"I continuously want people to be more and do more ... to understand what they're doing and how it affects people. I want us all to be legendary. I want us to be epic. You have to help people get to that point, nurturing good ethics and wisdom. And that's what I try to do. That's what's been done for me."
— Myles McKemie.
• LEGENDARY •
No other word can describe the professional impact Myles McKemie has had in the asphalt industry. “I know of no one who believes more in asphalt emulsions or anyone who cares more deeply about the future of the industry than he does,” said Mark Ishee, Vice President – Pavement Preservation.
There are a few things you can count on when you encounter Myles McKemie: You’ll laugh, hear a few good stories, and even if you start at odds, you’ll gain a friend. “His friendship is truly sincere and heartfelt,” said David Kopp, Technical Marketing Manager. Most importantly, if you stick around him long enough, your capacity for compassion, commitment, loyalty and innovation will increase so much that you’ll become the epitome of a true resource.
Nurturing the Asphalt Man
Richard Myles McKemie thought he was born in the state of Texas up until the age of 25: “I was 25 before I knew I was born in Arkansas.”
Growing up, he looked up to his father, William Edgar McKemie, better known as Mack. “I wanted to be just like my dad, an asphalt man,” said Myles. “I followed him up the ladder and loved everything about it.” In his youth, Myles cut yards and threw papers, but he always had his sights set on asphalt. He began working for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) during the summers in 1965. Perhaps the most important skill he mastered while working with TxDOT was the ability to get along with people. This skill allowed for great opportunities for advancement as Myles began to move up in his career.
“You’re happy and you love people, and I need people who love people,” said Myles as he recalled a statement Bill Kelly, late owner of Bituminous Materials Company, made to him as he began his career with Texas Emulsions — a wholly owned subsidiary of the company. Myles credits Bill as one of the mentors who encouraged and nurtured his good work ethic and values, teaching him the ropes early on.
Myles started at Texas Emulsions full time in 1971. During his time with the company, he would become part of a group responsible for the research, development and introduction of the high float emulsion — a chip seal that was suitable for application in high-traffic areas and provided a faster cure than traditionally used chip seal emulsions at the time. “For a while, Texas was the only state using the emulsion,” said Myles. It was during this time that Myles earned the nickname by which he would come to be known industry wide — High Float.
In 1976, Myles became the Vice President of Marketing at Texas Emulsions. He then went on to become Vice President of the South Region for Elf Asphalt Inc. in 1982, following their acquisition of Bituminous Materials. Then, in 1993, the opportunity presented itself for Myles to join Ergon Asphalt & Emulsions, where he would bring his legendary customer service and passion for innovation to the family-friendly, relationship-driven company.
Joining the Ergon Family
Prior to joining Ergon, Myles had already established a friendly relationship with both Bill Lampton, Director, and Baxter Burns, President of Ergon A&E; he appreciated the way they did business. “We were serving and representing the customers, ensuring that taxpayers got what they were paying for,” said Myles. “Ergon was … is … a leader in this, and we don’t abuse our customers. We live on taxpayers’ money, so we have a fiduciary responsibility. I enjoy all that.” He started at Ergon as the General Manager for A&E Operations in Texas. From General Manager, Myles became Vice President of Emulsions and has also held roles as Vice President of Sales & Marketing for the East and Southwest Regions.
Coworkers and mentees of Myles note him as being consistently loyal and dedicated to Ergon, his coworkers and customers. “Myles was part of the leadership team that hired me 21 years ago,” said Patrick Nation, Senior Vice President – Sales & Marketing. “He was also my first boss. I have learned so much about how to treat people through Myles.” Other mentees, including David Kopp and David Stroud, attribute a lot of their industry knowledge and the way they communicate with customers to things Myles has taught them.
His ways of mentoring may have seemed unconventional at times, but the outcome always made those coming up under him better people. “When I first started with Ergon, he threw me to the wolves and said, ‘Go work with this contractor and learn FDR [full depth reclamation],’” said Tom Flowers, Technical Marketing Manager. “It was actually a great opportunity and I really appreciate it. Plus, I had him on speed dial, so I knew I’d be OK.”
