EDMONTON, Alta. -When buzzwords like merger, downsize, profitability, and even buzzword, rule the business culture; the Rosenau family has focused on keeping things simple by putting family and custom...
EDMONTON, Alta. -When buzzwords like merger, downsize, profitability, and even buzzword, rule the business culture; the Rosenau family has focused on keeping things simple by putting family and customers first.
This particular year marked a special milestone for Rosenau Transport, as the family-owned and operated carrier celebrated its 50th anniversary. Celebrating the company’s golden anniversary is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the Rosenau family. Fifty years in the making, Rosenau Transport began in the kitchen of Gus and Colleen Rosenau, in a southeast Calgary neighbourhood.
Colleen has passed away, but all of her and Gus’s seven children played an integral role in building a respected Alberta-based carrier, which all began on the back of a fondly remembered 1953 Ford half-tonne truck in 1957.
“I was working for a dental supply company and found out I was going to get laid off. I knew the fellow who delivered there and he knew I was going to get laid off, so he made me a deal to buy one of his two trucks,” explained Gus. “It was a piece of junk of a half-tonne, a 1953 Ford.”
With that initial purchase, Gus steered his way into the trucking industry. For the first few months, Gus worked alongside the gentleman who sold him his first truck, but it was not long before Gus struck out on his own. The two men decided to split the delivery business in half and head in different directions.
Gus worked for three different dental suppliers, hauling goods around the City of Calgary.
“It was about three years of that and then one of my suppliers said they had offices in Edmonton and they wanted me to do their delivering up there, so I bought another half-tonne and started in Edmonton,” Gus told Truck West.
As business progressed, Gus found his operation delivering more and more goods to the bus depots in Edmonton and Calgary for delivery between the two cities, which was a service Gus figured he could also provide.
So Gus purchased more half-tonne trucks and began offering delivery service between Alberta’s two largest cities. As business grew, so did the trucks Gus put on the highway.
“When it got too big for the halftonnes, we got bigger with tonne-and- a-half trucks,” recalled Gus. “After it got too big for those, we got three-tonne trucks; and finally when it got too big for them, we started running trailers.”
By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gus began expanding into other areas of the province. Rosenau Transport set up a terminal temporarily in Grande Prairie and permanently in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.
“I expanded just in Alberta because I found enough work here in Alberta,” noted Gus. “I had my ups and downs, but it was mostly ups. There were a couple of years that were bad, ’66 and ’67. I just bought too many trucks and didn’t have enough business.”
Gus and Rosenau Transport found enough work in Alberta to build an enterprise and legacy to pass on to his seven children.
“I put 40 years of work into this company and everything went to the expansion of the company,” said Gus.
“He officially retired the year the GST came out because he didn’t want to do any extra calculations,” noted Val, Gus’s only daughter.
Val is now retired from the company but worked within the organization from an early age, learning the business from her mother and prior to retiring, served as office manager – or internal resources.
“She trained me when I was growing up and when she became older, I was training her,” added Val. “It was all computerized, but you had to double check everything and file it away, but today it’s pretty much all taken care of by the computer.”
All of the children grew up in the trucking family business and despite the resistance of some to enter the family business they all came around eventually.
“I took them all into the business and some of them didn’t like it and did other things for a couple of years, but then came back ’cause it’s not really so bad working for the old man,” Gus said with a chuckle.
It’s nearly impossible for family members to get along all the time. When the complexity of running a trucking operation is mixed into the family environment, there is a greater potential for friction among family members.
Throughout the years however, the Rosenau clan was able to avoid family conflict and band together to grow the family business.
Much of the credit to maintaining a smooth running family operation falls to the leadership of Gus and Colleen.
“Dad would keep us working and Mom would keep us all together,” explained Tim, manager of the Saskatoon terminal. “I used to come home all fired up about something and my Mom used to remind me that when I go to work they’re my bosses, but at home they’re my brothers.”
The strong work ethic instilled by the patriarch of the family was a valuable lesson in ensuring quality work and complete work was the most important aspect of the operation.
“It’s a challenge, but the bottom line is the work has to get done,” explained Lyle, who is now retired, but was most recently the terminal manager in Lethbridge. “With all respect to my brothers, we all have a different view of the best way to do something, but in the end the bottom line is it all just has to get done.”
