Being named Canadian Fleet Maintenance Manager of the Year is always special, but it was made even more so this year as Mike Gaudet became the first winner to have his name etched into the same trophy that bears that of his father.
Mike, vice-president, fleet maintenance and equipment purchasing with Armour Transportation Systems, won the award 19 years after his father Alban was named Canada’s top fleet maintenance manager. Gaudet said it’s especially meaningful since both represented Armour Transportation when they won the prestigious national award.
“To have one award, one winner per year and to get it the same as my dad, especially with the same company, was very special,” Gaudet said in an interview with Truck News. “To win it within the same company makes it even more meaningful.”
Alban Gaudet still works at Armour Transportation, serving as vice-president, building maintenance and accident control. Son Mike joined the company six years ago with an eye towards filling his father’s shoes as fleet maintenance manager when he moved on. While Mike Gaudet would, as planned, take over from his father as fleet maintenance manager in 2015, the two took different paths in getting there.
Alban’s career took a more traditional trajectory, starting in the shop as a mechanic. Mike Gaudet, however, studied business in university, cut his teeth in the industry selling parts and then managed several branches before taking control of maintenance. He isn’t, and has never been, a technician. This has allowed him to bring a different perspective to the shop, but was it difficult to establish credibility with the mechanics on the shop floor?
“At first it was,” Gaudet admitted. “I can’t go and say to a technician, ‘You should do it like this, do it like that.’ I’m not a mechanic and I never pretended to be a mechanic. I have a different style than my dad, who was a mechanic. But you gain peoples’ trust.”
Gaining the trust of his staff meant respecting them, first and foremost, Gaudet added.
“It all comes down to respect,” he explained. “We have young people who start at 17, 18, 19 years old out of college and I treat them as well as someone who has been here 30 years. I think that’s what has helped me as I’ve been through this job.”
At Armour, Gaudet oversees more than 100 technicians and apprentices and about 4,000 pieces of equipment across an expansive, 25-terminal network. The key to managing such a diverse, scattered fleet is to lean heavily on his team, Gaudet said.
“I rely a lot on my managers, my foremen,” he explained. “Being as big an organization as we are, with the number of locations that we have, you can’t be on the floor as much as you’d like to be. I like to empower my people to make decisions. If you don’t do that, people shut down and they don’t make good decisions. If they make a decision that’s the wrong one, that’s fine. We’ll sit down, we’ll look at why the decision wasn’t the right one and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. I would never criticize someone for making a bad decision. I empower my managers and I empower my foremen.”
Bringing a business background to the position means Gaudet is naturally a numbers guy. But he also said it’s important not to get bogged down in reports and statistics.
“I like reading reports, but I like simplified reports,” he said. “Sometimes, you go into someone’s office and there are charts everywhere – line charts and pie graphs – and you think all they do all day is print off and stick stuff to a wall. Yes, I look at reports every day. You can look at reports all day long but at the end of the day, a lot of decisions come from experience. You could look at a report for two days to decide whether to sell a truck or not, but in this industry, you don’t have that time.”
One of the greatest challenges Gaudet faces on the job today is managing costs, when the price of equipment continues to rise sharply.
“Parts have gone up in price substantially because of different factors,” he said, noting a turbo that used to cost $800 15 years ago will run $4,400 today. “That’s a big, big challenge. Fleets were accustomed to being able to overhaul an engine for $15,000, and now if you overhaul an engine, it’s probably $35,000. The higher costs are certainly a big, big issue, if not the biggest issue.”
Armour has opted to extend life-cycles, which places more importance on the preventive maintenance program Gaudet is charged with implementing and overseeing.
“We keep our equipment,” he explained, noting Armour likes to keep trailers for 15 years and trucks for seven to eight years, or a million miles.
“Obviously, there are a lot of costs that are driven into that equipment at the end of its life,” he acknowledged. “That’s where we need to make decisions. Preventive maintenance is very, very important to us. We try to minimize the issues we’ll see later on in life, because we know that after 800,000 kms there’s no more warranty, then it’s our cost.”
Gaudet emphasized drivers also contribute to the success or failure of a PM program.
“Drivers play such an important role,” he admitted. “If they do their job correctly, it can cut maintenance by thousands of dollars a year.”
The other big challenge facing Gaudet and other maintenance managers is keeping shops adequately staffed. The shortage of technicians and apprentices entering the trade is as acute in Atlantic Canada as it is elsewhere, but there’s a certain code among employers there that makes it somewhat more manageable, Gaudet added.
“We don’t steal technicians,” he said. “In Moncton, there’s almost an unwritten rule that’s, ‘Let’s not steal from each other.’ Everyone can play that game and it’s never healthy.”
Instead, Gaudet has developed a pipeline of talent that flows from the local schools. “We’re the biggest employer of college students coming out of the truck and transport programs in New Brunswick,” he said proudly.
Once they’ve been hired, technicians are offered ongoing training. Gaudet said implementing a more structured training program at Armour is one of his achievements.
“A couple years after I was here, I really saw the need for a corporate maintenance trainer that would train our technicians here in Moncton, where the bulk of our technicians are, but also at our other locations,” he said. The company can now follow the progress of its technicians as they add to their skills through formalized training.
Managing a mix of old-school and fresh-from-school technicians is another balancing act. Gaudet said decades ago, it may have been deemed acceptable to yell at a mechanic and instill fear in order to get results. That’s no longer the case.
“Now if you yell at someone, they look at you funny and they leave,” he said. “There’s certainly an absolutely different approach to how you hand millennials, Gen-X, Gen-Y and baby-boomers. You have to handle everybody with different gloves. That’s even true in different regions. How we deal with mechanics here in Moncton is not the same way we deal with mechanics in Newfoundland. There are regional differences and all of that plays a factor in how you manage people.”
Gaudet’s approach seems to be working. “Technicians are in very high demand and you’re always at the mercy of your technicians when it comes to them jumping from one place to another,” he said. “We are fortunate here at Armour. We have a lot of technicians with great tenure, some that have been with us for 35 years. We treat our technicians well, pay them fairly and try to create a workplace that is a healthy workplace and an enjoyable place to work.”
Gaudet was the 27th winner of the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Manager of the Year award, sponsored by Volvo Trucks. He was presented with the award at the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Summit Apr. 13. Volvo sponsors the award, but it is not involved in the selection process.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News magazine. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies