Climbing one step of the ladder at a time

by Derek Clouthier

SASKATOON, Sask. — There’s a saying in the Punjabi language that says, “sarab saanijhi,” which means “every employee is an owner and they work in the same way.”

This is not only the motto of SST Trucking, but also where the Saskatoon, Sask.,- based carrier derived its name.

Raj Lail is the owner and general manager of SST Trucking. A former driver himself, Lail’s approach to business is about looking at things from the driver’s perspective.

“I was a trucker, I drove for about three years, and one thing I learned is what not to do with the drivers,” said Lail. “One day I knew what I wanted to do differently than other people. I just love driving, it is my passion.”

Lail attributes much of his success to his experience as a company driver and owner-operator. His understanding of what it is like to be a driver has helped Lail recognize what his customers expect from SST Trucking and what he can expect from his drivers.

“If I started a company from the other side, and I didn’t know anything about being a driver, I think it would be really hard because you don’t really understand what those guys are actually going through with their load or when the weather is bad…there are so many things,” said Lail. “So I think for me it was really good going from one side to the other.”

Lail launched SST Trucking in 2008 with one truck and a dream of being part of a company that operates like a family.

SST Trucking now boasts 20 company trucks and an additional 20-or-so owner-operators. The carrier runs b-trains and flatdecks all through Western Canada, and ventured into cross-border service about six months ago.

“It’s a totally new experience for us, we just started and are still exploring it,” Lail said of going into the U.S., adding that his company has been using ELDs right from the beginning.

Lail is a strong believer in the need to have the commercial driving profession recognized as a skilled trade, something he said will help attract more workers and boost pay for drivers.

“That’s how I look at it so that everybody will get paid better,” he said, believing the announcement of a MELT program in Saskatchewan, and nationally, will help the industry move toward that goal.

Lail also shies away from taking too much credit for SST Trucking’s success.

“From the day we started to now, we take pride in our drivers and office staff,” he said. “We are where we are with the help of all of them, it’s a team effort. That’s how we grow.”

Drivers with SST Trucking are paid well, according to Lail, and this has helped the company avoid the perils of any significant shortage in operators.

“We didn’t go into any panic mode,” Lail said of the much-talked about driver shortage. “We are a family-oriented company and all of our drivers will tell me anything. Also, our wages are above average. We’ve had driver shortages, but never got into a panic mode.”

Many of SST Trucking’s drivers come from the South Asian community, like Lail, who immigrated to Canada from Northern India in 2006.

Lail said there are two main reasons why those from the South Asian community, particularly Northern India, flock to the trucking industry.

A sense of connection to the industry is one. Driving tractors is a common vocation in Lail’s native land, and those who work in the industry take great pride in what they do.

“They draw that comparison and there is a connection,” said Lail.

The other reason for the high number of South Asians in trucking is the desire to live a good life, something Lail said is possible for those who work hard.

“The community will always go behind the guys who are successful,” he said. “And there are so many guys who are successful in trucking who are from Northern India, so guys want to follow that.”

Lail sees SST Trucking continuing to grow in the coming years, but doing so at the right pace.

“We still want to grow, but just want to climb one step of the ladder at a time,” he said. “I don’t want to just jump four steps then have to take a step back.”

Lail also knows the importance of having the right people join the SST Trucking team.

“We choose guys who want to be part of our company and who are hard-working, want to make good money, and are team players,” said Lail. “We want to work as a family.”

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