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Building Company Culture with Trailer Bridge - Ilona Fischer on What the Truck?!?

Building Company Culture with Trailer Bridge - Ilona Fischer on What the Truck?!?
8 Dec 2020

Despite the impact of COVID-19, Trailer Bridge has continued to grow as a company, bringing in both new customers and employees. 

How have they been able to do it?

For Ilona Fischer, Director of Marketing, it all comes down to company culture. Having the right team who ascribe to the same values and who are genuinely passionate—not just about serving others but about being respectful and kind to one another—makes all the difference. 

So how does all of that translate to attracting talented new employees as well as boosting business success even during a pandemic? 

Ilona joins Dooner & The Dude, hosts of FreightWaves’ What the Truck?!? podcast to discuss Trailer Bridge’s core values, how they select the right people to join the team and why their employees love coming to work every single day. 

Check out the video here; the full transcript is included below.

Building Company Culture with Trailer Bridge – Transcript

Timothy Dooner: [00:09:02] Ilona, thanks for joining us on “What the Truck?” today.

Ilona Fischer: [00:09:05] Hey guys, I’m so happy to be here. 

Ilona: [00:09:17] I love that you guys keep talking about value and caring because that’s who we are as an organization, and that really sums up our marketing. It’s a great place to be. I can’t believe we’ve got all these awesome Trailer Bridge people on. Thank you, guys. 

Dooner: [00:09:32] Yeah, so what is the secret? How do you get them all to follow en mass whenever Trailer Bridge makes an appearance? You travel strong. You’re like the Pittsburgh Steelers or something. You go on the road, and it fills up with yellow and black.

Ilona: [00:09:43] Like, it’s really, it’s just all about love. I mean, we have something so special at Trailer Bridge, and it is our company culture. Yeah, there’s no doubt about it. Our people are our culture, and our culture is our brand. That’s who we are. We are TB Nation. We care about each other. We care about each other so wholeheartedly that you can talk to any of our employees, and they can give you a plethora of stories about the fun times we have, whether it’s Nerf gun wars or how we’ve been able to service a customer, like providing hay to an organization in Puerto Rico

One of our directors, actually his daughter, he gave me permission to say this, but his daughter had cancer. He was sitting there one day in the hospital looking at… yeah, she’s going through chemo, looking up at the IV bags, wondering what he’s doing with his time. He looks up, and he sees the IV bag is manufactured by the company that we ship IV bags for. He looks up, and he’s like, “Oh my god, I had a little part in my experience right now.” Because all of his team, Trailer Bridge, is responsible for bringing things to people to families. That’s an excellent example of how one person is changed by what we do for our families at Trailer Bridge.

Michael Vincent (the Dude): [00:11:28] That is excellent stuff. You know, when you have this type of marketing or this type of culture which truly is there, and Dude and I have spoken about it, every time you guys are on the show that nation follows you guys. The TB Nation follows you guys. It’s amazing. When you’re marketing this type of stuff. It absolutely has to help you to be able to market these things. Many people try and try to market these things, and they’re kind of falsely talking about these things. Talk about the reality of the culture there and how that helps you in the marketing.

Ilona: [00:12:02] Absolutely. Well, I think it comes from building a strong foundation. Mitch and Indie and our entire executive team did a remarkable job a few years ago, developing our core values, which is our TB12. It’s all about being authentic, being honest, being passionate, serving each other, serving our customers. The way we treat our customers is the way we treat each other and vice versa. So, I mean, when you’re treating each other well and loving each other, our customers feel that. It comes back to those same types of values, those TB12 core values. You know, purchases are influenced by a person’s value, and I think the number is something like 75% of people buy based on what their beliefs are. So that’s who we are. We don’t really sell. We are a nation, TB Nation, of just great people who love serving others. We love what we do, and that doesn’t make it hard to market. We just share our experiences.

Dooner: [00:13:12] Marketing may not be the hard part, but how do you make people believe it? Because, you know, brokerages can have a negative perception, it’s fair to say, right? [Dude: Absolutely]. As you know, you go in there, and it’s a grinder. You’re just a number. They chew you up and spit you out if you don’t make your numbers, you don’t book enough shipments, you don’t do whatever, you’re out the door within a year. It’s interchangeable, and you just go to another job. So how do you clear out that perception?

Ilona: [00:13:34] We’ve got a single point of contact for all our customers, and that makes a big difference. There’s nothing automated, its automated intelligence, right? It’s not about that. It’s about truly serving the end user and knowing what’s inside that dry van or that container going down to Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic… It’s not so much, like I said, selling the services. It’s about supporting what our values are. We have strong values, and I think that’s what people on the brokerage side feel on the other under the line. So, I think that’s kind of what sets us apart. 

