Rolling With Rivals: OTA Chair sees merit in cooperation

ST. THOMAS, Ont. — L.E. Walker driver Al Millar still drives the blue Sterling Silverstar that rolled off the line at the St. Thomas, Ont., assembly plant eight years ago.

The rig, which now has more than 2.4 million klicks on the odometer, was actually the 100,000th truck to be built in the factory, and since that time Millar has made countless trips to and from that same facility.

And nobody around the south-central Ontario community — least of all the folks at L.E. Walker Transportion — was happy with the announcement that the Sterling factory will shut its doors this March

Indeed, fleet President Julie Tanguay remembers taking delivery of the very first truck — a Freightliner FLD — to come off the St. Thomas line, back in 1992.

Since that time, because the plant had such a high local profile and because the company she runs, L.E. Walker, boasts a long history with the area, many people guessed — wrongly — that the assembly plant was Walker’s bread-and-butter.

“We’ve definitely grown with the plant,” Tanguay says. “Everybody knew that it was a fairly substantial account for our company and people associated the plant with being our sole client. But we have lots of good customers.”

While other OTA members compete
with Tanguay on the road, they’ve also provided
knowledge that makes her business better.

She’s not denying that trucking has been tough for anybody in her part of the country. Walker operates out of the automotive heartland of the region that has been hit so hard by the recession that it has been described as a “have-not” province. (“The town’s hurting,” she says. “St. Thomas can’t take much more.”)

Still, although Tanguay might be down at the moment, she’s not out. In fact, rather than fading, her star’s on the rise.

In November she became Chair of the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA).

The appointment comes at an unprecedented stage in that province’s trucking history. The economy’s failing, and rate-cutters are emerging from the shadows

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation on the advice of the OTA has implemented mandatory speed limiter laws, and they’ve been challenged by none other than the American owner-operators’ organization, OOIDA. 

Small wonder that at the time of her appointment, the outgoing OTA Chair Mark Seymour of Kriska Transportation asked if she’d like to put off starting the new job, in light of the Sterling plant closure. Says Tanguay, “He [Seymour] said, ‘Julie, if taking the chair is going to take you off focus I’d be willing to do another year.'”

Truth be told anyone who knows Tanguay would have been surprised had she accepted. “Still, if you’d asked me a few years back whether I would ever become chair of the OTA I’d have said ‘no way’.

“It was pretty intimidating [coming onto the board] at first; there were all these legends of the trucking …”I don’t think I said a word for the first couple of years — I listened and learned — but gradually I became more comfortable.”

She’s well aware people who are willing to work together also have to be ready to compete with their colleagues. Seymour put it this way:

“When you want to work for the betterment of the industry at large, you’d better be prepared to work side by side with the guy you’re competing against. If you don’t work with your competition, you’re really trying to go where nobody else has been before.”

Tanguay, he says, is the right kind of person to lead the country’s biggest provincial association at the moment. “She’s a relationship-type person and that’ll prove to serve her very well. It’s tough to strike a balance when it’s a buyer’s market and you’re sharing a seat on the board with people you compete against.”

While Tanguay acknowledges the inherent contradiction in cooperating with competitors, her long history in the business lets her see the upside. Clearly.

“I can’t even begin to put a price on the network and support I get from working with the people at the OTA. But I will say it has helped me make decisions that I have benefited financially from.

“For one thing, it has given me the strength to get out in the marketplace and explain to shippers how our surcharges work. You’re a lot stronger when you know your competitors are doing it too.”

— to read more about Tanguay’s objectives as OTA’s appointed Chair, pick up the current February issue of Today’s Trucking.



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