The beginning of a new year is a good time to evaluate where we are in our personal and work lives. It's also an appropriate time to recognize those who have helped us along the way.
Someone who has played a significant role in shaping who I am is a fellow named Kent Harms. Just a few weeks ago, I received a call from a colleague telling me that Kent was retiring from his position as general manager of Roland Transport, capping a 30-year tenure with that company.
Roland Transport is the transportation subsidiary of Heart of Iowa Cooperative, a very large farmers co-op located in central Iowa. Kent started as a truck driver when Heart of Iowa operated just two grain elevators and had only limited access to rail grain shipping facilities. During his tenure, he saw the parent company expand into what is now a member-owned organization with a roster of 800 that operates in seven locations and boasts annual revenues of about $82 million.
Under Kent's tutelage, the scope of the co-op's transportation fleet expanded from a local grain hauling business to a multi-state for-hire operation carrying general freight, liquid bulk petroleum products and hazardous materials.
I first met Kent more than 20 years ago. I signed on as a driver at Roland Transport and was promoted to dispatcher and safety manager. During that time Kent taught me a great deal. He provided guidance in tackling tough problems without spoonfeeding the answers. He also provided a consistent vision to help keep me on track. Most importantly, he helped me understand the value of hard work and dedication to the job.
Kent's way was simple, yet effective. I can clearly recall his frequent use of the following phrases:
“Don't scratch the paint.”
He said this as drivers headed out on road trips. It was his way of reinforcing the safety message without seeming overbearing.
“The world still turns.”
I'd often get frustrated by last minute load orders from the co-op's petroleum, grain or feed departments and would seek Kent's council on how to cover the workload with the available on-duty drivers. That re-assuring phrase helped me keep our commitment to safe yet timely service up-front and center as I worked through a stressful time.
“Do what the job requires.”
Harvest and spring planting were our busiest seasons. We often had to work long days just to keep ahead of fuel orders or grain hauling requests. When I complained to Kent about the prospect of working through yet another weekend without time off, that was often his reply.
When I think about those phrases now, I realize they reflect the values Kent used to run his business:
- Consistency in safety
Roland had an extremely low recordable accident rate, achieved through constant dedication to accident-free driving.
- Consistency in mission
Every day brought new challenges and potential distractions from our core mission. Kent's vision kept us on course.
- Consistency in dedication
Talk alone does not get the job done; it takes hard work and dedication.
So now Kent is off to retirement — and I'm jealous. But am I worried about the future of Roland Transport? Not in the slightest. You see, Kent has been very quietly grooming Jon Houck to succeed him. Jon is the safest and most conscientious driver I have ever met. Kent recognized early on that Jon had the qualities needed to keep the fleet on track during the changes we'll likely see in the years ahead.
Take a look at your fleet. Who are the mentors keeping your safety and business missions on track? Kent proved that these goals are not mutually exclusive. Who is being groomed to take the reins when you leave? Ideally, you'll have three or four people ready to step up to the plate.
Here's to you, Kent Harms!
Jim York is the manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.