Keeping focused on getting the job done was an important aspect of being able to put any differences aside.
“We’re not grudge carriers, so we are able to put any differences aside and have a good time,”said Val. “We were able to keep the two separated and come back in the next day with a fresh start.”
Part of the reason the Rosenau family is able to work together is years of practice.
From Rosenau Transport’s humble beginnings the family has always worked closely together in close quarters.
“When we started it was out of our garage on Cottonwood Crescent and there were always trucks in the yard,” remembered Rod, traffic manager for Rosenau Transport.
Trucks were a common sight at the family’s house and the carrier’s head office was located in the family’s kitchen.
“Being the oldest, I can remember back when my dad had just two or three trucks and my mom ran the office from our kitchen,” noted Lyle. “She had one of these two (Rod and Tim) on her lap, feeding them and was answering the phone. She ran the office right out of our kitchen, took orders and did dispatch.”
With the office being run out of the Rosenau home, visitors were common in the house.
“I’d wake up and there would be some guy sleeping on our couch, and I would say,’Who are you?’ and he’d say,’Well I’m John from Edmonton and they told me to come to this address and get some rest for a load,'” said Rod.
Even when employees weren’t on the clock they were always welcome in the Rosenau house.
“Back in the old days they were part of our family. We would have a barbecue and the entire staff would be in our backyard, cause they were just a part of our family,” said Val. “The pot of potatoes was always big because you never knew who was stopping by. All the kids in the neighbourhood used to always come by our house ’cause there was always something going on and it was a source of entertainment for everyone.”
The close-knit environment developed in the home was ingrained into how Rosenau Transport conducted business.
“We’re big enough to serve you and small enough to care about you,” said Rod. “Anyone can call and get an answer whenever they have a question.”
“Like Dad always said, ‘If you don’t look after your customers, someone else will,'” added Lyle.
Gus’s children were able to take care of their customers and their employees because of the training Gus provided. He did not give his children any shortcuts and each one of them learned the family business from the ground up. From maintenance to driving to the office operation, Gus treated his children like the rest of the employees and the employees just like family.
Gus’s son Carl is the current president of Rosen
au Transport, while son Willie is terminal manager in Medicine Hat and Len is safety supervisor.
The third generation of Rosenaus entered the family business in the mid-1990s and the family is eager to continue the family tradition.
“We’re the largest Alberta-based LTL privately-owned carrier,” said Carl. “With the takeovers happening nowadays we try and stay one step ahead. It’s been family-owned for two generations and we dream of having two more; with the help of our staff we can see that dream come true.”
Even while mixing business and family, the Rosenaus managed to find time in their personal lives for themselves.
“We had outside activities from the business and plenty of time to enjoy ourselves,” explained Lyle. “Our Dad coached Carl and myself, and took time away to take us to tournaments when we were younger, so he took time away as well. We all had lots of time to enjoy ourselves by playing hockey or softball, and give back to the communities.”
Since the early years, giving back to the community has been an important aspect of the Rosenau Transport culture.
The carrier supports a number of causes and gives large support to cystic fibrosis, STARS Air Ambulance, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
“We’re a family that believes in giving back to the community and being present as a corporate citizen,” added Lyle. “You could make a list of 35 to 40 things we do.”
During the past five decades, perhaps one of Rosenau Transport’s biggest accomplishments was maintaining its family-owned and operated roots.
“When you have a family business, you’re usually dealing with two siblings; but with us there’s seven and if you count Mom and Dad, that’s nine,” said Lyle. “It’s pretty unique that there’s seven of us and everybody is putting in. That’s the reward, the fact that we’ve all taken part and kept this business going. The fact that our family pulled together and have been successful is an honour.”
The humble beginnings are still present in the company today, as no one person will take credit for the company’s success. The credit is spread out across the entire family – the company family.
“We’re proud of our employees who have helped us over the 50 years because without them we couldn’t have gotten this far,” said Carl. “It’s getting tougher with all the new regulations, but it’s a challenge and we’ll make it.”
The numbers certainly support that claim. Today, the company serves more than 400 communities each day from 15 terminals in Western Canada.
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