Thursday, Feb 11 – M.G. Govia is a pillar in the Damage Prevention world, bringing his passion to the show and leading by example with OKIE811’s initiatives regarding podcasts, webinars, and more.
Jim Schauer: [0:21] Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. This week’s episode of “Coffee with Jim & James” is riveting. James, last night, when I think of the initials M.G. two things come to mind.
[0:38] First one, I don’t know if you know this, but when I had an MG Midget convertible, red, traveling through the backwoods of France, my hair flowing under my beret, my scarf whistling in the wind, listening to Jimmy Buffett French wine and cheeses. The other thing that comes to mind is damage prevention, industry advocates, safety.
[1:10] Which path should we take today, James? What are you thinking?
James Cross: [1:14] I say we go the OKIE811 path with our guest M.G. Govia. Is it Govia, Govee? I should have asked that in the pre‑show.
M.G. Govia: [1:23] You said it right the very first try. Govia.
James: [1:26] I almost went with it like I was a pro, but I’m not. Thanks for joining us, brother. How are you?
[1:31] M.G.: Man, I’m thinking of France now and wine and cheese, but I’m doing good. I’m excited to be a part of this. I appreciate the invite, like you said, to talk a little bit about damage prevention and what’s going out there with excavation safety and what we do and we’ll go from there.
James: [1:47] M.G., you may get lost on the story I’m about to tell, but hang with me. It’s worth it. Jim, you wearing that scarf made me think of World Gas. Remember that a few years back?
Jim: [1:58] Yeah.
James: [1:59] We had these cool towels. Jim knew it would be an international event. It was a big show in Washington, DC. Jim took a couple of our cool towels that were branded. He sewed them together on his own in the hotel and made himself a big scarf.
[2:19] We had a small footprint at this show. You have to understand, these booths were bigger than my house and bigger than any conferences that I’d been, some of the booths, big dogs like Chenier and Exxon and all kinds of big names.
[2:35] Here was us in our little, what, 400 square foot booth because of innovative ideas like the scarf. It was World Cup time. Jim would work that booth and pull people in with that scarf. He’d walk up and throw it back.
Jim: [2:56] Just like that.
James: [2:57] Man, it made for a good time. Good call back there, Jim. Luckily, that is not what we’re talking about.
[3:04] M.G.: [laughs]
James: [3:05] We’re here with M.G. M.G. and myself just met a little bit earlier in the pre‑show. When you stepped away earlier, Jim and I were talking. We were like, “Man. we just need to have M.G. on and chat maybe every other week or once a month. It would be good for everybody. We don’t have to talk about anything. We can talk about our dogs, talk about whatever.
[3:30] M.G.: I’m down. I enjoy talking with both of you. Like you said, I’ll talk soccer, I’ll talk dogs. There’s so much that we can do.
James: [3:37] France?
[3:38] M.G.: There you go. I’m ready to go.
James: [3:43] Let’s go.
James: [3:44] Kick it off, Jim.
Jim: [3:45] Let’s enlighten our viewers and listeners a little bit. Let’s bring everybody into OKIE811. Can you give us a little update as to what the mission is, what the vision, what you guys are doing? It is pretty interesting. I know people are going to be fascinated by it.
[4:04] M.G.: I love being a part of OKIE811. We’re Oklahoma’s One‑Call Center. Every state has 811, call before you dig, and Oklahoma’s no different. Within OKIE811, I’ve been with the company eight years. I started out as a Contact Center representative, taking those phone calls, trying to help the excavators get lines located.
[4:25] Then through opportunities and advancement, I’m now the Education & Outreach liaison. What that means is I get to do this. I get to talk with anybody who will listen about the importance of damage prevention, safe excavation.
[4:41] From the law standpoint as well as best practices, I’m just trying to make sure that everybody’s on the same page and trying to save lives. That’s our big mission is to get it out there in front of them.
Jim: [4:53] A quick other question, do you mostly go within the state of Oklahoma? Do you sometimes venture outside of that? Do you have counterparts that you interact with?
[5:02] M.G.: Great question. Most of our work is done in Oklahoma. Our law establishes OKIE811 as Oklahoma’s One‑Call Center. There’s a lot of state‑specific outreach that we’ll be doing when we go do conferences or we do trainings with excavation crews and stuff.
[5:19] There are a lot of opportunities for partnership. I work with Texas811 quite a bit. We call it 811 along the border because we have crews that will work on a pipeline and come into Oklahoma and the laws differ just a little bit, how much notice or tolerance zone or things of that nature.
[5:38] We make sure, “Hey, once you cross this state line things are a little bit different, and we want you to know the differences,” but the overall mission is still the same.
[5:47] Being able to work with Texas or I’m part of a national liaison’s group where we’re networking and sharing best practices, like, “Hey, how are you getting in front of these people? What organizations are you partnering with?” That has been tremendous.
[6:01] Over the last two years, I’ve met a liaison in 30 states so far and seeing how New York is doing it or Pennsylvania’s doing it versus Oklahoma and Texas. It’s been a fun journey in this career.
James: [6:17] That’s cool. Shout‑out to our Texas811 folks, our friends over there, John Sparks, Doug Meeks, Ketha, Tina, all those folks over there doing great stuff, especially during the pandemic. They shined. They were ready with their town halls and changing that into webinars. I might have seen you on one of those, M.G., here recently. Or coming up, did it already come out?
[6:46] M.G.: It already did. Keith and I did a virtual webinar, exclusively, we were talking about the differences between Texas and Oklahoma laws. We have future plans already. I’m also working with New Mexico as well. I know Oklahoma and New Mexico don’t directly border, but we’re both small as far as the number of locates and stuff like that compared to Texas.
[7:09] I get to help them with what their processes are. It’s been fun. The networking’s awesome and being able to share ideas and insights has been great.
James: [7:21] They’re a good group. That leads in perfectly, too, as we talk about that transition to virtual. During this pandemic and as we make our way through the best we can, OKIE811 was a little bit ahead of the curve in doing some things.
[7:44] Even Jim and I during this, we had to find a way to really connect with people and stuff, so we created this. You guys were actually ahead of the curve in doing some stuff. Do you want to talk a little bit about that and what the future holds also in that realm?
[8:02] M.G.: I have to give props to our leadership at OKIE811. Our leadership had given me an opportunity from day one, a lot of green lights when it would’ve been easy to say no. They were like, “Maybe we shouldn’t do a webinar every other week and try to get excavators to pay attention to this.”
[8:24] My director, her husband on the side does a podcast which involves ’80 to ’90s cartoons and comic books. She comes to me and she goes, “Hey, this is something that is popular. People listen to podcasts.” I’m like, “Yeah, but they listen about life advice, and I don’t need a life coach.”
James: [8:48] listening to Ramsey all day.
[8:52] M.G.: Exactly. I’d listen to podcasts for financial or life coaching, but do I really want to try to do a podcast regarding safe excavation? She’s like, “Try it.” We pulled up a microphone and did all the work and then I just threw out some feelers. Next thing I knew, we had eight episodes back‑to‑back. I’m like, “OK, this is going to work.”
[9:16] The greatest thing about the podcast, surely you have seen it as well, is once they’re out there they’re out there. Months later you’ll go, “Oh man, 20 people listened to this in January and we recorded it back in July.” It’s really cool to see that.
James: [9:29] You can just bring it back up. On social, you can bring it back up to the top and you’ve got new content for a bunch of new viewers. It really is fantastic.
[9:39] M.G.: The podcast is one thing that we were doing a little bit ahead of the pandemic and then our webinars. When the pandemic really set in and we all got sent home and I wasn’t able to go and talk in front of these excavators anymore, construction crews, that’s when we just looked at what else can we do? How can we take this further?
[10:00] Instead of trying to reboot, we put gas on what we were already doing. We took our podcast to the next level. We’ve done more promotion with it. We have more guests lined up for this year, by the way, both of you. We have tons of opportunities in front of us with the podcast, with our webinar, and dedicated trainings as well.
[10:22] Any Oklahoma listeners, please visit our website, okie811.org. You’ll see plenty of opportunities to interact with this as we educate virtually as much as we can. Hopefully we’ll be back in front of people soon. Until then, we’re doing as much as you can.
Jim: [10:37] Let me ask you a quick question in regards to that. I’m getting the feel that even coming out of this pandemic soon, hopefully, this forum, podcast and such, will probably remain a thread throughout what you’re doing. You’ll do the virtual as well as the in‑person?
[10:57] M.G.: Absolutely. We’ve had too much success to run away from it now. What I understand, once the podcasts are out there, like I said, people are catching it six months later. There’s no harm in throwing it out there and then just having that available later.
[11:16] I look forward to seeing 50 to 100 people in one conference and talking to them. Until then, when I see 5, 10 people hitting a podcast in a day, we’re getting there. I’m never going to just drop it completely.
