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THE NEW CHAIRMAN OF NSSGA TALKS TO ROCK PRODUCTS ABOUT HIS GOALS, INDUSTRY ENGAGEMENT AND THE IMPORTANCE OF YOUNG LEADERS.

By Mark S. Kuhar

At its convention in Baltimore earlier this year, the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) elected Charles Luck IV of Luck Stone as its chairman for the year. He spoke to Rock Products about where the association is headed, and how the industry can boldly move forward. – Ed.12 LUCK 400

As you begin your term at the helm of NSSGA, what is the number-one thing you would like to accomplish?

Make a difference. That’s precisely what I encouraged NSSGA members to do in accepting my new role as their chairman.

I don’t believe we are just about selling more stone. It’s about making our country a better and safer place, building a future for our children and improving transportation infrastructure to enrich the quality of life for all Americans. Simply put, I want to make an impact on the association, the industry and our country.

What are your plans to build on the work of your predecessor?

The Rocks Build America strategic plan has five basic objectives and I have a vision for each over the next 12 months.

  1. Legislative Advocacy. To grow our influence in Washington, we seek to become an irreplaceable partner with elected leaders and their most trusted source. Legislators will seek our opinion because of our high quality and informed perspective that they will use to build policy. 
  2. Regulatory Advocacy. NSSGA and its members will become deep resources and closest allies with regulatory agencies. We’ll become a model organization for addressing health, safety and environmental issues, and a resource of innovation and improvement.
  3. Communications. We will continue to build on the communications changes we have made during the past nine months and become even more highly connected to our members and all industry stakeholders. We will continue to leverage digital platforms with current, real time communication and seek to advance our goals through the media.
  4. Non-dues Revenues. We will seek to grow revenues to advance NSSGA’s mission through our meetings, educational products, sponsorship opportunities and registration fees. We’ll offer amazing value to sponsor companies in exchange for maximum awareness and exposure. And the value of our educational offerings and knowledge transfer will be unlike anything else. Ultimately, this will deepen our ties with our M&S members. 
  5. Membership Retention and Recruitment. NSSGA will provide such unparalleled value to members in giving them an opportunity to build a better America that non-members will realize that there is no way they can’t be a part of this association.
How will you continue to implement NSSGA’s strategic plan?

In order to fully implement our strategic plan, we need to design a board structure to include representation from every state made up of highly qualified and highly committed leaders to ensure the long-term health of NSSGA, the industry and the country. We are setting up a task force to study our board governance and see if any changes need to be made to more closely align with our strategy. By mid-year, we will have recommendations that we can put into effect in 2016 to guide us over the next 10 years.

Communications efforts are much more of a priority now, how can NSSGA ramp it up to an even higher level?

Communications are key to our initiative to grow both the scope and the influence of the aggregates industry and NSSGA. We have already taken substantial steps to become more effective in communicating the things we are doing with internal and external audiences.

Since its launch this past November, the Digital Aggregate (DA) newsfeed has become a significant resource for news and information for our members. The reaction has been resoundingly positive. The goal is to show NSSGA’s value to our members and the industry ­– another key component of the strategic plan. They can see – in real time – what NSSGA is working on, what they need to know about industry trends, information on upcoming events, important policy (i.e. MSHA and EPA) and other industry updates. The response to DA is significant and NSSGA will be utilizing the channel more to grow our connection to our members.

Since the website relaunch in January 2014, NSSGA has improved the user experience by continually adding new features and content. Charts, infographics and video are the predominant and most effective communications tools in today’s world. NSSGA is developing more and more content in these visual formats to advance the association’s goals.

There is also a greater emphasis on “earned media and public relations” both inside and outside of Washington, D.C. One of our key communications goals is to partner with the media to advance our policy and membership goals.

What more can aggregates producers do at the grassroots level to move transportation funding legislation through Congress?

Recently, NSSGA led the Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In April 14-15 to highlight the need for Congress to address the anticipated insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund. More than 500 participants sought to convince Congress to pass a fully-funded, long-term reauthorization bill. During the fly-in, NSSGA members met with a record number of congressional leaders and spoke about the impact of federal transportation policy, as well as the need for an efficient, safe and well-maintained system of roads, highways and bridges to grow our nation’s economy. 

NSSGA has also been building stronger coalitions with like-minded groups and strengthening ties to our allied organizations, as well as with state associations. We’ve initiated transportation stakeholder meetings to promote collaboration and cooperation in efforts to achieve success in passage by Congress of a long-term surface transportation funding mechanism, including the TCC, Americans for Transportation Mobility, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, Building America’s Future, American Highway Users Alliance, American Society of Civil Engineers, American Infrastructure Alliance, National Governors’ Conference and the National Association of Counties.

