Count me in as another Yellow Freight alumnus who painfully watched the 99-year-old icon close its doors for good.
Yellow hired me as a sales representative in 1983, fresh out of university. It was my first “real” job and I told anyone who’d listen that I was working for the IBM of trucking, although my Dad was a little skeptical about a company that was called “Yellow” and had an orange logo.
Still, I was stoked.
In those days, sales at one of the Big 4—Yellow, Roadway, CF, or ABF—was considered a plum job. To this day, whenever someone asks why I chose trucking as a career, I give the same answer: “36 grand a year and unlimited expenses.”
I stayed at Yellow for six years and have many fond memories. Here are some of the things that stand out from a very different time in freight.
Yellow paid well but the expectations were high.
Working there was all about the weekly numbers every Monday. Make them and you were gold. Miss them and you’d better watch your rear-view mirror. That’s because Yellow employed private eyes who would fly up from Kansas City on the drop of a dime and tail poor performers.
I was never a fan of this so I would screw protocol and give the culprit a heads-up that the “eye” was coming to town.
Yellow had a lot of rules. Suits, white shirts, ties, and spit-polished shoes were mandatory. Sales reps had to be in the office by 7 a.m. and back by 4 p.m. to complete paperwork.
Territories were based on strict geographical boundaries and you were expected to make at least 40 face-to-face sales calls a week.
Cars were inspected for cleanliness including making sure your trunk was filled with customer trinkets. Not surprisingly, the most popular giveaway was cigarette lighters, closely followed by fishing lures.
The most absurd rule prohibited us from speaking with anyone who worked for another carrier. So every July 4, when the U.S. suits were on holiday, I’d join the local sales managers of the other Big 4 for a day of golf as our way of flipping the bird at the rule.
Working in sales at Yellow meant a bottomless expense account.
We had a customer entertainment quota of a daily lunch, two weekly dinners, and two monthly weekend dinners—unimaginable today.
Yellow had a fleet of luxury coaches for the sole purpose of group entertainment. Twice a year, we organized a “bus week”, which involved getting 10 customers and their spouses together for five consecutive nights.
It was daunting. I would inevitably resort to inviting my slo-pitch and hockey teams to fill the empty seats.
Besides the lifelong friendships, the one thing I’m most grateful for about my time at Yellow was the training. No trucking company did a better job training their staff. I still use their Open Lock and Situational Hiring manuals in my business.
Looking around the industry, there are Yellow alums in senior leadership in every sector. Their training and willingness to pay it forward is the gift that keeps on giving.
Moving was expected if you wanted to get ahead at Yellow.
However, to the surprise of the Americans, their Canadian counterparts weren’t so enthusiastic about moving across the country on two weeks’ notice for an upgraded K car.
I lived it firsthand when I was offered a promotion after toiling in Toronto for a couple of years.
“We have great news, Mike. You’ve been promoted to branch manager in London, Ontario.”
“I have some bad news. I’m not going!”
After turning down three transfers in six years I figured I’d better exit with my Maple Leaf tickets in hand before I got fired. The next month I started MSM Transportation Network and the rest is history.
I do cherish my time at Yellow, and what I learned there in my 20s shaped the rest of my career. It was also a blast dropping C-notes to every maître d’ in town, like Tony Soprano, so I could get the best seats in the best restaurants.
We’ve watched many old-guard carriers slip away throughout the years, but Yellow was different. Good luck to the 30,000 employees who lost their jobs. I am sincerely thinking of you and your families.
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