Meet 2020 NAPA Incoming Chairman Jay Winford
The AsphaltPro staff continues the tradition of introducing the incoming chairman of the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) with 2020 Chairman Dr. James M. (Jay) Winford, Jr., Ph.D., P.E. He’ll be inducted during the 2020 annual meeting Feb. 2-5 on Maui, Hawaii. He is the president of Prairie Contractors LLC in Louisiana and a knowledgeable source on Louisiana paving and production nuances for AsphaltPro over the years. It’s a pleasure to share some of his leadership thoughts with the industry here.
The Company: Prairie Contractors LLC
“We operate five hot-mix asphalt plants located in New Iberia, Lafayette, Opelousas, Lake Charles and Leesville, Louisiana.”
How long has Prairie Contractors been a member of NAPA?
Since the 1960s (through a family business and now with Prairie)
How long have you, personally, been in the asphalt industry?
I started working on an asphalt laydown crew as a laborer and roller operator in 1979.
Do you have a degree related to the industry?
Tulane University—B.S. (Civil Engineering) 1988
Tulane University—M.S. (Civil Engineering) 1989
Auburn University—Ph.D. (Civil Engineering) 1991 (associated with NCAT)
Tulane University—M.B.A. 1994
Harvard Business School—Young Presidents’ Organization Program, Since 2009
Harvard Business School—Owner/President Management 2019
Laura Harriss Winford, spouse (30 years on St. Patrick’s Day 2020)
James M. Winford III, son, 28—undergraduate from Columbia and MBA student at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business (Christmas Day Birthday)
Katherine E. Winford, daughter, 25—undergraduate from Tulane, now London (Master’s Degree studies at Sotheby’s Institute of Art) (Memorial Day Birthday)
Bertie and Stella—English Cream Golden Retrievers
Most influential book you’ve read/you would recommend to others:
George Marshall: Defender of the Republic by David L. Roll is an excellent study in leadership. On the fiction side, I am currently reading the latest by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Labyrinth of the Spirits, which is woven into the history of Franco’s Spain.
What volunteer work you do that you would encourage others to consider and why:
Laura and I have always been active in the Episcopal Church. The Boy Scouts is my favorite volunteer venture. As a boy I loved scouting, but I liked it even better with James (Eagle Scout 2005). I like teaching the Scout merit badges. I also was a long-time member of our Lake Charles Symphony Board of Directors.
What other hobbies can you share with us?
Laura and I enjoy cooking and even wrote a cookbook based around the history of our family, A Gastronomic Anthology. I love travelling, reading, learning and bird hunting. I also enjoy teaching several university-level business and engineering seminars.
How/why did you join the asphalt industry?
I was born in Minden, Louisiana, in 1966. I am the second of four children. My grandfather, L.M. “George” Winford (a civil engineering student at Southern Methodist University), started in the sand and gravel business in the Minden area in 1935. He moved into the surface treatment business and then purchased his own asphalt plant. By the time he died in 1959, he owned and operated several asphalt plants in north Louisiana.
My grandfather died while my father, James M. “Jim” Winford, was completing his civil engineering studies at Louisiana State University. After completing his military service in Germany, my Dad entered the family business. Jim Winford was a long-time NAPA member and even served on the NAPA board of governors starting in the 1960s. He and my mother, Charlotte, were proud attendees of the NAPA annual meeting on the Queen Elizabeth II in 1972. My father was twice president of the Louisiana Asphalt Pavement Association (LAPA). My first NAPA meeting was the 1975 midyear meeting at the Galt House in Louisville, Kentucky.
Following my doctoral studies at Auburn, during which time I was involved with the National Center for Asphalt Technology, I went to work for NAPA member Laddie L. James, whose operations were situated in south Louisiana. My partners and I purchased the assets of Laddie after working for him for 10 years.
What does membership in NAPA and/or your state asphalt pavement association (SAPA) mean to you personally?
Of all the associations we participate in, NAPA is our “best bang for the buck.” Whether it is addressing the fumes issue or lobbying for federal legislation, we can’t, as a small business in south Louisiana, tackle those issues on our own. NAPA does a great job representing us at the national level. Personally, I have always admired the fact that NAPA and its leadership always takes the high road.
On the SAPA side, we are the only state in the union where all the asphalt mix producers are family-owned businesses. Because of that, most of us share multi-generational relationships. We have done a great job at LAPA of developing our technical specifications, building great and trusting relations with our department of transportation (DOT), and keeping our local and state lawmakers aware of who we are and what we do. I was president of LAPA for six years.
How has membership in NAPA and/or LAPA benefitted your asphalt business?
One of the benefits of our association with NAPA and LAPA has been the introduction to our peer group. This is a voluntary group of non-competing NAPA and SAPA members, getting together to share experiences, ideas and best practices. This group of peers has helped us beyond belief with regard to best practices and sharing their successes and failures. I’ve always said that a NAPA member is more willing to share than to take, and in the peer group they have. I consider them my family. This group has evolved into separate peer groups just for our financial, safety, and plant folks, all joining to share and collaborate in an effort to do it better and safer. Our involvement would not have been possible without our participation in NAPA. What a value-added benefit!
NAPA has also been an invaluable resource with regard to environmental issues. They seem to always be out in front of what is coming out of Washington.
In recent months, what are the top two or three positions for which your company has had the most difficulty finding qualified workers?
Experienced and skilled asphalt technicians
Asphalt laydown foremen, which is probably the toughest and demanding job within our industry
Could you give an example (or two) of a way LAPA assists its members with workforce development?
