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Driven to Lead


A man walks into a bar and tells the bartender about a company in Brooklyn, Iowa, hiring truck drivers. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

The bartender, who has his chauffeur’s license, takes a job in the asphalt industry. It’s a decision that ultimately leads Brady Meldrem from pouring drinks to being named president of Norris Asphalt Paving Co. at the age of 30.

“I never went to college,” Meldrem said. “I thought that it was important that I go to work, and so that’s what I did.”

Meldrem, who ascended to lead the NAPA Board. of Directors at the 2024 Annual Meeting, said when his wife became pregnant with their first child, he set out to turn his series of jobs into a career “without a bit of formal education” and found himself employed first as sign foreman, then asphalt superintendent.

The morning after Meldrem helped secure a project his company was bidding on – not exactly his job – he said his supervisor Brad Manatt admitted he didn’t quite know what to do with him.

Meldrem, high on liquid courage after celebrating the win, offered a solution: “I’ll just run the next company you buy.”

About 18 months later, Meldrem was paving in eastern Iowa when he received a phone call: Norris Asphalt in Ottumwa was for sale and he was the choice to run the company.

Totally baffled by the news, Meldrem agreed to relocate his family to southeast Iowa and take on the leadership role at Norris.

“I ran into a fabulous group of people there who, over the next 30 years, made me look good,” he said.

Meldrem said his wife, Julie, was supportive throughout his career shift, and had a knack for putting things into perspective, once telling him that as president, he would be doing himself a favor if he “just went around all day and said ‘Thank you’ to the troops.”

When the business began growing, she was concerned about the extra workload, but he said the growth gave him the perspective to begin looking toward optimization.

“Little did she know, the company growth was what finally made me a delegator,” he said.

Norris Asphalt won the Sheldon G. Hayes Award in 2001 (pictured), and again in 2015.

Running Norris Asphalt exposed Meldrem to the work being done at NAPA, and he attended his first Annual Meeting in 1986 in San Francisco, where he was in awe of the industry, its people, the awards, and the organization itself. Norris has been a Sheldon G. Hayes Award finalist a half dozen times, and has won the award twice, most recently in 2015.

“I was always impressed by the group and the people and the professionalism,” he said. “I always looked at it as me kind of being one of the outside guys so quite frankly, I will tell you I’m very humbled to be here in this capacity today because never in my wildest dreams would I ever have thought that I would be chair of NAPA. I’m very proud.”

This year, Norris is celebrating 75 years in business and Meldrem is as focused as ever on elevating the priorities of small businesses and highlighting how national efforts led by NAPA are benefiting the industry. He aims to keep his chosen career path open for future generations.

“I got into this line of work because of the people I was exposed to as a young man,” he said. “To me, they were living examples of what the American Dream is all about, and I strived to be like them. They were people of integrity and had extremely good work ethics: Fierce competitors, and great friends who would help anyone in a bind.

I hope we don’t complicate the industry to the extent that all the private operators find it to be too much to keep up with because not everyone was meant to work in a corporate environment. “We need to make sure that we retain the ability for closely held companies to thrive.”

Meldrem sees his involvement in NAPA as part of that effort. He likens membership in the trade association to an insurance policy, since its subject matter experts are vigilantly looking out for industry hurdles that business executives may lose track of. NAPA members are able to focus on the challenges of doing business knowing that their national organization has their best interests at heart.

“There is no way for a company to track all the things that happen in our industry: We have continued policy changes, due unfortunately to political issues, not engineering and design,” he said. “It’s a sad state of affairs, but it highlights the need for an organization like NAPA that can look above the fray of normal, day-to-day operations and keep an ear to the ground to intercept potential problems or concerns. That is the advocacy part, not to mention the work done to derail unproven theories that seek to shed a bad light on our product.”

He sees NAPA membership as one of the best deals in the industry, since an entire year’s dues can be less than the cost of a load of fuel.

Meldrem also understands that NAPA efforts in research and advocacy create benefits that trickle down to even those industry players who aren’t among NAPA’s members.

“Some don’t want to ‘buy the cow,’ as they say, but the dues, in my opinion, are extremely reasonable,” he said. “Now, some companies tend not to be association types, but that just means we need to continue to clarify NAPA’s direction and goals because I believe the members of NAPA are directing the future of our industry and that alone should make us want to participate instead of just complaining.

“The world is run by those who show up.”

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