Jim Wagner conducts dispatch consulting with David Auen at Argos Concrete in Fayetteville, Ark.
Jim Wagner conducts dispatch consulting with David Auen at Argos Concrete in Fayetteville, Ark.

Jim Wagner has seen a lot in his 48 years in the ready-mix concrete industry. He has no shortage of stories about what it was like working closely with dispatchers through the years.

For instance, shortly after he founded Advanced Control Systems in 1973, he went to Montreal to install his company's first color graphics monitor in a producer's dispatch office. “I got it all done and found out the dispatcher was colorblind,” Wagner says. “Having colored text on a black screen meant nothing to this guy. It did to his manager, but not to him. We had to backlight everything instead of using colors.”

Going back even further to his first day on the job at Ready Mixed Concrete Co. in Minneapolis in 1964, Wagner didn't know what position he was hired for. He was hauling cement around the yard the first day. “The general manager told me the next day that they hired me for dispatcher,” he says.

The dispatcher's tools back then consisted of a scratch pad, a No. 2 pencil, and a cup of coffee. Wagner took orders on a large dispatch sheet and he had to remember the trucks' locations. Some dispatchers used golf tees to represent trucks that were out on deliveries.

“Basically, you just handed the ticket to the driver, said, ‘don't dawdle,' and then you had no idea where he was,” he says. “Like most companies at the time, we debated whether radios could be justified. They were pretty expensive.”

Almost half a century and thousands of No. 2 pencils later, a dispatch office now features GPS, mobile devices, and tablet computers. But the one constant is still Jim Wagner, 68, now a vice president at Command Alkon, the Birmingham, Ala., supplier of dispatch equipment and automation. He travels the country, giving advice to producers about dispatching. He also still teaches dispatching classes for NRMCA, something he's being doing since 1968.

For his dedication to the ready-mixed concrete industry and for teaching producers how to become more efficient in their deliveries, TCP names Jim Wagner a 2012 Industry Influencer.

Inventing and creating

In 1985, Wagner's Advanced Control Systems merged with Command Data, which would become today's Command Alkon. Wagner doesn't miss managing his own business because he couldn't devote as much time to “inventing, creating, and improving things.”

As he continued teaching classes for NRMCA and PCA, people started asking Wagner for the documentation he had developed. This prompted him to write a book in 2001, The Handbook of Ready-Mixed Concrete Dispatching, which is still considered the authority in the field.

It's hard for Wagner to predict what the future might hold. “I would never have dreamed of GPS, the Internet, or hand-held computers showing me where my trucks are,” he says.

In the future, Wagner sees more strides in order-taking. A large producer's call center computer will note the area code of an incoming call and automatically send the order to the appropriate plant. “The customer will be able to key in his order number on his cellphone and see where the trucks are, when the next one is due, and what he ordered,” he says.

A dispatcher will run his office like a airline pilot uses automatic pilot, Wagner explains. “Instead of hands on the controls, they are going to feed information. The dispatcher is going to have to keep the computer informed of what is going on so intelligent decisions can be made.”

Jim accepts his award at World of Concrete at 2013: