Gene Orlick’s tenure as chairman of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) can still reasonably be counted in days. The owner of Alberta-based Orlicks Inc. assumed the role just last week, during the alliance’s spring board meeting in Arizona. But his mandate already includes one issue that will define the nation’s largest trucking organization for years to come.
Who will replace David Bradley?
The only Chief Executive Officer that the CTA has ever known will retire at the end of 2017, and Orlick now oversees the search for a replacement. “We’ve all come to the realization there isn’t another David Bradley around,” Orlick says, referring to the CTA chief as a “charismatic presence”.
The search will consider internal and external candidates alike, and the committee guiding the process will include representatives from across Canada. The latter fact is particularly important considering the alliance’s structure. As a federation of provincial associations, the CTA currently shares staff costs with the Ontario Trucking Association, where Bradley also serves as president and Chief Executive Officer. A choice from outside that office would need to include discussions about how the organization runs.
There is no specific timeline for a decision, but Orlick hopes to have the matter settled by a fall board meeting in October. Before the end of this year at the very latest. And he should have a good idea how long such a process can take. He sat on the selection committee that recently hired senior staff for the Alberta Motor Transport Association, which he will also chair in 2017.
Any successful candidate for the CTA job will inherit a strong organization, Orlick says. “We’re at the top of our game right now. We’re financially strong. We have great people around us. All the members are engaged. We had record numbers at our annual general meeting.” Still, he delivered a clear message to his colleagues in Arizona. “What I said at the meeting when I accepted was that we just can’t sit on our laurels. This is now the starting point to get better and do better.”
There is certainly plenty for the CTA to do. He rattles off a long list of ongoing files ranging from emerging carbon taxes, to discussions about mandatory entry-level training for drivers, sleep apnea screening, insurance costs, cargo crime, an aging driver pool, proposals for 60-foot trailers, semi-autonomous trucks, and a need for more driver rest areas. Changing technologies bring Canada ever closer to mandated Electronic Stability Controls, electronic logbooks, and lower limits for greenhouse gas emissions, too. “The combination of all these regulatory compliance technologies [that governments] want to have legislated on the vehicles, I don’t know how they’re going to do it. You know what the trucks look like out there. They’re not all brand new, and many trucking businesses that are one- and two-truck owners don’t have any money,” he says.
Orlick’s own fleet had humble beginnings. He and his wife Nancy started with just two trucks and four trailers hauling pop bottles for Coca-Cola when they established Orlicks Inc. in 1995. A decade later they purchased Edmonton-based Stockdale Transport. More growth came after that.
These days, their 40 trucks and 185 trailers are running “flat out”, but he acknowledges there were still challenges along the way, especially when customers began stretching the limits of payment terms. He is not immune from the recent slowdown in Alberta’s famed Oil Patch, either. Orlicks once shipped 20 loads per month to Fort McMurray. “I do two now,” he says. “In Grande Prairie, it’s similar numbers.”
As much as he has experienced, there is also more to learn. “I’m 37 years in this business,” Orlick adds, “and I’m still learning this stuff.” Even though trucking seems to be in the family gene pool. His uncle, Tom, joined the industry in 1948 and founded the original Orlick Transport.
The most important business advice from his uncle, who passed away in 2009, came loud and clear. “The best lesson he ever told me was to collect your receivables and everything will take care of itself,” Orlick says, referring to something that holds true to this very day.
“I got that information when I asked to borrow some money.”
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