It was a milestone that quite honestly crept up on me. Twenty-five years. At Bison. Now don't get me wrong, I realize that I’ve been at this a long time and that’s kindly reinforced when people see pictures from the early days and remark, "You were so young!" Nice!
Why it crept up or doesn't feel like that long to me is that through this time we have been able to grow and change this business so that even though all my work experience is with one company, it’s certainly not the same company. We've continued to evolve and have built a progressive and respected business that provides critical transportation services and meaningful work for thousands of people across North America. To do this with people that I genuinely like and respect has made for a pretty good ride.
So, what were things like back then and some of the more notable milestones along the way?
Technology is one of the most obvious. When I started, we wrote every load and planned every driver in a series of books. We moved magnets on a map to keep track of drivers in the U.S. We relied solely on the telephone to communicate with someone who wasn't in the same room. That’s right - no email, no satellite or pager. No EDI, no apps or websites. Even the ubiquitous fax machine was just starting to take hold as a prominent means of conducting business.
I paint this picture for perspective, not for sympathy or to highlight how old I feel as I write this. When we look around at successful people and organizations we see how they maximize the current tools and processes at their disposal while continually looking to innovate and improve upon them. We did this then and continue to do this in earnest today.
The size of our business is another notable change. Our company was just over 100 people, including drivers and technicians, when I started in 1993. We were running about 65 trucks and servicing a handful of customers, highly dependent on one or two. In some respect there was a comfort in a business of that size, where everyone knew each other. Coming from a small town it was familiar in that regard.
As we have grown, some of that familiarity and touch gets more difficult but it’s replaced by something even more valuable: opportunity. That is progressive careers and rewarding work. It means credibility and a seat at the table with top-tier customers and suppliers. And perhaps, most significantly, a sustainable business that is on the cusp of 50 years in existence under the same ownership.
What's the same?
People are the only sustaining difference maker. Tools and tech are necessary, and businesses without them will ultimately suffer and risk becoming irrelevant. But without quality and motivated people none of those things would matter. The importance and respect for the role of the driver was captured and instilled early for us at Bison. The skills and dedication required of a professional driver has always been there and remains so today. Technology will continue to support this but will not replace it any time soon. When employed thoughtfully, technology has made us safer and will continue to do so. But it will not remove the requirement of the skilled operator regardless of what the automation advocates will say.
I think very fondly of our drivers, from the early years and today, and what they have taught me about our industry. That respect and importance has only grown as we continue to evolve the work opportunities, lifestyle options and work experience to keep this job appealing and rewarding to the next generation of professionals.
For all of the people that are critical in supporting the driver in what they do - and that means everyone else in the business - I do believe it’s a special person that makes their career in our industry. My view early on was that Bison was a “diamond in the rough.” Meaning there was a rewarding experience and opportunity here if you could see your way clear through some of the stereotypes and outside perceptions of our industry. Our work requires high levels of intelligence, creativity, care, commitment, technical savvy, problem solving and people skills. It requires persistence to work through some of those tough times. When we do it well it’s highly rewarding.
What’s the outlook ahead - changes expected and view of the future?
When you do take the time to look back you can see that you have come a long way. That pace of change is only quickening at Bison and our ability to understand and incorporate the next changes in healthy and productive ways will be critical. In pursuit of this there will be false starts and missteps. If we don't fail at some things, we simply aren't trying enough things. If we don't learn from the failure though, don't bother.
I see evolution of how we organize our work, take out wasted time, give better information and choices to our customers, drivers and non-drivers alike. I see us becoming safer, more productive and creating more value in our society. The demand for high-performing logistics and transportation services is skyrocketing. Our ability to participate and drive this forward will go a long way to determining the next generation of Bison.
It feels like it happens quickly - from being that young kid figuring things out to being a veteran with experience to share and lessons to still learn. If I could offer any advice I would say simply: Be curious, embrace the struggle and approach every situation looking to make a difference.