Trucking executives offered some words from the wise

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As 2022 came to an end, asked some of the country’s top trucking executives to list the biggest challenges they’ll face this year. My pal Scott Tilley, president of Tandet Group, summed it up best: The big issue for company leaders, he said, is that “there are too many issues.”

Sure, those of us in the old guard had a lot on our plates, too. But the industry is more complex today. Yet you’ll still see guys like Gene Orlick, former chairman of the Canadian Trucking Alliance and president of Orlicks, working the dispatch desk.

Scott, Gene, and the other leaders interviewed are sharp as tacks and have ideas to share about leading a trucking business in this environment. I’m sure you can relate whether you run one truck or one thousand.

(Illustration: istock)

People Problems

It’s no shock that attracting, developing, and retaining talent is the trucking industry’s most pressing issue. The real problem, said Wendell Erb, boss-man at the Erb Group of Companies (the “Another Cool Move” folks), is that there’s “no quick fix.”

Paying candidates more is just a Band-Aid solution that disrupts your pay structure.

People come for money, they leave for money. They stay when their work is valued and the company’s core principles line up with their own. Which is to say, if your company is a lousy place to work, you’re screwed. A bad culture takes a long time to untangle, let alone fix.

If you want an organization with integrity and passion, hire people with those qualities. Don’t worry about industry experience. This business is easy to teach.

Develop your people and promote from within. Give them a career in trucking, not a job in trucking. Encourage and incentivize them to spread your gospel. Your best recruiters are happy employees.

Finally, be prepared to adjust your approach as an employer.

For instance, at Rite Route, we contract out all non-core admin work. I would never have thought to use a third party in the old days.

Another example: remote work. If millennials want more flexibility and work-life balance in lieu of cash, let them work at home. They’ll be happier, and you’ll be able to reduce your real estate footprint.

The Cost of Dirt 

Rent is battering carriers’ bottom lines. Fleet owners dread the prospect of renewal time. What can you do?

Doug Munroe is CEO of Maritime-Ontario and one of trucking’s good guys. He says M-O’s strategy is to own most of its facilities. This way, he says, the business “is not subject to the pressures of rising rent.”

Buying a company for its real estate is another option. More buyers are turning a blind eye to dealbreakers like bad EBITA, customer concentration, and poorly maintained equipment because they want the dirt. The investment can pay off. I’ve seen situations where the real estate has fetched 10 times what buyers paid for the company itself.

If you can’t buy or build, focus on long-term planning and preparation. You can start by meeting your landlord.

After the bank, your landlord is your most important supplier. Don’t wait until you’re in the throes of adversarial negotiations to meet. You don’t have to take them to a Vancouver Canucks game, but you can have a good working relationship and learn their end game for the property.

Partnering with a quality real estate agent or trucking investment banker is still important when you’re looking for property. They can keep you abreast of lease rates while looking at cheaper options and other markets.

To avoid the bottom-line sticker shock when it comes time to sign a new lease, I advise clients to use current market rates in their P&L, not their actual rent. The earlier the market rate is reflected in your pricing, the better chance you have of recouping costs from your customers.

I’m not done yet. Still lots to learn from these “shooters” and some of the others interviewed, especially about the role of technology in the business. More on that next month.

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Mike McCarron is president of Rite Route Supply Chain Solutions and a partner in Left Lane Associates. You can reach Mike at

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  • I’m picking up what you’re laying down, but it seems everyone who has a staffing retention idea says ” give a better work/Life balance to your staff. Let them work from home”

    A recent report from the UK says ‘workers are more productive on a 4 day work week. Same hours per day and same pay per week. Sick Days have dropped from 61% to single digits. ( sounds like a whole bunch of monday morning flu).

    We discuss these things at staff meetings and all they do is draw the ire of the workers. Our operation has 16 ‘blue collar’ positions and 3 office staff. In the transport industry the people doing the ‘work’ get irritated by the “work from home” mantra. What driver, warehouse person, repair tech or tire person has these options?? If we were to shorten up our work week, can any one explain how anything will get done in the transport sector with the staff we have or can acquire??

    Lets pay drivers the same wages as they get now ( in 70 hrs) and have them work 4 days a week. Have I got any Takers ??

    Perhaps media is the fly in the ointment here, just rabble rousing and promoting ideas – which just alienate people from their workplace( and income source)
    Let’s come up with better ideas and quit aggravating the situation through the media