AggMan of the Year Steve Hatfield: A flight plan for success

AggMan Staff | Published on December 1, 2005

An ability to adapt to
change — and to wear many different hats  — ensures blue
skies for Steve Hatfield.

by
Therese Dunphy Executive Editor

Nicknamed the Sand-Man Pilot, Steven P. Hatfield’s career in the
aggregates industry reflects a soaring flight pattern despite the
fact that he joined it as a college student with no industry
experience, simply looking for part-time work. As the industry
struggles with how to retain and recruit good employees, his career
could be used as a blueprint for keeping good employees inside the
gates.

“There was never a time that I thought this
was my career,” Hatfield says. “I thought this was just a job to get
through college. Whatever needed [to be] done, I’d just do. I was
just the one who was always building stuff and tinkering with it.”

Hatfield’s commitment to getting things
done, his willingness to take the initiative, and his deep work
ethic have served him well. During his 37-year tenure with Wichita,
Kansas-based Ritchie Sand, Inc., Hatfield’s role has evolved from
night watchman to foreman to plant manager to vice president.

In addition to his ever-growing
responsibilities within Ritchie Sand, Hatfield has also been very
active in state and national associations and has demonstrated
strong leadership in advancing operational concerns at those levels.
And, although he’s personally modest about his contributions to the
aggregates industry, the staff of Aggregates Manager is pleased to
recognize Hatfield as the “AggMan of the Year” for 2005.

During his 37
years in the sand and gravel business, Hatfield has been
a frequent speaker at industry meetings.

Nicknamed the
Sand-Man Pilot, Hatfield has logged more than 2,300
hours in his Cessna 182.
Hatfield has helped
educate industry peers by arranging plant tours such as
this one, held at Ritchie Sand’s Wichita location in
1998.

“Steve is deserving of this recognition,”
says Johnny Green, president of Franklinton, Louisiana-based
Standard Gravel Co., Inc., and a friend of Hatfield. “He has a long
history of serving the industry in areas that aren’t always
glamorous, but are sure useful to the industry and the people in
it.”

Taking off

Hatfield joined Ritchie Sand in 1968. During
his second year in college, Hatfield was a newlywed looking for a
part-time income. After starting at one of the company’s asphalt
plants, he decided to go to summer school and switched to a night
shift at the company’s Wichita sand plant.

As the type of employee who always gets
things done, Hatfield worked with great diversity and autonomy even
as a very young, inexperienced employee. “I ran the plant at night.
I loaded rail cars. I ran the loader and serviced it,” he says.
“They turned me loose, and I learned and didn’t get myself into
serious trouble.”

Years later, he asked his
former manager how he could have entrusted those responsibilities to
a 19-year-old kid. The manager reminded him that he’d succeeded in
each task.

In the early days, Hatfield says that he
truly considered his employment with Ritchie Sand to be a job rather
than a career. “I was almost done with school when the foreman’s job
was offered to me,” he recalls. “I told them that I wouldn’t take it
unless I could complete my last semester of education.”

At that point, Hatfield was traveling 100
miles every other day to finish his bachelor’s degree in industrial
technology and working on days he wasn’t in class. “Looking back,
you do all kinds of bizarre things when you’re young and don’t know
any better,” he laughs.

Through his career path, he’s worn numerous
hats including maintenance foreman, production and maintenance
manager, and general manager. “It went from part-time to full-time
to becoming foreman in five years and becoming a general manager in
another five years,” he says. “That background allowed me to do
essentially everything here. Through my career, I’ve run all of the
equipment. I have a basic understanding of everything from the
dredge to the plant.

“The guys are still amazed when, once in a
while, we get into a situation, and I go out to a loader and load
trucks for a day,” Hatfield adds. “My job has become administrative
now, so I don’t do the hands-on, fun stuff as much as I used to.”

Currently, Hatfield’s role is much more
management oriented. He oversees permitting, sales and marketing,
and operations at Ritchie’s three sand plants. He also had a chance
to put his technical skills to work as he designed the operations,
including the entire Wichita plant, which is a 2.0
million-ton-per-year facility.

The constantly evolving nature of the
business and his role within it keep Hatfield fully engaged in his
work. “There’s no handbook to tell you how to run these businesses,”
he says. “There are no two days — rarely two hours — that are the
same. If you’re a person who likes to figure things out, though,
this is a great business.”

A longtime member of the Ritchie executive
committee, he has spent the last six months working through due
diligence procedures as Ritchie operations were sold to Lafarge
North America’s Aggregates Division last month.

Prior to the acquisition by Lafarge,
Hatfield had been through the consolidation process as Ritchie Sand
made its own acquisitions. Five years ago, Ritchie Sand acquired the
Ark River Sand Plant in Oxford, Kansas. That plant produces up to
1.0 million tons per year and serves as the company’s rail shipping
facility. A second acquisition was made about a year and a half ago
in Coweta, Oklahoma.

