AggMan of the Year 2010

Brooke Wisdom

December 1, 2010

“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way,”

— John Maxwell, international leadership guru

Springfield Underground’s Louis Griesemer quietly and effectively leads his company and the aggregates industry through myriad challenges.

By Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief

The AggMan of the Year 2010, Louis Griesemer, epitomizes Maxwell’s characterization of leadership. Throughout his 33-year tenure in the aggregates industry, Griesemer has demonstrated an ability to identify key issues, formulate strategic initiatives, and hold the crucial conversations necessary to influence their outcome.

“As a long-time leader of the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA), including being a past chairman of the board, Louis Griesemer embodies an unusual characteristic of effective leadership; humble command,” says Joy Wilson, NSSGA’s president and CEO. “Louis applies his values of free enterprise, economic innovation, environment, safety, health, and community responsibility to his company, his state and national associations, and our country. In selecting Louis, Aggregates Manager is honoring a leader who, in essence, embodies NSSGA’s sustainability principles. Congratulations on the AggMan of the Year award to an esteemed Show-Me State producer who every day continues to help move the ball quietly down the field toward improved compliance and Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) enforcement consistency.”

Starting with safety

Griesemer, currently president and CEO of Springfield, Mo.-based Springfield Underground, joined the family business in 1977. His father formed the company in 1946 with an open pit operation and moved the site underground eight years later. The youngest of 14 children, Louis was hired into the family business by his brother, John, who is 26 years older than him. “A lot of people confused me for the third generation,” Griesemer says. He began his career armed with summer experience in both the business’ mining side and warehouse operation and an engineering degree in applied mathematics and computer science. “The economy in 1977 was very like what we have now. There weren’t a lot of jobs available,” Griesemer recalls. “I thought I’d work for the family business for a temporary basis and move on. It got busy in 1978 and 1979, and I never really looked back after that.”

Griesemer serves as a mentor to many in the industry, including Steve Sloan (right), who followed him through chairs at NSSGA.

Griesemer’s entry into the aggregates industry coincided with the passage of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, and some of his first responsibilities included compliance with the new regulation and oversight of safety programming. “That had a great effect on me,” he says, explaining that he believes it is a good starting point for anyone who aspires to serve in a production supervisory or management role: “The first thing you ought to do is have to be the safety guy, because it becomes job one.”

While the industry valued safety prior to regulation, Griesemer says the workplace culture has evolved significantly since that time. “During the last 30 years, the industry has gone through a complete paradigm shift in how it views what are and what are not acceptable risks,” he says. “The culture of safety is dominant in our industry now.”

Joe Casper (back row, far right) says Griesemer played a significant role in NSSGA’s renewed and expanded Alliance agreement. Griesemer (back row, second from right) is shown here at the signing ceremony.

And, sometimes, that culture can create a tension with MSHA, the agency charged with overseeing safety. The challenge is two-fold: operators who have embraced safety balk at what they consider to be the agency’s current citation-oriented approach — particularly when they have strong safety records — and operators are frustrated that the importance of creating a behavior-based safety culture is ignored by regulators.

“I’m not denying that there are still problem operations out there, but most of us have a good safety culture, great programs in place, and try to do more than what the regulations require,” Griesemer says. “From our perspective, some of the things we are experiencing have little to do with safety and more to do with citations and regulations. It’s not just about guards on conveyors and tail pulleys, it’s about workforce attitudes. You have to instill that safety awareness from top to bottom and get the buy in at the front lines where guys are doing the work. That hasn’t been the emphasis from the regulators. They still focus on the mechanical systems, paperwork, and making sure you’ve got the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. I understand you need to have the documentation and it needs to be right, but the culture is where safety happens.”

Expanding the sphere of influence

Improving safety requires all parties to be as well educated as possible on what types of investments will yield the safest behaviors. To that end, both the association and the regulatory agency renewed their Alliance commitment.

During his tenure as chairman of NSSGA, Griesemer shared the story of his company’s journey through the zoning process and described the importance of community involvement.

“The re-signing of a new and broadened Alliance agreement between MSHA and NSSGA is attributable to a great extent to the leadership of Committee Chair Louis Griesemer,” says Joe Casper, NSSGA vice president for safety services. “An MSHA-certified safety trainer, Louis has astutely deployed the diligence and leadership needed for advancing the Alliance’s work. And, because of this dedication, our industry is better positioned to further reduce injuries and illnesses and continue to — where appropriate — forge a stronger rapport between regulator and regulated on behalf of worker safety and health.”

