Google anything paving or pavement maintenance related, and you’re sure to find an article written by none other than our 2024 Alan Curtis Service Award winner, Allan Heydorn. Heydorn was editor of Pavement Maintenance and Reconstruction magazine for over 30 years, serving the industry by providing the resources contractors needed to complete their jobs more efficiently. But it was his work off the pages of the magazine where his legacy will leave a lasting impact on us all.
Learning the Industry
Heydorn started his career in the mid 1980’s working as a freelance writer for various new outlets and publications until he landed with the Aberdeen group and Pavement magazine in the 1990’s. The magazine was only a few years old at the time, and came with a conference program and tradeshow to supplement it, so Heydorn knew he needed to learn the industry quickly in order to properly serve his audience.
“The company knew very little about asphalt, and I knew even less, but I did know how to put together a magazine,” Heydorn said. “I hit the road with my publisher and lead salesperson and we visited contractors and manufacturing facilities and tried to instill in them that the magazine wasn’t just there to suck money out of them. We wanted to enhance professionalism and help contractors with the business aspect of running their operations. That's what the magazine was always going to be geared to do. And that's what the conference was geared to do as well.”
Heydorn quickly realized that in order to write about what he didn’t know, he needed to surround himself with people that were willing to share their expertise with him - and through him.
“We really did rely on everybody else to teach us what we needed to know about the industry,” Heydorn said. “There's a whole bunch of contractors out there who probably still have stories about me working on their jobs, trying to do something productive and the crew standing around watching me, going ‘what?’ Manufacturers were also always willing to talk to us and explain their equipment and best practices to contractors who were willing to listen. The magazine has always been the industry teaching itself through us in that way.”
Realizing what Heydorn was trying to build with the magazine, many in the industry even got over the idea of sharing their secrets with their competition, realizing that we’re all in this together.
“A contractor, if he has trade secrets, doesn't want to necessarily give that to everybody out there, but a lot of these people understood what we were trying to do, and believed in the industry and so they wanted to share whatever it was that they thought they knew so other contractors could benefit from that,” Heydorn said. “The whole idea behind everything that we did was that ‘a rising tide will lift all boats.’ Yes we wanted to make money on the magazine and on the tradeshow, but we knew the way to do that was to grow the industry and help the industry grow itself. We decided to help educate the contractors, give them the tools that they needed to grow and run their business more professionally and more profitably, and help them do what they already wanted to do, just try and make it a little bit easier for them.”
Leveraging the Help of Experts
The in person event was the natural way to extend the education in the magazine and the early days of the pavement conference was modeled heavily off Aberdeen’s ownership of the World of Concrete show and conference program. Heydorn and his team leveraged the help of industry experts to teach each other at these events. The conference program started out with around 30 sessions for attendees to choose from.
“We didn't just bring in speakers to bring in speakers,” Heydorn explains, “we brought in speakers who knew the industry, who could relate to the contractors, and who could understand what they were going through on a daily basis. We didn’t want to bring in high level, general business management people because a lot of these contractors don't fit that mode. Many of them are small to medium sized businesses and they needed someone who could talk to them on that level. The speakers we would try and find were contractors who were willing to either speak - or learn to speak - because I think we actually groomed a whole bunch of contractors over 30 years that became great speakers.”
The conference program also counted on speakers like Jeff Stokes, Brad Humphrey and Guy Gruenberg who had a background in public speaking and consulting to round out the educational program and give attendees a variety of topics to choose from at these events.
As demand for education continued to grow, the conference expanded, adding a regional west coast event to reach a different audience in addition to the annual national conference and tradeshow. Heydorn also continually revamped the educational program, bringing in new sessions on trending industry topics and cycling out sessions to keep information fresh for attendees.
