Igniting Potential

Luck Stone is Creating its Own Future With a Visionary Approach to Business.



This is the first in a new series of personal accounts called “Quarry Stories,” written by the editor of Rock Products, bringing you perspective and insight gleaned from more than 20 years of covering the equipment, technology, plant operations and people that make the aggregates industry great. –Ed.

The name “Luck Companies,” of which Luck Stone is a division, upon first glance, would appear to communicate that success is a result of chance. That could not be further from the truth. I found that out first-hand when I made a visit to the company’s Bull Run and Fairfax quarries in Virginia.

Luck Stone, one of the largest privately owned aggregates companies in the United States, has been publicly embarking on one of the most revolutionary approaches to business that the aggregates industry has ever seen. This approach, with its emphasis on “Values-Based Leadership,” was summed up by company President and CEO Charles S. Luck IV at a Leadership Symposium in Washington, D.C., when he said, “In life, the score matters, but so does how you play the game.”

Values-Based Leadership, simply put, is about living, working and leading in alignment with your core values, beliefs and principles. Values-Based Leadership is about making every individual in life and business count (see sidebar).

Developing a loader that is operated remotely took a series of strategic moves.
Developing a loader that is operated remotely took a series of strategic moves.

Luck Stone is very serious about this. They have even appointed a chief leadership officer, Mark Fernandes, who is charged with helping Luck Companies in its transformation into a global, Values-Based Leadership organization.

In his role as chief leadership officer and as a member of Luck Companies’ Strategic Leadership Team, Fernandes is providing overall strategic direction for the enterprise mission and serves as a thought leader for the ongoing development of the Values-Based Leadership ideology and model. Included with this is the responsibility to lead the integration of this strategy inside Luck Companies and share the mission and model globally through his mentoring, speaking, teaching and consulting work.

Fernandes may be responsible for sharing Luck Stone’s vision with the world, but it is inside the company, especially at the plant-operations level, where the results of change are obvious.

Value-Based Leadership: Luck Stone’s Statement

“Luck Companies, the parent company of Luck Stone, started to develop a Values-Based Leadership (VBL) Culture in 2003. By definition, ‘leadership’ is appropriate influence. Similarly, ‘values’ from a cultural standpoint has to do with the code of the organization,” the company said.

“Our values at Luck Companies consist of Leadership, Commitment, Integrity and Creativity. We like to say that we have two legacy values and two aspirational values. The company was built on Commitment and Integrity (legacy) and we work every day on Leadership and Creativity (aspirational). Our VBL work and innovation work are evidence of this focus.

“In the late 2000s we began developing a business model and brand philosophy that tied our business units to our corporate mission of ‘igniting human potential through values-based leadership and positively impact the lives of others around the world.’ At that point in time we had positive intentions to ‘do good through doing well’ but had not yet fully developed the model.

“In 2011 we decided to go external with the message on a world stage by holding a Symposium in Washington, D.C. Simultaneously we were leveraging VBL internally to build our culture and create excellent business results. In order to do this we knew that we needed a dynamic leader. Mark Fernandes has always had a passion for leadership, learning and performance. He was promoted to chief leadership officer and has responsibility in three major areas:

  • Lead, guide and mentor our leadership work within the corporation.
  • Promote VBL around the globe with thought leaders, educators and businesses. This is done through various means from social media to speeches and one-on-one engagement.
  • Create and lead a non-profit VBL Institute, which researches, teaches and promotes best leadership practices throughout the world.

“Through this process Luck Companies has learned that leadership and culture make a difference. Engagement and innovation are paths to business success. And finally, people want to do business with other people to whom they are connected.”

A Visit to Fairfax
Driving through the front gate of Luck Stone’s Fairfax plant, first impressions mean everything. And I can assure you, the first impression is very good. I have been in many aggregates plants over the years, and you can typically tell the good ones by their general appearance.

The site is organized, visually appealing and blends into the local landscape. That is important since the area where the plant is located has great historical significance, being in the vicinity of the Bull Run Battlefield, where two historic clashes between Union and Confederate forces took place during the Civil War.

