We strive for it daily and can feel when we’re in its presence, but true greatness – specifically, how to achieve it – is a mystery that’s puzzled writers, athletes, musicians, scientists and philosophers for ages.
Journalist and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell once made famous the notion that becoming elite at any given task takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. What few discuss, however – mainly because it’s such a rare occurrence – is the result of more than 90,000 hours of deliberate practice.
Unfortunately, the National Ready Mix Concrete Association’s 2016 Driver of the Year Steve Johnson – one of the few in his industry able to make the 90,000-hour claim – won’t contribute much to the excellence debate. He’s far too humble.
“I’ve never really felt like I’ve mastered driving the truck,” said Johnson, a Fort Collins, Colorado-based Martin Marietta ready mix truck driver with more than 45 years on the job. “Just about the time you think you’ve seen it all, you find that you haven’t. This business is constantly changing and I’m always learning something new.”
He’s driven through nine presidential administrations, seven economic recessions and a handful of military conflicts. In each of the past three years, he’s delivered an average of 8,000 cubic yards of concrete. What he’s never done, however, is caused an accident.
Gary Mullings, senior vice president of operations and compliance at the National Ready Mix Concrete Association (NRMCA), said Johnson’s safety focus is what helped separate him from the other 70,000 drivers eligible for this year’s award.
“Most other drivers don’t have the same safety record that Steve has,” Mullings said. “We also don’t see many drivers with 45 years of experience. Combine those factors and it’s not hard to see why Steve stood out on virtually every one of our judges’ ballots.”
Johnson, whose first ready mix truck after being discharged from the U.S Army was a 1962 International with a 9-yard drum, attributes much of his success to his diligence on the road and at the worksite. He also prides himself on an ability to convince contractors that his way is often the safest.
“They’ll ask you to do a lot of things, but I’ve always been careful about backing up too close to a foundation and about backing up on unstable ground, ramps and the sides of hills. Contractors just don’t realize how top-heavy these trucks are,” Johnson said. “We’ll discuss the best way to do the job, but it doesn’t take much convincing any more. I’ve been doing this long enough now that I know most contractors and the grandchildren who are starting to take over the business.”
During his tenure with Martin Marietta, Johnson has trained or influenced scores of Company employees. Among those who say they’ve learned much from the 69-year-old trucker are Area Production Manager Dan Stringer and Ken Nelson, a Rocky Mountain Division sales representative. Stringer and Nelson nominated Johnson for the NRMCA honor.
“Steve is respected and admired by all of his peers – long-term employees and new hires, alike,” Stringer said. “He goes out of his way to help anyone in need and always makes sure the job is done right. He’s someone I can truly rely on.”
Johnson was recognized during the NRMCA’s annual convention in San Diego. Included with the honor was a monetary award from the Truck Mixer Manufacturers Bureau.
Mullings said his organization presented about 25 additional industry awards, but that the Driver of the Year honor stood out as a convention highlight.
Johnson, who spent a few extra days in San Diego whale watching with Carey Hughes, his wife of 25 years, continues to take the extra attention in stride.
“I think some of this has to do with the fact that I’ve trained so many of these guys,” he said. “They told me that they’ve watched me over the years and tried to do as I’ve done. To be honest, I’m flattered. I didn’t realize I was being watched so closely.”