New generation leads Meyers towards 100th year in business
April 1, 2014
Groucho Marx once said he wouldn’t want to be a part of a club that would accept him as a member, but Jacquie and Natalie Meyers may contend otherwise. At Meyers Transport, chairman Natalie Meyers, described the industry in no uncertain...
Groucho Marx once said he wouldn’t want to be a part of a club that would accept him as a member, but Jacquie and Natalie Meyers may contend otherwise. At Meyers Transport, chairman Natalie Meyers, described the industry in no uncertain terms.
“It’s like joining a really good club that you never want to leave,” Natalie said.
Natalie has been a part of this club for 18 years; her cousin and president of the company, Jacquie, has a tenure just shy of a decade.
“My theory is that you have six months – if you get out within the first six months, you can probably get out of trucking, if you stay longer than six months, you will always be somehow connected to trucking,” Natalie said.
“And that is what my parents always said, if you want to do something else with your life, do it before you go into trucking because you will never leave. Once you get in, you are in for life,” added Jacquie. Jacquie’s parents, and Natalie’s as well, definitely know first-hand the draw of the industry as Evan and Larry, their respective fathers, helmed the business for decades before both young women came into the fold.
Meyers Transport was well established when Natalie and Jacquie decided to jump into the company, with four generations of family involvement and nearly nine decades of business acumen guiding them.
“I swore I would never work for family,” said Natalie, who grew tired of working for the government at the former public works department in property management. After Natalie’s second child was born, she decided to extend her maternity leave and slowly transition into Meyers. The timing was opportune, as the company had just purchased Canada Transport.
“When Meyers purchased Canada Transport it was bigger than Meyers,” said Natalie. “It was the largest growth Meyers went through.”
“At the time when I joined the company, because I was new to trucking – I had done some summer work as a student – I started off doing billing, customer service, OS&D, which was probably some of the best places to start out in trucking to figure out how it all works,” Natalie said.
Natalie, although not an expert in the industry, brought with her business savvy acquired from practical work experience in Ottawa and before that, a degree in economics that was obtained through her studies in university in Ottawa and Besancon, France.
Jacquie, unlike Natalie, was eager to join Meyers once she had entered McGill University to study commerce and entrepreneurship, in which she obtained her degree.
“When I first started (in trucking), I loved going to all the different factories. It was like the Discovery Channel – I got to see how all of these things that you never think about got made. I got the live, first-hand tour,” Jacquie said.
There are many similarities between the two women – humour a definite standout – as the small boardroom they occupy quickly fills with laughter.
Both women are also driven, but in decidedly different ways. Jacquie is the extrovert who thrives on leadership and standing out in a male-dominated industry, while Natalie is introverted, but still equally dedicated; she is the behind-the-scenes captain steering the ship safely while Jacquie dives in head-first – sink or swim. No matter how they are impelled, they are motivated to succeed. It’s a family business that has been afloat just shy of nine decades and both women are determined to see the centenarian anniversary.
“We are always looking to do better,” said Jacquie. “It’s fun because there is so much we can do better. My biggest priority is improving profitability. Transportation has been a difficult industry to be in and I don’t think we get the returns we could, given the enormous investments we have in our equipment. It is my goal to see a better return on our investments.”
Her priority is a shared one.
“I would have to agree with Jacquie. It is the ultimate goal because none of the other priorities will happen without it. At the end of the day, we are here to do trucking, not practice trucking. That’s kind of the expression we use,” said Natalie. “The reason you get into business is to make money and with that money you can do other things.”
At Meyers, there is an emphasis to stay current through innovation and new perspectives, through this, it is clear that both are passionate about a difficult industry.
“Trucking is going to have to do a better job of selling itself,” Natalie said. “It’s not perceived as an attractive industry. It’s not a field people think about getting into. If you ask someone in Grade 12 what industry they are thinking of going into, I doubt anyone will say trucking.”
It’s also an industry plagued by bias – it’s a man’s job – an attitude that both women, through their own roles in the company, prove is shifting.
“There are more and more women involved in trucking – we have female terminal managers, dispatchers, truck drivers – they’re still in the minority, but it’s not unusual to see women in the field.”
But still, female drivers are rare.
“Yet, we hire not only truck divers, but we hire managers, IT personnel – we hire just about any position you can think of but still, no one thinks about getting into trucking. We are still seen as a dirty industry, an industry of last resort,” Natalie said.
“At trucking companies, women are welcome in the executive, it’s just not a lot of them are banging down the door to get to the table,” said Jacquie.
It isn’t just driver image that is an area of contention, but also the new demands of technology that have been rapidly changing in trucking.
“Technology is wonderful when it works – just this morning there were four of us sitting around in a meeting and three of us had to call and get help with our laptops,” Natalie joked.
Natalie and Jacquie have reached the apex of the company ladder, but simply having the Meyers name didn’t land them in the higher echelons. They both worked their way to upper management.
“When I first came in, and I know because this happened to me and I was told later, some people thought, ‘Oh, the owner’s daughter is coming in and I wonder if she is going to be a real snooty pain in the ass,’ and I really had to prove myself,” said Natalie.
“You have to work twice as hard to prove you deserve the job,” Jacquie added.
“We’ve done the work and we’re prepared to get our hands dirty,” Natalie said. “As they get to know us, that makes a difference.”
“If you are weak and you have the Meyers name, you get destroyed,” said Jacquie. “If you are weak, after all the poking and prodding, you get weeded out pretty quick.”
Externally, having the Meyers name was an asset because it was trusted and had a good reputation, one that is continuously being upheld.
“It also helped having a direct phone line to a past-president,” said Jacquie. “I just had to call dad to ask for advice.”
But it isn’t just the Meyers’ that are family, it’s an organization that prides itself on its tight-knit relationships.
“We want to make sure that our people are happy here. We want them to thrive and be creative,” said Jacquie.
And just like a family, it has ups and downs.
“There are good days and there are bad days,” Jacquie said. “You just take it one day at a time and as long as the ups are worth the downs, you keep doing it.”
They came into their current roles around 2010, one of the most trying times in the industry.
“We came into the industry at one of the worst times,” Natalie said, and with a joke added, “It wouldn’t have been challenging enough otherwise.”
Their experiences in the industry, according to Jacquie, have been so condensed that it’s an added challenge.
“My father recently told me that I am, at 32, where he was at 42,” Jacquie said. “We have been forced to grow very quickly and progress very quickly.”
“We are among the few women leading trucking companies so we have this additional responsibility on our shoulders,” Natalie said. “It’s not only the guys that can do it.”