Located on Route 29 in Fairfax County, the Fairfax Plant was acquired by Luck Stone in the 1930s. This plant has been integral to the residential and infrastructure development of the county. Over the years, materials from this plant helped build Interstate 66, Dulles Airport, and many schools and hospitals. The Fairfax Plant has received numerous awards, including the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association’s Environmental Eagle Award, Community Relations Award and the Virginia Aggregates Association Community Impact Award.

At the plant, I was met by company President Bob Grauer, Plant Manager Warren Paulson, and the Luck Stone corporate communications team. “What we are doing in our operations is being driven by what we are doing at the corporate level,” Grauer stressed. “Our commitment to Values-Based Leadership informs everything we do. The company takes pride in its reputation as a collaborative partner that unearths innovative solutions to help our customers be more successful.”

According to Grauer, innovation can be defined as developing something completely new or just changing the experience that someone has with the business. My trip to the company’s Fairfax plant was a perfect illustration of that innovation, as I was able to see first-hand how Luck Stone collaborated with several partners, including experts from tech firm Anchies, to develop a remote-control loader.

Riding down into the deep recesses of the operation, I learned the reasons for the experiment with an unmanned loader. “This tool gives us options that we’ve never had before and allows us to optimize resources at our plants while creating a more sustainable environment,” said Grauer.

As the quarry operation moves toward completion of its reserves, one corner of the quarry was identified as being ripe to mine for additional material. But with extremely high sidewalls and a narrow corridor, it was also determined to be potentially dangerous.

In considering options for pulling material from the corner, an employee remarked, what if we took the operator out of the loader? It was an idea offered half in jest, but the company took it seriously. And that is exactly what they did.

Company President Bob Grauer (left) and Plant Manager Warren Paulson.
Company President Bob Grauer (left) and Plant Manager Warren Paulson.

Remote Control Loader
Developing a loader that is operated remotely took a series of strategic moves. The company worked with several outside vendors to perfect the technology. But it was inside the company where the greatest success took place.

The first question I asked when watching a demonstration of the unmanned loader was, “Did you look for operators based on who is the best at playing video games? The joystick operation indeed requires the same manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination that exactly approximates what it takes to successfully navigate a video game, or more specific to the construction-equipment industry, a loader simulator.

“The way we chose people to train was simple,” Grauer said. “We asked who was interested. The people who wanted to learn came forward. We were actually surprised at how quickly they picked it up. There is a disadvantage in that the operator cannot ‘feel’ the loader, which is important to successful operation, but one advantage is greater visibility of the work area.”

The operator in place on the day I was there was a picture of perfection. He manipulated the loader from muck pile to truck effortlessly, without complication. He was so adept at cycling the loader the average person would have been shocked to learn that there was no operator inside.

“Another possibility for us with the unmanned loader is, we had been asking ourselves how we could employ disabled veterans,” Grauer said. “This gives us an opportunity to explore ways to make that happen.”

Luck Stone plans to dive even deeper into high-tech. They are experimenting, for instance, with a drone to map stockpiles and do fly-overs of quarry operations.

The operator effortlessly manipulated the loader.
The operator effortlessly manipulated the loader.

The Power of the iPad
Some companies shy away from technology and others not only embrace it, they seek out ways to exploit it for their benefit and the benefit of their customers.

In another innovative move that separates them from the pack, Luck Stone harnessed the power of technology to improve efficiency for daily load management with its subcontractor haulers. In this case, the company started an initiative called Hey Dude, Where’s My Truck, which may be whimsical in name, but is highly effective in practice.

“We worked with several of our customers, some of our engineers and our scale house people to develop an app called LOGIQ that can track vehicle locations, give directions for deliveries and place stone orders, among other features,” Grauer said.

Luck Stone then did something that would make jaws drop at other companies. They distributed iPads with the Hauler App to almost all their haulers in Virginia and North Carolina. Now I know what you are thinking. They gave away free iPads? Yes, that is exactly what they did.