Dude: [00:14:23] Yeah, you know, we often talk about the quality companies. Everybody makes mistakes. It’s how you handle those mistakes and service your customers when there’s issues and things that need to be solved. You wouldn’t have a job if there weren’t things to solve, right? That’s what we do in logistics, we solve things, right? But the Dooner’s point when he’s talking about…, or to expand on that a little bit, when you’re talking about, you know, brokers can come in, it’s just a meat grinder and that type of stuff… I would imagine that your marketing efforts are towards bringing in quality employees and those brokers. Do you find that this, when they get there, and being able to display this real culture, you’re bringing in better talent from the onset?

Ilona: [00:15:03] Well, we’re really particular about the kind of talent that we bring on board. There’s a quote by the Netflix CEO who said that “there are no kind jerks.” Something to that effect, I didn’t get that totally right. But that’s true at Trailer Bridge. What we do is, we hire kind people who care, but who are also, I don’t know, am I allowed to say this? badasses that really get the job done. I mean, we work hard, play hard, and we’re honest with our customers, you know, we’re accountable. If we make a mistake, we’ll raise our hand and say, “Oh my god, we screwed up,” and the hope is that we learn from those lessons. 

So, the idea that brokerages, you know, can sometimes have a negative connotation. Well, I think the fact that we’ve assets and we’ve got non-assets… For nearly 30 years, we’ve been around. We’re not a typical brokerage. We’re more than that. We take that quality of service and that level of service that we provide to our Caribbean business and our ocean business over to our brokerage side. So, it’s the people. I mean, our customers feel our people, and here they are on LinkedIn today and on FreightWaves following all of us. 

Dooner: [00:16:23] Indie says ‘there are no brilliant jerks on a dream team’ from the Netflix… I think that’s the direct quote. [Dude: Oh, there you go] How important is it to identify those jerks, that toxic element and remove them from TB?

Ilona: [00:16:37] Oh my gosh, so critical, I tell you. I’ve seen it done since I joined the company nearly two years ago. And it’s… You know, Mitch puts his money where his mouth is. When someone doesn’t have those core values in their heart, and they don’t believe it, and there’s gossip and things like that, we can’t tolerate that. That’s going to kill a culture in a second, you know. But when we have people who are motivated by the same thing, which is really helping that hard-working family get the groceries they need, helping the military – that soldier gets the boots that he needs. It’s providing the materials, shipping the materials to Puerto Rico to build and rebuild. That’s what it’s about for Trailer Bridge employees.

Every one of us has a heart, and we share that heart with others. So, it just makes being at Trailer Bridge so easy and so great, because, and I want to speak for everybody when I say… and I certainly know I’m speaking for myself, that we enjoy coming to work. You know someone… I’m going to throw Catfish out real quick. Catfish is awesome. He works on our maintenance team. We’ve got some amazing individuals. So, Catfish said to me one time, he goes, “You know, Ilona, when I come in to work at Trailer Bridge, it’s like I’m coming in to my family. I’m walking into my family.” And that’s what it’s about, it’s about loving each other so much – good, bad and indifferent. Every day is not perfect, but it’s truly about loving and admiring and respecting the people that you work with. 

Dooner: [00:18:20] Wow, based on name alone, I think that you have to send us Catfish next time. We have to see Catfish [Dude: Yeah, we’ve got to talk to this Catfish] on the cam. You know, so this term, like drinking the Kool-Aid, it kind of has a negative connotation, right? But do you look for people who come in and are… do you need to hire people who already drink Kool-Aid? Or is there a cultural shift? Are you identifying these great employees who are already bought-in at the point of hire?

Ilona: [00:18:47] Yeah, no, you know, we’ve got such a special thing here. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before in a corporation. So, we’re very particular about the types of people that we bring on board. They have to care, and they have to be kind and respectful because just look at the situation right now just around us, the political climate. It seems to me that there’s just no respect for anyone anymore. But at Trailer Bridge, we’ve navigated through this. We’re navigating through COVID. We’re all supporting each other and loving each other, and that’s just the Trailer Bridge difference. 

Dooner: [00:19:23] Wow, Lorraine Morrow. She says, “I was working from home because of COVID and asked to come back to work.” And then a lot of people are here just reacting to Catfish. A lot of people are very happy about Catfish. So, if we want to send people over to Trailer Bridge and they want to catch their own Catfish, how do we go about doing that? 

Ilona: [00:19:42] Get a pole, right? Come over to trailerbridge.com, check out our Careers page, and check out our Services page. We’re always looking for amazing talent. Amber Humphreys and Becky Sinclair, they’re on it. They’re looking for great employees.

Dooner: [00:20:00] Thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it, and thanks to your team for joining us too. 

Ilona: [00:20:04] Okay, guys, thank you. 

Dooner: [00:20:06] Take care.