I have heard it said in life and work,”It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get back up!”
This old picture, from 1986, (I was 32 years old) shows me working on the company’s 36 year old Hetherington and Berner brand-“one ton” asphalt batch plant in Collingswood. It was dirty and hard work, but work was not beyond me. Here is the story behind the picture.
I grew up working. My parents were divorced and my mom had no money to spare for anything other than necessities. From 14 to 16 years old, I worked various jobs to pay my own way as a teenager. I later opened my first business, Sons Auto Supply, at 19 years old with the money my dad lent me. Four years later, my father had a heart attack, I was called to run the family HVAC and oil business. I then bought up smaller companies and expanded the business rapidly. Too rapidly in fact. I spent too much, too fast, and had to sell the business eight years later to avoid bankruptcy. The guy I sold it to did not pay me in full; he claimed bankruptcy. My life spiraled quickly – no money, three children, a mortgage and no job. Thanks to my parents and my Christian upbringing for the ability to not give up, but to get back up and try again.
I was able to buy the assets of a small paving company located in West Collingswood Heights. (Buying a company with no money, well that’s a story for another day). It turns out that knowing nothing about asphalt plants or paving was a blessing in disguise. Had I known what was listed for sale was a bunch of junk, I never would have bought it. Unbeknownst to me at the time, God was using me, sharpening me, humbling me and teaching me.
When I arrived for my first day as the new owner of a paving company, before I changed the name to American Asphalt, one of the four employees I had, said to me, “I hope you have a lot of money”. I laughed, “No I don’t, why?” They replied, “You need a new asphalt plant, this one is beat and many systems worked poorly at best.” That evening I returned home and curled up in a fetal position on my couch. What had I done? I borrowed and pledged my soul to everyone who trusted in me to pull this off, and I might have made the biggest mistake of my life! It was a turning point again as I was knocked down to my knees. I prayed.
I had no choice but to get up and go to work day after day. Learn the business from the ground up. That meant bringing 5 coffees in every morning at 6:30am for my crew. I ran the loader (with no brakes), weighed trucks manually with a 20 feet long wooded truck scale (too small to weigh a tri-axle), estimated the jobs at night, and worked on trucks or road equipment that needed attention. Some days I ran the plant from the second level, we had no control tower. Eating the dust and watching each ton drop into the truck parked under me. As things broke, shortened out, clogged up, fell apart or stopped working, I learned how to fix each component to make asphalt.
I hired a foreman who taught me how to run (not operate as a pro) a paver, roller and grader. I was at a point of no turning back. Do or Die. I don’t accept failure as an option for me.
So this picture captures a day I was probably changing filtering bags in the bag house, or shoveling sand and stone that leaked out of our dryer through numerous holes. I worked each day to make a living. Striving for and making the payments I had signed for. I enjoyed working shoulder to shoulder with my great employees. They taught me skills. I taught them attitude. I celebrated each day that we made…wait for it…100 Tons. I thought I was on fire at that fast pace! Comparatively, today we make thousands of tons daily.
God has given me the traits of resiliency, hopefulness, love for my fellow man, and the drive to succeed. I had fought it when my work life was being ripped out from under me, from a family business I had been counted on to run profitably. But God had other plans for me. I needed to improve my faith in Him. I needed to spend more time listening for God’s direction. I needed to stop thinking it was all on my shoulders alone.
I am so happy I took the leap of faith, made what I then thought of as a mistake, and found a gem of a business. A business I could grow. A business I could afford to buy. A business with a product that is always in demand. A business filled with loyal and hardworking people. A business I could be proud to steer to success.
That smile in the picture makes me smile again today. Each of us has within us a spark to succeed. The joy in a job well done. The satisfaction in knowing you gave it your best. I am glad to be the leader of many, who jointly achieve the more profound goal of “Helping Others” with the profits we generate as a team. I don’t forget the lessons I learned along the way. I appreciate what every employee does, as we are all spokes in the wheels that make this company go-round. Together we are building a business for a Greater Purpose! It is an honor to be trusted as a leader and have trusted employees that live out our core values. I look forward to another great year in 2020 where we can all smile daily, being proud to be a part of an Employee Owned company that is a great place to work and is really something special.