The President and CEO of Memphis Stone and Gravel Co. Talks About Leadership, Communications, Industry Engagement, Young Leaders and the Best Business Advice He Ever Received.
By Mark S. Kuhar
As you begin your term as chairman of the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA), what is the number-one thing you would like to accomplish?
One of the key strategic objectives in our Rocks Build America plan is to articulate NSSGA’s value proposition and increase producer memberships. The area with the greatest potential for growth are our producer companies of small and medium sizes. The owners of these companies can be a vital component of our grassroots legislative efforts and we want them to join the fight to stop over-burdensome regulations. The CEOs and leaders of these companies typically have a close relationship with their members of Congress. They attend little league games together, go on dove hunts, play weekend golf and share many other activities with our elected officials. We need their input, support, participation and leadership in this organization.
What are your plans to build on the work of your predecessor?
Last year, NSSGA Chairman Charlie Luck revamped the association’s governance structure. His Board Evolution Initiative was necessary for the association to meet its strategic goals. It refocuses the larger board of directors on participation, activation and recruitment by bringing in highly qualified and highly committed leaders from each state to grow our membership and grassroots might. The initiative also accelerates the transition of young leaders into NSSGA leadership to better harness their untapped energy, perspective and talent. Board and committee meetings are now streamlined to best make use of our volunteer leadership’s time to efficiently make progress on our key goals, and the work of the association will take place in eight standing committees. Implementing this plan will be an important part of my efforts this year.
How will you continue to implement NSSGA’s strategic plan?
Under my term, the first Rocks Build America three-year plan comes to a close. In June, I appointed a taskforce to develop and recommend new goals and objectives that will take us from 2017-2020. Advocacy is and remains Job No. 1 at NSSGA, and we will focus on improving and strengthening our lobbying, grassroots programs and engagement with regulators. Growing our membership – especially from small and medium operations – and pushing out engaging and interesting communications to our members will also remain key priorities.
How important is communications to NSSGA as the association works to achieve its goals?
The goal of our communications efforts is to support, report on and enhance all of NSSGA’s activities to both the industry and the general public. By showing not only our members but non-members the value of the association’s activities, we can grow the scope and influence of the industry.
We also must show the value of our industry to the public. Around NSSGA we say that if the aggregates industry is doing well, America is doing well. Our country is building and growing when demand his high for stone, sand and gravel and a strong construction cycle has positive effects on our economy at every level.
How important is state and national association membership to business success?
Being a member of a state and national association adds your voice to a larger group who advocate for the industry every single day. These groups, though, cannot be effective unless they speak for a lot of people. So membership feeds directly into how effective state and national associations can be.
There’s so much value in belonging to both groups, too. At the state level, for instance, our Tennessee Road Builders Association has helped address local issues like transportation funding so the state can give the green light to much-needed infrastructure projects. But you need that kind of representation on Capitol Hill from staff and volunteers who have good relationships with key members of Congress and regulators to keep nationwide rules, regulations and laws from harming our businesses and allowing our industry to grow.
How should aggregates producers ramp up to reap the benefits of The FAST Act in the future?
2016 is going to be a great year for the aggregates industry. The economy continues to improve, construction numbers are up, and we have the first long-term highway bill in 10 years. All of these things point to growth in demand for stone, sand and gravel.
One of the best things we can do is to address an existing problem that will hinder our ability to meet this demand: expand our workforce. At Memphis Stone and Gravel Co. and at producer companies large and small, we have openings to fill. It is one of the industry’s biggest problems and to address it, NSSGA announced a jobs initiative where member companies can post openings and job seekers can find good-paying, highly skilled work. It is all available at Jobs.NSSGA.org and to draw in job-seekers, we have embarked on an aggressive public campaign. Recently, NSSGA’s President and CEO Michael W. Johnson went on a nationwide radio media tour. In it he touched on the need to continue to improve our nation’s infrastructure and let 4.7 million people know that the aggregates industry has jobs to fill.
Talk about the importance of the Young Leaders Group to NSSGA. What can we learn from them?
Every industry depends on the next generation of leaders to continue to build on progress and continue growth. The aggregates industry is no different. One of the most successful and fastest growing aspects of NSSGA is our Young Leaders program. These young men and women have incredible talent and energy and as their perspective is unique to their generation, they are an untapped resource of valuable insight. Under NSSGA’s new structure, we will accelerate the transition of young leaders into key leadership positions throughout the associations and on the committees. This way there is a clear path to broader participation after someone ages out of Young Leaders.
Talk about the role education plays, both live and digital, in helping aggregates producers succeed.
Technology and best practices advance so quickly that you could fall behind competitors if you aren’t keeping up with the latest updates.
We had a record attendance at more than 50 education sessions this year at the AGG1 Academy & Expo, and we will look to build on that success and hunger for learning opportunities at our next AGG1 Academy & Expo in 2018 in Houston. Until then, we will continue to offer popular webinars on topics that people need to improve their everyday work – like how to address new MSHA regulations, operating new equipment properly and even learning how to improve community relations. Our AGG1 Online Webinars, available at www.nssga.org/events, are critical to delivering great education to people all over the country.
NSSGA knows the value of offering quality education, both in-person at AGG1 Academy & Expo and online through AGG1 Webinars, to help operations manage their business more effectively, efficiently and profitably.
What is the best way for aggregates producers to work with their legislators to encourage positive change in our industry?
Three things: engage, engage and engage. This is an election year and legislators are itching for excuses to interact with their constituents. Invite them to your quarry and let them see how your operation impacts their community. Attend a fundraiser or political event. We want all of our elected officials to know that we are watching and will support them if they back our industry. We also want them to know that if they don’t, they will hear from us.
What is the best piece of business advice you ever received?
You know, I was asked something similar at the Young Leaders Annual Meeting. I said that if I could go back and teach myself something when I was just starting out, it would be that people appreciate being recognized for their efforts. Be nice to people! You’d be surprised what a free ball cap or a lunch will do for morale, and people who enjoy being at work are generally more focused, attentive to safety and productive on the job.