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Business Leader Paul Ayres Wants Others to Achieve Their Best Lives

Red Flint CEO’s new venture, TheFitProfessional1, is aimed at helping professionals excel


Barbara Arnold I July 11, 2023


VOICE OF EXPERIENCE. Paul Ayres, second from left, is CEO, owner, and board chairman of Red Flint Group. He's also now a podcaster and business coach. (Submitted photo)

When approaching the cabin of Paul Ayres located among the blue sky and rolling hills south of Eau Claire, I’m reminded of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”


Ayres, chief executive officer, owner, and board chairman of Eau Claire-based Red Flint Group, fondly calls the cabin “his bunker.” It doubles as a studio for his podcast, TheFitProfessional1, his new adventure in business and beyond: advising, executive coaching, and business consulting. Here he creates weekly five-to-seven-minute podcasts called Margin Max MinutesTM with topics ranging from “Asset Management” to “Toughness-Resiliency,” and twice-a-month, hour-or-longer, YouTube podcast interviews with inspiring people like Bret Tangley, president and chief executive officer of Sterling Culligan Water of Western Wisconsin, as well as two former Marines originally from Eau Claire, Ben Stoflet and Killy Kitzmann.


The cabin also serves as his library. One entire wall is covered with shelves of his favorite books along with family photos. In addition, it’s his work-in-progress lab where the walls are covered with equipment from all kinds of sports – football, golf, hockey, skiing, tennis, and more – plus flip charts prepping for client meetings, brainstorming, and details/timelines for next steps in his new venture.


"I’VE SEEN PLENTY, AND I HAVE A LOT TO DRAW ON TO HELP OTHERS TO HELP THEMSELVES. I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING, BUT WHAT I DO KNOW I BELIEVE STRONGLY CAN BENEFIT OTHERS."

PAUL AYRES

ON HIS DECADES OF BUSINESS EXPERIENCE


“I’ve delegated 95% of my day-to-day work to my Red Flint team, so I can spend the majority of my time on TheFitProfessional1,” he shares. “I came to the realization that I was at a place in my career where I could give back to others – whether small business owners, family-owned businesses, entry-level to seasoned business professionals, and more.” Retirement is not in his vocabulary.


Ayres is the third generation to run the family-owned business focused on gravel, rocks, sand, and stones. He’s in the process of transitioning the company to a fourth generation of the family as well as to valuable outside-the-family team members who have critical experience, knowledge, and skills in running the business which was founded in 1917 by his grandfather.


His premise for his clients is to achieve their best life – mentally, physically, and spiritually – within the framework of competitive sports based not only on his personal experience, but also on coaching and observing his children’s teams, as well as mentoring and guiding employees.


Ayres is married to his high school girlfriend and sweetheart, Shelley Sacia Ayres. They first met and dated at Eau Claire Memorial High School 45 years ago, and have been together ever since. They celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary in June.


They have three children and two grandchildren. The oldest, Alex and his wife, Emily, both 32 years old, are the proud parents of Evelyn Taylor, 18 months. They live and work in St. Louis, where Alex is an executive manager at The Korte Company, one of the country’s leading design-build construction firms, and Emily is an executive manager in supply chain with Purina, the pet food maker. Ayres’s two other adult children work for Red Flint. Charles William, 30, a junior vice president of operations, and his wife Samantha, 25, a business development specialist in the eldercare industry, are the proud parents of Nicolas Charles, not quite three months. The youngest, Emily Anne, 28, is a junior vice president of business development.


“Although Lord knows I’m not a perfect husband and father, I do work harder at it now more than ever,” he reveals. “It’s amazing how being a father and husband change and get better with time. I really want to stay healthy and fit so I can watch my kids’ new young families grow and thrive. I just love being a husband, dad, and granddad, more than I ever have in my life.”


The idea for TheFitProfessional1 was born long ago when Paul grew up playing organized team sports. At age 7 he was playing baseball and he loved the statistics, and was making spreadsheets long before he really knew what they were. He moved on to the challenge of figuring out how to move the numbers – his stats – in the winning direction through practice, practice, practice, and documenting.

Paul Ayres in his office/podcasting studio. (Photo by Barbara Arnold)

Later in life, he also came to a realization when observing his sons’ football teams at his alma mater. The players were working their hearts out, yet their scores did not reflect their level of ability or talent. He started wondering why the principles he had been living by for so long didn’t seem apparent on these teams.


The principles he developed and followed since early in his life had always been based on the scientific method: observation, defining the problem, gathering information and forming a hypothesis on what needed to be done to improve, then practicing/testing the hypothesis. If the results are an improvement, continue. If they don’t, try something else.


