Rock solid

by Adam Ledlow

NORTH YORK, Ont. – Les Wakeling has cemented his place in the Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar history books with his selection as the 2011 Canadian Fleet Maintenance Manager of the Year.

Wakeling, who serves as Canadian Building Materials’ director of operations, ready-mix, was honoured during a special luncheon at the annual Canadian Fleet Maitnenance Seminar in Markham May 10. The award, sponsored by Volvo Trucks Canada, goes to a Canadian fleet maintenance manager who stands out based on their scheduled maintenance program, quality and frequency of training programs, major accomplishments or innovations and contributions to their industry or community.

Wakeling was genuinely touched and surprised when named this year’s recipient of the prestigious award.

“Those of you who know me know I’m not at a loss for words very often, but I am now,” he said upon receiving the trophy. “This is a surprise. It’s not an individual award, it’s definitely a team award. You can’t do it without a good supporting team behind you.”

Truck News later visited Wakeling in his shop to find out more about Canada’s top maintenance manager.

“I always thought that it was a great achievement, particularly when it’s your peers and others in the industry that actually choose the winner of the award,” Wakeling told Truck News. “A lot of people that aren’t involved in maintenance on a day-to-day basis don’t understand what it takes to maintain equipment…so that is probably nicest, to know that other people that you work with in the industry recognize it.”

With a career in maintenance spanning about 35 years, Wakeling got his start as a mechanic, before being offered a supervisory role at a young age. Today, he oversees 20 maintenance facilities in southern Ontario and Quebec, maintaining 416 pieces of equipment consisting of Class 8 trucks, straight trucks and trailers.

But despite more than three decades in the industry, including 32 years at CBM alone, Wakeling is still always seeking out better ways to do things. In fact, just recently, Wakeling invited a consulting firm to suggest ways for the company to improve its processes.

“I think when you have confidence in your ability…you’re more open-minded,” Wakeling said of the decision to bring in outside help. “We’ve been trying to drive efficiencies for a number of years. It’s a very competitive business. To get better and to be more efficient, you need to find out where your gaps are, and that’s what they helped us do.”

Despite having “no idea how to fix a truck,” the consulting firm was able to look at CBM’s workflow and help introduce some Key Performance Indicators to measure how efficiently the company’s garages were operating.

Among the stats now being tracked is mechanic availability – which has always been loosely tracked, according to Wakeling, but its current daily tracking allows for much more accurate results.

“We track the percentage of time a mechanic is available (for scheduled) work,” Wakeling says. “We would like to see 100% – but you’ve got service calls, you’ve got door calls, you’ve got other items that take away from that scheduled time. Every time a truck rolls up to the garage, if it wasn’t a scheduled maintenance item or it wasn’t documented on a pre-trip, we track that. And from that, we also look at how successful our pre-trip program is with our drivers. If we’ve got a lot of drivers running up every day, in the middle of the day during production hours to get repairs done that should have been documented, then that tells us we need more training.”

The frequency of the company’s on-road service calls is one stat that CBM did not track in the past. “And we were quite surprised to find out that we spent minimal time on the road repairing trucks that had broken down, which also tells you how successful your preventative maintenance program is,” Wakeling said.

Tracking overtime helped decrease the company’s extra work hours by 50%, “just by having it visible,” Wakeling says.
CBM also recently started tracking write-ups at each of the company’s locations, “so when we take a look at the network of our locations and start looking at this data, it allows us, because we have so many locations, if we see a shop getting busier, we can move some resources there to get over the hump. So you end up with a nice line instead of those peaks and valleys.”

A common frustration heard at CFMS, and in general, concerns the reliability of emissions-related components. But while some have opted to take action to avoid such technologies as diesel particulate filters, Wakeling and his crew chose to meet the challenge head-on.

“Our lifecycle is already 15-20 years in this business. I know there were a lot of pre-buys to try and avoid emissions. We didn’t do that. I would much rather get involved in the beginning, try and understand the system, knowing that as the system gets older, there’s more improvements made, the technology gets better,” he says.

“We’ve got DPFs. We’re going to be putting SCR (trucks) into the system. But I can’t honestly say it’s been a bad experience. I think we probably went through more growing pains initially with the first tier, second tier, with some of the electronics that were dealing with emissions. But I’ve never worried about that. Sooner or later, you don’t have a choice, so I would much rather be at the front end so that I can understand it better. We’ve had a lot of great support from the manufacturers too.”

But being a great maintenance manager isn’t just about the equipment. Wakeling is also meeting the challenges of today’s new generation of technicians and their desire for a career-life balance.

“It’s something that we’ve recognized as a company. Whether it be good or bad, I think the younger generation probably is more in tune with life balance than we are,” he says. “And I don’t begrudge that and I think we need that. I think we have to adapt as a business, to make sure that we can give that to those people. Do you work to live or do you live to work?”

In terms of fostering passion for the industry that has shaped his own career, Wakeling believes firmly in the power of apprenticeship, which CBM has used successfully for the last 10-15 years.

“Even though there’s a little bit of a growing pain to begin with, we have all (our past apprentices) still working for us. They understand your business. They grow into the culture,” he says. “But I think it’s how your develop them. You develop that culture and you develop the expectations. So once again, as much as they learn how to repair a piece of equipment, you also give them the values that you need for them to be successful.”

Wakeling’s ability to encourage new talent extends to his personal life, where he has served as a lacrosse coach at both the amateur and professional levels for many years. In the end, Wakeling says it’s people that make both a manager and a coach successful.

“Whether you’re coaching a team or managing people or leading people, you have to know your people, you have to know what makes them tick. You can have the best technology in the world, but it’s still a hands-on business,” he says. “Being decentralized, because we don’t have the luxury of having one shop and a foreman, we rely on our mechanics to self-manage so it’s really, really important that we communicate clearly what our expectations are. You’ll find that if people understand what you expect, they can del

“People don’t come to work saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to do a bad job’,” he continues. “So you’ve got to give them the tools to help them do a good job, and a lot of times it’s information. They need to know the bigger picture and what our expectations are. And it’s no different than a (sports) team. You have 25 different personalities, every one of them reacts differently, and it’s your job as a coach to get the best out of that person and it’s the exactly the same at work.”

One way for newcomers to the industry to help build and maintain personal relationships with others is to attend events like CFMS, Wakeling says.

“I think even though the Internet has brought a lot of good tools, we’ve lost the ability to network with people,” Wakeling lamented during his acceptance speech. “This is a tremendous place to come. Even though technology is good, I hope we don’t forget to come to functions like this and meet face to face.”

And Wakeling looks forward to maintaining those relationships for many years to come. “You never see people leave this business,” he told Truck News. “They float around within the business, whether it be a salesperson, whether it be a fleet guy. I think there’s a general underlying passion for equipment. When you like equipment, it’s not a job.”

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