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Love and Acquisitions in Times of COVID - What the Truck?!?

Love and Acquisitions in Times of COVID - What the Truck?!?

How can you build and protect a company culture of positivity, inclusivity, diversity, and hard work, even as you merge with or acquire companies? And how do you protect those qualities that make your transportation brand unique when crisis strikes or pandemic hits?

Dooner and The Dude, hosts of FreightWaves’ mega-popular ‘What the Truck?!?’ podcast, welcomed Trailer Bridge’s own Mitch Luciano on the show this week to talk all things company culture, current events, and Coronavirus impact.

Check out this 10-minute video chat in which Mitch, Dooner and The Dude discuss:

  • the impact of love and trust in business 
  • diversity and inclusion in the logistics industry
  • merging teams and protecting the best qualities of your company culture during M&As
  • weathering business interruptions and coming back stronger than ever
  • the impact of COVID-19 on transportation and logistics and what we may expect in the near future.

Trailer Bridge CEO Interviews with Dooner & The Dude on What The Truck?!? – Full transcript

Dooner: Hey Mitch, this is Dooner and The Dude on What’s the Truck. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today! 

Mitch: Absolutely, thank you!

Dooner: Hey before we jump into it—because I know we’re going to talk about some cool stuff like the importance of M&A activity and preserving culture—but just what is the elevator pitch on Trailer Bridge? I understand you guys do some interesting things. A lot of us think of ocean freight as 40s, 20s and 45s, but I think you move 53s and some other outsized freight, as well, right?

Mitch: We do, we do. We’re an asset-based logistics company but the core of what we do is move 53-foot containers between Jacksonville, Florida, to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and the Virgin Islands. It started by Malcom McLean back in 1992; that’s the grandfather of containerization. And we just expanded it out to other parts of the US and to Mexico. 

Dooner: And your company seems like a great place to work—in fact, so much so that Jacksonville Business Journal’s number one award was in Best Place to Work for 2020 for your company, just weeks after being named Best Workplace by Inc. Magazine. Congratulations! How and why were you bestowed those honors? 

Mitch: You know honestly, it just comes down to taking care of your people. When you treat your people with kindness and love they will give back so much to you. And so when these magazines and periodicals come out with these questionnaires, we just say “Fill it out and be honest.” Just be heartfelt and truthful. And they do that. I think it’s a result of having an amazing team and amazing leadership, and just genuinely caring for your team. 

Diversity, Inclusion, and What It Means to be #TBStrong

The Dude: Hey Mitch, congratulations on that award, that’s a really good thing! Speaking of this, this year has really highlighted a number of areas in regards to company culture; for instance, health and safety in light of COVID-19, and also obviously diversity and inclusion. Do you think we highlight these areas enough in our industry? 

Mitch: You know, it’s difficult because our industry can be fairly segmented at times. So I think that we do need to spend a little more time with this, especially when you go through the events we’ve gone through over the last three or four months. If your people don’t trust you and you don’t trust them, it’s very difficult to work through this. Imagine all of these people working from home—if there’s not a level of trust between you, between the leadership and the people, how can you drive out of this and be stronger on the backside than you are on the front side? I think it’s the culture. 

You know, we talk about this more over the last few years than we have ever before and I think it’s a cornerstone of any successful company. We’re seeing it now. We’re seeing that companies that have a stronger culture—whether you’re 10 employees or 5,000 employees—you’re seeing them thrive right now. While for those that don’t, it’s slowly falling apart.

Dooner: Hey, and we’re seeing it right now in the comments section. We have a lot of different guests out here but Team TB has shown up strong! Eric Masotti says, “Trailer Bridge!” Melissa Morrison says, “TB Strong!” Laura Johnson says, “Make it happen!” Matthew Lewis, “TB Strong!” Who else have we got here? Allen Lucas, “TB Strong!” Allen Perez Torres, “TB Strong!” Indie Bollman, “TB Strong!” Savannah Marshall, “TB Strong!” Samantha Guilrico, “TB Strong!” Ann Jones, “TB Strong!” Man! We have a lot of guests on here but I think you have topped everybody in terms of workforce getting active in the comments!

Mitch: Yeah, they do too! You know, the news has come out and I think it just goes to show how much they care about me and they know how much I care about them. They want to listen and I don’t know… maybe see what mistake comes out of my mouth or what I might say. But you know, we’ve have bi-weekly and monthly town halls where we get everybody on the same call. I used to do it in person, now we’re doing it on zoom. So they’re used to hearing me and they’re just very supportive. It’s my work family and they know how much I love them.

How to Grow and Preserve Culture Through a Merger or Acquisition

Dooner: Yeah, and Charlie Sanchez says, “TB Strong, we are the best!” They’re saying they haven’t worked a day in their lives. There’s so many in here we could just spend the whole thing reading names, but one of the things we wanna talk about is focusing on growth. It’s something Trailer Bridge has done well and it’s great. But how do you identify—in light of safety, inclusion, diversity, culture, all these things—how do you identify partners to merge with and acquisitions and make that blood transfusion work?

Mitch: I think a part of it, initially in any acquisition or merger, you look at the financials so you have to see if there’s an opportunity there. But I think people get really stuck on the financials, you need to say their  good and let’s take the next steps. Part of due diligence really should be understanding the culture. The culture of the organization you are looking to merge with or acquire—will it fit in with yours? 

