When the owner of a small trucking company is a driver too
By Timothy D. Brady
The first challenge is finding qualified truckers capable of doing the tasks your business requires, but also drivers who’ll operate your road equipment safely. There’s also a good chance one or more of your drivers will be a close friend or relative, which adds another dynamic to the mix.
Let’s examine this from the perspective of a driver-owner of a micro-motor carrier. I queried two small carrier owners on how they balance being a trucker and the boss simultaneously. (First names used to preserve anonymity.)
What can you expect to deal with as a boss that you never had to think about as a driver?
Buck: The workday isn’t finished when you turn off the key. Repairs, billing, load planning, issuing paychecks, etc., all happen after the rest of the employees go home.
James: You have to make calls on customers for all your trucks, not just the one you’re driving. In my particular situation, since my carrier has more than one owner, it was sometimes hard to get loads out of a customer, depending on who was making the call. Personalities don’t always blend between owner and customer, a lot like the way they sometimes don’t blend between the driving owner and other drivers.
How do you deal with a driver who isn’t performing or who doesn’t treat you as a boss?
Buck: Performance can be measured — miles driven, loads delivered, gross revenue, on-time pickups and deliveries, etc. Perception is harder to quantify. It is subjective and varies with each person.
When you’re a driver working for any company, you never think past the end of the hood. The environment directly around you is all that is in your thought process. When you own more than the truck you drive, your thought process goes up exponentially with the number of trucks. This also increases in conjunction with the distance your trucks’ runs increase. Your job isn’t done every day at the end of your 11 hours. As the boss, you get the late evening and early morning calls with problems when you should be finishing your sleeper berth or off-duty time.
James: Low performance is something that I expect for the first three to five weeks when a driver first comes to work for me. There are several factors that come with a new job that create distractions for the driver and his family. If the performance hasn’t picked up and the respect has started to diminish, I usually start looking for another driver.
If it’s an existing driver who’s been with me for two years or more, and we start having performance issues or respect that is being provided to him is not returned, I’ll usually start by having a talk with him to see why he’s at odds with me. Once the problem is identified, both parties have to work toward a common solution. If there is no solution to the problem, then it’s best that he looks for another employer.
How do you strike the balance of working alongside your drivers while also directing them so that your business succeeds?
Buck: At times the boss makes the hard calls. That is why you’re the boss and they’re not. If they want to call the shots, then they need to own their business.
Look at performance. If the job is done to your satisfaction, then let them go on. If not, find corrective measures and explain them to the employee. Judge the resulting performance, and if it’s satisfactory move on.
Never ask an employee to do a job you haven’t done yourself. Sometimes it’s best to do the crap job in front of the employees to set the example that you aren’t above them.
James: I had the great fortune of working with some of the greatest drivers in the world at a very young age, and I was their boss. I learned what professional driving was and how to spot a driver who carried a class 8 license. I feel like working with those drivers was great job training for me in my current position. It was a great point for me in my career. Sadly, most of the men I worked with have passed away or are not able to take care of themselves anymore. The best way I can explain it is that they showed me how to do the job through actions and not so many words. As long as everyone treats the other party with respect and courtesy, the job of being a driver and boss is probably better than the man that sits only at the desk and makes decisions.
His family has been trucking since the 1960s. He currently operates nine trucks in his company, hauling dry bottom dump loads such as cattle feed ingredients.
Trucking since 1982; he got his hauling authority in 1987 and has had up to four trucks operating under it. He primarily hauls livestock, refrigerated and bulk farm products.