Consistency key to success, advises YRC’s Zollars

by Lou Smyrlis

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Stressing that a “confused customer is an ex-customer”, Bill Zollars, the highly-touted leader of Yellow Roadway Corp., believes that for carriers communicating what they can’t or won’t do for a client is just as important as communicating what they can do.

That’s one of several elements to successfully navigating the sometimes volatile landscape of customer, investor, government and public demands that Zollars outlined at the recent Transformation 06 conference held in Las Vegas. (Truck News’ sister publication, Canadian Transportation and Logistics, was a media sponsor of the event, which included U.S. general Colin Powell and Malcolm Gladwell, author of the highly-acclaimed Blink and The Tipping Point, as guest speakers.)

Another critical element is visibility, particularly at the executive level, said Zollars, who arrived at Yellow in late 1996, “a dark time when Yellow didn’t know its future.” He quickly followed his own advice on visibility spending the first 18 months on the job meeting with clients and employees five days a week.

“It’s impossible to lead through e-mails, voice mails and videos. You’ve got to do it face to face,” Zollars said.

Consistency is also a key ingredient he advised. If the message is not consistent, staff get off track.

“It’s extremely dysfunctional if you continually change your message. You want to be clear enough in your message that people are confident about what to do when you are not there,” he said.

He added that a consistent message is particularly important in dealing with the investment community, an experience he likened to “dealing with my seven-year-old. They have a short attention span and they want results right now.”

“The fastest way to lose an investor group is to change direction. It takes a long time to drive home a message to the investor community. It’s very destructive then if you change it.”

Dealing effectively with government also requires visibility, not a particular strong suit for many trucking companies. Zollars said the attention span of legislators is about as short as that of investors and they don’t want to bother with a lot of detail, yet their decisions can drastically impact an industry.

Dealing effectively with the public is another important but not always well handled requirement for successful companies. Zollars advised keeping in mind that the public is always aware of the trucking industry and usually doesn’t have a good impression.

On that note, Zollars said he supports a nation-wide limit on speed limiting, a position currently being pushed by both the American Trucking Associations and the Canadian Trucking Associations.

“All our trucks are governed at 62 mph. We believe that’s the safest speed. I can guarantee you I’ve never met a driver who didn’t think it should be faster, but that’s where it will stay,” he asserted. “On this whole business of safety we have to be very clear which side of the fence we’re on. We have to let the public know we care about punishing the bad apples more than they do.”

During his time at the helm, the company has grown its global interests considerably and Zollars also spoke about the specific challenges this has raised.

“We need to broaden our horizons and be more accepting of diversity. Cultural diversity is a big deal in our world. To be successful it’s important for leaders to be aware of that,” he said.

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