TORONTO, Ont. — The Toronto Transportation Club this year celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Trailcon Leasing’s John Foss is serving as president during this, the club’s milestone year. Editorial director and publisher Lou Smyrlis caught up with Foss recently, to talk about how the organization is planning to celebrate its 100th anniversary, the benefits of belonging and the importance of being inclusive.
TN: The Toronto Transportation Club is celebrating a very significant milestone with its 100th anniversary this year. A lot of clubs have come and gone over the past century. What’s the secret to success for TTC? How has it survived for so long?
Foss: The club throughout its history has always held great events. Industry-wide, there have been a lot of people who have relied on the club’s social events to keep in touch with people from all different sectors of the industry.
The annual dinner especially has been a popular event. People put it in their schedule right away. They go to the dinner and call up the club right away to find out the date for next year’s dinner. But I would also say we’ve enjoyed having a broad spectrum of members and with all their support we’ve been able to weather any tough times over the years. We’ve always had members step up during such times to revitalize the club.
TN: I’m sure you belong to a lot of different clubs and associations, as I do, and you find that each has its unique flavour, and as a result you make more time for some than for others. What is it about the TTC that keeps its members coming back?
Foss: I’ve been on the board seven years now and we’ve gone through changes in venues and entertainment and cancelled some events and changed some events, all to keep things fresh. One of the reasons that can happen is because our board changes on a regular basis, roughly every four to five years. That brings new ideas to the table and that leads to new people coming to events.
TN: What does it mean to you personally to be the president who gets to preside over the 100th year anniversary?
Foss: Initially, when I came to the board, it didn’t even cross my mind. But when it came up, I thought it was awesome. I take it very seriously and very personally to make the club and the 100th anniversary a success. And I think I’m the right man for the job. When I think of everything we’ve done to get ready for the 100th anniversary – the dinner, all the sponsorships, and the entertainment, the venue, all the work – it has almost become a full time job. I’m very fortunate to have my employer, Trailcon Leasing, support me through it all.
TN: What can you tell me about the 100th anniversary celebrations?
Foss: We are planning for an incredible night. We are stepping away from our normal venue for this year and going to the Metro Convention Centre to accommodate a larger crowd. We have Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, who is an incredible speaker, and a great band.
The room is going to be dressed to the nines. Several member companies have stepped up to help up bring in retirees who are part of the club’s history. It’s also going to be more interactive than anything we’ve done before. We are going to have live Twitter feeds and video screens. It’s going to be a lot of fun and a great tribute to the TTC. We also have a scholarship trust for members’ children. This year in celebration of the 100th anniversary we will be giving out two scholarships, which we’ve never done before.
TN: What’s also interesting about the TTC is that while most clubs are mode specific, the TTC is open to all modes. Why is that important?
Foss: The history of the club started with the railways and the local cartage companies. Canadian Pacificc in particular was heavily involved and is the reason the annual dinner was held at the Royal York as CP owned it at the time. So the roots are multi-mode. And that’s also the strength of the club. We have railways, local cartage, 3PLs, common carriers and a large number of shippers. Carriers bring in shippers as members and shippers bring in carriers. And that creates a lot of support for the club as well.
TN: The TTC is the largest club of its kind in Canada. What relationships do you have with other transportation clubs across the country and in the US?
Foss: It’s hard to believe we are larger than clubs such as New York, but we are. As for relationships with other clubs, we are trying to rekindle our relationship with the Montreal Club and we’ve also rekindled our relationships with the clubs in Chicago and New York.
TN: What are the most significant ways in which the club has evolved over the past 100 years?
Foss: What we have done with our board has been an important part of our ongoing evolution. We have a good mix of people on our board who are go-getters and who are committed to seeing the Club continue to succeed and grow.
TN: In a recent newsletter you wrote that the Women in Transportation luncheon has found a permanent home in the TTC roster of events and that you have a feeling you will need to find a much larger venue for next year’s event. Women have only been allowed to join the TTC since 1981. What have they brought to the club?
Foss: Look around transportation today and you see women moving into key management and executive positions and the club has to be reflective of this reality. Look at TTC’s own board of directors and how many are women and also how many of our recent presidents have been women.
The inclusion of women into the club has certainly changed the face of the room and it needed to have happened long before it did. We ran the Women in Transportation luncheon for the first time this year and had over 100 turn out. We are moving to a better venue next year and we are expecting to considerably increase the turnout.
TN: What is the next generation of transportation industry leaders looking for in a transportation club and what is the TTC doing to meet those requests?
Foss: I’m involved with the Ontario Trucking Association’s Next Generation program and we specifically asked young executives what they were looking for. These are people in their late 20s to late 30s and they may have never attended an industry event because of the perception that it’s an old boy’s club.
They may not know anyone and maybe they don’t feel welcomed. I think what they are looking for is an opportunity for someone to break the ice for them so they can become part of industry clubs, just like they see their parents or older executives at their firms do. They are looking for opportunities to network and gain new perspectives. What we need to do, and are doing, is to work on breaking down the barriers, to help them meet new people.
TN: One of the things that stands out with the next generation of transportation executives is that with staffing levels at a lot of companies being tight, work schedules are pretty crazy and they may be hard pressed to find the time to be part of industry clubs or associations. As an industry professional who has walked the same tightrope, what would you say to them about the importance of somehow finding the time to be part of such industry groups?
Foss: Shippers today use many modes. They don’t feel they should be captive to any one mode. Transportation has become multimodal. Being part of an organization such as ours provides the opportunity to meet people from all sectors of the industry and forge critical new relationships or refresh old relationships. I have met so many people through the TTC, which has given me a broader perspective of the transportation industry and helped me in my job and my career. I’ve met decision makers through the club that I may not otherwise have had the chance to meet, and when you get to know each other on a more personal level, that helps facilitate business.
TN: In an age where a lot of social networking is being pushed online, is the importance of person-to-person networking underestimated?
Foss: I think you need to have a lot of technical skill to make something like that work for you. How many people in your LinkedIn network do you really know well? There is still great value in meeting people face-to-face and to have that personal interaction.
TN: Part of effective networking is coming together in an atmosphere that makes them feel comfortable and makes it easy and enjoyable to mingle. How do you actually go about creating such an atmosphere?
Foss: Twice a year we have a new member event. We find that a good way to get people to meet each other. We make a point of our board members, including the club president, meeting with new club members and introducing them to other members. We also appreciate that new members have their own connections in the industry and if they enjoy the club they will recommend it to their connections and that’s one of the ways the club grows. We also put on events that make it easy to socialize. Remember that while our annual dinner is a very large event, most of our events are under 200 people so it’s easy to work the room.