You’d be hard-pressed to find a woman driving next to you along the freeway in a tractor-trailer. You’d be even more hard-pressed finding a woman who is the face of a successful Canadian freight company who knows the ins and outs of the business. But if you happened to stumble upon Margaret Hogg, you’d question why there is even a shortage of women in the transportation industry in the first place.
Hogg is the general manager of J.G. Drapeau Transport, a family-run company that specializes in the transportation of hazardous materials, though it also offers LTL, FTL, container and expedited service.
Her parents started the business some 43 years ago (Drapeau is Hogg’s mother’s maiden name). Her father, George, the company’s president, worked all over the industry before opening shop, as a driver, forklift operator, and dispatcher. Her mother, Jocelyne is vice-president and helped her husband out by doing the accounting for the company.
Though you would never be able to tell, she hasn’t been in trucking her whole life (it would be an understatement to say she knows her business and trucking in its entirety), Hogg was introduced to trucks at an early age before taking a break from it all.
“As I was growing up, I think I was 12, I would come in the summers and work in the warehouse,” she said. “Back then it was a little more legal to do it. I just felt a passion to help him (her father) out and be there for him.”
Hogg’s passions changed when she became a teenager. At the young age of 16, she decided high school wasn’t for her and dropped out.
“I just found it so boring,” she said. “I wanted to just get out there and really work and learn things in the outside world.”
Shortly after dropping out, she found a job with a division of Magna International called Resin Guard and worked there for a few years. Once the plant closed down, Hogg set out to see more of the world, so with $100 in her pocket she went to find herself and ended up in the US.
Hogg spent the greater part of the ’90s living in Los Angeles, Arizona, and Florida. She didn’t get a job in the transportation industry there; instead she earned cash by cleaning houses for the rich and famous. When she saved up enough money, she bought herself a camera and stumbled into the world of photography where she became a notable studio photographer who shot many people in the music industry including Madonna, the Counting Crows, and Sarah McLachlan.
“I never took any classes, I’m just one of those people – not that I don’t believe in school or university or degrees – it’s just I have a different view of things and I can just learn whatever I need to learn and I don’t need a school book to do it,” said Hogg. “I even taught myself how to drive a forklift truck. I just do those things. The same thing happened when I was in Los Angeles, because when I was down there, I was living on the beach, because I didn’t have anywhere to live, I was just trying to find myself. And then I bought a camera, and just started teaching myself how to take photos.”
When the year 2000 was rung in, everything changed for Hogg. She got a call from her parents who were inevitably getting older and becoming sick and needed help running the business. Hogg dropped everything she was doing and went back to Etobicoke, Ont. to help them out.
“So since then, I’ve been learning every aspect – in the office, in the warehouse, dispatching, everything,” she said. “So that’s why I’m here today, just taking care of them.”
Hogg says that in the early years, she had to deal with men in the industry that didn’t believe she had what it took to run a transport company.
“When I first got back into it in 2000, it appeared that a lot of men would look at me and go ‘You don’t know this because you’re a woman,’” she recalled. “And that’s part of why I just got in there and I learned everything.”
Like her father, who when he started the business wouldn’t come home until late at night when Hogg was growing up (sometimes not at all), she followed suit. She began working 15- to 16-hour days until she understood the ways of the industry.
Hogg says because of this, and her wide knowledge about trucking now, she isn’t subjected to the misogyny as much as she was back when she first started as the general manager.
To say the company is still standing because of Hogg isn’t a stretch. When the recession hit in 2008, her quick thinking to build a 200,000 sq.-ft. warehouse allowed the company to survive.
The massive warehouse is still growing today, but the truck fleet is something the company wants to stay small.
Hogg says it’s not uncommon for people to ask why they haven’t expanded their business to have more trucks. Hogg’s answer is simple: “It’s never been about the size. It’s been about the service. That’s our way. We’re just a small, family-run business.”
Hogg’s customers seem to appreciate this outlook on business; the company’s first ever customer is still a happy client to this day, nearly 43 years later.
Even though her passion for photography took a backseat to her current job, Hogg says there are aspects of the job she really likes. She says she enjoys getting through the many challenges of running a small fleet comes with today, like finding drivers who are willing to cross the border and work long, tiring hours.
“At the end of the day, it’s the satisfaction of getting over the many challenges in the industry. Whether it’s employee challenges, a driver challenge, a customer challenge, it’s working through that.”
Hogg added the toughest part of the job is how underappreciated the transportation industry is.
“I’d be at a party and people would say, ‘Oh so what do you do?’ and I’d say, ‘I’m in trucking,’” she recalled. “And they’d be like ‘Oh.’ And they’d turn around and walk away. I don’t like when someone doesn’t respect what it takes to get the job done.”
Though trucking isn’t as widely appreciated as Hollywood stars and musicians, Hogg says, “It can be very glamorous. It just depends on how you represent yourself in the industry.”
Hogg still enjoys taking pictures and uses photography as break from her day job.
She has her own Web site (http://margarethoggphotography.com/) where you can see her work. She is looking forward to the Boots & Hearts music festival this summer in Bomanville, Ont. where she will be taking photos for a trade magazine in Los Angeles called Music Connection.
“It’s my passion,” she said.“And my escape from the whole challenge of the trucking industry.”
But even with all of its success, there is still uncertainty about the business staying in the family. Hogg doesn’t have any children and she is unsure if her brother would eventually want to take over the company.
“There’s been a lot of times people are like, maybe you should sell now, and I’ve contemplated it,” she said. “I’m not worried about me getting a job in the future. But I know I’m not going to throw away my parents’ dream.”
Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface. All posts by Sonia Straface