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Charlie Sanchez on Leadership, Love and the Trailer Bridge Family

Charlie Sanchez on Leadership, Love and the Trailer Bridge Family
5 Jan 2021

“What we do is meaningful… Who knows how many families are helped by these products we are moving? These things don’t just go on a shelf. They aren’t just ‘things.’ They fulfill a purpose that could even go on to save a life.”

Charlie Sanchez, Director of Support Services at Trailer Bridge, recently celebrated his eighth anniversary with our company. We caught up with Charlie as people so often do these days—over Zoom—to reflect on his time here at Trailer Bridge and the unique career path that helped him grow into one of our organization’s most-loved leaders.

Charlie’s department oversees the documentation required for transporting items between the US and Puerto Rico. This includes the Bill of Lading (BOL), which details the shipment information with commodity, weight, shipper, consignee, and several other critical pieces of information.

His team also liaises with customs agencies, census bureaus, and tax departments to ensure that all proper information is shared with the correct government agency. The work Charlie and his team do is vital. Of course, in so many organizations there’s a direct correlation between the importance of your work to others and the level of stress inherent to the job.

Charlie sees things a bit differently, though; in fact, he says he feels blessed to be part of an organization that not only makes things happen for clients in getting their items to where they need to be, but that has such a culture of love and support that working there is a pleasure rather than an obligation. 

Loving What You Do: An Important Shift in Mindset

Charlie had lived in Puerto Rico until he was 19 years old, at which point he left and served four years in the US Navy. Stationed on the John F Kennedy CV-67 Aircraft Carrier based out of Mayport, FL, he supervised the safe operation of all aircrafts on that flight deck—one of the most dangerous places in the world.

“Two years after joining the military,” he recalls, “I met the woman who would become my wife. A month after we met, we got married. Our families thought we were crazy, but it was the right thing for both of us.”

Charlie had lived in Puerto Rico until he was 19 years old, at which point he left and served four years in the US Navy.
Charlie Sanchez with his shipmates on the USS John F. Kennedy during a Mediterranean Sea deployment.

Now, looking ahead at 24 years of marriage this upcoming April 23, 2021 and 3 beautiful children (now successful adults and kind members of society) and the addition of 2 new granddaughters, Charlie still says “itwas the right thing for both of them.”

Despite that leadership experience in the Navy and his experience working in distribution at several different companies,one a leading car manufacturer, Charlie didn’t envision himself as a leader. In fact, when he first applied to join the #TBfamily it was in a temporary role, he understood there would be little to no opportunity for advancement, and that was just how he wanted it—status quo. Even so, he eagerly applied for the position knowing that it offered him more stability than his current role with a credit union company. What mattered most was his ability to provide a good life for his wife and their children, a son and two daughters.

The interviewer recognized something special in Charlie, and he was offered the job on the way home.

Starting work, Charlie was happy to put his head down and get on with things, making the best of his particular strengths including organization, attention to detail, and a keen awareness of those around him.

“They noticed me working hard, loving what I do and caring about the people around me,” he says of the leadership team . “If I saw an opportunity to help someone else, I would just do it because it helped them. And you know what? Those people found ways to be good to me, too. Next thing you know, we developed this atmosphere of helping each other.”

His timing couldn’t have been better. Just as the entire culture of the company was starting to shift for the better, Charlie was right there in the middle of it, acting with kindness.

This culture shift didn’t happen by accident. It’s the result of years of focused effort by CEO Mitch Luciano and the entire Trailer Bridge organization, and it has since become fundamental to the entire operation.

“Work is more than a duty. You hear about it and you see it, but when you experience it, it’s entirely different. Mitch helped me and all of us realize how much better life can be when you love what you’re doing and are treated with love and kindness in return.”

Growing Into a Leadership Role

When an opportunity arose to manage the team he worked with, Charlie had hopes that one of his two bright teammates, who had both been with Trailer Bridge more than 15 years, would apply for the position. He organized a meeting with them, where he encouraged them and offered his support to whomever decided to take a whichever of them wanted the manager role.

Charlie Sanchez and his daughter Alicia Montero
Charlie Sanchez celebrating #TeamAlicia with his daughter Alicia Montero at Trailer Bridge.

To his surprise, those colleagues put their trust behind him and told him to apply. “They both said, ‘You asking us first… this is exactly why we want you to get this job,’” he recalls. “So I went for it! And worked even harder because of how grateful I was with the amazing opportunity. Then I received another unexpected promotion and as a Director, I was able to help them grow in their careers, too. One is now a Director and the other a Manager.”

“The biggest transition has been learning leadership,” Charlie says. “In the military, even as a leader you still follow orders no matter what. Here at Trailer Bridge, I need to delegate in an effective and loving way.”

Trailer Bridge developed a home-grown intensive leadership development program designed Organizational Development. Designed to create a common philosophy and built around team unity. The program encourages candidates to consider how they can best support each team member, based on the values and goals of the company. It is structured based in part on the LEAP model of leadership by best-selling author Steve Farber, founded upon a framework of cultivating Love, generating Energy, inspiring Audacity and providing Proof. The roughly eight-month long program also includes segments on improving communication, mentoring, mindfulness and emotional intelligence.

Charlie credits Trailer Bridge’s leadership team with helping him to develop the skills that have led to his success in his current role. “A program just tells you what to do, but an experience changes you so you can do it,” Charlie says. Growing into a leadership role with Trailer Bridge was an experience that changed his life and outlook forever, and not only professionally but personally, as well.

“Mitch was there for me as one of many mentors, with a truly open door and helpful advice. All the way through the company, at every level you have people wanting to help you do better and grow into your best version of yourself. It’s amazing.”

Trailer Bridge’s internal leadership development program and unwavering commitment to positive culture have improved employee retention and earned the team various accolades including recognition as an Inc. Magazine ‘Best Workplace for 2020‘ and the #1 Place to Work in Jacksonville.

“We don’t see what’s inside the container; we see it through the eyes of our customers and theirs.”

The realization that the company does so much more than moving things from one place to another came to Charlie in the most unexpected way.

Nearly two years ago, the oldest of Charlie’s two daughters was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Treating it involved a series of surgeries. Following the second of these, while Charlie was waiting for his daughter to wake up, he noticed that the IV bags were manufactured by Baxter, one of Trailer Bridge’s customers. All at once it hit him and he was able to see how vital the services provided by the company were to those receiving the goods.

Now, Charlie explains that gratitude fuels the energy and enthusiasm for his work. “I make sure I stop by every team member’s desk each day to check in, say hello, and see how our people are doing. From that moment on, he believed that every single member of our team may have been a part of something that helped to keep my daughter alive,” Charlie recalls.

“I’m grateful they’re there. People ask where my energy comes from, and this is it—it’s gratitude. It’s impossible to not have a good day when you know the work you’re doing is meaningful.”

It’s important to Charlie that all Trailer Bridge employees do their job with love and care. Rather than seeing it as an obligation or just about the money, they should do it because they see how much it matters to their customers and to others. After all, those containers are more than just boxes. That’s why the right kind of leadership is crucial; when you show that you care for your employees, they pass that right on to customers.

It’s an experience Charlie wanted to share with his son-in-law, too. “I’m very careful about who I’ll refer because I take my reputation very seriously,” he explains. Having observed his son-in-law come to the States after losing everything back in Venezuela and work hard in the lawn business, he knew that Reuben would be a good fit in an organization that values dedication. Since his son-in-law joined the company, he is living up to the recommendation, providing for Charlie’s daughter and building his American dream.

“You cannot possibly imagine the effect that introducing a culture of love will have. Our family is so blessed because of this one company that changed its culture.”

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