High Float Strikes Again
At a time when most of Ergon’s emulsion plants were becoming cationic and there was an industry-wide demand for chip seals with faster cure times, Ergon knew a cationic version of the high float emulsion would yield just as fast, if not faster, curing than any chip seals on the market. The problem was that at the time, it was not an industry-wide belief that this was possible. “Myles’ thought process was if someone could figure out how to do it, they would have an advantage in the market,” said Mark Ishee.
In true High Float fashion, Myles was ready for Ergon to take on the challenge. After all, high float emulsion wasn’t possible until it was possible. He steered the committee to develop the cationic high float emulsion that would yield an even faster cure time than its chip seal counterparts. There were many involved in the research, development, supply and sales process, including Mark Ishee, Tom O’Leary, Ken Mogenson, David Stroud and the full Paragon staff at the time, as well as the vendors that supply emulsifiers and modifiers, just to name a few. “Everyone worked for a long time to make sure the product was viable, but without the constant push from Myles to overcome the dozens of obstacles, it would have never made it to the finish line,” said Mark.
“He is very strong willed and has always had the drive to get things done,” said Tom O’Leary, Area Sales Manager. “I think his drive and ambition and his talent to pick the right person to assume a task is what makes him and Ergon successful.” Myles is now semiretired and works on special projects for Ergon A&E in the Southwest Region — mainly Texas. He also helps maintain relationships with departments of transportation and other industry professionals. Of course, he’s always available when needed — no matter the time of day or night. “His leadership and commitment to purpose have set a powerful example for everyone,” said Mark.
He Stops When He’s Done
Whether having fun or doing business, and most times on both occasions, Myles is well known for never stopping until he is finished, and that’s something he has tried to instill in everyone who has worked closely with him over the years. “He is a constant example of waking up every day to improve the lives of our family and customers,” Patrick added. “He is the definition of being a Resource. He works 24 hours a day for the customers, the Ergon team and the asphalt industry.”
Myles attributes his untiring work ethic to one simple thing — it makes him happy. “He enjoys the business so much that it’s not like work for him,” said Baxter Burns.
On a Happy Note
“I’ve always said I don’t do anything that doesn’t make me happy. If you like what you do, you don’t really have to work,” said Myles. “A lot of guys I’ve worked with always say to me, ‘surely you’ve had to do things you didn’t like.’ And I always tell them, ‘No, I really haven’t.’ I have learned to like a lot of strange things.”
Family Life / Semiretired Life
Myles met his wife, Chris, at a dentist’s office in Texas and they married in 1983. In addition to being a loving husband, he is also the proud father of three children and an “uncle” to a few Ergonaut children. “My daughter, Sydney, considers him an uncle,” said David Kopp. “In fact, he was her emergency contact if she ever needed bail money when she started college,” he said jokingly.
When you get to know Myles, you truly become part of his family, which is something he takes seriously. “In today’s climate, it’s hard to find someone who cares about his friends the way Myles McKemie does,” said Billy Todd Bryan of Ergon’s Bryan & Bryan Asphalt company, one of Myles’ best friends since 1966. It was Myles who first introduced the Bryans to the Ergon Family — a relationship that has blossomed and thrived on personal and professional levels for decades.
There's so much more to his story, but neither time nor space will allow for details on all there is to know about the legend. But you can bet he'd be willing to have a talk with you himself and tell you as many stories as you want to know, if you're willing to listen. "We've just scratched the surface of all the fun I've had," said Myles.
A Round with the Legend
We fired off a list of questions during our interview and thought you might be interested in a few of High Float’s candid responses.
Favorite Color? Burnt orange if we’re talking about school — University of Texas.
Favorite Saying? Confidence is the feeling you have just before you fully understand a situation.
Favorite Food? Pizza
Most Fond Memory? When I was inducted into the AEMA Hall of Fame, Bill, Baxter and a few others from Ergon came to that meeting. My wife and my daughters were there. It was a culmination of a great career for me. I felt really honored — the most honored I had felt in my whole life.