“We were always trying to be ahead of where the industry was,” Heydorn said. “We would hear about an issue from a manufacturer or a contractor and we took responsibility for bringing education around that issue to the industry. Job costing was one of the first big ideas we brought to the conference program and the first year we held the session, maybe three people took the class. But you know, we just kept at it and we kept doing it because we knew that these contractors needed to cost their jobs before they did their bids and that that was something that we really pushed and pursued for a long time. Today, job costing is one of the most popular topics and that’s because it’s important. We knew it was important then and it’s still relevant today and I think that was a real benefit to the industry.”
Another tactic Heydorn used to teach the industry? Live equipment demonstrations.
“The industry really demanded these live equipment demos and we provided a place for them to go and see a bunch of different pieces of equipment working all at the same time,” Heydorn said. “These demos were always a hit for contractors, and while they were a lot of work to put on, they gave us credibility as an event and were a great benefit for the manufacturer partners as well.”
Leaving a Legacy
Heydorn’s legacy extends beyond just the magazine and national events. Some of the things contractors in this space see every day are thanks to him understanding the industry and creating content and products around what would benefit the industry as a whole.
The Pavement Awards were created by Heydorn as a way to give contractors the recognition they deserved for their hard work.
“The awards were created as a way to bring the industry together,” Heydorn said. “They bring a lot of attention to interesting projects, complex projects, unique projects, and when the articles are written, other contractors out there can learn from them. They might learn how to tackle a job that they might have turned down at some point or they might think of a different way to do a job moving forward.
“The awards also lend a level of credibility and professionalism to the industry,” Heydorn continues. “Contractors look at this and they want to be recognized, and they should be, and I think there's real value in that.”
Heydorn also developed the IGNITE Construction Summit for business owners in partnership with magazine publisher and company Chief Revenue Officer Amy Schwandt. The idea was to bring education to high-level executives in the paving and pavement maintenance space and the program that has taken off since its inception in 2019.
“There was a niche in the industry that wasn’t filled in this space,” Heydorn said. “At a lot of shows the courses are not designed for high-level blue sky overall business management because you can't really tackle that in 60-90 minutes. And, frankly, there aren't enough high level presidents and CEOs that are willing to go to these shows and sit at these seminars. We thought if we created a top level event where we discussed blue sky operational tactics and long term planning that wasn't being addressed anywhere else, that could do really well.
“At IGNITE, we wanted owners, presidents, etc. to come and get a sense of what's coming down the pike and what the issues are to help them do some long term planning that they hadn't taken the time to do. And maybe provide them a little bit of a kick in the butt to go do it.”
Heydorn has always been adamant that what he has done over the course of his career was only done as a conduit between contractors, but his hard work is evident in many businesses and on many jobsites of contractors who have attended the courses he helped facilitate.
“I don't think there ever was a show where someone didn't come up to me and tell me that they were able to grow their business because of the courses they attended,” Heydorn said. “It always meant a lot when they would thank me, but the thing to remember is that the industry taught itself. And that's one of the great things about it. The manufacturers and dealers and contractors all trusted enough us enough that they were willing to share the information they had earned with each other - we were really just the conduit to make all of that happen.”
And thanks to Heydorn’s hard work and dedication, the program has maintained its prestige in the industry while continuing to grow and evolve with the needs of the contractor.
“I was always glad that we were able to maintain the educational focus of the program,” Heydorn said. “The idea from the start was just to help contractors do a better job in their skillwork, or a quicker job or more efficient job, and also from the business side to help them run a more profitable operation so that they could grow their business. And I really think that over the years we were able to maintain that focus.”
With this designation as the 2024 Alan Curtis Industry Service Award recipient, Heydorn also joins the Pavement Hall of Fame as the sole inductee for 2024. It is our privilege to honor Heydorn in this way and thank him for his massive contributions to our industry. We know his legacy will live on through the pages of this magazine and in the education at PAVE/X: The Pavement Experience.
“When I created the Pavement Hall of Fame, I never thought that I'd be in it. It never crossed my mind,” Heydon said. “It's humbling. These contractors all have families and they all raise their kids and they all want to send them off to college, or send them on to a good life. It's nice to think that somewhere along the way, maybe with the show or the magazine, that we were able to help them do that. That's really a pretty nice thing to know.”