The difference between publicly- and privately-held coal companies can be stark. The stress levels at publicly-held companies run high, especially when the quarterly reports are due. Stress levels can be equally high at privately-held companies, but they can offer a more relaxed atmosphere with a longer-term vision. Everyone likes to see their company report healthy profits, however, knowing that their company contributes to community instills pride.

These stories are fun to write too. The Justice family in West Virginia owns Southern Coal Corp. Along with a successful career in the agri-business, Jim Justice took a coal company his father started and built it into a great business; his son Jay is carrying on the family tradition. The Justice family also now owns the Greenbrier. As readers will see, both ventures are success stories with forward momentum. In the spirit of full disclosure, in addition to touring the mining operations via helicopter, I will admit that I stayed at the Greenbrier, toured the grounds (only 15 of 72 holes), and enjoyed a fine steak dinner at Prime 44 West. But, what was evident throughout the time spent at the mines and at the Greenbrier is that the people managing and working at these businesses are happy and they feel somewhat secure in an era when many do not.

The Justice family is also a major supporter of youth programs. Jim Justice still coaches the girl’s high school basketball team in Lewisburg. As part of his involvement with the West Virginia Coal Association, Jim was asked to become Tournament Director of the Mountain State Coal Classic Basketball Tournament. The Classic has enjoyed tremendous success by providing more than $300,000 in scholarships and over $325,000 in direct support to participating schools.

Lee Buchsbaum visited the Usibelli coal mine in Alaska (See Usibelli Coal Mine, p. 40). He admitted he took a couple of extra days to shoot (photograph) wildlife in the Denali National Park. But, he reminded everyone that the wind gusts blew the sign off Rose’s Cafe in Healy. He also discovered a similar “family” culture. Joe Usibelli Sr., took a small mine that his father Emil had established and built a great coal company and several ancillary companies. Today, his son, Joe Usibelli Jr., runs the company and the people enjoy working at the Usibelli coal mine.

The Usibelli family also gives back to the community. The Usibelli Foundation, established in 1991, provides funds to facilitate learning by supporting education; to preserve Alaska’s uniqueness by supporting its heritage; and to strengthen the surrounding communities. The foundation contributes to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks (UAF), the local high school, youth services, the Fairbanks Summer Art Festival, and the UAF Museum of the North.

These are a few examples of great family-run operations doing the right thing. What makes their organizations great? A quote from Jim Justice in the Greenbrier Valley Quarterly (Summer 2009, p. 26) aptly sums it up. “My people have made me look great…my people genuinely, genuinely would fight a grizzly bear for me and the reason is that they know that I would fight it for them and that makes my organizations really strong.” Mutual respect goes a long way, especially in the coal business.

Steve Fiscor, Coal Age Editor-In-Chief
sfiscor@mining-media.com