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Over the past few years, I have noticed a disturbing trend as I meet with both our shipper and carrier associates. They have changed their leadership team again. The VP of Transportation or Logistics (in manufacturing and retail organizations) or the President or other senior officer (in transportation organizations) has now been replaced multiple times. In fact, in some companies, they change executives like some people do spring cleaning in their homes. “It is out with old and in with the new.”

What is interesting for me is that in some cases, as an outside consultant, I have had the opportunity to work directly with the business leader and the company. I have been able to observe their performance and that of their superiors and subordinates. I have the following observations to share with you.

In some situations, the terminated business leader was doomed to fail. The expectations for the individual may not have been realistic. He or she may not have received the full support of the business owner or senior executive or the collaboration between them wasn't there. The departed person was charged with implementing the failed or poorly conceived vision of the business leader. The terminated executive “took the fall” for the unsuccessful business plan or weak leadership of his or her boss.

In other cases, the individual did not perform at the required level. He or she may have not had the required skills, did not fit with the company culture and/or did not work well with his or her peers. In some cases, there was an overreliance on specific subordinates who were not performing their jobs at an acceptable level. This overreliance and/or a poor hiring process cost the individual his or her job.

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As we enter a New Year, many people create a set of resolutions to burn off a few pounds, to quit smoking or to achieve whatever goals are meaningful to them. On a professional level, this is a time for smart shippers to set in motion a series of resolutions to improve their company’s freight operations and their personal career trajectory. Here are a few to consider.

1. Follow the Donald . . . closely

President-elect Trump has promised to make a number of changes to both the domestic economic situation in the United States and to the current world order. As an individual who campaigned as an “outsider,” Donald Trump threatens to upend a range of current business practices. Keep a close eye on his trade policies, his efforts to boost manufacturing jobs in America, his government spending programs, his policies on climate change and on infrastructure spending. Initiatives in these areas would have an impact the flow of goods and services, on economic growth and on freight transportation.

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Last week, while on a brief vacation, I had the privilege of reading the book, Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance. The book tells the story of how the author, a self-described Hillbilly, rises from a life of poverty and instability to graduate from Yale Law School and join the ranks of the “elite.” It is a remarkably honest story in which Mr. Vance shares some very intimate, personal observations on the very significant challenges he had to overcome to achieve success in both his personal life and career.

Hillbilly Elegy has received a lot of attention from the media since the life it depicts is thought to be representative of many blue-collar Trump supporters. Mr. Vance was recently interviewed on several leading Sunday morning news shows.

I am not qualified to assess whether the Kentucky Hillbillies that Mr. Vance depicts in his book are typical Trump supporters. What I can say is that this is an extremely well written book that is well worth reading for its observations about life. I would encourage anyone seeking to advance their careers in the Transportation industry to read and reflect on the experiences of Mr. Vance. The following are a few thoughts.

J.D. Vance describes the Hillbilly culture in detail. He explains how the decline in manufacturing in Ohio, where Mr. Vance lived for much of his early life, had a major impact on the community. A quirky culture characterized by a low work ethic, a low priority on education, particularly for males, and poverty, led to problems with alcohol, drug addiction and human relationships. Mr. Vance had a very challenging family life.

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One of the business trends over the past couple of decades has been the employment of personal coaches to help key leaders and executives enhance their skill sets. These coaches can be engaged to tutor an executive in such areas as leadership, decision-making and team-building; others may be hired to coach an individual in media relations, in certain “technical” job functions or in speaking another language (i.e. French or English).

When used wisely and effectively, these resources can be very helpful in expediting the career growth of a potential high achiever within an organization. For some organizations, they can help “weed out” those business leaders who don’t possess the ability to learn and adapt in a timely manner.

Some businesses and government functions are willing to spend significant dollars to fast track their top executive talent. In fact, in some companies, we encounter business leaders who have multiple coaches with each one having a specific area of expertise. The question is, what can individuals do, who wish to progress rapidly in their careers, if their organizations aren’t willing or don’t have the budget to provide this additional level of mentoring and education? Here are a few suggestions.

Take stock of your strengths and weaknesses and construct your own Career Development Plan

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Finding your “Lane” in Life

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This is a follow up to the blog on “Passion” (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog/entry/passion ) that was posted here a few weeks ago and is published in the current issue of Canadian Shipper. While the blog on Passion was inspired by Bernie Sanders, this blog was inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the author and star of the hit Broadway play “Hamilton.”

On Sunday night, during an interview on Sixty Minutes, Lin-Manuel and his parents were asked by Charlie Rose about their son’s early school experience. Mr. Miranda mentioned that he was sent to a school for gifted children. At first he felt intimidated by the school and the intelligence of his fellow class mates. Mr. Miranda then mentioned that once he found “his lane,” or calling at the school, Music, he felt totally comfortable with the institution and his career path.

Hamilton, based on the life of former U.S. treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, is the hottest play on Broadway. On Sunday night it earned 11 Tony awards, the second best performance ever for a new play. Mr. Miranda created a brilliant hip-hop musical to tell this story. Some critics are calling Hamilton a trans-formative play that will have lasting effects on the future of Broadway.

