The National Private Truck Council named Steve Kruk, transportation manager at the Youngstown, OH, distribution hub for Toys “R” Us and Babies “R” Us, its top Certified Transportation Professional (CTP) graduate for the Class of 2005. This marks the second year in a row that a transportation manager from Toys “R” Us took the CTP program's top honor.

“Bedford is a big reason I took the CTP course in the first place,” said Kruk, referring to last year's top CTP grad, transportation manager John Bedford Monday, Jr. “I watched him and two other Toys “R” Us managers go through the program last year and their experience got me involved.

“Personally and professionally, it's one of the best things I've done,” he noted. “Not only did it help me fine-tune the transportation skills I already have, it got me into areas I don't work in every day, such as understanding equipment purchasing, lease agreements, etc. It opened my eyes to different levels of transportation knowledge. And then there was the ability to network with my peers and learn from their experiences — such as how they deal with managing backhauls. It was great learning experience for me.”

Kruk also said the CTP program reinforced his personal transportation philosophies, developed during a decade and a half working for Roadway Express, American Freightways, and Toys “R” Us. “I've had pretty broad exposure to transportation issues over my career — everything from managing drivers and dockworkers to dealing with outside carriers, covering loads at the last minute, and getting backhauls,” he explains. “It's very much a sink or swim environment sometimes, but it's also one that's constantly changing and challenging you to find solutions on a daily basis. I really like that.”

Kruk is responsible for 36 drivers and a private fleet of 20 tractors serving 70 stores from Western New Jersey through Pennsylvania, Ohio, parts of Michigan and Northeast Indiana.

It can be, a “hairy” operation at times — especially when the weather turns bad or during periods of peak demand. Last year, for example, 22 loads that had been intended as a final Christmas delivery were cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather. “We had from 2 a.m. Dec. 23 until Christmas Eve to get those loads to the stores,” Kruk recalled. “We got all but three covered — and missed those because we ran out of driver hours.”

That experience is but one example of the kinds of things that have helped shape Kruk's transportation management outlook. “In this business, you play the hand you are dealt,” he said. “You do the best you can with what you have and when it's done, you go back and learn from it.”

Kruk also emphasized that transportation can't be a one-man show. “Having a strong team atmosphere is really critical to success; I'm lucky to be surrounded with really good people,” he noted.

According to Kruk, accepting change as a constant companion is a necessary ingredient in the transportation manager's mindset. “Look at how supply chain management has undergone a shift from shipping finished goods from manufacturing to warehousing/inventory and then on to stores,” he said. “Now it's just-in-time deliveries directly to the store most of the time.”

But change isn't always a negative, either, Kruk noted. “The new hours-of-service rules…opened up a lot of opportunity for operations like ours,” he pointed out. “Places that used to be just out of reach for our drivers are now in reach. That makes us think differently about our delivery schedules and routes. It's one more example of why you have to be flexible in this business.”

Kruk hopes to take the knowledge gleaned from his CTP experience and use it to help improve operations at his location. “We've always said that our customer is the store we're delivering to; but ultimately, our customer is the child with a toy,” he explains. “We have great people here and a good driver force. We'll harness those strengths to open up more opportunities for us to serve that child with a toy even better in the future.”