By Garrett Simmons
Employee Name: Adam Snelson
Title: Asphalt Division Project Manager
Years at Blythe: 14
Adam Snelson isn’t one to sit around waiting for opportunity to present itself. As a core member of the team responsible for rebuilding Blythe’s private-sector paving operations after the 2008 recession, he’s had to go searching for every contract he’s landed. Hard work and personal initiative have helped him advance steadily within the company throughout his 14-year career, but as Snelson admits, he wasn’t always so driven to create his own luck. His first promotion, in fact, was purely accidental.
Snelson recalls, “My first day of work on the asphalt crew, the guy running the paver had a heart attack and was sent to the hospital. My supervisor basically turned to me and said, ‘You’re up, take his place.’ I didn’t know how to operate a paver. That was the first skill I learned on the jobsite.”
19 years old at the time, Snelson’s prior work history consisted mostly of restaurant jobs: washing dishes at T-Bones on Lake Wylie, and serving tables for three years at the Eagle’s Nest in Clover, SC. His plan had never been to remain in the restaurant industry, but that doesn’t mean paving was necessarily his dream job either. Instead, says Snelson, he chose to work at Blythe because he needed a steadier income, and because his father worked there and had been successful himself.
“Growing up, I’d seen how well the company took care of my dad and our family. I had also witnessed his loyalty to Blythe,” he says of his father, who relocated from Asheville to Charlotte to work for the company in the early 1990s. “It seemed like a solid option for me, too.”
Despite the family connection, Snelson didn’t expect preferential treatment, and he gives credit to Blythe’s internal culture for not showing him any. “I am fortunate to work for a company that rewards dedication, knowledge and experience—and not who you know or happen to be related to,” he says. After that first day on the job, Snelson operated the paver for three months until the employee who’d suffered the heart attack recovered and took back his place on the crew, knocking Snelson down to where he’d originally been hired to start: the very bottom.
From there, Snelson began learning the paving industry one skill at a time, gradually working his way up from a ground laborer to various machinery operator positions. Although he was advancing within his crew, Snelson admits that for the first couple of years his efforts rarely did more than meet basic expectations. Then, somewhere along the way, things began to click. “I started getting serious, learning everything I could,” he says. “I started looking for opportunities to increase my skills.”
He found plenty of them during the winter off-season, when paving is required to be shut down for three months in North Carolina. He began taking certification classes in safety and CPR, OSHA regulations, Traffic Control and Flagging. Eventually, he became qualified enough to start instructing those same classes, and after four years of ground labor work, Snelson was promoted to Traffic Control Supervisor—a role which granted him the unofficial nickname “Mr. Safety” among fellow members of his crew.
“The irony of the name,” he explains, “what made the joke funny, was that I started out at Blythe not really caring about safety.” During his early days, for example, his phone-checking habit directly brought about the paving division’s no-phone policy that’s still in effect today. But as Snelson puts it, by the time the new nickname was given to him, his outlook had changed. He was in a different place. “I’d realized at some point that I was only going to get back as much or as little effort as I put into this work,” he says. “I was starting to see the big picture of how these smaller parts come together to make the company successful.”
Motivated by the realization, Snelson threw himself into becoming a Safety Engineer within the company. But as it turned out, one of his supervisors saw potential for a different, more comprehensive, path. In 2012, Asphalt Superintendent Shane Clark offered Snelson an entry estimator position. The role brought Snelson indoors from the jobsite for the first time in his career. More importantly, it brought together the varied skills he had developed throughout his eight years of experience.
Never one to sit still, Snelson has since expanded his role to include managing all of Blythe’s private-sector paving bids. Under his leadership, the Charlotte division has rebounded from its near-total devastation in 2008, earning an annual average of $20 million for the past three years.
Of his current position, Snelson says he’s exactly where he should be. He also points out that the success he’s had at Blythe is actually more common than not within the company. In fact, he says, that’s the whole point.
“It’s in Blythe’s interest to help its employees succeed, because if you think about it, that’s good for the company overall.” Snelson says that for the newer generation of employees like him, who will eventually fill leadership positions, the major benefit is having veteran employees to call on for guidance. “Blythe structures itself to form a kind of safety net of experienced team members,” he explains. “Everybody makes mistakes, that’s how you learn. But at Blythe there’s a support network of seasoned employees who are available for council.”
Now 34 years old, Snelson is still relatively young in his career. But with 14 years of experience under his belt, he recognizes that he now has wisdom to offer those who are just entering the field. His advice? “Slow down, work hard. Don’t let yourself be driven by the thought of money or promotion. Instead, focus on learning everything you can about your trade. The rest will take care of itself,” he says. “You might not think anyone notices the work you’re doing, but trust me. In this place, they are.”