Typical is not a word one could use to describe Louisa McAlpine’s life, her outlook on the trucking industry, or how she broke into trucking. In fact, she jokes that she rarely even has a typical day.
McAlpine is the owner and president of Snowbird Transportation Systems, located in Hamilton, Ont., which specializes in tailgate services and time-sensitive deliveries.
The company has been around for more than 25 years doing what it does best: keeping clients and employees happy without having 100 trucks and trailers at its disposal.
McAlpine’s father first opened the business as a hobby while he was dabbling in the recycling business in Hamilton.
“He was always a real transportation buff,” she said. “He always liked trucks and deliveries. And he used to drive truck in his younger days.”
Despite watching her father succeed in the transportation world, McAlpine decided to follow the rest of her family members and get involved in health care.
She ended up going to school for nursing and eventually became a registered nurse and worked close to home.
Later on, her profession took her south of the border.
“I was a travelling nurse in the United States,” she said. “I worked in Arkansas and Texas, and my parents came to visit me for a vacation and told me the business was really growing.”
After having a conversation with her parents about the opportunity for the business to flourish, McAlpine made the decision to move back home and help out with her father’s company, a risk considering she knew nothing of the industry beforehand.
“This was in late ’89,” she said. “And quite honestly, I didn’t know anything about computers, I couldn’t even make a photocopy.”
At the time, her father ran several of the day-to-day operations, but she eventually figured out the accounting and dispatch all while she was still working part-time locally as a nurse.
When asked why she got into the trucking industry on a whim, McAlpine credits her father.
“He loved trains, trucks, ships and aircrafts, so I kind of got the transportation bug from him,” she said.
She adjusted easily to the environment because of her love for trucks and her managing skills came out when she convinced her father that he should pull out of the recycling business and focus on trucking.
He did, and it quite obviously paid off.
Today, even though the company is still quite successful, it is relatively small, and has a combination of straight trucks and tractor-trailers. Cross-border deliveries are a thing of the past for Snowbird, too. They stick to local deliveries and have since 2001.
McAlpine took over the day-to-day operations in 2000 when her father retired. She was named president after he died in 2007.
She isn’t just a president though. She’s a mother of two young boys (13 and five years of age) and is a member of countless boards and associations including the Ontario Trucking Association, the Hamilton Transportation Club and the Freight Carriers Association of Canada.
Today, president encompasses a slew of responsibilities including being a customer service representative, overseeing the safety and compliance of the company, purchasing equipment, and being unofficial salesperson.
It goes without saying she does everything else in between.
“I do a bit of everything, really,” she told me with a laugh when I asked what a typical day looked like for her. “My job title is too broad sometimes.”
As a woman in a presidential position in the trucking industry she knows she is unique and that there aren’t many other women who can relate because she says she’s conscious of how other women are treated in the industry.
The comments she used to receive and her atypical lifestyle weren’t enough to get her out the game, though. Even when salespeople would wander into the facility asking to speak to her husband for a sales pitch, she remained cool and collected.
“I have been involved with it for quite some time,” she said. “Sometimes it can still be an old boys’ club and it’s very hard to break into it as far as networking and events goes.”
McAlpine says she hasn’t received any of the “where’s your husband?” comments or the like in years though she said trucking has a long way to go before there is any sort of gender equality.
“For example, Truck World,” she said. “It’s a great show and then you see those women walking around in short shorts at the driver recruitment table. Some people that are running trucking are perpetuating this negative image and women get sidelined. I’ve mentioned it to a few of the organizers, and told them about my observation.”
Nothing came out of her comments, but McAlpine wishes that focus on driver recruitment wasn’t gender-based. And it’s not far-fetched to say her Truck World observation could be part of the reason only 3.5% of professional drivers in Canada are female – as it’s not the only trucking event where women are paid to walk scantily clad.
“People should be treated as people, not just based on how they look. They should be hired based on their skill set and knowledge,” she said.
Despite that, McAlpine says she tries her best to emanate her father’s management style and his wish to be an asset to his community by providing fair employment to others.
Though it’s been a journey, McAlpine says she loves her job because of the challenges and rewards it gives her on a daily basis.
“It’s a bit of an addiction,” she said. “I love the trucks, I love solving problems and dealing with the drivers and dealing with the customers. That’s my shtick. That’s where I shine – I think anyway. I like dealing with customers who have unique situations so I can figure that out for them.”
To many the jump from nursing to trucking is a drastic one, but to McAlpine the two go hand-in-hand.
“At the end of the day, you’re still looking after people, there’s a need and you help them with it. It’s the people I help and the people I work with that make it all worth it.”
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