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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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Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of watching President Obama bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom, with distinction, the highest U.S. civil honour, on Vice President Joe Biden. President Obama referred to him as “the finest Vice-President we have ever seen.” Coming a day after President-elect Donald Trump’s bizarre news conference, it was an extraordinary ceremony. It highlighted some key elements that are part of any successful business or personal relationship.

Eight and a half years ago, President Obama asked the then Senator Biden to become his Vice President. It should not be forgotten that Joe Biden ran against him to become the democratic nominee of his party. In selecting Biden, President Obama undoubtedly was looking for someone with extensive government experience but also someone with extensive life experience. Yesterday’s remarkable tribute said a lot of about their relationship and about the components of a truly successful relationship. Here are few take-aways from the speeches of the two men.

Shared Values Created a Strong Bond

The two men came from modest beginnings. The president was raised by his mother and her parents. His father played a minimal role in his life. He initially worked as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago. President Obama is a devoted husband and father.

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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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Last night, history was made in the National Basketball League. For the first time in the long history of the league, a team came back from being down 3 games to 1 in the Championship Final to win the series. This is a remarkable achievement in view of the fact that their opponent, the Golden State Warriors, had the best regular season record of all time, having won 73 games and lost only 9 times. The Warriors had an excellent team with two of the best “pure” shooters that the league has ever seen. Moreover, they had only lost 3 games on their home court in the entire season. On top of that, one of their players, Stephen Curry, was the league’s most valuable player.

The Cavaliers managed to win two games in Oakland during the series.  How did they do it? What are some business lessons that one can take away from this astonishing victory? Here is my take.

Change your game plan when it is not working

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Passion

Posted by on in Career Advice

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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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