Jim: [11:32] I like that. You struck a nerve with your passion, and a good nerve in me. I’ll tell you a story. James has been a lot of things to me, including a mentor. Mentorship is a really important thing because it helps people grow and you try to do things a little bit differently.
[11:54] The thing that James has always talked to me about, consistently, is the whys. Why we do this, the whys in our life. I want more on a serious or somewhat serious note. What are the whys in your life? Why do you do what you do? Why have you been there for eight years and have this intense drive in you? It pours out of yourself. Go ahead, share with us.
[12:23] M.G.: If you would have been talking to me 10 years ago and said, “Hey, M.G., I got the dream job for you. You’re going to go around and talk about digging. It’s going to be fun.” I would have laugh because I don’t even own a shovel. Right now I do not have a shovel. It’s not part of me. My first name is Manuel. I’m not known for manual labor. That’s just not me.
[12:47] I had a couple of things just fall into place. This is going to sound like the most weird coincidence. I played kickball in a kickball league, and one of the teammates I had, she was working for OKIE811. I was like, “Hey, I’m in transition. I’m looking for something new to do.” She’s like, “Dude, come work here.” I was like, “That’s nonprofit. That’s nonprofit money. I don’t know about that.”
[13:13] I went and interviewed out of total curiosity and had some questions answered. I was like, “OK, I can see development here. I can see growth here.” Next thing I know, I’m working and opportunity after opportunity raised.
[13:28] It was more of experienced life skills. I know how to talk pretty well. I’ve done stand‑up comedy. I’ve done this opportunity here and there. I had opportunity with social media and being able to work on the computer and stuff. I was like, “Maybe this is the right fit for me.” It was all just chasing a title at first.
[13:51] This is when it became serious. About two years ago, I was giving one of my first safety meeting presentations. It’s seven o’clock in the morning in Tulsa. I drove to Tulsa from Oklahoma City that morning. That’s almost a two‑hour drive. I get there, I’m sleepy, I admit it, but I’m there.
[14:08] The safety director for this construction company, he’s telling me, “Hey, M.G., just so you know, our average employee here is between the ages of 18 and 25, entry‑level construction. This is a safety meeting. You’re going to have to keep their attention. Good luck. I’m like, “OK.”
[14:27] He goes, “Whatever happens, I need you to talk about the tolerance zone. It’s really important that we talk about the tolerance zone and explain to them about the two feet either side, no mechanized equipment, being safe stuff. I’m like, “OK.”
[14:41] I was kind of mad at him in my head because I was like, “I already had my PowerPoint ready to go. You’re going to ask me to tell them something extra when I’m all ready with this canned presentation ready to go?” I’m going to do the best I can.
[14:54] Doing the presentation, I’m going through it, and there’s just one slide. I know it sounds so simple, but it just says, “Dig Safely” on it. That’s all it says, those two words.
[15:04] I went into this little story. I was like, “Hey, guys. OKIE811 is a nonprofit that more operating costs are covered by member companies. A member company is that underground facility that we’re trying to protect.
[15:18] There’s a lot of reasons we’re trying to protect that underground facility. There’s somebody making money by things going through that underground facility, whether it’s a pipeline, whether it’s electric, whether it’s water. We can all agree, let’s not hurt somebody’s money.
[15:32] Second, selfishly, I want to be able to take a shower. I want to be able to watch the soccer game on the weekend. I want to be able to make a phone call or get on the Internet. Selfishly, please don’t mess up the facilities.
[15:46] I know a neighbor that probably wouldn’t survive the winter without heat. I know someone who needs to be able to call 911 if there’s an emergency or they fall. Let’s also protect the underground facilities for them as well.
[16:00] I can promise you that no matter what I say about all of that aspect of it, the reason I’m here is for you. I want you to come back to work tomorrow.
Jim: [16:11] Amen.
[16:12] M.G.: When I said that, when I said, “I want you to come back to work tomorrow,” it felt like I punched every single dude in there in their stomach. It was like this weird quiet, like did I say something wrong? I go, “If you go back to work tomorrow, you can provide for your family. You can be there for your friends. Let’s move on, and I talked about the rest of the presentation.