A self-confessed “enginerd” (engineer + nerd), who loves spreadsheets, Gantt charts, and gap analyses, Ayres eagerly shares dozens of spreadsheets which cover what he calls his Intensity Multiplier Principles(IMPs)TM, 18 in all to date, to provide the edge in life he wants all his clients to achieve. He has put these principles into practice in all aspects of his life. His observing of his sons’ football teams was the catalyst to put his IMPsTM to paper. That was in 2006, and since then, he has been writing two books, both works-in-progress, about the IMPsTM – one for student athletes and coaches, and the other for professionals in business. With the transition to the fourth generation at Red Flint, the timing was perfect to package them as part of TheFitProfessional1 and focus on helping others to help themselves in pursuit of their best lives. Thus, TheFitProfessional1 was established in 2021.


TheFitProfessional1 logo

The name “TheFitProfessional1” was pulled from the Instagram site Ayres created for his mountain biking passion. The red-colored letters “Fit 1” apply to being fit in mind, body, and spirit. As for the bald eagle, he notes it is his spirit animal and has been since childhood, recalling a trip West in the family’s coupe wedged between his mom and dad in the front seat, with his three brothers in back. His dad would suddenly shout out to have his family look up at the eagles he had spotted in the sky. They were a rare sight at the time, as bald eagles were an endangered species then. A white marble eagle ready for takeoff and perched atop his bookcase was a gift from his mom Jeannette shortly before she passed away in 2014.


“I’ve seen plenty, and I have a lot to draw on to help others to help themselves,” Ayres says, reflecting on his four decades of experience. “I don’t know everything, but what I do know I believe strongly can benefit others.” He notes that both his successes and failures create the opportunity to draw from a variety of tools to help other business owners see what they may not be able to see, incorporating an eagle’s panoramic vision. He also credits mentor Don Johnson, the only non-family member to lead American Materials Corporation, for teaching him so much more than the sand and gravel business. From him, he learned the nuts and bolts of people – employees, customers, and suppliers.


Education-wise, Ayres has a bachelor of science degree in industrial engineering from Purdue University and a master’s degree in business administration specializing in finance, strategic marketing, and business administration from the State University of New York at Binghamton.


During his undergrad years, Ayres worked summers as a materials lab tech for the family business, American Materials Corporation. He also spent one summer as an engineering intern at Midwest Manufacturing. Upon graduation, he headed to IBM in Endicott, New York, moving from cost engineer, cost analyst, budget analyst, and department budget coordinator over four years. There, as part of his IBM training, he started a business journal, writing in it most every day what he learned. It’s a practice he has continued, and he encourages others to do so as a valuable tool for personal and professional growth.

Ayres headed back to the family business in the mid-1980s. Over the course of 17 years he worked his way up to president, until he sold all but one division of the family-owned business. He retained both the locally focused, consumer-space Red Flint Rock and Stone and the globally-focused, business-to-business arm, Red Flint Sand and Gravel, under the umbrella of the Red Flint Group.


And yet for all his experience, knowledge, and skills, Ayres joyfully shares he is a lifelong learner. Currently, he is enrolled in yet another executive education experience: the Chief Marketing Officer Program at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to fill that gap in his engineering and business education.


In addition, his LinkedIn profile is peppered with certificates from Harvard Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Northwestern University, and UW-Madison in artificial intelligence, corporate finance, due diligence, dynamic manufacturing, enterprise risk management, management consulting, pricing, real estate development, and sales management.


He credits his lifelong love of reading to his mom, who had a high school education. A voracious reader, he prefers to listen on Audible rather than read a page and completes about three to five books per month. Top of mind in our interview are three books. The first, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, focuses on the ever-critical rest and recovery of sleep to be operating at optimum capacity as a human being whether at work or play. The second, Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness by Steve Magness, is about learning how to bounce back and keep going as Ayres himself did in 2022 in the fourth leg of the SPAR Swiss Epic, a five-leg mountain biking race in the Alps, where he experienced both hypothermia and hypoxia, and still managed to finish the race. Another favorite is Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity by Peter Attia, M.D., which provides the latest info on nutrition, exercise, sleep, and emotional and mental health.

Ayres is an avid mountain biker, and Red Flint sponsors an annual local bike race. (Submitted photo)

Ayres is passionate about mountain biking. He is the title sponsor of the Red Flint Firecracker Mountain Bike Race, which was held most recently at the Lowes Creek County Park on June 24. He and his Red Flint team also set up a nonprofit foundation called Red Flint Racing which raises contributions for youth sports, sponsors extracurricular programs and facilities, and through financial contributions supports men’s and women’s shelters, as well as provides educational scholarships and sports entry-fee scholarships for disadvantaged children.



As I head out from the cabin to the open road, what should appear above but two juvenile brown-feathered bald eagles with wingspans of 6 to 7 feet, flying and riding the air currents, dancing in the sky, until one swoops down to a field and rises up again with a tiny mouse in its talons. It’s an apt symbol of Ayres’ intentions with TheFitProfessional1: efficiently pursuing the best life in mind, body, and spirit, at work, at play, and in all dimensions of life.


 

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