Work Ethic

The family behind J.J. Kennedy Inc. knows that success in their concrete business hinges on adopting traits of a big operator, like central dispatch and

Don Marsh

The family behind J.J. Kennedy Inc. knows that success in their concrete business hinges on adopting traits of a big operator, like central dispatch and GPS-enabled truck tracking, without abandoning a mom-and-pop culture, where the same set of hands can change the toner cartridge in the office printer or oil filter on a mixer.

Based in Fombell, Pa., about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, J.J. Kennedy has nearly doubled in size during the past five years, growing to five plants and a 42-mixer fleet. Plant siting enables it to tackle the occasional 1,000-yd.-or-greater Pennsylvania DOT pour in one day and still cover smaller jobs. The company has gained that critical mass under Paul Rader, a 40-year veteran of concrete who has seen the passage of horizontal mixer and chain plant equipment, male-only driver pools, and a rough-and-tumble office, knowing when to leave certain traditions behind. My goal is to have a clean business, he says. In the past, my wife would never come to the plant. It was a man’s world. Today, we’re trying to elevate ready mix in our market and make the business better recognized.

The Pittsburgh-area recovery from the sharp steel-industry declines of the 1970s and Î80s enabled J.J. Kennedy to improve its plant and fleet equipment, but better iron is only part of what has brought the company beyond a mom-and-pop. By the 1990s, we saw little promotion of quality control in non-spec work. Finishers might have been doing something a certain way for 25 years, and up to about 10 years ago it was tough to get them to show up for a training course. Now, the ACI Flatwork Finishers program is widely recognized in the market, says John Rader, Paul’s middle son and the first of three to join him in the business.

J.J. Kennedy was among ACI Pittsburgh Chapter members prompting development of the Flatwork Finishers program as a market standard. John Rader chairs the chapter’s education committee, assisting in the Finishers course and ACI Field Testing Technician Û Grade 1 certification, the latter drawing 300 to 400 participants annually. We have the latest technology and quality control as strong as any in our markets, he says. Every contractor in the area recognizes us as the technical experts. All J.J. Kennedy plants are approved for Pennsylvania Department of Transportation work, he adds, and supported by three full-time technicians.


Promotion of ACI standards for everyday flatwork and slabs coincided with significant housing and commercial development in areas north of Pittsburgh. To position for larger jobs, including slabs typical of big box retailers and other national chains, J.J. Kennedy opened a second plant in 1994. The Raders then considered what measures to take to differentiate their business in a fragmented market, where the two largest producers concentrated on work within and closer to Pittsburgh.

To be a leader, we had to do something different and better. Bringing in five front discharge mixers was a real turning point, says John Rader, who recalls the surprise he felt in 1996 when his father Paul called from Indiana to let him know J.J. Kennedy would soon be taking delivery of new trucks for the first time in ages.

In a market with hills and sites of uneven terrain, the fronts were well received as an alternative to conventional rear discharge models. After bringing the new trucks into the fleet, we quickly reached the point of wait times and had some contractors suggesting or hinting that maybe they weren’t good enough to have loads delivered by fronts, says Jim Rader, who is Paul’s second son to join J.J. Kennedy and runs the second largest plant, in Portersville.

Within 12 months of taking delivery of the five trucks, the company had added five more fronts, a spec that now carries throughout the fleet. Putting front discharge mixers in the market was a good step, but then we looked for what to do next to improve service, says Rusty Rader, a Penn State graduate who joined his brothers and father in concrete after a tour of duty in the Chicago office of civil engineering giant CH2M Hill. We now see GPS truck-tracking as the next step in being a market leader and are aiming at guaranteed on-time delivery next year.

GPS tracking replaced radios in all trucks, which now communicate with instant text messaging. Spearheading J.J. Kennedy’s information technology and administrative sides, Rusty Rader will see the full benefits of the tracking technology as the company completes a conversion to central dispatch this spring.

The Raders have recently instituted a host of employee incentive programs, including yards hauled for drivers, who are compensated 10 cents/yard up to certain targets. Drivers are also eligible for quarterly cash incentives based on truck cleanliness, which is measured by a service manager in day-to-day observation and unannounced plant visits.


J.J. Kennedy relocated eight years ago from its original base in Zelienople, Pa., about a mile from its current operation, marking the biggest business investment the community had seen in some time. The move allowed the company to place a new plant and office, with drive-over aggregate unloading and separate maintenance garage, on a long, 12-acre site carved out of a hillside.

The property is within minutes of Cranberry Township and Butler County, whose population has grown nearly 20 percent since 1990. With an influx of newcomers seeking larger home lots and more favorable property-tax rates than towns bordering Pittsburgh, J.J. Kennedy had begun to face the future in 1994, building the second plant in Portersville; expanding its fleet from six to 14 mixers; and, relocating to the current Fombell headquarters. Company growth in western Pennsylvania has continued through acquisition: Clarion Redi-Mix, Shippenville, 2001; Hoover Concrete, Punxsutawney, 2005; and Stutzman Concrete, Indiana, earlier this year.

We are spread out over a radius of about 75 miles, says John Rader. Plants are spaced at distances that allow us to compete on larger jobs in markets where contractors used to be limited to one DOT-approved producer. Along with PennDOT work, he adds, the markets have a good balance of residential jobs, and college, university or commercial building.