Ask the CEO

By Hannah Wallace February 28, 2009

In 1982, Southwest Florida looked like the land of opportunity to Michigan’s Ajax Paving Industries. That state was in a slump, but roads were sprouting here. Twenty-eight-year-old Mike Horan moved down to start Florida operations. Business started slowly, but today Ajax is one of the leading asphalt manufacturers and pavers in Michigan and Florida, employing about 250 in its Nokomis headquarters, which does $180 million in annual revenues.

How’s business?

We’re doing OK. We do a lot of government work—about 80 percent of our business—and that’s been fair to good. We have a big job resurfacing a 30-mile stretch of I-75 between Fort Myers and Naples. But we need more work.

How’s Michigan?

Michigan is in a recession, maybe even a depression, but it’s not dead. Some businesses are doing well, and the state has a lot of [road] projects ready to go. [Gov. Jennifer Granholm] is on an economic advisory panel to President Obama, and there’s optimism.

How do you feel about stimulating the economy through infrastructure projects?

Really, really good. It’s not just job creation—taxpayers will benefit by traffic moving faster and saving money on gas. Florida has more ready-to-go projects than any other state but Texas. We could be seeing some [projects started] in six months.

Greatest satisfaction:

I’m an old guy now, and it’s great to be around my young employees and see them succeed, to see their eyes light up when good things happen, when a job is done well and wins awards. I’ve had people start

in their 20s here as laborers and work their way up to field supervisors and managers.

Greatest challenge:

Just trying to keep everyone positive and energized right now. I tell them every day we come to work we’re adding to the economy.

Employee relations:

We have good benefits, a 401(K) that we match, and we give bonuses to everybody when we make a profit. Every week I take a random employee to breakfast. I call it “Breakfast with the Boss.” It’s hard to communicate with some of the Spanish-speaking guys, but we smile a lot. We’re all the same, with personal problems and goals and families we’re trying to support.

In this economy:   

We’re belt-tightening big-time. Gas is a huge expense for us—we buy futures of natural gas and diesel fuel to hedge against inflation. We haven’t been replacing a lot of equipment, and we’ve tightened up our credit.


I love being in the woods and with family at our place on a lake in Michigan. I do a little deer hunting there, and I shoot skeet at the gun club here. My wife and I are empty nesters [two grown daughters and twin sons who are seniors at Georgia Tech], and that’s cool. We hang out together at home or ride bikes around Venice.

Defining experience:

When I was 10, my dad and I built a cottage in the woods in Michigan. Someone else put in the slab and framed it, but we did all the rest. We worked hard—but some days we went fishing. Our family enjoyed that place for 25 years.

I always say:

You can’t replace the good old-fashioned work ethic. Get up every day and get after it, and then go home and enjoy your family.

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