I asked Ed Nieuwenhuis, retiring vice president of logistics for Meijer Inc., Grand Rapids, MI, what advice he would give to fleet managers seeking long-term careers in the field. He has served nearly 30 years with Meijer in what he described as a “great career in the trucking industry.” Here is a summary of what Nieuwenhuis thinks made his career in private fleet management such a success.
- The right company
It's important to find a company that gives you the opportunity to grow.
- Move vs. stay
Although many opportunities presented themselves over the years, staying at Meijer was very positive for me. You can only grow if you're in the environment for a period of time and understand how the game is played.
- Find a mentor
Once you've found the right company, it's important to find a mentor to help lead you through the difficult times.
- Succession planning
It's also important to have somebody that you are mentoring and preparing for their next position. It's more difficult to get promoted if you don't have someone ready to take your place.
- Risk taking and change
Before deregulation, private fleets were typically union shops, hourly paid drivers, and delivery systems; there was very little pressure from the outside to move into the private fleet industry. With deregulation and the birth of dedicated fleets and third-party providers, competition became more important.
Meijer has a very large private fleet supplemented with three dedicated carriers; our fleet is a profit center that bids with outside carriers to provide service. We have moved from an hourly-based system to pay-by-mileage. With an aggressive backhaul program and many changes and risk-taking, our private fleet is more competitive than our dedicated carriers. An aggressively run, profit-motivated private fleet is certainly as competitive as any third-party provider.
People must demonstrate leadership and value to the companies they work for.
- Student of the industry
Over the years, we have been students of other industries, as well as our own. Being a member of the National Private Truck Council, Council of Logistics Management, and International Mass Retail Assn. has enabled us to understand where the industry is, where it's going, and what is required of people in our business to be on the leading edge.
This tool sets the tone for where you are and helps you better understand what's going on in your segment of the business. Many times CFO's simply look at the bottom line. You need to be aware of costs, the value you add, and the fact that you're the best deal on the street — or you could lose the argument.
- Customer service
Transportation does not add value to the product — we move it from one location to another. What does add value is providing service when the customer needs it and reducing cost wherever possible. The motto is really quite simple: Improve customer service and reduce cost.
Nieuwenhuis describes his career with Meijer as a fantastic time. “We've seen numerous changes in the trucking industry. It's moved from being a cost center to a profit center, a delivery system to a trucking company with it's own P&L. It's an exciting industry.”
The private fleet industry has many quality men and women who aspire to long-term careers in one company. The companies that find and keep such people are clearly winners, as Ed's successful run attests.
Gary Petty is President and CEO of NPTC. His column appears monthly in FLEET OWNER.