TORONTO, Ont. – A panel of industry leaders gathered at the Ontario Trucking Association conference to address methods to manage generational gaps in the business of trucking.
Managing the generation gap in your business, a session that was held on November 14 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in downtown Toronto, aimed to provide insight on how to narrow the expanding gap in the trucking business as boomers retire and the next generation step forward.
Doug Robbins, author, business columnist and the president of Robinex facilitated the session between veteran owners and the next generation of trucking professionals.
“Develop a 10-5-3 program strategic plan for your company,” Robbins said. “You need to establish what you would like to do in ten years, in five years and in three years. Make a three year business plan so you can meet your five year goal.”
Robbins has worked as a broker and would help veteran business owners sell their companies and in one case, Robbins ran into some trouble.
Robbins received a phone call from a Toronto psychiatrist explaining that the deal he brokered left the former business owner suicidal.
“I was blamed for his attempted suicide. The psychiatrist explained, ‘You sold his reason for living and you didn’t offer an alternative,’” Robbins said.
Robbins began to realize that you can’t strip someone of the livelihood and expect him or her to move on effortlessly.
It is from there that he felt the generation on the way out could assist the one on the way in by the way of a mentoring program.
Robbins invited the session panelists to discuss how the transition from an older generation to the new has progressed.
Jacquie Meyers, president, Meyers Transport
Meyers and her cousin Natalie are the fourth generation of the family to be running the transport company. According to Meyers, the transition of ownership from her father and uncle was slow.
“Evan and Larry (Meyers) were honestly tired and they knew they needed new leadership,” said Meyers.
Both senior Meyers stayed close by to offer guidance and support – a part of the transition that Meyers felt kept everything under control.
“The outgoing leaders have to be around to mentor,” Meyers said. “We were fortunate that Larry and Evan were there for us.”
Alex MacKinnon, vice president, finance and administration, MacKinnon Transport
MacKinnon’s great grandfather founded the business and like Meyers, is the fourth generation to keep the business running.
“You are not only trying to pass a torch, but you want it to shine – be better and brighter,” MacKinnon said.
Adding to the smooth transition, MacKinnon said it is important to have respect for the generations that preceded you, even if there are noted differences.
“I don’t drive a truck, but I am the first generation to have a formal education,” MacKinnon said.
That education has driven him to be involved in all aspects of the business and isn’t afraid to be assessed.
“It is very important that your colleagues assess your [performance] because you will improve where needed,” said MacKinnon.
“I always ask questions,” MacKinnon said. “Between my dad and grandfather there are over 100 years of experience.”
Greg Palmer, owner, Trans-Frt McNamara
Greg Palmer’s mother, Lorna Taylor, founded Trans-Frt McNamara and when it was time for him to take control, he opted for a five-year equity buy out.
“I was fortunate that my mom stayed on and continued to work with me and my partner,” said Palmer. “She still mentors us.”
The transition was definitely eye opening for Palmer.
“I was suddenly thrown a lot of responsibility, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to own this business,” said Palmer.
Palmer made it a point to educate himself in the areas where he knew he had weaknesses, a decision, along with him other acting as his mentor, has eased to growing pains of taking over an established company.
Scott Tilley, president, The Tandet Group
Tilley and his brother acquired The Tandet Group after they bought the business from their father, and the dynamic of going from employee to owner was clear.
“I’m becoming your banker, not your boss. Bankers aren’t as nice as bosses,” Tilley said.
The transition wasn’t necessarily an easy one, especially for Tilley’s father.
“My dad said to me, ‘I don’t want to leave, but I know I have to,’” Tilley said.
It was a struggle for his father, which in turn became an area of difficulty for the company when his father began offering unsolicited work projects and ideas to the employees.
Eventually, Tilley had to explain that while is knowledge was appreciated, his direction was not.
“I had to tell him, you can talk, take notes or ask questions, but you cannot tell anyone what to do and what you think they should do,” Tilley said.
Randy Veinotte, president, Harland Veinotte
Veinotte’s father started Veinotte Harland in 1964 and purchased the company, with his brother, in 1990.
“My father was always being doing as opposed to teaching,” said Veinotte. “I learned a lot through osmosis.”
When the company was purchased, Veinotte admits he wasn’t ready for his new role.
“The company wasn’t very big or complex, so we got away with it,” said Veinotte.
It was important for Veinotte for find a business partner that was able to handle the job and also compatible with his personality – which he managed with his brother as the two have never argued about business.
“It is important to always plan ahead and involve everyone in the company,” Veinotte said, noting that an exit strategy has to be planned for as well. “I don’t want to annoy [the next generation] by hanging around too long.”
George P. Ledson, president, Cavalier Transportation
“I’m not ready to retire. I’m only 75 years old,” Ledson told a crowd of conference attendees. “I really love trucking and I have been doing it for 57 years.”
Ledson, as opposed to the other panelists, is the generation set to retire – he’s not taking the torch, he’s just passing it – and while his grip is still firm, he knows that he needs to be prepared so when the day comes to move on, the transition is relatively seamless.
“Leaving a company is worse than starting one,” said Ledson.
Ledson’s children are heavily involved in the day-to-day business and will eventually take over.
To prepare for the transition, Ledson made it a priority to ensure all paperwork was up-to-date and the company also instituted a stake freeze – which once implemented sees that all future growth goes to the estate.
“My children have already inherited the company,” Ledson said. “They just have to wait for me to stop breathing.”
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