LANGLEY, B.C. — After six years at the helm of the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA), president and CEO Louise Yako has announced she will step down at the end of 2017.
Though she is not calling her exodus a retirement, Yako is transitioning from a full-time position to a less regimented environment.
The BCTA has appointed a recruiting committee, headed by chairman Trevor Sawkins, to find Yako’s replacement, and will bring forward a recommendation later this fall for the person who will replace Yako, expected to commence their duties Jan. 1, 2018.
Truck West caught up with Yako to discuss her more than 20 years with the BCTA, and what the next president should expect.
TW: Tell us the story of your time with the BCTA…when you started, in what position, progressing through the years to when you took over the role of CEO and president.
Yako: I started on Jan. 2, 1996 as manager of government and inter-agency affairs. In 2000, I became director of policy and communications and then vice-president in 2008 (I think). I became president and CEO in June 2011.
TW: What drew you to the trucking industry in the first place?
Yako: It was total serendipity. My goal was to do meaningful work in the public policy arena, but I knew I wasn’t cut out for government and that it would take me years to be able to actually influence government policy. I knew that associations often had a public policy focus, so I thought a business or trade association might be a fit for me. I was encouraged to apply for the position at BCTA by one of my professors in graduate school. I didn’t really think much about the fact that it was in “trucking” – I was more attracted by the description of the work. The ad talked about an evidence-based, thoughtful approach to developing positions, which really appealed to me.
TW: How has your passion for the industry evolved over the years?
Yako: It’s been stoked by the people I’ve had the privilege to meet and to work with and, in some cases, become friends with – both on the industry side and the government side. Most of the people I have come to know well are down-to-earth, practical, resilient, humble, and hard-working. From a public policy perspective, it’s been (and continues to be) a stimulating environment in that the trucking industry is affected by so many different ministries, agencies, crown corporations, and other levels of government.
TW: If you had never worked in the trucking industry, what career path would you have chosen?
Yako: I think I would have been working in public policy in some capacity.
TW: What were your Top 3 achievements during your time with the BCTA?
Yako: We very deliberately rounded out and built up our training offerings for members – in terms of content, level, and delivery method. We offer short, on-line, on-demand courses for front-line staff, as well as more traditional in-person courses. In addition, we branched out to offer a certificate course for supervisors and Next Generation Leadership training. We’re doing all of this in partnership with experienced, reputable firms that have the expertise we can’t have in-house.
In 2016, we measured our effectiveness by asking government, crown corporations, agencies, and partner organizations how they rated BCTA. This was done by a third-party consulting firm. We were very pleased with the results. In summary, the consultant reported these results: responsiveness: 93%; being a trusted source of information about the industry: 88%; fairness and transparency: 85%; timely and useful communication: 85 %; providing evidence-based recommendations: 76 %.
From a public policy perspective, our most far-reaching accomplishment is reform of the National Safety Code (NSC) as it’s applied in B.C. We worked with government to develop about 30 recommendations that touched every aspect of NSC including the application process and standard, the audit standard, and points for contravention. Reform has had a major effect on the number of NSC certificates that are issued and cancelled, as well as the type and number of interventions that take place.
TW: Why are those accomplishments important to the industry in B.C.?
Yako: There is continual talk about the need for industry to be or become more professional. You can’t develop professionals or a professional culture without rigorous training.
We’re offering our members the opportunity to provide quality training to their staff at reasonable rates.
BCTA’s main “product” or “service” if you will, is our ability to influence government. BCTA focuses on developing reasonable, evidence-based solutions to problems. If we’re recognized for that by government, and it seems we are judging by our survey, then we will be able to influence government to make needed changes to regulation and legislation.
Creating and maintaining a safe working environment is important for many reasons – for employee morale; for reduced injuries and, therefore, costs; for the industry’s public image – but most importantly because it’s the right thing to do. I’m convinced the NSC changes BCTA spearheaded have and will save lives.
TW: Is there something you would have liked to get done before you left that will have to wait for the next BCTA president?
Yako: Ask me that question on Dec. 31. I’m committed to getting everything major done before I leave. That said, I do regret that I will not see the first year of the Commercial Driver Training Program in a high school in B.C. get off the ground. That’s slated for 2018.
TW: What will the next BCTA president have on their plate that will need to be addressed in the next few years?
Yako: On the business side, growing the membership and diversifying revenues will always be a challenge. Associations always have to be ready with a good answer to the “value” question. Being a member is very much like buying insurance – you may not need it today, but you’ll be happy you have it when something goes wrong. But associations also provide breadth and scope – expertise you might not necessarily have on staff, but want to be able to tap into as well as contacts – by opening doors to people and agencies you don’t have the time to cultivate. On the public policy side, B.C. has a minority government, which is a challenging environment to achieve change. B.C. also is beginning to suffer from a reputation that we’re not “open for business” because there is too much uncertainty in approval processes for major projects. B.C., like the rest of Canada, still relies on the resource sector as a major economic driver. Since the trucking industry is a barometer of the health of the economy, if these projects don’t move forward, our sector will suffer.
TW: Have women become better represented in the industry since you first started, and what more needs to be done on that front?
Yako: I’ve never thought in those terms, so I’m not sure that I’m qualified to answer this question. Thinking back 20 years, it seems to me that I do interact more with women, but I’m often still the only woman or one of a few in a room, so we’ve still got a ways to go if you believe the appropriate representation is 50/50.
TW: If we were to asked your coworkers to describe you in one word, what do you think that word would be?
Yako: I’m not sure I should answer that question, but I will say “firm.”
TW: Now that you are semi-retired, what will the average day in the life of Louise Yako look like?
Yako: I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out.