Long haul ‘fam­ily’

Ev­ery em­ployee is a spoke in the wheel at Bi­son Trans­port

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE - DR. JOHN MCFER­RAN

TQ: How would you de­scribe your peo­ple phi­los­o­phy at Bi­son?

A: Our mis­sion state­ment pro­motes what I con­sider to be fam­ily val­ues and as such, we want peo­ple who fit into the “Bi­son fam­ily” be­cause we func­tion as a fam­ily and achieve re­sults as a fam­ily. Imag­ine one of those old bi­cy­cle wheels with mul­ti­ple spokes. If one of those spokes gets out of bal­ance, the wheel does not run straight and true to its high­est ef­fi­ciency. The same can be said of our or­ga­ni­za­tion. Each per­son at Bi­son con­trib­utes to our ef­fi­ciency and no one “spoke” is more im­por­tant than an­other. As pres­i­dent, I am only one spoke on the wheel, as is a me­chanic or a driver or a dis­patcher or an ac­count­ing as­sis­tant. HIS spring, Bi­son Trans­port be­came a five-time grand prize win­ner of the Na­tional Fleet Safety Award (an un­par­al­leled in­dus­try achieve­ment) and was rec­og­nized as one of the Best Fleets to Drive For by the Truck­load Car­ri­ers As­so­ci­a­tion. Yet, as im­pres­sive as the ac­co­lades that Bi­son con­tin­ues to amass, the com­pany sim­ply views it as busi­ness as usual.

“There is a cer­tain af­fir­ma­tion that comes with win­ning an award, but we see it as an out­come of what and who we hap­pen to be. We don’t try to model our­selves to fit any judg­ing cri­te­ria. Whether we’re rec­og­nized as one of the safest fleets, one of the green­est fleets, or one of the best fleets to work for — that’s just who we are,” says Bi­son Trans­port pres­i­dent and CEO Don Streu­ber.

A fam­ily owned busi­ness started in 1969, Bi­son has ex­pe­ri­enced phe­nom­e­nal growth from its early days trans­port­ing pa­per and house­hold goods from one load­ing dock to an­other. To­day, the 1,850-em­ployee strong or­ga­ni­za­tion, which main­tains its cor­po­rate of­fice in Win­nipeg and five re­gional of­fices in North Amer­ica’s busiest trans­porta­tion hubs, is a truck­load car­rier with a fleet of 1,050 trac­tors and 3,000 trail­ers, in­clud­ing 275 be­long­ing to in­de­pen­dent owner-op­er­a­tors. Bi­son works with big-name re­tail­ers such as Wal­mart, Home De­pot and IKEA, has in­creased its tem­per­a­ture-con­trolled fleet and con­tin­ues to ser­vice a wide va­ri­ety of pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties across the con­ti­nent. Most re­cently, it has de­vel­oped an in­ter­modal fleet, uti­liz­ing both road and rail trans­porta­tion.

“Other than ba­bies, ev­ery­thing is de­liv­ered by truck,” Streu­ber says. “So our re­spon­si­bil­ity to em­ploy­ees and cus­tomers, to safety and to en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship is more im­por­tant than ever. When you are able to prove that you are tak­ing ev­ery pos­si­ble step to have the best prac­tices and pro­cesses in place, that’s when peo­ple start to say, ‘I want to be part of this or­ga­ni­za­tion’.”

A: Be­cause we be­lieve strongly in ca­reer de­vel­op­ment, we es­tab­lished Bi­son Univer­sity, which de­liv­ers 15 cus­tom­ized pro­grams to pro­vide ori­en­ta­tion and to im­prove em­ploy­ees’ skills and knowl­edge so that they can reach their per­for­mance goals. We have also uti­lized ex­ter­nal in­struc­tion for em­ploy­ees re­quir­ing train­ing we don’t cur­rently have avail­able. Our peo­ple know that con­tin­u­ing ed­u­ca­tion is im­por­tant here, and we are will­ing to in­vest the time and the nec­es­sary dol­lars to de­liver a qual­ity prod­uct and en­cour­age life­long learn­ing.

We are also proud of our em­ployee recog­ni­tion pro­gram, Charg­ing Ahead. Em­ploy­ees nom­i­nate their co-work­ers for ex­ceed­ing “nor­mal” work per­for­mance and hav­ing an ex­cep­tional dis­play of our core val­ues: peo­ple, profit, en­vi­ron­ment, com­mu­ni­ca­tions, safety, learn­ing, se­cu­rity, health, com­pli­ance, in­no­va­tion, and last but not least, fun. We rec­og­nize these con­tri­bu­tions by giv­ing the em­ployee a spe­cial jacket and post­ing their picture in all our ter­mi­nals so that they can be rec­og­nized and get a de­served pat on the back no mat­ter where they are. Q: Are you de­vel­op­ing fu­ture lead­ers in­ter­nally or seek­ing to hire out­side your or­ga­ni­za­tion?

A: As a fairly high growth en­tity, we are al­ways look­ing to iden­tify and de­velop lead­ers from within, but we have also hired ex­ter­nally when we needed to aug­ment our strengths and in­no­va­tion in cer­tain ar­eas. We re­cently hired peo­ple from the air­line in­dus­try who came to us with an ex­per­tise in trans­porta­tion that is sim­i­lar, yet dif­fer­ent from our usual skill set. We are not nec­es­sar­ily look­ing for em­ploy­ees who have worked only in truck­ing; in fact, we wel­come broader ex­pe­ri­ence be­cause as you work col­lab­o­ra­tively, there’s an op­por­tu­nity to draw in new ideas as op­posed to ev­ery­one nod­ding and work­ing in agree­ment. With­out di­ver­sity, you don’t get an ad­e­quate amount of push back from your peo­ple. We want them chal­leng­ing the sta­tus quo and ask­ing “Why?” or “Why not?” As for fu­ture lead­ers, we want peo­ple who are com­fort­able func­tion­ing as part of a team in or­der to re­fine and op­ti­mize our op­por­tu­ni­ties. We be­lieve two minds are al­ways bet­ter than one, so we pre­fer to col­lab­o­rate when­ever pos­si­ble. This is not a place for some­one with a Lone Ranger men­tal­ity.

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