“I didn’t understand the durability of the iPad, and I was skeptical at first that this was a good idea, but I have to tell you it has been a resounding success,” Grauer said. “We know exactly where our trucks are, we use them as a valuable communications device, and the bottom line is, they make us more successful and our customers more profitable.”

The iPads have proven to be durable and dependable, and the truckers take very good care of them. That may seem counter-intuitive, but that is the reality on the street. The tool is so valuable to them, that making sure the equipment stays in top shape becomes a priority.

Luck Stone excavated a piece of the existing quarry with 80‐ft. sidewalls to house a new crusher.
Luck Stone excavated a piece of the existing quarry with 80‐ft. sidewalls to house a new crusher.

Luck Stone’s desire to be the model of a customer-inspired business is more than a vision statement. For example, the company has brought customers in to ask what needs to be improved in order for Luck Stone to be more effective or efficient.

The company also generates an annual survey to rate its performance on how well Luck Stone listens and responds to feedback. “Our rating improved from 74 percent to 84 percent in one year as a result of really listening to what our customers say that we could be doing better,” said Grauer.

Grauer illustrated this concept by sharing a story about a Luck Stone plant manager who gathered a team of hourly associates to help interview and select a new mechanic for the plant. Several weeks later, he visited the plant and heard some insightful remarks when he inquired about that hiring process.

“The associates felt invested in making sure that the mechanic was successful since they had played a key role in hiring him,” noted Grauer. “The mechanic wanted to do his best so that he wouldn’t let the team down. We’re very proud that 88 percent of our associates are engaged in our business, according to a Hay Group study that measures the drivers for success in a company.”

The bottom-line for Luck Stone is that there’s much more to running a successful business for another 90 years than solely the bottom-line of the balance sheet. “We believe in doing good to do well, so to speak,” concluded Grauer. “If we can help our customers become more successful at what they do, then it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Bull Run and the Future
Luck Stone’s Bull Run Quarry, which is short truck ride away from its Fairfax operation, is undergoing a massive renovation. Started in the 1950s, the Bull Run Plant was purchased by Luck Stone on June 21, 2002.

In preparation for the redevelopment of the quarry, the company actually moved a local road. With the re-routing finished, the company is now re-grading high ground in preparation for the placement of the processing plant.

One of the keys to the success of the new operation will be a gigantic Sandvik primary crusher that will be installed next year. A piece of the existing quarry with 80-ft. sidewalls has just been excavated to house the equipment.

Major construction will start this month, and the operation is targeted to be operational in 2015. The operation will boast production of approximately 2.5 million tpy in phase one; 3.5 million tpy in phase two; and the ultimate goal is for a massive 5 million tpy quarry.

Luck Stone has a lot of irons in the fire. I will be keeping close watch on this innovative company, and reporting more in the future.

According to Charles S. Luck IV, the company has an incredible opportunity each day to have a “substantial impact on the people we touch.” It’s not only the people, it is the industry as a whole. And the industry is much better for it.

Who am I Talking To?

Did you ever get the feeling, when you are speaking with a co-worker, that you are not understanding him or her, and he or she is not making sense of anything you are saying? There is a reason for that. Luck Stone recognizes this, and has done something about it.

There are four primary personality traits, according to psychologist Carl Jung. These are Driver, Social, Analytical and Affiliative, although Luck Stone categorizes these by color, Red, Blue, Yellow and Green. People with different personality traits often do not communicate at optimum levels.

Luck Stone surveys every person in the company, and now tests everyone who joins the company, to identify what personality category they most closely fall into. This may seem like academic mumbo jumbo, but Luck Stone is convinced that if you know up-front what personality type you are dealing with it makes for more-effective person-to-person communications.

“Many of us have a color sticker on our hard hat or on our clothing that identifies our style,” Grauer said. “If for instance I am speaking with someone who is a Social, and I am a Driver, I know up front that I cannot just go fast and hard into my business with that person,” Grauer said. “I need to start the conversation different and transition. When I am dealing with the company’s engineers, who are highly analytical, that requires a totally different type of interaction.”

Since implementing this system, Luck Stone is convinced that its company employees not only talk to each other differently, they interact more effectively.

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