Perspective: James, Zelnak were industry ‘titans’

By |  April 12, 2016

Gus Edwards, who devoted 16 years of his career to the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA), spent considerable time around Vulcan Materials Co.’s Don James and Martin Marietta Materials Inc.’s Steve Zelnak during his tenure.

To Edwards, James and Zelnak were “titans of the industry” who commanded respect from everyone around them.

“They were both such dynamic and different guys,” Edwards says. “Their styles were different, but both turned out to be excellent [NSSGA] chairmen. Both cared so deeply about the association, about the industry and about the future of the industry. They were towering figures. I can’t talk about one without the other.”

James, who served NSSGA as chairman in 2006, and Zelnak, who held the same post two years earlier, had a friendly rivalry, according to Edwards. Both prioritized the industry’s advancement, though.

Through NSSGA and other organizations, James and Zelnak were regular proponents for passage of comprehensive long-term highway bills. They also both prioritized safety, according to Edwards.

“It was a top priority for both of them,” he says. “They saw to it that their companies were innovative. They did research on safety and health issues – the kinds of things a smaller company couldn’t afford to do themselves. They sent individuals from their own safety-and-health ranks in their companies to come and help us testify in Washington. They lent us expert witnesses all the time whenever we had to take our case to MSHA (the Mine Safety & Health Administration). They were both very generous.”

When either man spoke at a board meeting or an industry function, people listened.

“What they said mattered,” Edwards says. “The little guys listened to them, regional guys listened to them. They really knew what was going on.”

The size and spread of Vulcan and Martin Marietta respectively gave James and Zelnak the unique perspectives others sought.
“Both were guys who could see things from 30,000 ft.,” Edwards says. “They saw everything happening in the country because of the way their companies were structured, from coast to coast and border to border. They really had their finger on the pulse of what was going on in every region of the country.”

James and Zelnak made their companies relatable to aggregate producers big and small, Edwards adds.

“Whether you’ve got 380 quarries or five quarries, you’ve got exactly the same problems,” he says. “It’s just that there are the same problems with more quarries. So in looking out for the big producer’s interests, the little producer’s interests were also addressed.”

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Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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