Trucking in the blood

by Sonia Straface

BRAMPTON, Ont. — A truck driver often becomes one because his father drove for a living, and before that, his grandfather drove, and so on.

For the Barkan brothers, it was their uncle who influenced them to get behind the wheel.

Matt (left) and Eugene Barkan

Matvei (Matt) and Evegueni (Eugene) Barkan immigrated from Belarus to Canada in 1992. They watched on as their uncle, who drove for Speedy Transport, enjoyed his career as a driver. Often, during the summer, their uncle would invite them into the truck and would make his deliveries with one of them in the passenger seat.

Eugene was attracted to the career immediately. He wanted to be out on the open road. Matt, however, needed to warm up to the idea.

“I didn’t like it,” he admitted. “I thought it would be too hard for me to do for a living. But then I saw the money you could make in the business, and I went to get my licence and I got it on my first try. And thankfully, Speedy gave me a chance. When no one else would hire me, they did.”

Today the Barkan brothers are two of the best in the Speedy fleet, according to management. They currently do LTL city work, making 32-34 deliveries a day on average.

Matt started driving with Speedy in 1997, and Eugene followed shortly thereafter in 2000. They were 22 and 19, respectively.

They both are still well under the national average age of truck drivers in Canada, which is just over 47 years old, and they both say they love the job, especially the customer service side of it.

“The best part of my job is the people,” said Matt. “I like the people that are around me here in the office, the people on the road, and the customers. That’s why I can never go on the highway. I like having my regular customers and the communication. I like to chat to people.”

Andre Poirier, vice-president of transportation and fleet maintenance at Speedy, said customer service is the most important part of his drivers’ jobs.

“They’re the face of the company,” he said. “They see the shippers and they build relationships with their regular customers. And this relationship is important because depending on the customer, when they see Matt or his brother, or another one of our drivers, most times they’ll get in quicker. Because of their presentation, and the relationships they’ve built over the years.”

What Poirier especially likes from the brothers is how much feedback they provide the company in terms of vetting freight and developing customer retention strategies.

“Matt and Eugene are not shy to tell us if something is not the right fit or freight mix for us,” he said. “If it’s not the right fit for us, they’ll tell us. And most of it has to do with productivity and how we can increase our efficiency on the road. And we value that opinion.”

Matt added that sometimes new shippers will make him wait to deliver and that can slow his day down incredibly.

“And I’m not trying to trash anyone,” he said. “But I know it’s not right if you have to wait one or two hours to do a delivery, so I have no problem telling the bosses about that.”

The drivers have never left Speedy Transport, although Matt admitted he flirted with the idea years ago.

“I’ve had temptations of moving on,” he said. “And it’s not about the money. But it’s the relationships I have here, that make me not want to leave. My wife told me one time, when I was close to leaving, ‘If you leave, you’re not going to forgive yourself.’ And she was right, I feel so comfortable here.”

Both Matt and Eugene said a major reason why they’ve stuck around with Speedy for so long was because it’s the company that gave them a chance to have their dream jobs at such a young age, and because they feel at home at Speedy.

“Here at Speedy, it’s very family-oriented and I like that,” Eugene said.

Matt has even recruited several drivers for the company over the years, convincing people to get behind the wheel because of the management style there.

“I tell them, if you work hard, the management will appreciate you,” he said. “And it’s steady work. I’ve never had time off from the road, even during the recession.”
Poirier added: “Inside of work, we talk. Outside of work, we talk. Matt’s wife and my wife, they socialize. We’re all friends on Facebook. It’s a family. These guys are my family. And that’s how we try to make it. Because work is work, but we still manage to make it feel like family while at work.”

In the future, both Matt and Eugene said they aren’t interested in working in the office at Speedy. Like their uncle, they both want to drive for the rest of their careers. To this day, their uncle is still driving, just not a truck. Today, he drives a school bus in his neighborhood.

“I enjoy what I do and I’m good at it,” Eugene said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. It’s a good job. It’s a well-paid job. If you put the effort in, the money is there.”

“Today, it’s not about the money to me anymore,” Matt concluded. “Because, even if I win the lottery, I’d still find something to do here at Speedy.”

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