Meet a Woman of Asphalt: Superior Asphalt Materials’ Beth Conley
BY Sandy Lender
Beth Brusveen Conley has been in the construction industry about 26 years and brings a deep knowledge and understanding of asphalt production to her current role as sales manager for Superior Asphalt Materials in Aurora, Illinois. That’s because she worked as a manager at Builders Asphalt LLC in Elburn, starting in 2006, where she oversaw the plant and crusher and handled sales. Conley shared that even the mechanical side of the asphalt plant shows the heart of our industry. All the belts and components working together to make the final product showcase the reliance we all have upon one another for our best success.
“The asphalt plant is an allegory for a team working together, with the operator as the leader,” Conley said.
She serves on the Women of Asphalt of Illinois board and is the president of the Women Road Builders of Illinois, which is a non-profit in the Chicagoland area for all engineers, contractors, professional services and the like. Conley is a force for teamwork and pulling together to accomplish great things for the group. With a busy season start-up and CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023 schedule, she made the time to share her story and encourage others as a woman of asphalt.
AsphaltPro: What did you find interesting or fulfilling as a manager with Builders Asphalt? (What do you think about that role would be attractive to other women joining our industry?)
Beth Conley: My work in asphalt in the beginning was all new and interesting. I always loved a good challenge. I was very familiar with the office side of things on concrete, but asphalt is much different, plus I was dealing with the field side of things. Every day was something new. The guys were great and very helpful. We were a new plant and starting from scratch. I had some great mentors, some real old school guys that helped me along the way. I am very thankful.
AsphaltPro: You have degrees in political science and government, with minors in math, business and international studies. Could you share with the readers how your education prepared you for the ups-and-downs of managing asphalt and crushing plants as well as materials sales?
Beth Conley: I feel like politics are a part of every avenue in our lives. There are a lot of politics in construction in our area. I’ve learned to be more objective and see both sides of a situation. As my Poly Science professor said, life is about choices. We all make them. Some are tough and some are easy, but they all have ramifications. You can make a decision that is in your best interest or the interest of the greater good. I feel like this applies to everything we do.
AsphaltPro: We know the asphalt industry doesn’t require a four-year college degree to jump in and excel, but you mentioned some great courses available in Illinois, like the Level III in asphalt, the 5-day aggregate certification and the Level III in concrete, for anyone wishing to level up to quality control manager. Could you share with readers an experience you found invaluable from those courses?
Beth Conley: Yes, the State of Illinois Department of Transportation has a great set of classes anyone can take through Lakeland College to help you advance in the asphalt industry. I was encouraged to take the classes early on.
They are all 3- to 5-day classes. Upon completion, you receive a certificate that allows you to work as QC or as QA on any construction site, quarry or plant in different capacities. They have aggregate, asphalt and concrete levels 1 through 3. I have completed my 5-day aggregate class and have a Level 3 in concrete and asphalt. The classes have been very helpful in problem solving and discussing specifications with our customers. Plus, you can meet a lot of good people. Many of the connections I made back then, I still work with today.
AsphaltPro: Could you share with the readers what your job as a sales manager for Superior Asphalt Materials requires of you?
Beth Conley: In my role as sales manager, I am in charge of the customer experience from beginning to end. I work with the customer on bidding and pricing. Then when the job starts, they will call me to get their order set up. I usually visit their job site to make sure everything is going well. In the billing process, I review their invoices to verify their billing matches their quote and follow up with them if necessary on payment. I’d like to think our customer experience is the reason they continue to come back.
AsphaltPro: Does your role ever involve bringing potential buyers to a plant site prior to a big project to go over mix designs or production schedules, etc.? Could you share with the readers what is intriguing (or stress-inducing) about pre-planning like that?
Beth Conley: We have lots of projects that are a cooperative effort between Quality Control, the plant and the customer. We are very lucky that our guys like to work together for the greater good and the customer’s happiness. There are lots of jobs we send mix designs for approval, get start dates and verify materials for mixes. There is a lot of planning. Sometimes our internal jobs overlap with customer jobs, but we have gotten good at making everyone happy.
AsphaltPro: What about your role with Superior Asphalt Materials is “most cool” to you?
Beth Conley: One of the best parts of my job is watching the company grow. Before me, there was very little outside sales. They brought me in to grow business in outside sales. The numbers are tangible, and it is great to see the progress, but it is also rewarding to see the guys push outside of their comfort zone to grow with the possibilities.
AsphaltPro: What do you think is the most important skill you’ve brought to your position as a sales manager? (And how would you encourage other women entering the industry to hone a similar skill?)
Beth Conley: The most important skill is to see the greater picture. What you do affects someone else’s position. I feel women are great problem solvers and see a larger picture. When you put it all together you are limitless.
AsphaltPro: What would you say was the most challenging “obstacle” you, as a female in the construction industry, had to overcome in the past 26 years, and how DID you overcome that obstacle? How do you think other women in the industry can incorporate that skill or habit into their workdays?
Beth Conley: The most challenging obstacle is being a woman. There are so few of us, you work with a large majority of men on a daily basis. I’ve been lucky that most of the men I work with want to help and be helpful. The best part of our industry is the people. I’ve met some great ones.
I would say the best way to overcome this obstacle is to take the time to get to know your people. When you work as a team the possibilities are endless.
Also, it has been a catalyst for us starting Women Road Builders. We are a 501c3 charitable organization built to promote and support women in infrastructure. We have a powerhouse of women on our board, and we are working endlessly to support the women in our industry.
AsphaltPro: What is the most rewarding aspect for you of being in the asphalt industry?
Beth Conley: The most rewarding aspect has been the people. I have met some of my best friends in the industry. Most of my customers have become friends. We are an industry of good people. I have met some good ones along the way and I am truly grateful for their guidance. It has been priceless.
AsphaltPro: Will you tell us about a person who served as a mentor for you and how they have encouraged you?
Beth Conley: My parents were my first mentors. They always said I could do anything.
In my career, there are three mentors that stand out. Sam “Junior” Palumbo, Tom Crook, and Anne Bigane Wilson, PE. They all helped in different ways.
Junior was a senior mentor who always pushed me to go farther. He always encouraged me through his knowledge and experience. He was an old school part of my experience. His knowledge was endless.
Tom Crook was our panel operator when I first started in the industry. He always took the time to answer all of my questions no matter how big or small. He showed me all of the possibilities in the industry. He taught me all about asphalt plants and how they worked, showed me how to load trucks when needed, and taught me about asphalt plant maintenance.
Lastly Anne Bigane Wilson, PE, showed me what women are capable of in our industry. She’s very determined and established. Anne has taken time to discuss with me some of her obstacles in the industry and has shown that you can overcome them. Also, that you are not alone.