Through the MSHA-NSSGA Alliance, the two groups can collaborate on improving safety through initiatives such as the Safety Alerts and further developing and adapting information available through the agency’s Tool Box Training program. “I think the Alliance continues to be a great tool for communication between the industry and the agency,” Griesemer says. “Everybody on both sides of the Alliance team wants to make it a very positive tool.”

Another mission of the Alliance Task Force is working to clarify gray areas of regulations where there can be misunderstandings or to discuss enforcement that is not based on past practice or is more vigorous than past practice. “If the rules are changing, we want to let our members know that the rules have changed,” Griesemer says. “MSHA is totally on board with that. They are trying to be very transparent in what they are doing, at least at the very top levels.”

One of the challenges, he says, is to differentiate clarification of existing rules from new rulemaking. “It is not our intent to be part of the rulemaking process, at least in that venue,” Griesemer stresses. “We want to make the agency better, but there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way to do it.”

Taking the message public

In addition to a sea change in safety, Griesemer says he’s seen a similar cultural evolution in the way the aggregates industry interacts with the public. During his earlier years, he says that operators went quietly about their business and tried to avoid public attention. “When you’re setting off explosives, that’s awfully hard to do,” he jokes.

Approximately 20 years ago, Griesemer learned the importance of community relations when he experienced what he describes as a very painful zoning defeat. “It was a big eye opener for me to see people’s attitudes toward quarries,” he said. Rather than accept vilification, Griesemer realized that the public needed to know the people and processes involved in aggregates mining. The company began to hold open houses, and, slowly but surely, personnel became more comfortable with talking to community members. Then the company’s relationship with the community improved.

“You practice it, and you get better,” Griesemer says. “After a while, you begin to enjoy it.” Springfield Underground explored additional community outreach programs including working with a local church on its Fourth of July fireworks program, opening its property to Missouri State’s cross country team practices, and hosting Boy Scout campouts. “You don’t know where it’s going to come back,” Griesemer says. “But it pays dividends down the road.”

During his tenure as chairman of the NSSGA board, Griesemer incorporated the message of community relations and public engagement into his platform. He shared his company’s journey from zoning defeat to community engagement to zoning success with numerous groups including the Young Leaders Council and a half dozen state associations. His lessons on leadership could have an impact for years to come.

“Louis Griesemer is so well respected in our industry and has been a fabulous mentor to me and many others,” says Steve Sloan, president of Midwest Minerals. “He is the consummate professional. His honesty, ethics, and principles are unparalleled.”

Grace under pressure

Two decades of community relations experience and a good rapport with his local media served Griesemer — and the entire aggregates industry — well earlier this year. Following the explosion at Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch coal mine, a television reporter called Griesemer to get a comment about the tragedy. “My first reaction was, ‘Why are you calling me?’” Griesemer recalls. Then, his communications experience kicked in, and he recognized an opportunity to differentiate aggregates mining from coal. Through a series of phone calls, he worked with association leaders to develop talking points about aggregates mining, create graphs of incidence rates based on MSHA data, and prepare for a television interview.

Cara Restelli, an investigative reporter for KY3, conducted the interview and verified his data. The result was a report that essentially shared the message Griesemer gave: the two types of mining are very different, the aggregate industry has made great strides in improving safety, and unnecessary new regulations would have a devastating impact on the aggregates industry. “The strength of the message was that this was going to be crippling at a time when we were already down and out,” Griesemer says. “I think it (S.3671) would have been the death knell for a lot of smaller operations.”

Instead, the video was uploaded to NSSGA’s Web site and linked to Aggregates Manager’s Web site for download by other operators. The video “went viral” and became one of the most viewed items on both Web sites. Griesemer’s interview served as a how-to guide for operators to communicate their message to the local media and, more importantly, members of Congress. Although S.3671, the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act of 2010, is still under consideration and may pass during a lame duck session of Congress, the aggregates industry was exempted from its most onerous provisions.

In no small way, that achievement belongs to the AggMan of the Year 2010, Louis Griesemer. Through his “humble command,” he continues to know the way, show the way, and go the way. AM

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