His office is a true microcosm of his life. Watching over it all as he works is a photograph of a longtime mentor and friend. The photo has been carefully tacked to the corkboard behind his chair. Smiling at those who enter from a perch above the computer is a bobble-headed Texas Rangers all-star team anchored by Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez and Nolan Ryan. Resting on the walls, the desk and on the screensaver are images of his wife, his children, his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
These are the things Mickey Blankenship values, the foundation on which he’s built his adult life, the relationships he’s carefully cultivated over the past 45 years. Just as inseparable from the man, however, is his work, he says:
When I drive home, I’m thinking about this place. When I drive back, I’m thinking about this place. So much goes on here that you’ve got to keep your mind on it. Eventually, it becomes second nature, I guess – something that just gets into your blood. I’ll retire one day, but I don’t know how I’ll adapt to that change. I know I’ll still think about this place because I feel ownership – real ownership – over it. When things go well, I own that. When things don’t go well, I’ve failed.
Blankenship speaks at the conclusion of what must be his fourth tour of the Midlothian Cement plant that day. He’s a bit nervous talking about himself, but that tension falls away when he starts in on the pair of mixed-breed Chihuahua/Yorkie puppies he recently gave to Tristan and Bentley, his young great grandsons.
“Are Diane and I crazy, or what?” he says with an easy smile and a laugh.
Whether or not he and his wife are crazy is debatable, but what is absolute fact is that whatever they are, they are together.
The Blankenships married on Oct. 28, 1972. Less than a month later, at the age of 18, Mickey began work in the cement business. In the decades since, his life has revolved around two goals: forging his career and raising his family. Often, the two have intertwined.
As a production manager at one of only two cement plants in Martin Marietta, Blankenship’s specific responsibilities are somewhat unique. Still, there are aspects of his job with which many employees will identify.
He starts each day before sunrise, venturing first to the dome where the site’s quarried material is kept for use in the cement-making process. Still outpacing the sun, he crosses the quarry and loops around the plant, looking to make sure the operation has been running smoothly overnight.
“I’m looking for any housekeeping issues,” he says while cruising away from the dome in his company pickup truck. “Are there any rail cars or coal cars that need to be unloaded? Is the inventory in our dome sufficient? When I get back to my office, I’ll take a look to see where our production trends are headed. That’s the type of information that’s important to me.”
There are about 175 employees at Midlothian – including his son, Instrument Technician John Blankenship – and the production manager has developed a relationship with nearly every single one. Each of them trusts the supervisor and seeks his guidance for any number of issues.
While touring a newly constructed area where a new fuel source is being tested for the kiln, Blankenship stops when a pair of employees approach him about a safety concern. Later, after climbing the levels of the site’s tower just before lunch, he pauses a moment when he sees a worker sweeping up a pile of material that just doesn’t belong. Rather than scream over the operation’s noise, he grabs a broom, taps the employee on the shoulder and joins in the task.
“I can’t sit here and watch people work if I have the ability to jump in and help and that’s something people respect,” he says. “That’s one thing that’s helped me work my way from the bottom, up.”
After lunch, while again going over production figures in his office, he’s interrupted by Relief Supervisor Juan Hernandez, who brings with him enough homemade banana bread to share. This is where Blankenship’s management style extends beyond solving logistical problems and ensuring Midlothian’s cement is of the highest quality possible.
As the old friends pause to enjoy the snack, the conversation focuses briefly on work. Quickly, it turns to personal matters and laughter. Blankenship learned early on about the importance of truly knowing your co-workers as people. Occasions like this, he says, are among the most important in any career.
While he takes the time to enjoy the little moments and has developed an arsenal of management techniques and lessons that he tries to instill in Midlothian’s next generation, Blankenship recognizes that his continued personal growth is still essential.
“There’s never a time when you can’t learn something new,” he says. “If there are changes we can make, let’s make them. Let’s do everything we can to make our jobs simpler and safer. That’s my attitude and one I hope I can communicate to each member of our team.”