They say there’s always one man behind the curtain. For the Tandet Group, that man is Scott Tilley and he’s not really behind the curtain of the company, but he is pulling all the strings.
If you’re in the trucking industry and you don’t know who he is, you’re in trouble. Tilley has been around the trucking game for 30 years and in that time has been heavily involved in the industry, helping shape what it is today and what it could become tomorrow; that’s why he’s much more centre stage than he is behind the scenes.
The Tandet Group is an investment company with a focus on the trucking sector. Tilley is co-president of the Tandet Group and president of the transportation sector of the company. Of the multitude of companies under the Tandet umbrella, Tandet Logistics is dedicated specifically to bulk logistics, delivering chemicals, liquid and dry bulk across the continent.
Tandet Logistics was founded back in 1992, after it transformed from the existing lease operation into a transport operation. It is one of the most decorated companies in the business, having won several awards over the years. It claims to be the first carrier in the country to design and use a self-loading dry tanker configuration, one of the first to accept and migrate to electronic logs, and was voted one of Canada’s top 50 best managed companies three years in a row.
But what stands out the most with Tandet is its multi-generational staff, and Tilley is the man who helped build that.
For one reason or another, most young people just aren’t interested in trucking. Tilley knows this fact, and unlike most of his counterparts, he has tried to battle it with what he called “a two-pronged attack.”
“We, as an industry, are going through a renewal,” he said. “A lot of people are coming into the business, and it’s critical that we as an industry embrace that regeneration – the youth – into the industry, teach them some of the values that have been generated over the last 30-40 years and beyond that, to engage them and get them involved in the business to the same degree that their predecessors were. We as an organization are embracing that philosophy, and renewing our team so that there is a mix of that seasoned experience and the full enthusiasm that will allow our company to continue to grow and develop.”
Tilley said he is getting more young people working for him by looking outside of the existing trucking pool for talent.
“So what we’re looking for, is people that have some better skills and insights into the use of technology,” he said. “We’re trying to find people that had an education outside of the trucking industry, and teach them the trucking industry, as opposed to individuals that have an education in the trucking industry and trying to teach them some higher-level skills around computer application and financials. So we’re looking to teach into the industry as opposed to teach from the industry.”
He added that this approach doesn’t mean the company isn’t recognizing that drivers can move on to become dispatchers and technicians or shop managers and so on, but that he is simply listening to the demands of the industry.
“The demands by customers and demands by regulators are that we become a little bit more adept at data management and electronic communication and electronic connection and all of those types of things, both on the trucks and in the back office and therefore we need those skill sets to get into the organization and into the industry,” he said. “So we are very supportive of youth up through our techs and our trades – both drivers and technicians – and supporting youth in terms of back office management and data analysis.”
However, to get young people into the industry as drivers, Tilley says he has to hire drivers who are much younger and much less experienced – a risk he has to take, that involves countless hours of training before these hires actually get on the road.
“We hire drivers younger than what is deemed to be the standard and put them into training roles where they are training and developing their skills,” he said.“We are very sensitive to the difference between developing a driver and developing an operator. Our philosophy is to develop operators. To be an operator, you have to be able to drive and then you have to be able to load a tank and you have to be able to unload a tank. We prefer that our drivers learn to drive in strictly driving applications and then transition them into the operating philosophy. Once the driving skills become innate skills, where it’s natural to them to drive, then they become operators.”
Like many companies, Tandet is struggling with the driver shortage as it tries to expand.
“Our challenge is not in terms of replacing driving that leave the system, our challenge has been in terms of growing our base of drivers with a similar skill set and quality as what we’ve had in the past,” he said. “We go through a lot of applications and a lot of drive tests before we put somebody on the road. Our drive is to put good, quality, safe people on the road.”
But the shortage is something that Tilley fears is eclipsing other problems in the industry.
“The danger is that we focus so much on the driver shortage that we lose focus on some of the other challenges in the industry…and there’s lots,” he said. “That’s the one that rises to the top because it’s front and centre every day. The others are serious challenges as well, in terms of equipment and technology, and the skill sets required to manage that equipment in the next few years when you look at some of the things that are in the development pipeline. There’s so much regulation and re-regulation throughout the industry and taxation levels…so there’s a number of challenges that just sit a little bit lower than the driver issue and they’re all significant issues that we need to pay attention to. Drivers are really for today, and the other stuff is for tomorrow, and the danger is that we forget to manage tomorrow.”
To combat the other problems, specifically the technology issue, Tilley said he has positioned his company to be very technologically advanced.
“I have a great IT team that positions us to be on the front end of things and take advantage of the technology that is in the marketplace that allows us to service customers and employees in such a way that they stay and customers ask us to do more business,” he said.
It’s evident that Tilley isn’t just a good businessman, but that he’s a leader. His wealth of knowledge seems endless, and its just one of the reasons why he’s the current Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) chairman.
“Being OTA chairman is an honour,” he said. “I have been in the OTA for 20 years. Served on a variety of different committees, made some very good friendships and connection that have helped our business in terms of the ability to test ideas and the ability to see what others have done that are good ideas.”
He said that the OTA has helped the industry and his business in many ways by dealing with government head-on. Though he claims being chairman hasn’t helped his business directly, the benefit of being a part of the OTA as a whole has.
“The advantages don’t come from being chairman, they come from being a member,” he said.“I just get to do some things that are a little bit different…I wouldn’t say that being chair is any different than being a member, I just have a gavel in my hand now.”