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P&Q Profile: Washington Rock Quarries’ Jonathan Hart

By |  April 14, 2020
Photo: Jonathan Hart

Hart

P&Q’s introduction to Jonathan Hart, vice president at Washington Rock Quarries, came at this year’s Pit & Quarry Roundtable & Conference. We caught up with Hart again at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2020 and later in March to learn more about his family business, life as a small producer and his overall experience at North America’s largest construction trade show.

How did you get your start in the aggregate industry?

Ours is a family-run business, and we got our start in 1990. Before that, my dad (Harry) was a general contractor who did site work in New York. That’s what his dad did, too. They both owned their own construction companies.

Around 1989, my dad started to look for something new to do. He traveled to California, and we almost wound out up there. That move would have made our story a lot different, but he heard about an opportunity up here in Washington state to run a mine. A tree farmer needed somebody to run a quarry for him so they could get rock supplied for their roads.

My dad worked out a deal with the tree farmer, not only to supply them but also to sell to the public. That’s where we got our start. Back then, I think we had a Telsmith 48S portable plant and a couple of conveyors. I think he had an old Terex loader, too. He brought all of that out from New York.

My first official job was working there when I turned 18. I learned how to run a loader and progressed to run the plant by the time I was in college. I was getting management experience. They were having me help run one of the production facilities in the sand and gravel pit, so I was kind of helping to run that place.

Once I graduated college in 2009, I started working full-time for the company. Around 2010, I got the offer to become the vice president of the company from my dad and his partner. I took that, and I’ve basically been working as the vice president and the unofficial CFO ever since.

What’s your experience like working in a family company?

An aerial view of Washington Rock Quarries' Kapowsin Quarry. Photo: Jonathan Hart

An aerial view of Washington Rock Quarries’ Kapowsin Quarry. Photo: Jonathan Hart

All of the family is involved, although my older sister (Emily) is more of a mom now. We’re all still kind of active as ‘board members.’ We have regular meetings.

Right now, my younger sister (Eve) and younger brother (Stephen) are both working here. My younger brother is running our night shift. We do a lot of work at night to avoid all of the traffic.

My sister heads up our social media/public relations side of the business. She does Facebook and Instagram, and she redesigned our website for us. She publishes a monthly newsletter for the company and really does a great job of keeping close-knit, intimate communications with everybody in the business. It keeps everyone’s interest.

With the family dynamic, everyone can be opinionated. We’re all Type A personalities. We all tend to argue our points, but so far we’ve made it work. We’ve been lucky in that regard, where we’ve all been involved in it long enough and have good partners who all know the industry and can make the right decision most of the time.

Do you ever find yourself looking to the future and wondering about the sustainability of the family company?

We look up to family companies like McLanahan Corp. and Rogers Group – even bigger corporate companies that started out as family businesses like Vulcan Materials. You look to people in companies like that and ask: ‘How can I duplicate that?’

The thought is always in the back of our mind: ‘Are we going to make it to the fourth, fifth, sixth generation?’ It’s getting harder every year, just with economics and the regulatory environment. You’ve got to have enough ‘financial horsepower,’ as one of our partners likes to say, to make it through.

What’s it like being a smaller producer in an industry that’s become more corporate?

Washington Rock Quarries contributed to the landscape for the Dune Peninsula boat launch/pier. Photo: Jonathan Hart

Washington Rock Quarries contributed to the landscape for the Dune Peninsula boat launch/pier. Photo: Jonathan Hart

The one thing we notice more is our decision-making ability. Our biggest advantage is the fact that our hierarchy or line of authority is flat. When we have to make a decision, it takes minutes, hours or days, whereas, on the corporate end, you have to go through three or four layers of approval before you can even get to the point of discussion on the decision.

Last year, we were discussing the fact that we needed to increase the production at our Kapowsin Quarry. We focus mostly on shot rock. We discussed the need to get a new crusher and how that’s going to cost $500,000. Within two weeks, we had a decision. We went with it and got the deal done.

On a corporate level, that’s something that’s going to take a little bit longer to get done. You’re going to have to do official reports.

What about the downside of being a family business these days?

It takes resources to plan, and it’s becoming more complex. I remember when we first decided to invest in a cost accounting system. That was a big deal for us. It was difficult and frustrating, but we finally got it done. It definitely pays for itself, but the corporate entities have people who know how to do that stuff.

The biggest problem we see in the future is human resources – the talent. Attracting talented, skilled workers is becoming more of a huge item. I think everybody in the industry knows this. Everybody is trying to adjust and address it, but more and more, the bigger entities are going to have the advantage because they can offer those good benefits and security to the worker.

We can offer progression, promotion and a little bit more flexibility. You can talk to the president of our company basically anytime you want. That’s a benefit. But at the same time, Vulcan and Martin Marietta have an advantage where they have thousands of workers they can leverage to offer good benefits, health care and other on-the-job and off-the-job perks that can attract newer or younger talent.

We spent some time with you at ConExpo-Con/Agg 2020. What was your show experience like, and how might a small producer’s approach differ from the larger producers?

We can walk the floor and find technology and suppliers who have useful products, and within days or weeks, we can be on a phone with them ordering and trying them out. Bigger companies will look at that same tech, but it might take them longer to adapt. We can go in and say: ‘We don’t know if this works, but we’ll try it.’

Did you find ConExpo-Con/Agg 2020 to be valuable?

For us, the value was finding the suppliers that we don’t know about yet. It’s pretty easy to find [companies] like Deister, Hitachi, Cat and Simplicity. It’s easy to find people like that because they have good marketing and a presence in the trade magazines. But it’s the smaller guys who have those ingenious little inventions that can help you out.

We found a lot of those that we’ll be dealing with. It’s a little frustrating now, because things have gotten pushed to the side because of COVID-19 (coronavirus). But we also found some suppliers who can help us solve problems now or in the future.


FIVE THINGS

BOOKS – “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson and “The Wright Brothers” by David McCullough

HOBBIES – Home projects and remodels, plus building my own furniture, reading and keeping up with technology

SPORTS – The Seattle Seahawks and Sounders. We’re also getting an NHL team sometime next year, and everyone is hoping we will get a basketball team.

TRAVEL – Turtle Bay (Hawaii) is great, but I’m also looking forward to NSSGA’s 2020 Young Leaders Annual Meeting in Naples, Florida.

WEBSITE – wa-rock.com

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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