, Brigano poses with the AquaWorks team.

Brigano worked in R&D at Culligan for more than 15 years, developing new technologies and increasing his role in industry activism groups. In 2007, Marmon Holdings purchased KX Industries and Brigano was again recruited through his professional network to join KX Technologies. In 2018, he was promoted to his current role as vice president and senior research fellow for Marmon Water where he is responsible for identifying and bringing forward new technologies to the company. 

“I first met Frank back in 1991, and he has great knowledge of the industry and technology and adds great value to the team,” Mohammed Bayat, senior vice president of Innovation and Growth Strategy for Marmon Water and Brigano’s current boss, said. “...Frank always wants to learn, he always reads about new technology, new patents and shares with other people.”

A typical day at work for Brigano consists of a lot of reading, researching and networking while searching for the latest and greatest new technologies to develop. The hard work has paid off, as he holds more than 25 patents and patent applications. At Marmon Water, he enjoys working with great people and customers, as well as the international footprint of the company which has given him the opportunity to work with its team in India, China and Singapore. 

“I just enjoy being in the business and developing new technologies and products,” he said. “I feel I have made a difference to the products and help people.”

Cultivating a Legacy

Throughout his career, Brigano has worked on a lengthy list of projects he speaks of with pride. At Culligan, he worked on a small systems initiative and worked to promote POU/POE as a viable alternative for water treatment as opposed to centralized treatment, especially for small systems. He also worked to develop and improve water softener valves there. At Marmon Water, he has helped push forward microbiological purifier technologies and gravity filtration for lead reduction, among numerous other projects. Despite the long list of accomplishments, Brigano credits much of his success to the people around him.

“What is really important to me is that I was blessed that I got to work with a bunch of wonderful people, and I was able to hire some people that have really blossomed,” he said. “I never felt I wanted to hire people like me; I wanted to hire people that were totally not like me. I just worked with some really great people and we worked collaboratively and it just worked well for us.”

An important element of his successful career is the mentorship he experienced throughout it, he stressed. Scarpino was one of his first mentors and helped foster his love of the environment. Regunathan has also been a mentor to him and has taught him the value of strong will, risk taking and collaboration.

“I learned that you cannot be afraid to state your position and you have to be strong and that you have to be willing to take risks,” Brigano said of Regunathan’s mentorship. “Then the collaboration piece–that it is not all about you.”

In addition to being mentored, Brigano has consistently taken time to mentor throughout his career and has happily seen several of his mentees continue successful careers of their own. Currently, he is a mentor for the Water Quality Association (WQA) Women in Industry (WIN) program, a group that he strongly and passionately supports. 

Brigano

small system project
At Olin Corp., Brigano worked to develop an algicide line for swimming pools around 1980 (top). At Culligan, Brigano worked on a MultiTech system used for a small system project around 1992 (bottom).

Industry & Community Involvement

On top of his career, Brigano’s industry and community involvement activities are practically a full-time job, and one he views as absolutely essential. 

“The only way for our industry to survive and to thrive is to be involved,” he said.

He is the vice chair of the NSF Drinking Water Treatment Units Joint Committee and chairman of the Certification Council at NSF. At WQA, he was the first chairman of the Water Sciences Committee, has served on the WQA Board of Directors and is currently on the Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) Board of Directors. He is particularly passionate about the WQRF and believes in the need for both companies and individuals to donate to support the organization.

“I believe you need to give back–pay it forward,” Brigano said. “So that is why I get involved with these things and in the WQRF. They are doing work that advances our industry from a technology point of view and understanding point of view that helps everybody in the industry.”

Outside of the water industry, Brigano enjoys spending time with family, going for walks with his wife and their dogs and working out at the gym. He is also deeply involved in his community. He volunteers at his church, for the local wetlands committee and he is the treasurer of a local political party. Despite his busy schedule of work, travel and volunteering, Brigano has enjoyed a fulfilling family life, as well. He credits his “wonderful wife” who has helped him balance it all.

Over the Years

Throughout Brigano’s career, he has seen substantial changes in the POU/POE water industry and has had the opportunity to be a part of many of those changes. First and foremost, he has seen sales ethics improve immensely with a pronounced shift away from scare tactic selling. An improvement in standards writing and product certification has contributed to this shift as well, he said. Brigano humbly attributes this important shift to both the WQA and his peers throughout the years.

“I got to work with all of the–I’ll call it the founding fathers of the industry in the standards writing part–I mean Regu [Regunathan], Gary Hatch, Doc Nolan and others,” he said. “These guys here were at the forefront of the industry in the mid to late 1970s that helped bring the POU technology forward and help develop these standards. They took standards that were developed at WQA that were fundamental and basic standards and moved them to the next level, and I was fortunate enough to work with these gentlemen.”

While Brigano praises those who have taught him and helped shape the industry over the past nearly 50 years, he has advice for the next generation of young professionals who will continue to shape the industry over the next 50 years. His advice is simple but has clearly guided him in the right direction.

“My advice is to work with passion and to love what you do,” Brigano said. “I have been fortunate.”

While the future is never certain, one thing is clear: Brigano’s passion for his work and for promoting the best interests of the industry will ensure that he will continue to be involved in shaping the industry for years to come. His past and present peers agree.

“I’ve watched Frank since then–since I left Culligan and have stayed in touch with him–really take on more from a senior fellow within the industry to kind of looking out for where the industry is going,” Reardon said. “...That’s primarily how I’ve seen him grow professionally, is really transcending from a company focus to an industry focus.” 

Water Quality Association
Brigano has been an active member of the WQA for more than three decades.

 

About the author

Lauren Del Ciello is managing editor for WQP. Del Ciello can be reached at [email protected].

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