MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – Truck News speaks with Al Boughton in part one of an exclusive interview discussing the challenge of growing a new company and a new culture with no ceilings.
TN: It’s impossible to discuss Trailcon without speaking about Al Boughton. Not only are you a large part of what created this company but you have such a presence within the industry. And although the industry has changed over the years it is still characterized by straight shooters who like to know exactly whom and what they’re dealing with. There are many different perceptions about who Al Boughton really is. Which is the correct one?
Boughton: They say that who you are in personality is a sum of all the people you’ve met and listened to. So, who am I? I’m a mosaic that will be different tomorrow than it is today. I’m George Hendrie, I’m Dan Einwechter, I’m Cam Carruth and David Bradley, Jim Wilson and Stan Dunford. From a business point of view and values and what Trailcon is all about, a great portion of that comes from George Hendrie, my former boss at Provincial Trailer Rental. Probably an equal amount of that is Jim Wilson and the friendship that we’ve had since 1981 and our partnership we started here in 1992. Over the years I’ve tried to take the best of the people I met in this industry. George Hendrie would tell me there’s three parts to your business: your suppliers, your customers and your employees. And if you treat any one of them differently you find the formula for failure. Customers can become suppliers, suppliers can become employees and employees can become customers.
TN:Another thing that makes you stand out is all the work you do for the industry; for the Ontario Trucking Association, for example. Obviously it makes business sense to do so but it seems like you are having too much fun for it to be just because of that.
Boughton: I admit my first motivation was selfish. I attended my first convention at the Royal York Hotel and was blown away by every one standing up as they piped the head table in. As I stood there clapping and these people came in who were industry legends, I made up my mind that this was going to be a goal of mine to be at the head table of an OTA function. As I was elected to my first board in 1977-78, the guys who were on the board were so great, so giving, I couldn’t wait to help. And when I decided to do things myself, other people couldn’t wait to help me out.
TN: You’re pretty straightforward in your opinions and how you express them. Looking at it from a business standpoint, has that perhaps hurt you sometimes? Are there things you’ve said that you wish you hadn’t?
Boughton: I certainly have created some friction in the industry – for example a year ago with the OTA – because I’m passionate about what I think needs to be done.
Being forward, does it cost you? Yes – but when you walk into a business meeting today and the customer greets you, the pleasantries that used to be the bulk of the meeting are now a small part of the front and back end.
Why? Because everybody is so busy. So I think I’m more effective today because of my personality. They immediately want to talk business. What can you do for us? Having a straightforward approach is probably more effective than the touch-feely approach we had in the ’70s and ’80s.
TN: The day you founded Trailcon was the scariest day of your life, you’ve admitted in the past. Take us back to that time. What prompted you to leave a comfortable position and take this risk?
Boughton: It was October 1992 and I was the president of Provincial Trailer Rental (PTR) when I left. The Hendrie family owned PTR and then sold it to a new ownership group whose methods of business were different from ours.
As you know with any leveraged buyout comes huge amounts of debt and it changes the way you do business. It required a change in business philosophy and I was not comfortable working in that environment. I liked the old way of doing business.
TN: If, back then, you could have looked ahead to now, is this where you would have expected to be?
Boughton: At our first Christmas party we had four people, including spouses. This year we had close to 120.
One of our mechanics asked me the exact same question at this year’s party and I told him my favourite politician – and I don’t have many that I like – was Bobby Kennedy. Though JFK was always known for his “don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” Bobby Kennedy said: “some people see the way things are and ask why, and I see the way they could be and ask why not?”
I’ve never had a glass ceiling. The first day I wanted to see if I could get one trailer on the road. Once I got one, I tried for two and after I got to five, then it was 10, and so on.
I never did then, and still have not, set a ceiling on what we can achieve.
– Next month’s issue will feature the conclusion of our interview with Al Boughton.
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