Name it and he knows it, thanks to papers, books

Pick any news topic – politics, the economy and federal spending – and Stephen Zelnak, the CEO of Martin Marietta Materials, can explain the latest ebbs and flows.

“I think it's important to understand what's going on worldwide,” says Zelnak, who has run the Raleigh crushed rock and construction material supply company since 1993. Martin Marietta operates more than 300 quarries and distribution facilities in 28 states, Nova Scotia and the Bahamas. That includes about 40 N.C. quarries.

To help maintain a fresh global outlook, Zelnak reads several newspapers a day. He also reads a book or two a week – mostly fiction.

“Well-written fiction is quite informative because the good authors do a tremendous amount of research,” Zelnak says. “(It) gives the author a chance to create a scenario based on facts.”

One of his recent reads was “Moscow Rules,” by Daniel Silva, which delves into the political leadership of KGB.

A recent nonfiction choice was “15 Stars,” by Stanley Weintraub, about the U.S. Army's three five-star generals in World War II, Douglas MacArthur, George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.

Zelnak said that he prefers books that make you think about the world differently.

“You understand that you don't live in a risk-free world,” he said. “People who control most of the oil have the power. Those countries with enormous wealth could economically strangle the U.S. if we allow them.”

For music, Zelnak prefers country and western, or “stuff from the '60s and '70s,” he says.

In his car, he listens to XM Radio. He also owns an iPod loaded with 700 to 800 songs. “My son taught me to do it,” he says.

Vicki Lee Parker and Alan M. Wolf, (Raleigh) News & Observer