Meet NAPA’s Incoming Chairman Christian Zimmermann
The AsphaltPro staff continues the annual tradition of introducing the incoming chairman of the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) with 2023 Chairman Christian Zimmermann, who serves as the president of the New England Group for CRH Americas Northeast Division, Belmont, New Hampshire.
In 1986, CRH became a member of NAPA. Zimmermann shared that membership in NAPA benefits the branches of CRH Americas Materials because the association supports the whole asphalt pavement industry through leadership and advocacy around funding, plant operations, sustainability, worker health and safety, asphalt mix designs, and defending market share. For him personally, membership in NAPA means being a part of something that accomplishes much for our industry through engagement with its membership and a top-notch association staff.
Before he takes the stage at the NAPA annual meeting in Miami, Feb. 6, to address the membership, Zimmermann took the time to share some thoughts with the industry at large. He brings not only a degree in civil engineering to the table, but he also brings 45 years of experience in the asphalt industry, as well as a spirit of adventure and an understanding of the importance of partnering and encouraging one another.
A book Zimmermann has found influential and that he would recommend to others Is John Krakauer’s “Into Thin Air,” which tells the story of the 1996 tragedy on Mount Everest. He said, “I like adventure-type novels.” This one had “lots to learn about the importance of making sound decisions, sticking to the plan and knowing when to back off.”
How did you join the asphalt industry?
My stepfather was Milo Pike, who sold Pike Industries to CRH in 1988, so I started working for Pike during the summers in the late ’70s when I was in high school. I got to learn all the different jobs related to road building including working on a paving crew for a stint. I also did black sealer work, bridge membrane, fencing, heavy highway cuts/fills, and placement/fine grading of select materials.
Could you share with readers how your education encouraged or fed your interest in the asphalt industry?
Although I majored in civil engineering, I always knew I wanted to be on the other side of the fence—building roads and bridges vs. designing them. Being outside and working with big equipment was far more interesting to me than sitting behind a desk at a computer, which is my job now! Getting a degree helped me to understand what goes into a design so that I could better work/collaborate with the design engineers on field changes and proposing lower cost approaches through value engineering.
What is your favorite method for recruiting new asphalt professionals to the industry in general?
You get to work outside; you get to build stuff that is tangible and important to our society; you get to work with big Tonka toys; the people who work in this industry are salt-of-the-earth types who like to work hard and take pride in what they do. It’s fun being around them. And we all share in success (and failure). It’s never a zero-sum game, which I would not do well with. We are in it together.
You’ve been active on NAPA committees devoted to highway bills, infrastructure reauthorization, and so on. Could you share what motivates you both personally and professionally in this arena?
When 65% of your company’s revenue stream comes through public funding—federal, state, and local—being politically active and lobbying for highway bills is our industry’s most important marketing effort.
What top two or three pieces of advice would you offer to members of our industry for getting the positive environmental message of asphalt in front of their local and state representatives?
Most legislators do not understand our industry and many think of it as being “dirty.” It’s important to bring them out to our facilities and show them what we do to protect the environment and how we are working toward net zero emissions through things like recycling (RAP, RAS, plastics, rubber), construction of perpetual pavements, lowering moisture content in our aggregates, and lowering mixing temperatures using warm mix technology. Our industry needs to continue to educate lawmakers that the asphalt pavement industry is the largest recycler in the world, and we can do even more by working with DOTs to increase allowable RAP usage. We also are beginning to research alternative binders. Our industry is progressive.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being none at all), how much of a threat to the asphalt industry’s market share is the concrete industry today? On what do you base that ranking?
3—Asphalt pavements have proven themselves to be the material of choice for roadway pavement structures due to their flexibility, smoothness, quietness, speed of construction, recycling capabilities, and overall cradle-to-grave life cycle costs. The concrete industry cannot compete on these most important merits.
On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being none at all), how much of a threat to the asphalt industry’s market share are the “Buy Clean” policies being bandied about in different state legislatures?
3—Asphalt has a great story to tell regarding sustainability (circularity through recycling as an example) but my concern is how agencies will measure being “clean.” How can we keep pavement selection (and perhaps producer selection) to be purely objective, fair, and easy to measure/understand?