Training, in cooperation with the Louisiana Transportation Research Center
Promoting education and training through our community colleges
Could you give an example (or two) of a way Prairie Contractors works with area employment agencies or workforce development agencies to encourage interest in asphalt as a career choice?
The idea of working with and through the Future Farmers of America seems to be a wonderful avenue to both educate our youth about our industry and give them an opportunity to see firsthand our plants and projects, as well as the well-paying opportunities available. FFA is just one of the ways we are reaching these kids, but ultimately, as an industry, we need to do a better job of reaching out to high school students to tell our story.
What is your favorite method for recruiting new asphalt professionals to the industry in general?
I teach an annual civil engineering materials lecture at Texas A&M in College Station and McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana. There, I get to interact with soon-to-be engineering graduates. They are always excited to hear of our employment opportunities and especially about the compensation packages (and wonderful benefits) our industry offers.
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 Louisiana?
Two. LAPA has done a good job, within Louisiana, of protecting and growing our market share. But, then again, when we tell the story of how and why asphalt is the fastest, safest, greenest, smoothest, and quietest pavement material, it is easy. We have such a great story to tell. We must continually educate our owners and specifiers that asphalt pavements are an engineered material and can create a truly perpetual pavement system.
Could you share an example of a time when the concrete industry encroached on the asphalt marketplace in Louisiana?
We have had trouble, especially in urban areas, where the owners seem to be partial to rigid pavements, but when we show them the true user cost reductions associated with our speed of construction, there are times we win this debate. Life cycle cost analysis (LCCA) is a useful tool that, when applied correctly, should always point to the asphalt pavement design as the most cost effective.
What are your top two or three 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?
We need to provide tools to help NAPA members educate our owners and specifiers.
We need to talk about our successes, especially our speed of construction.
We need to tell the story of our Perpetual Pavements!
We need to educate our owners about the wide range of products our members can provide and where they should be used.
We need to educate both owners and the public about our awesome recycling efforts. Most owners, policymakers, lawmakers, and general taxpayers have no idea just how much we recycle, saving both raw materials and landfill space. We need to continually tell our green story.
What other threats to the asphalt industry do you plan to guard against during your year as chairman?
Other than protecting market share, we should always (1) promote safe work sites and projects and (2) continually invest in the development of our workforce. Materials and equipment are easy to get; it is the people who make our companies stand out.
As you take on the travel and engagements of a NAPA chairman, who will assist with your many responsibilities back at your company?
I have two wonderful, caring, and hardworking partners. We always support each other with our specific interests and hobbies. In addition, we have two in-house CPAs and a young engineer that I consider my younger brothers. We also have a team of managers who make our work environment and culture what it is! It has been a delight to watch them grow, learn, and completely embrace this industry.
I am blessed with two of the greatest partners in the world. I can think of no vice they possess. Although very different in our interests (both inside and outside of Prairie) we three are all very committed to our people, our community, and just doing the right thing. Being associated with Woodson Harvey III and Richard LeBlanc has been one of the greatest privileges I have been afforded in life!
Get to Know Jay Winford
What do you see as the most important part of your job as the 2020 chairman for NAPA?
It is a wonderful honor to represent our industry. Having grown up in the asphalt industry, I have always looked at NAPA members as possessing the “true grit.” Our members built this country and embody its beliefs, commitment and standards. I have always enjoyed being associated with my peers, and this industry and NAPA have always been my family.
What do you find most enjoyable about being a leader in your company, and how do you expect that experience will influence your activities as 2020 chairman of NAPA?
I have remained in this industry because of its people. We have one daily ritual at Prairie: We feed everyone lunch every day. We live together, work together and break bread together. Our Prairie team is our greatest asset, and we pride ourselves for having very little employee turnover. What a delight it is to see a young person grow, mature, and gain knowledge and confidence in their job, and I love that Prairie is there to support them along the way. The most important thing we do as an industry is to find exceptional people who do not know they are exceptional and teach them to develop their talents so that they achieve greatness.
Could you share with our readers an example of a challenge you’ve overcome in the past and how you overcame it?
I owe much to NAPA. Through a scholarship, I was able to complete my graduate studies at the National Center for Asphalt Technology at Auburn University. Laura and I spent two wonderful and exciting years there. After graduation, unfortunately, my life-long desire of a career in the family business was not realized. So, with two small children in tow, we started over again, which provided me with a great (but difficult) perspective on life. Starting over with nothing was a true and great lesson, but I was fortunate that several NAPA members were there and provided me with good and sound advice, a great opportunity, and the privilege of a great hands-on education.
Could you share a quote that you find inspiring/motivating?
From Charlie Ross, President Harry S Truman’s press secretary and the longest-serving member of his staff. For Ross, serving with Truman, despite all the strain of the job and the drastic cut in income it had meant, was the privilege of a lifetime, as he wrote privately to Truman on Christmas Day 1947:
Dear Mr. President,
There is nothing in life, I think, more satisfying than friendship, and to have yours is a rare satisfaction indeed.
Two and a half years ago you “put my feet to the fire,” as you said. I am happy that you did. They have been the most rewarding years of my life. Your faith in me, the generous manifestations of your friendship, the association with the fine people around you — your good “team” — all these have been an inspiration.
But the greatest inspiration, Mr. President, has been the character of you — you as President, you as a human being. Perhaps I can say best what is in my heart by telling you that my admiration for you, and my deep affection, have grown steadily since the day you honored me with your trust.