When I’ve seen these fail in the past, it’s not really the financials that fail—they’ll speak for themselves. It’s really about, why aren’t people driving success? Why are they not holding themselves accountable? Why are they not fitting in? And you really have to understand that, look at that, and make sure that’s not going to be a huge hurdle in driving success and bringing those people under your umbrella. 

It is easy, when you have a company that is really struggling and morale is down… I mean, you look at someone like Trailer Bridge—Best Place to Work in Jacksonville and in Inc Magazine, #1 Ocean Carrier by Logistics Management—we talk about all those things and they go, “Wow, I’m kind of excited!” But you have to live up to it every single day. You genuinely have to listen to what their needs are because it’s going to be a little different from what we traditionally have at Trailer Bridge or any company, you have to listen and make sure you do something about it. Don’t just listen and not do anything—listen and actually act.

The Dude: Yeah Mitch, that’s really good stuff. It reminds me of working in operations over the years. And I worked in your space at a rather large company down in Riviera Beach… maybe you know who I’m talking about, that also services the Virgin Islands and all of the islands in an NVOCC to the Greater Antilles, etc. But if you don’t think you have theft, then you have a theft problem. If you don’t think you’ve got a morale problem or a diversity issue or productivity or whatever with your people, you probably do. It’s one of those things you have to wake up every morning and work, right?

Mitch: Without a doubt. Specifically at Trailer Bridge, when we started this turnaround five or six years ago, I told the leadership team, “There can’t be a day we fail. It’s going to take us three years to actually change the culture. But if we fail or we don’t pay attention one day, it’s going to set us back again. So you have to do it every single day. You have to—to your point, it’s not just about morale or culture, but part of that is the safety of the people. Making sure that if there is trouble, how are you going to manage that and what protocols do you have in place? The best ideas come from those who deal with this everyday. I see it a lot, where companies put all these plans in place and they do it at a very high level and they don’t include those people who are actually physically doing the job every day. 

That’s something I believe we pride ourselves on. We get their input and it’s so valuable. And we actually put that input into practice and it makes a big difference. 

What will logistics and the supply chain look like post-COVID?

Dooner: Hey Mitch, one of the things we’ve been looking at is the recovery. We’ve been looking at freight recovery, we’ve been looking in SONAR and talking to guests. So let me ask you this, do you think we see the square root, the swoosh, the V, the W? The L, is it lost? I know your seat’s a little bit different in the way you guys move cargo, but what do you think? What do you make of it all? 

Mitch: We’ve seen a big spike over the last two, three weeks and that’s the biggest question I get: “Is this going to remain or is this just replenishing the supply chain?” And I think it’s… we’re not going to see the big drop—I know a lot of people predicted we’re going to see a big drop off in the supply chain. 

I don’t think it’s going to drop off heavily. It’s not going to be where it is in the last couple of weeks with this huge spike. I think we’re going to see it chip off a little but we have to remember, a lot of people are sitting at home. They’re not going on vacation, they’re not going out to restaurants, they’re not doing a lot of things they spend money on. If they’re fortunate enough to still have a job, they’re probably going to spend the money on something else. 

So we will see consumer spending over the next couple of months, I just don’t know how long that’s going to last. I don’t think it’s going to last a super long time, but it all depends on whether these cases get down, or here in Florida we’ve seen in just really blow up and climb and that’s been a huge concern. So I think that is going to play a big role in how we see the rest of the freight market continue to move.

Dooner: Mitch that’s great insight, and you’re seeing similar even though you’re moving slightly different cargo then general freight, with those spikes and those uptakes. And I have to agree to what you just said. And you know too, I have to say you travel well! You fill a stadium. You’ve got a ton of people in these comment sections who are all like: 

“We make it happen!” 

“Trailer Bridge has changed my life for the better.”

“Love you, Mitch!”

“We’re going to book a thousand loads after this interview.”

“My fam loves Mitch and everyone at TB!” 

Wow! So how do people reach out and learn more and join the family?

Mitch: If you just go to trailerbridge.com, we have a huge recruiting page, and we have a recruiting team who just do an amazing job. If they have an interest in joining, we have offices across the U.S. So we have a logistics group that handles a lot of domestic freight, and we also have the ocean business so if you live in Jacksonville or find one of our locations like Chicago, Houston, and many more… if you find one of those locations and you want to grow in this space, send us your resume and tell us why you would make a good fit. Don’t just send a resume… put a cover letter with it and make it exciting. Make yourself stand out and be different. 

Dooner: Wow Mitch, and Emily Szink, she’s GM of Content… she saw a ton of Trailer Bridge email addresses downloading the FreightWaves TV App leading up to this and during this to watch you be on here. It’s amazing, and I’m not just saying this to blow smoke. 

We have had a lot of people on the show, and your team… I mean I think it speaks a lot to you and the awards by your team traveling so well and supporting you and you and saying all of these kind words. It does seem like it’s coming from the heart. We really appreciate your time today. Everybody, go join Mitch! Join his team, it sounds like a great place to work.

Mitch: Thank you guys very much. I truly appreciate the opportunity.