What are your top two or three ideas for helping the asphalt industry deliver correct information about our product to lawmakers who are introducing bills concerning “buy clean” policies and construction materials selection at the state level?
Agree on the baseline. Determine what we are comparing to so we can define “clean.” Ensure state DOTs are not working against us through their specifications (i.e., limiting RAP use). Develop EPDs and spend the time to learn what levers can be pulled to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so we can speak intelligently about our product and its impact on the environment.
What other threats to the asphalt industry do you have on your radar to guard against during your year as chairman?
I think the biggest threat to our industry is lack of engagement by its members. Thinking that someone else will take care of “it” is a recipe for disaster.
How can readers of AsphaltPro assist you in your chairmanship goals for 2023?
Get involved! Attend the NAPA annual meeting; go to DC for the TCC Fly-In; host a legislator at your HMA plant; put together EPDs for your mixes and get educated on emissions.
As you take on the travel and engagements of a NAPA chairman, who will assist with your many responsibilities back at CRH Americas?
I am president of the New England Region for CRH Americas Materials. There are three OpCo presidents who work directly for me, and all are very capable and experienced. I have 100% confidence in their abilities, which will free me up to dedicate the time needed to be effective in my NAPA chairmanship. I also have very accommodating bosses at CRH AMAT who very much support NAPA’s work and make it a priority for CRH employees to be actively involved.
GET-TO-KNOW CHRISTIAN ZIMMERMANN
What do you see as the most important part of your job as the 2023 chairman for NAPA?
Educate, motivate, influence industry to participate and engage
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 2023 chairman of NAPA?
Getting to know people and learning from them; the NAPA chairmanship will certainly afford me more opportunities to network and hear a variety of perspectives!
Could you share with readers your immediate family?
My mother, Penny Pitou, won two silver medals in the 1960 Olympics in Alpine Skiing (Downhill and Giant Slalom). She turned 84 in October. My father passed away in 2016—he was also an Olympic Alpine Skier from Austria. My wife, Deb, and I have been married for 29 years and have two children. Zane is 22 and a senior at The University of Utah. He loves the outdoors and is majoring in film production. My daughter Zoe is 20 and goes to Dartmouth College. She is on the United States National Alpine Ski Team and competes in Europe much of the winter. She is a more “non-traditional” student.
Could you share with our readers an example of a challenge you’ve overcome in the past and how you overcame it (whether business or personal)?
My wife and I did a lot of rock climbing before we had kids. When I was a project manager back in the ’90s I would take 8-10 weeks off in the winter and Deb and I would travel the world rock climbing. I remember when we were in Alicante, Spain, and there was this very intimidating climb that was remote—like an hour hike in, that nobody but climbers know about. The climb started out over the ocean—you had to traverse out about 100 feet to the start. We got to the belay, and I started up this slightly overhanging crack that seemed hard. I wasn’t feeling it, so we eventually backed off. A few days later, we met up with some friends from another climbing area (who were both really good) and they offered to come back out with us. We returned and with their encouragement and my feeling of being “safe,” I made my way up the 200-foot crack feeling strong and “in the zone.” Moral of the story? It’s not shameful to “back off” something and return to it another time when you are more ready. And our friends climbed this crazy hard arete (an edge pointing out from the rock wall) another 100 feet out over the raging ocean with little to no protection.
What volunteer work do you make time for/encourage others to consider and why?
You can probably imagine that my volunteer work has been around sports. While I have begun to pass on the torch, I started a soccer league in our area, and it grew to more than 150 kids. My buddy and I couldn’t stand watching the recreation league play and there was no higher-level soccer, so we started a league that certainly filled a need in our community.
What other hobbies offer you work/life balance?
Skiing, hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and I used to do a lot of windsurfing but am now learning how to kite surf.
Could you share a quote that you find inspiring or motivating?
For building roads, from my early mentors: “The three most important things when building a road are drainage, drainage, and drainage!” For life, the Lou Holtz quote: “Do what’s right, do your best, treat others as you want to be treated.”
Who is a person who has served as a mentor for you, and what traits do you feel others can emulate from him/her to grow in their careers, lives, or service to our industry?
I have had a number of mentors and my biggest learnings have been around taking initiative, commitment, teamwork, follow through, and being someone others can count on to get things done. Of course, caring, passion, being a good listener, and being humble are all very important traits for leaders.