[16:35] The presentation ends and the safety director comes up to me. He goes, “Hey, man, thank you so much. That was a great presentation. Do you mind if we talk real quick?” I’m like, “No, not at all.” If you know anything, that means you’re about to get some free food. I’m like, “Yeah, I can do this.” [laughs]
[16:53] He’s like, “All right, well, I need to talk to five guys real quick. I’m like, “OK, are they in trouble?” He goes, “No, they’re not in trouble.” They’re walking up and I’m putting away my laptop and everything. I grabbed them each a hat, throw them some key chains and stuff. I was like, “Hey, guys, thanks for being here.”
[17:10] As I’m putting my laptop into my backpack, I hear the safety director go, “I hope you all enjoyed today’s message from M.G. I want you to take it to heart. There’s no reason that we lost an employee a couple months ago.”
Jim: [17:24] Oh geez.
[17:27] M.G.: I did not follow up with any questions. To this day, I don’t know if that means that someone died. I don’t know if someone got hurt so bad they couldn’t come back to work. I don’t know if someone got caught being stupid and got fired on the spot. I don’t know. I’m hoping for the last one, but I’ll never know.
[17:48] In my mind, if my message can make everybody remember, be safe, all the other stuff where I talked about my member companies and their utilities or how I need to wash my hair or how somebody needs to call 911. Those are all important, but nothing is more important than the life of a construction worker or anybody doing digging around those utilities.
[18:08] That’s why we do what we do. That’s my mission for this year. I’m getting better at getting the message out. Now I want to humanize that message. I figured out podcasts. I figured out webinars. I figured out PowerPoint. Now I need to just keep reminding you, “Hey, there’s lives out there that are working.”
James: [18:29] You’re doing well at it, M.G. [laughs]
Jim: [18:33] Exceptional.
James: [18:33] Right there, if that didn’t convince you, if that’s not the teaser that we pull out, Jimmy, then we’re doing something wrong.
[18:40] M.G.: [laughs]
Jim: [18:41] We’re doing it wrong.
James: [18:44] M.G., we finish the show every time with one question. If you’re a listener or a viewer, you’ve probably seen it so you probably cheated. We won’t talk about that.
[18:57] M.G.: [laughs]
James: [18:57] There’s a high level of integrity between these three individuals. If you did, you may be proud. So question is, M.G., do you love what you do?
[19:09] M.G.: Absolutely. It ties into the story I just shared. Every day, when I get to throw on the shirt and I get to explain what we do as a company, not only on sending out locate requests and not only in getting that aspect taken care of but I get to go and save lives, I get excited about that.
[19:31] I look for better ways to do it each day. In the last year I’ve grown my networking to work with other liaisons in other states. I really want to be a big factor in the industry so that we can all figure out how to do this the best and most efficient way. Like I said, 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought at this. Now I can’t imagine not doing it.
Jim: [19:54] It shows. I have to tell you, it just pours out of you, the passion that you have for it. We cannot thank you enough for joining us today. It’s been an absolute fun event, pleasure, we learned a few things. I’ll tell you what, if we’ve touched one person out in the industry to think twice before they do something, it’s a tremendous success.
[20:20] M.G.: Absolutely.
Jim: [20:22] Again, on behalf of James and I, we thank you greatly for joining us today. We encourage all of our viewers and listeners to go to the okie811.org website and explore it. See what’s there, see some of the webinars, listen to some of the podcasts. See, James, I’m getting it.
[20:40] M.G.: There you go.
Jim: [20:42] Connect with M.G. on social media, hit that Connect button, follow him, all those type of good things. Anything else before we sign off, M.G.? Are you good, or any final words?
[20:55] M.G.: The only thing I would throw out there is if anybody else wants to connect with me, maybe you’re not in Oklahoma, maybe you’re just looking for other ways to help your damage prevention, whether your a contractor or another one‑call center, my email is easy. I’m not going to make you struggle on my last name. We made it easy, firstname.lastname@example.org.
[21:16] Shoot me an email, I’ll be happy to reach out to you and connect with you because we’re all in this together. We want to save as many lives as we can.
Jim: [21:24] That’s commitment, throwing your email out there like that. That’s awesome. I won’t do that.
[21:29] M.G.: [laughs]
James: [21:30] Brace your inbox, M.G, brace your inbox.
[21:33] M.G.: I’m looking forward to it.
James: [21:36] It really was a blast sharing with you. I feel like we would be doing the industry a disservice if we didn’t connect more often. I’m excited for that possibility in the future as well. Thanks for coming on.
[21:50] M.G.: No problem, guys, looking forward to it.
Jim: [21:53] Thank you. Then to our audience, thank you for always joining us. Until next week on Coffee with Jim & James, please, everybody, stay safe. Take care.