We also know that success in the policy arena requires strong grassroots and political involvement. The more who join NSSGA and participate, the more we can influence federal laws and regulations. Our Rocks Build America strategic plan calls for NSSGA to grow ROCKPAC more aggressively and to become a $2 million PAC in the next several years.

How important is state and national association membership to business success?

State aggregates associations are our key partners in our efforts to grow the industry. To be successful, we must work hand-in-hand to ensure that our issues are heard at every level of government.

Many times what starts at the state level will eventually become a federal issue. So our state associations are valuable sources of information and grassroots efforts.

I cannot stress enough the importance of joining and participating on both the national and state level. Membership offers many benefits, the greatest of which are the chance to influence legislation and the ability to network with fellow professionals and industry leaders.

As with any association membership, the greatest benefit comes from committed participation in association governance and activities. United and focused on our goals, we can accomplish amazing things to grow the industry and the country.

Your own company is known for using technology to its advantage. How can today’s producers expand their use of technology?

You have to empower your associates to think big, to go above and beyond by creating a culture that fosters innovation. Our people are the heart of innovation and moving technology forward. 

Then you have to be inspired by your customers – listen to them. They want more than stone, sand and gravel at an affordable price and from a respectable company. They seek information, service, connectivity and ease of doing business. Then you need a culture that allows people to come together to solve a problem, challenges convention and sets aside all previous notions that existed to reimagine the way that you can do business.

Being in a community that is inspired and engaged stimulates creativity. 

Over the last few years Luck Stone has implemented a clear business strategy centered on building value inspired by our customers. As part of this strategy, we have developed an approach and process to innovation that provides our associates with the needed support and resources to do great things. From my observations, a strong culture is the foundation of creativity and innovation. When clear business strategies and processes are thoughtfully added to the mix, an organization’s innovation potential can begin to mature and grow.

For example, a few years ago, we were trying to work out a mine plan that would allow us to maximize reserves and then move to a different property. One of the problems, as the pit got deeper, was how we were going to economically and safely extract the material. During these discussions about this, one of our associates posed the question, “What if nobody was in the loader?” That question sparked a conversation that spanned about eight months and resulted in remote-controlled loader that can operate similarly to any manned loader in the company’s pit environment. But the most important thing for us, in this project, was to maintain our focus on safety, and ultimately be able to get to more reserves.

Now in our 92nd year in business, the company also is putting digital and social media to work in its operations. We developed and deployed two technologies: LOGIQ, a web-based product that allows its scale offices, customers and transportation partners to remain connected, and the Luck Stone mobile app, which gives customers a 24/7 way to stay connected and understand the material flow.

You are the second NSSGA chairman to have come from the ranks of the Young Leaders. How important is that group to the future of the aggregates industry?

When assuming my new role as NSSGA chairman, I mentioned in my acceptance speech that I had met Paul Detwiler, the 2014 chairman, at the Young Leaders inaugural event more than 20 years ago. This is a great, talented pool of young professionals who will be the future leaders of our industry. Its annual meeting provides a unique forum for industry professionals, 40 years of age and younger, to develop leadership and management skills that not only help them, but also their companies to become more successful in the aggregates industry. Presenters are leaders in the industry, as well as professional and motivational speakers. Unlike other business meetings, Young Leaders are encouraged to bring their spouses or guests, who are invited to attend all activities held during the meeting including community service projects, business sessions, networking functions and plant tours. Also what separates this meeting from the typical business meeting are the long-term relationships created by its participants. There are many events staged to help build a national network of young industry professionals that last their entire careers.

This group was also the first generation in our sector to be early adopters of social media who use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to exchange ideas, discuss areas of mutual interest and stay connected throughout the year.

You exemplify the words “family business” as you are the third in a long line of Lucks to head your company. How important are family owned businesses to the aggregates industry?

The majority of quarries in the U.S. are family enterprises. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit of family-owned businesses that has been the backbone of the aggregates industry. While they may not rival the tonnage of larger companies, they have an immeasurable impact on their communities and the country. Plus, family enterprises have longer leadership cycles (four to five times longer than their counterparts, which usually last about five years) so there’s continuity and greater consistency.

There is also a deeper focus and familiarity with the customers and the communities we serve, so identifying and adapting to change happens quickly. All of these things are important to the fabric of the aggregates business, and the combination of public and private companies make the industry what it is today.

Can values-based leadership change the aggregates business for the better?

Absolutely. Values Based Leadership (VBL) has transformed our company, our people, and our products, ultimately creating an impact on our customers and the industry as a whole. As a Values Based Leadership organization, we believe in the philosophy that doing good - making a difference in the lives of our associates; is the best path to doing well - exceptional personal and business performance.

What’s the best piece of business advice anyone ever gave you?

To remain constantly curious and continue to be a lifelong learner by seeking ways to learn, grow, evolve and adapt in all aspects of my personal and professional life.