Leading ain’t easy

by Sonia Straface

TORONTO, Ont. – Being a leader isn’t easy.

And it definitely isn’t easy being a leader in the trucking sphere, thanks to the driver shortage, customer pressures, and the clash of generations merging in the workforce.

(L-R) Genevieve Gagnon, president and owner of XTL; Trevor Bent, CEO of Eassons; Grant Mitchell, COO of Kenan Advantage Group; and Louisa McAlpine, president and owner of Snowbird Transportation Systems.

That was the message given during the leadership panel at the fourth annual Women with Drive Leadership Summit hosted by Trucking HR Canada in Toronto this week.

This year’s leadership panel was moderated by industry veteran, David Bradley. Panelists included: Genevieve Gagnon, president and owner of XTL; Trevor Bent, CEO of Eassons; Louisa McAlpine, president and owner of Snowbird Transportation Systems; and Grant Mitchell, COO of Kenan Advantage Group.

The panel gave audience members a look into the minds of successful trucking leaders to see what they had to say about the hot topics in the industry today.

What worries them?

For Gagnon, the driver shortage was the top of her list for things that worry her as a leader.

“What keeps me up at night is the driver shortage,” she said. “How we’re going to attract drivers and keep drovers worries me.”

She also cited managing people is something that is constantly changing and something she wishes she had more education about.

“I wish I had a psychology degree because a lot of what we do when you’re managing a team has to do with psychology. You can’t manage every one the same way,” she said. “When I was younger leadership was less team based. It was top-down managing. You had the leader and he gave the marching order. But today, it’s more a team-based approach, which I prefer.”

For Mitchell, safety is the main concern for him as a leader.

“We are passionate about safety for our people and for the communities we operate in,” he said. “Our responsibilities as leaders is to make sure our people are safe and they that our people have the tools, training and resources to be safe. There is simply nothing more important.”

Mitchell said that he also worries about managing the younger generations.

“Each generation needs something different,” he said. “So we need to have different opportunities for people and we need to know they feel a part of the team. We spend a lot of time on that to find out what we are doing and what we can do better.”

What are they doing to attract women, and minority groups?

Bent said to attract non-traditional employees in trucking (see: non-white men) he first had to compare his business to the averages in trucking.

“We know 3% of truck drivers are women,” he said. “And in our fleet we’re at 11%. Other numbers we look at are in dispatch, and we’re at 44% there. And so on that side of things, what we’re dong to encourage more involvement and recruit more women, we started a partnership with different associations like the Trucking Human Resources Sector Council that have a lot of initiatives and programs advancing women in the workforce.”

Bent added Eassons also started partnership with local schools to help bolster their recruitment efforts.

Mitchell said that his company is also partnering with organization to make sure they have good diversity within their operation.

“To us everyone is equal and the same,” he said. “So in out northern communities, we are partnered with a number of First Nations communities to grow and develop local talent in those markets…and that’s been really successful for us.”

For McAlpine, who leads the smallest company on the panel, hiring women comes naturally to her thanks to the wisdom her father passed down to her.

“Most of our managing team is all women,” she said. “It comes down to simple, old fashioned stuff that my dad came up with: everyone deserves a chance. It’s the skills they have. So although we don’t have as many women drivers, we are trying to be more creative and be more flexible with family time and lighter loads, and things that like to help (attract more women drivers).”

Gagnon said XTL’s executive team is 30% women.

“I think it’s easier (to attract and retain women) when you have a woman in the role of president,” she said. “The women in the roles at the front lines have someone to look up to and say ‘Okay she’s in that role, so I can aspire to be in that role in this organization.’”

Driverless trucks

Gagnon said she believes driverless trucks are going to be the biggest disruptor for trucking companies in the next 5-10 years.

“Right now, we are in a cycle where there’s been a big push of rates,” she said. “And as they are being pushed up, so are driver wages. And it might be a double -edged sword, because at one point, the customer is going to put pressure on us and says, ‘Either get a hold of your costs or we will move to driverless trucks.’”

What comforts Gagnon is knowing that the technology for driverless trucks isn’t quote where it needs to be for this to happen quite yet, but it’s not too far in the future.

“I know, in Quebec, we don’t have the technology yet for driverless trucks to for example, driver in winter conditions, but I’m sure that’s coming.”


For Mitchell, the transition to ELDs was smooth within his operation.

“We’re happy to see ELDs,” he said. “It levels the playing field for companies. The technology continues to get better and makes it better for drivers and companies to manage logs. We are looking forward to it becoming law in Canada by December 2019 and think it’s a great step forward for our industry.”

Mitchell added that he believes ELDs will be a major plus for younger drivers, as they won’t know the difference from paper logs – which was a major setback for older drivers as they didn’t want to change over to e-logs when they were first introduced.

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