It’s time again for the National Plasterers Council to welcome a new chairman.
Every two years, the group changes leadership, and the incoming chairman for 2024-2025 is Shaun Goldberg, plaster operations manager for Burkett’s Pool Plastering & Remodeling in Ripon, Calif. The 30-plus-year plastering veteran begins his two-year term at the NPC Conference Feb. 21-23 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Like so many in NPC, Goldberg’s plastering career started in the literal trenches. But in both NPC and Burkett’s Pool Plastering & Remodeling, he moved up the ranks quickly.
Here, we learn about Goldberg’s career and outlook coming into his new position.
Goldberg grew up in Central California, first in Gustine, Calif., a small Portuguese dairy and farming community about 100 miles from San Francisco, then in Modesto, a considerably larger city nearby.
Like so many in the pool and spa industry, Goldberg happened upon the trade. At 19, after having taken a year in college, he received a job offer from a friend in the pool/spa plastering business.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” he says. “I was 19 and in good shape, so I went to work with him one day and thought, ‘Wow, I think I could do this and like it.’”
So he began his swimming pool plastering career working for Earl Adams, founder of Adams Pool Solutions, then located in nearby Pleasanton, Calif.
He came in very much at the ground level — as a hod carrier and mixer for $30 per pool. But that didn’t last for long. Goldberg seriously saw this as a potential career path and wanted to move forward.
“I only mixed for about four months, then convinced them to put me in the pool and teach me to trowel,” he says.
He liked the hard work, the people, the ability to work in a different city every day — and avoid working in an office. He seized the opportunity to learn from the seasoned veterans around him.
“I loved working with these guys,” Goldberg says. “I would clean their pools just so they’d teach me this trade. I wanted to be as good as they were. That kind of motivated me to just keep with it.”
As much as anything, he appreciated the artistry and challenge involved in pool and spa plastering.
“I’ve never done flatwork concrete, but I know you have forms and screeds, where in a swimming pool, you have all these curves and steps and noses,” he explains. “Every pool is different, because there are so many variables, with how long the shotcrete has been there, who shot it, what the weather conditions are like. And it’s all by hand.”
He also liked the strategic aspect of timing the work to finish before the material sets, accounting for things such as weather conditions and whether or not the material is tinted. He liked the challenge of having to complete the whole job in one sweep.
“Once the plaster is shot in, your time has started,” he says. “There’s no stopping to have lunch or take a break. You’re going until it’s done. So you really have to be efficient to make it look good.”
He worked with Adams Pool Solutions for about five years when Rob Burkett reached out to him. He’d recently started a company and was looking for skilled plasterers.
“I thought, ‘I have a pretty secure job here,’” he recalls. “But he said, ‘Well, come play golf with me, and we’ll talk.’ By the end of the golf round, I realized what kind of person he was. From then on, he would not only be my boss, but my mentor and a friend.”
Up the ladder
He joined Ripon, Calif.-based Burkett’s Pool Plastering & Remodeling in 1991 and has remained there ever since.
After a few years serving as a plaster, he became a foreman, which he did for about 15 years. Then he was named plaster operations manager 22 years ago.
“We had grown into five or six crews, and somebody needed to manage that,” Goldberg says. “[Burkett] took me out of the pool and had me start managing the day-to-day operations.”
Some business courses at night school helped him transition from the field to the office.
“It was eye-opening to see everything else that goes on in a business to accomplish what you do,” Goldberg says. “I see myself as a facilitator giving the guys in the field everything they need to accomplish their job and keep moving forward. Rob always taught me to do things the right way even if it costs more, and the right thing will happen.”
But experience in his position has taught him that the most important part of business for him was pretty straightforward.
“A lot of things come down to relationships and how much time you’re willing to spend with a client or your crews,” he says. “Making myself available for those personal relationships, I think, has made the difference for me. I try to teach that to our young employees here who are more [into] texting: Sometimes getting on the phone and talking to somebody or getting in front of them and listening ... I think you have a different outcome, a positive outcome.”
That approach helped him build a high-end niche for Burkett’s. “On some of these projects ... there’s a $25M house, and they have a colorist, a landscape architect, a designer. They have five different people working on this project, with hundreds of emails going back and forth, and site visits before you even show up to do the job. Before, there were two finishes to choose from, now you have 65 colors and options. I’m trying to help guide a homeowner, designer and general contractor to go through that, so it’s time consuming.”
Engaging personally with clients and crews also gets him out of the office, which he appreciates. While he holds a top-level management position in the company, he tries to get out in the field regularly.
“Even to this day, I carry secondary work clothes, because sometimes just to clear my head, I’ll jump in with my guys,” he says. “Just being able to walk away from a job and see what you’ve done with your hands ... My heart is still in the field even though I dress differently. I don’t think it’ll ever go away.”
At the helm
Goldberg’s National Plasterers Council career began shortly after his promotion at Burkett’s, when he became an NPC member and attended his first conference.
He joined committees soon after. In the years since, he has held co-chair positions on the Research Committee and the Technical Advisory Committee, participating in the updating of the last two Tech Manuals. He also has participated in the committee that writes the American National Standard for the Plastering of Swimming Pools and Spas.
Within a few years of joining NPC, Goldberg was nominated for a spot on the organization’s Board of Directors, on which he has served for approximately 15 years.
In his time with the Research Committee, he helped run the test pools at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, which were dedicated to testing of various products to learn their durability, performance and reaction to various conditions. He expects that experience to come in handy as incoming NPC Chairman, while he helps shepherd the group in approaching its top issue: the rising levels of limestone being added to cements in an attempt to reduce the material’s carbon footprint. While the Research Committee had taken a break a few years back, the organization plans to revive it to learn more about how increasing the ratio of limestone will affect the application and longterm performance of pool and spa plaster.
“I think the first segment of research will in the laboratory, with some testing,” Goldberg says. “Then the second part will be some field testing.”
No timeline has been established yet, as the cement industry is still figuring out how much limestone it will eventually want to add. Some have said 15%, but other projections have gone higher.
“So I think in some respects, the world will put the cart in front of the horse by changing, but may not have all the technical information and know the ramifications,” Goldberg says. “That may be something we have to figure out.”
To start, the group will begin assessing the parameters of cements currently on the market, to help develop baselines to compare against with the new mixes.
He has no doubt the group is up to the task.
“This has been a dynamic group that has punched above their weight with research,” he says.
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