The AsphaltPro staff continues its series to introduce you to the asphalt industry directors who help guide the positive direction of the asphalt industry. This month we share the new chairman of the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA), who will be inducted during the 2016 annual meeting Feb. 7 through 10 in La Quinta, California. Kevin Kelly is the president and CEO of Walsh & Kelly, Inc., traveling between the company’s Griffith and South Bend offices. Let’s get to know the new chairman.
Walsh & Kelly, Inc.
How long has Walsh & Kelly been a member of NAPA?
32 years (since 1983)
How long you have been in the asphalt industry?
35 to 40 years; with Walsh & Kelly since 1997
Do you have a degree related to the industry?
BBA and Executive MBA from Norte Dame
Wife, Marijo; three grown daughters, a three-year-old grandson and a granddaughter arriving in January
Most influential book you’ve read:
Jim Collins’s Good to Great. The most important lesson in it for me is to remember to take care about who you let on the bus. You can rearrange where you have people sitting, but you want to make sure you have the right people in your organization. Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits also taught me the importance of “sharpening the saw” or to always keep learning.
I’m an avid golfer. I love to travel and spend time with my family, particularly my three-year-old grandson.
How/why did you join the asphalt industry?
I grew up in it. The roots of Walsh & Kelly go back to the 1920s, and asphalt has been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Would you say Walsh & Kelly has had much difficulty or not much difficulty in recent months, in finding qualified workers for asphalt paving or asphalt production crews?
We have experienced a fair amount of regeneration of our workforce in recent years. Long-time workers have reached retirement age, so we’ve been spending a lot of time building up our supervisory talent in the field. It is getting tougher to attract people to the industry for all the reasons we all understand; there’s a greater concentration on earning four-year college degrees and fewer family farms mean less people having an agricultural background that teaches them about working with big machinery. It all plays into a general shortage for our labor pool.
Could you give an example of a way your state asphalt pavement association(s) assists its members with workforce development?
The Asphalt Pavement Association of Indiana has an active scholarship program that works with universities in the state to promote asphalt in the curriculum and asphalt knowledge in general. Beyond scholarships, they also help us with facilitating internship opportunities.
Could you give an example of a way your company works with area employment agencies or workforce development agencies to encourage interest in asphalt as a career choice?
The best way to get new folk into the company is by hiring them as an intern for summer help. That gives them exposure to our world and helps them see what sorts of opportunities exist in the industry; it’s our strongest farming ground for future full-time hires. We mostly promote these opportunities through word of mouth, but also post them to our website and we participate in some job fares. The union hall also brings in people for labor positions.
What is your favorite method for recruiting new asphalt professionals to the industry in general?
By far, it’s internships. They are a great way to see if people are a good fit for your organization, and for them to figure out if this is the kind of work they want to do.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being none at all; 5 being very much) how much of a threat to the asphalt industry’s market share is the concrete industry in the states where your company does business?
Five. They are aggressive in pursuing all facets of work from parking lots to overlays to new construction. We are seeing roller compacted concrete making inroads, particularly with local roads and parking lots, and new construction is very competitive.
What are your top 2 or 3 ideas for helping NAPA members, and the asphalt industry in general, stay strong in light of PCA/NRMCA desires to increase their members’ market share?
The most important thing we can do is build long-lasting, high-quality pavements by delivering high quality materials and workmanship. Sticking to the basics of good mix design, good materials, and good construction practices will ensure durability, longer life, and better performance — that will be the ultimate winner when it comes to market share.
As you take on the travel and engagements of a NAPA chairman, who will assist with your many responsibilities back at Walsh & Kelly?
I have a great team backing me. One of the strengths of Walsh & Kelly is all the great people here, from top to bottom. Every day, it is that team that continues our core work, which is bidding, building and billing work. I would never be able to do the work with NAPA without the support and encouragement of our entire team.
Get to Know Kevin Kelly
What do you see as the most important part of your job as the 2016 chairman for NAPA?
Asphalt pavements provide the best driving experience for the public — it’s smooth, quiet, and maintenance and repairs are faster and easier than other pavement options. But we need to make sure we are building the best pavements possible. NAPA members have to lead by example to provide the service life, performance, and durability tax-payers deserve. That’s why I will be promoting our quality initiative and other efforts to ensure pavement performance.
When Superpave was developed, a performance testing system was expected to come along, but it hasn’t, so NAPA’s quality initiative is about finishing the job started with Superpave. We have had a lot of changes over the years — from additives and recycled materials to changes in binders and rolling and compaction technologies — and we need to look at the basics of mix design to make sure we are making the best use of all of these advances in ways that make sense. It all boils down to applying innovation to improve what we already do well, and to ensure that we are doing it in a responsible and sustainable manner. This all ties into everything that NAPA does, and it is the best way to ensure we continue to hold and gain market share.
What do you find most enjoyable about being the president of Walsh & Kelly, and how do you expect that experience will influence your activities as 2016 chairman of NAPA?
The people in this industry are simply the best. They are fun and interesting to be around, and I’m looking forward to spending time meeting more of them and talking about NAPA and the ways we are all working to make the best roads possible.
What do you anticipate will be the most challenging part of your job?
I don’t see challenges, just opportunities. NAPA’s professional staff does a great job on behalf of us all, working with members and the SAPAs to build a stronger industry. Of course, we are challenged by the economy…And, of course, we are looking for more robust growth from the private sector.
Could you share with our readers an example of a challenge you’ve overcome in the past and how you overcame it? We’d like to have an exclusive peek at our new NAPA leader.
Shortly after I got out of college I was on a road construction site and was rolled over from knees to chest by a fully loaded dump truck. I was in the middle of nowhere in Kansas, and figured I was going to die. I was laying there and thought of my fiancée, Marijo, and how this was going to mess up everything we had planned.
Then I realized I wasn’t dead, I was awake. And I just decided that if I was awake, I wasn’t dead and I stayed awake until they put me to sleep for the emergency surgery that saved my life. There turned out to be many months in the hospital and many more surgeries, but we beat the odds and here we are today.
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2016 NAPA Chairman
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The incoming chairman posed with his wife Marijo Kelly and their three grown daughters.
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One of the responsibilities for an asphalt company president or asphalt association chairman is to talk to legislators about the state of the industry. From left, Speaker Paul Ryan, NAPA 2015 Chair Michael Cote and Kevin Kelly discuss highway funding.
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The incoming chairman gets down to business during a NAPA committee meeting in 2014.