While all three operations are located along
the Arkansas River, the Coweta plant — which serves the Tulsa market
— is the only one involving excavation in the river itself, rather
than in the flood plains.

“We basically bought equipment. The fellow
who was down there kind of lost interest. He had the permits and he
had the equipment, but wasn’t really doing much,” Hatfield says.
“We’re building that business almost as a greenfield.”

Going the distance

Looking back at the first 37 years of his
career — Hatfield plans to work for at least another decade — he
says that one of the biggest reasons why he has stayed in the
industry is the people.

“There are some great people working for me,
and they’re the reason why we’re successful,” he says, adding that
“the Ritchies have allowed me to get involved in the state and the
national level, and that’s added a whole new dimension.”

For more than 20 years, Hatfield has been
involved with the Kansas Aggregate Producers Association. During
that time, he has served on the state association’s safety and
environmental committee, its board of directors, and as its
president.

“He’s very committed and always well
prepared. There’s not a finer man to work with,” says Edward “Woody”
Moses, managing director of KAPA, who worked closely with Hatfield
through the association’s aggregate groundwater resources task
force. “He’s very deserving of the award — he’s been the AggMan out
here for a number of years.”

Hatfield also played a pivotal role in
ensuring a smooth melding of the operations committees following the
merger of the former National Aggregates Association and National
Stone Association in 2001.

Serving as co-chair and then as chair of the
National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association’s Operations Division,
Hatfield helped guide the committee realignment, set committee
priorities, and arrange a series of successful plant tours.

“We tried to marry the best of the two
programs (NAA and NSA), and we kind of fumbled around with that for
the first couple of years until we ended up with the format we use
now,” Hatfield says, noting, “I found myself in a position with a
lot of stone people, but I think that’s also one of the reasons why
they asked me to serve in that capacity.” His knowledge of what
comprises a good overview of dredging and plant operations proved
invaluable to the newly merged group.

“He’s a consummate professional and a very
nice guy,” Green notes. “He’s knowledgeable in all the aspects of
dredging and applying those things in practical ways.”

“When I first came on, there were a few
members who really taught me how to organize one of these events,”
says Steve Lenker, NSSGA vice president of operations. “He was
instrumental in teaching us how to do our job. It was like a Supreme
Court appointment; we threatened to keep him here for life.”

Adds Joy Wilson, NSSGA president and CEO:
“What a superb choice Aggregates Manager has made in naming Steve
Hatfield as ‘AggMan of the Year!’ Steve is a leader in every sense
of the word. He has helped reinvent and revitalize

NSSGA’s Operations Division as its chairman
since the merger, and the association is stronger because of his
contributions. NSSGA is fortunate to have Steve’s dynamic and
energetic involvement.”

Staying on course

Through his long career, Hatfield has had a
front row seat to view many changes, including the merger of the two
associations and the acquisition of Ritchie Sand, Inc. But just as
he’s enjoyed wearing a wide variety of responsibilities, he sees the
positive aspects of those changes.

“Certainly, the thing that most people talk
about is the fact that there are larger companies with larger
spheres of influence,” he says. “Obviously, we’re going through that
here. That’s not a bad thing. It changes the face of the industry,
but it brings more resources to companies, so I see it as a plus.”

From an operational standpoint, those
resources are particularly valuable to sand and gravel operations
that may lag behind their crushed stone counterparts in terms of
production strategies such as automation.

“Any new sand producer is going to take a
hard look at automation,” Hatfield notes. “We’re using some
radio-frequency control and other things that are not on the leading
edge, but are a taste of things to come for the sand and gravel
industry. The larger the plant is, the more likely it is that
they’re going to become involved in the efficiencies that come from
automation and monitoring things with PC-based equipment.”

Blue skies ahead

On the personal front, Hatfield has been
married since 1968 and has two daughters, one of whom works as an
office manager at the Oxford plant. He also has two grandchildren.

While the fairways have no appeal for him,
airplanes and motorcycles do intrigue Hatfield. He and his wife
spend their free time traveling literally across the United States
in his Cessna 182 airplane. An avid pilot, Hatfield has logged 2,300
hours of flight time and has earned FAA certification as an aircraft
mechanic. “I had enough interest in aviation that I went to school
five nights a week for three years — now not as young, but still
foolish,” he says.

When Hatfield and his wife celebrated their
30th anniversary, they traveled on a small Alaskan cruise with about
100 other passengers. By the end of the journey, his shipmates had
dubbed him the Sand-Man Pilot, and the moniker is an appropriate one
for an individual who has enjoyed such high levels of professional
and personal success.



Reprinted from Aggregates Manager Magazine

December 2005

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