Lin-Manuel Miranda was very fortunate to find his “lane” as he described it. Not everyone does. It is interesting that by finding his lane, Mr. Miranda was able to reach extraordinary heights in his career. Here are some thoughts on the key steps in finding a successful career lane.

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I grew up in the Muhammad Ali era. Back in the 60's and 70's, heavyweight boxing was a major sport. The Championship fights between Ali and Frazier and Ali and Foreman ranked right up there with the Super Bowl. I have great memories of Don Dunphy and Howard Cosell calling the top boxing matches on radio and television. I had the privilege of seeing many of Muhammad Ali’s fights on television and watching many of his interviews.

There is much to learn from his life. Muhammad Ali was a very gifted boxer, perhaps the greatest of all time. He had a unique blend of size, speed and power. At six feet three inches, two hundred and ten pounds, he was a formidable presence in and out of the ring. But Ali’s success came from far more than his boxing skills. It should be noted that he was not a great student and never learned to read well.

However, he was a very intelligent fellow who possessed a quick wit. His success can be attributed to a number of key factors.

He had a set of principles and beliefs that guided his life

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b2ap3_thumbnail_dreamstime_xl_32338321V2.jpgThree years ago I posted a blog entitled Tips for the New Transportation Sales Rep (http://www.dantranscon.com/index.php/blog/entry/tips-for-the-new-transportation-sales-rep-and-his-manager ).  In that blog I consolidated a number of ideas generated in a LinkedIn Sales Management group and added a few thoughts of my own.  To my amazement, it has received over 38,000 hits since it was posted. 

A few weeks ago I received a very interesting inquiry from a self-described “newbie” sales rep.  As a follow up to my February 2013 blog, I was asked about what a new account manager should do if his or her company does not provide either formal sales training or coaching in the basics of the freight transportation industry.  The following is how I responded to this question.

Ultimately, one gets out of a career what one puts into it.  Every individual must take responsibility for the array of skills and expertise that he or she acquires during a lifetime.  It is up to each individual to seek out and acquire the skills they need, not to wait for a particular company to supply them.  As a young sales representative or person in any entry level job in Freight Transportation, here is a pathway to success.

1. Speak with your colleagues in other departments 

Take some time to meet with people in each of the core departments of your company such as Pricing, Operations, Line Haul and Billing to learn as much as you can about what they do.  With respect to Pricing, find out about your company’s costing model.  Find out how it works so you are looking for the right type of freight on the right lanes at rates that work for your company.  Be inquisitive and learn as much as you can from each department.

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Passion

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Last week, I was watching the U.S. Democratic Party Town Hall on television that took place in South Carolina. A member of the audience stood up and asked Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont to talk about what he considers one of the most important traits of a leader. He replied that having a passion for what you do is a driving force for him. He then went on to amplify his response. That question and answer was quite revealing and has stayed with me ever since.

Two days later I received an e mail from Scott Monty who publishes a blog entitled The Full Monty (http://www.scottmonty.com/ ). Scott is an expert in Social Media. The title of his weekly blog was Passion. The fact that these two seemingly random events happened in the same week inspired me to write this blog.

As I reflect back on my over 45 years in the working world, the issue of passion has been a driving force for me. There have been times when I worked for some fine companies and great leaders. I got up in the morning and couldn’t wait to get to work. I was proud to represent my company and I was very driven to see the company succeed.

I am very happy to be running my own company at this stage of my career. I am very motivated to help our shipper clients save money on freight, to help our carrier clients improve their profitability and to help organize and host one of the best freight transportation conferences in Canada. I have a deep passion for all of these segments of the business.

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If your trucking company hasn’t been purchased or doesn’t get purchased by TransForce, will it be in business in five years?  That is the question that came up in a recent discussion with a long time industry colleague.  The response I received was that he didn’t think his company would survive.  I was a bit surprised by the response and asked him for an explanation.  This led to an interesting discussion on what it is going to take to make it in the trucking industry in 2014 and beyond.

We both agreed that while the trucking industry has changed in some ways over the past decade (e.g. more use of technology, better cost controls after the Great Recession, LNG vehicles, greater use of 3PLs as customers), the industry is not that much different from ten years ago.  The slow economic turnaround since 2008 has created a challenging environment and there is little reason to expect a major improvement in the short term.  Rate increases are hard to come by, even with a tight driver situation.  Even more of a concern is the lack of innovation in the industry and the threat that such changes could wreak on so many complacent companies.

The warning signs are there.  As a Canadian, you don’t have to look much further than Nortel and Blackberry to see what can happen to industry leaders that were not able to keep up with changing consumer needs and quality competitors.  At the same time, one can observe what companies such as Amazon and Apple have been able to do to change the paradigm of some long established industries. 

Some of the large trucking industry players are making investments in technology and people.  They are integrating back offices and focusing on achieving economies of scale.  They are thoughtfully expanding their service portfolios and geographic footprints. 

Some of the small players are offering solutions that are very tailored to certain industry verticals and geographic areas.  Companies that are focused on same day delivery, refrigerated intermodal service, pooled LTL service, energy distribution and other emerging capabilities are creating a space for themselves in the industry.

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