There’s not much in this world that can be considered “recession-proof,” but Kent Hood just might be. That’s because economic recessions have influenced his career, most recently landing him at Astec, where he is regional parts sales manager, northwestern United States.
The 53-year-old Hood can best be tracked down on the road Mondays through Thursdays, either behind the wheel of his car or on a plane, visiting 25 to 35 hot mix asphalt plants each week in his vast territory which covers Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. He responds to troubleshooting calls, plus he makes his own appointments on the road, cold calling on plant-level people.
“There’s no such thing as a normal week,” Hood says. “I can make all my plans well ahead of time but then one phone call can completely change everything. Because if a customer is calling me, they need my help right away.”
Right out of high school Hood started as an apprentice mechanic on heavy equipment at a rock plant, and he thought his career path was mapped out. Then came the 1990 recession and he got laid off. So he decided to start his own business as a mechanical contractor in California, providing welding, fabrication and other services to the construction industry. “I loved every minute of it. It was a lot of hard work and it was very challenging, but it was very rewarding, too.”
He ran his own business for 20 years. “The Great Recession took me out,” he says. “One recession put me into business and another recession took me out.”
Hood is in his sixth year with Astec, having joined the company in major sales before moving into the parts department a little more than a year ago.
“When I joined, I thought I knew a lot about asphalt, having been around construction for my whole career. But I had no idea how much I didn’t know.”
But he learned, relying on Astec’s resources including its training programs to help get him up to speed. “I really enjoy the hands-on part of it, dealing with issues where the rubber meets the road,” Hood says. “I work with the plant mechanics and the operators, doing a lot of troubleshooting and problem-solving. Some days you feel like a rock star and some days you feel like a lowly used car salesman, but there are more than enough rock star days to make it all worth it.”
To his work at Astec, Hood says he brought the tenacity he learned when he was self-employed.
“When you are a small business, you’ve got to get the work,” he says. “You’ve got to keep showing up and knocking on more doors to the that ‘yes.’ I take the same approach here.”
One difference is that plant operators often reach out to him.
“A lot of times they call when they have a problem, and it’s almost always an emergency. My job is to get them back up and running as quickly as possible.
“Often I can help them over the phone,” he says. “I ask the questions and they can send me photos on their phone, and I can get the part ordered for them. If we don’t have the part on the shelf I go to engineering and they’ll make exactly what that plant needs. And that’s all customer service, whether they’re an Astec plant or not.”
And taking care of the customer is always first, just like it was when he was running his own business.
“I serve the customer and anything I do for them has my name on it,” Hood says. “I try to follow anything I do for them all the way through from the beginning until it’s all done, and they’re satisfied and up and running. It’s a very fulfilling job.
“The Astec brand helps a lot because we’re so well known,” Hood says. “I don’t say that because I work here but because I believe Astec is one of the best companies for service and support. Our customers say that constantly. None of our competitors offer the level of service and support that we have, nobody. And that makes my job even easier.”