How to prepare a new generation of leaders for success in the asphalt industry
By Rick Moore
Our industry isn’t just about paving—it’s about moving. Everyone is trying to get somewhere, and that’s where our value lies. We help people get where they’re going. And while that’s certainly true in the physical act of paving, it’s also true for any asphalt business.
Lehman-Roberts Company has grown over the course of more than 75 years. We’ve had a huge impact on our community—if you’re in Memphis or one of the surrounding areas, you’re not far from a road, highway, or parking lot that we’ve paved. In that time, we’ve also been involved in the industry nationwide through organizations like the National Asphalt Pavement Association. We’ve seen a lot of players come and go, and every few years, someone will ask me—how has your company continued to grow?
It’s an important question, especially as we transition into new management. My answer is this: Success isn’t just about how well you make roads. It’s about how much you help people.
That was certainly true of our company’s founders, W.E. Lehman and George B. Roberts, whose friendship helped fuel a business that valued both its work and its employees. It was true of my father-in-law, Jim Madison, who helped establish a family legacy in the company. Now, as I watch the management of our company pass to my son, sons-in-law, and nephew, I know more than ever that the paving industry isn’t made great by the roads we build, but by the people who build them.
As our industry continues to grow and evolve, it’s important to know where your company is going—and while these four tips can help fill those gaps, it’s crucial to always remember that people are the key to success.
Before you look forward, look back
When Lehman and Roberts started our company in 1939, the industry looked a lot different. It was more physically demanding. Equipment wasn’t easy to use. The act of making and counting batches was difficult and time-consuming. And yet, at the time, asphalt was revolutionary—a more modern, efficient way to build roads. As the industry started growing, the leadership at Lehman-Roberts realized how important it was to stay up-to-date with the latest innovations. That’s why the company decided to get involved at a national level and build connections with our peers. We knew that moving forward, we couldn’t be afraid to adopt new techniques or technology.
When the idea to mill existing asphalt came along, we quickly made it a part of our process. We’ve tested rubber asphalt, cold in-place recycling, hot in-place recycling, new primers and maintenance tools. If it’s possible with asphalt, we’ve looked into it.
When Jim Madison took over the company, he realized something: The industry is always changing. Someone always has a better idea. If it’s good enough, other companies will take notice. He recognized that it wasn’t those industrial innovations that would set a company apart. It was a commitment to hard work and people.
That idea, more than any asphalt-related epiphany, has helped shape our business and driven our success. So when you move forward, look back. What has been the thing that defines your company? Is it a technique that you developed? Some technology?
For us, it’s always been about helping people. We’ve based the core values of our business (relationships, stewardship, continuous improvement, humility) around that idea. We ground our decisions in that history, and those values are driving the next generation of our business.
Set up a transition plan
Here’s the thing: If you’re a year or two away from a major transition, you should have a plan well in place. A successful transition plan takes a lot of time and self-sacrifice. You’ve got to be willing to put the success of the business above yourself, factor in every contingency, and prepare your own infrastructure for new leadership.
That’s all separate from actually running the business. You already know that our industry is driven by plenty of external factors—public funding for infrastructure is at an all-time low, and companies are having to learn to work within those restraints. That’s why foresight is important. Jim Madison had a generational vision from the beginning, so we’ve spent decades developing a plan to take the company from our third generation to our fourth. We already have a framework established for the next major generational shift.
Get a team you trust
Remember when I said you have to factor in every contingency? The reality is that you can’t. You need attorneys, accountants, planners—it takes an entire team of people to help make the transition smooth. With something as sensitive as the success of your business, they need to be people you trust.
At Lehman-Roberts, we’re leaving the company in the hands of family. So it was important to us that when all the T’s were crossed and the I’s dotted, the company was secure and no one was left in the lurch.
Change is never easy.
My entire career has been devoted to the Lehman-Roberts Company and the asphalt industry. The business has never just been a job to me. I was lucky enough to work for my father-in-law, who valued family. Watching him, I learned that family isn’t just your wife and kids. It’s not just your parents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It’s the people you see and live with every day. He treated each employee with respect, kindness and loyalty. That’s the business I wanted to be in. It’s a business I dedicated my life to growing.
Letting go of the reins, in a lot of ways, is a challenge. My son, sons-in-law and nephew have new ideas, new ways of driving the business. But just as our company has had to adapt to changes in the industry, I’ve had to learn to embrace these changes.
I trust our next generation of leadership because I know they’ve looked back with me. I know that as we planned the transition, they were on board with our company’s goals and values. And I know they’re committed to keeping Lehman-Roberts strong enough to pass on to the next generation, just like I was.
If you’re reading this—if you’re lucky enough to be a part of this great industry—you know that it’s not glamorous. We’ll never walk down red carpets or dine with world leaders. But we’re uniquely positioned to do good. To help people.
In our work, that means creating a quality infrastructure to help people get where they’re going. To connect them to their jobs, their family, their friends.
In our business, it means ensuring that we treat every one of our employees like family. Showing them respect, patience and grace.
In our communities, it means taking what we’ve been given and becoming more than a paving company. We have to become people who are truly invested in the places we’re dedicated to improving.
I hope that, throughout all the changes in our industry, we can all remember how important it is to connect people. And how blessed we are to create those connections every day.
That’s been the best part of my career. Through the transition at our company, I’m encouraged to see that same passion in the next generation.