Blood is thicker than water

by Sonia Straface

SHARON, Ont. — It’s not always easy working with family, but for the executives at Skelton Truck Lines, that’s just the way it’s always been.

Skelton Truck Lines has been in business for 55 years and is recognized as being one of Canada’s premier haulers of blood plasma, vaccines, and various pharmaceuticals across the US and Canada.

The business was started in 1962 by Larry Skelton with help from his wife Barbara in Unionville, Ont. With a single truck, Larry would haul steel and nickel. Eventually the business grew and in 1981, it found a new niche and larger customer base transporting blood products.

Melissa Skelton

Today, the business is still being headed by Larry as president. But there are three generations of Skeltons that work out of the Sharon, Ont. headquarters that is home to 87 trucks. His sons, Ron and Mike, are the company’s senior vice-presidents, and his four grandchildren – all in their 20s – run the company’s main departments. Andy, the oldest of the four, is operations manager. His brother Cody is the dispatch manager and customer service representative. Then there’s their cousin Steve, who is the warehouse manager, and his sister Melissa, who at just 22 years old is the company’s human resources and health and safety advisor.

And while some shy away from working with family, the Skeltons embrace it.

“With some businesses, you have siblings fighting and all of that, but not here,” Ron said.

“And I think that’s because all four grandchildren…we’re all very involved in the day-to-day operations,” Melissa said. “We’re all here on a daily basis and we make sure we’re learning from the second and first generations.”

And it’s hard to argue that just one generation is the main reason the business is as successful as it is today. The second generation, Mike and Ron, brought their trucking experience to the boardroom. Mike used to drive trucks and Ron is a licensed mechanic, so together their experience helped shape the business. However, the third generation knows the importance that millennials offer a business.

“The biggest issue with many family businesses is that they get stuck doing things the same way they have for years, even when the business outgrows that structure,” Melissa said. “At Skelton, the first and second generation recognize the innovative changes with technology and hiring and have utilized their grandkids to expand the business and make it an even bigger success. We share the same goals, attitudes, and values with respect to the business. We all recognize that our grandfather, father, and uncle have created a business with a strong legacy and foundation to depend on.”

Melissa said her brother and cousins are fond of implementing change as they see fit and as they watch the trucking industry change. One example is their encouragement of women in the workforce.

“I’m really passionate about women in trucking,” Melissa said. “I think it’s important to have women in trucking involved in all capacities, driving and in the office.”

At Skelton, the male-to-female ratio of drivers is remarkable. A quarter of all of Skelton’s drivers are women, compared to a national average of just 3%. This figure includes women that drive team, mostly with their spouse, which Skelton accommodates.

“In the last five years we’ve really progressed,” she said. “We value women in our workforce, they bring a lot of knowledge and a lot of strength to the role and we like to hire them if we can. We often find they are best at communicating with customers.”

The grandchildren have also put together a health and safety committee that meets once a month. Their focus lately has been on mental health initiatives.

“Mental health is big in the workplace,” Melissa said. “We encourage those with concerns to come and speak with us. So, we’ve got flyers around the building that communicate mental health statistics and we are giving mental health/first aid training to our employees.”

With all this innovation, it’s hard to imagine what’s not to like for employees. Today the company boasts a single digit turnover rate. And that’s due to a number of reasons, Melissa and Ron agreed.

“First off, we don’t call our drivers, drivers,” Melissa said. “We call them pharmaceutical logistics technicians or PLTs. And that’s the title we’ve given them based on the specialized knowledge and training they’ve received once they’re hired, because we certainly see value in the responsibilities that these individuals are doing. They’re not just a truck driver – they’re dealing with temperature-controlled trailers, complicated paperwork for crossing the border and seals on the trailer. It’s all very specialized for them. To recognize them as a pharmaceutical logistics technicians is only appropriate.”

In addition, drivers are given a yearly allowance of $200 to buy items to add to their company uniform and wardrobe, like Skelton shirts and jackets. Recently, the company also paid to have all its sleeper cabs fitted with custom Kingsdown mattresses.

“It’s so our drivers can be sure they get a good night’s rest every time they are away from home,” Ron explained.

The future of Skelton Truck Lines is, like many trucking businesses today, said Melissa, to stay focused and keep growing. Just last year the company opened a US terminal in North Carolina that is home to 17 trucks.

“We want more trucks and more trailers on the road, of course,” she said. “But I believe the grandchildren, myself included, are going to do what we can do to make the business grow. We want to continue with what our parents and grandparents did and if we continue with that, we think we can remain successful.”

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  • I have seen the Skelton trucks around the United States. My father is a Skelton and he saw a Skelton truck and said I wonder if we are related to them. My dad’s name is Richard Skelton.