Did You Create a Business or Just a Job?

Mature tow truck driver making reports on clipboard against sky

I have come across an interesting phenomenon several times in the past few years.  I would say it is unique to our industry, but it applies equally to any business that operates twenty-four/seven, or at least long hours during the day and seven days a week. 

I’m talking about the grand plan where you start a business from the ground up, beginning with one truck or a few trucks, build up things to the point where you have light-, medium-, and heavy-duty covered with trucks and trained operators, and a plethora of accounts to keep your folks busy and the money coming in.  Here is where the true breakdown happens.  You marry yourself to a “job,” not a “business,” and you might as well just be one of the other W-2 employees.

For example, about ten years ago, I interviewed for a heavy towing/manager position in Montana. It was a great location with a major interstate nearby, large town, and a fleet of eleven or twelve great looking, custom painted or wrapped trucks.  The problem was the pay.  I was offered ten dollars an hour and no commission.  I did not get mad, but I was bewildered as to why a company owner would offer $400 a week and no room for making more, considering the qualifications I had.  So, I asked about it.  He explained that he was the only one who had been to any formal training classes, the only one who could operate their fifty-ton, and the one who calls the shots at all the wreck scenes.  He created a scenario where he was the only one he trusted or truly knew what he was doing, and he had a group of drone worker bees that couldn’t think for themselves and didn’t have real training and experience.

I refused the job offer, of course, since a good heavy operator is easily worth three times that much.  I kept going back in my mind to understand just how the guy makes it all work.  The answer to that question is that he does not.  He is continually dealing with a new crop of minimum-wage level workers who can tear up equipment, damage vehicles, and could never handle a wreck scene on their own.  The other thing he has done is that he guaranteed that he could never take a weekend off.  Because he did not train, educate, and trust his people, he HAD to be available on every call that is more serious than a parking lot tow.

The guy does not have a company.  He has a job.  If he had a company, he could train his people and delegate supervision, and build enough confidence in his folks to where they could handle a small or large wreck scene on their own while the owner was camping in the mountains.  The most depressing aspect of all this is that the guy lives in one of the most beautiful areas of the country and can’t go camping, fishing, hunting, or anything else – plus, he’ll work himself into the ground and look and feel like he’s eighty when he’s just fifty.

I have brought this one up before. In Casper, Wyoming, a lady inherited her husband’s towing company after his untimely death and let her “operations manager” run the show.  During normal operations, I am sure things went well.  During big wrecks, though, is where the trouble surfaced.  I interviewed over the phone with her “manager.”  I asked him how he trained his people.  He explained that he tells them to roll over a car, for example, and then he tells them what all they screwed up.  That is not being a trainer – that is being a bully.  Now the driver hates you, and they did not learn much.  This manager was on-call for every single tow or wreck and was tied to the phone or responded in-person.  The guy was incredibly insecure, yet had a huge ego, so he could not possibly let his people think for themselves for fear that they might learn something.  Also, then he might not be as necessary to the owner.  The lady complained about employees treating her company as if there was a revolving door.  Who would want to work like that?

The latest experience comes from Texas.  The owner of the company is significantly detached due to health issues, so his “manager” runs the show, and what a show it is.  He flaunts to his employees that he is the only one trained on anything yet does not realize that his primary job as a “manager” and experienced driver IS to train.  The manager showed me a rollover stick and scoffed that “none of these idiots” know how to use one.  I asked why he had not shown it to them and trained them on it, and I got a blank stare.  This guy regularly curses his people, calling them names that would make a drunken sailor blush, and then wonders why they do not respect him.  He hands out days off only after special favors and keeps days off away from certain people out of personal judgement.  He rations out time off in such a way people only know about a day off a few hours before the time starts.  His people have no way to plan anything with their family, friends, or home projects.

I have used “manager” in quotes simply because these guys are not managers.  They are bullies.  They do not think ahead and plan.  They are reactive instead of proactive.  They scream, freak out, throw stuff, etc., over things they could have planned for.  They are always putting out fires that could have easily been prevented.  Why?  Because they are burnt out, and they did it to themselves.

Now the Texas guy has not had a weekend off in twenty years.  Not because the boss wouldn’t let him, but because the guy can’t make a schedule to save his life, doesn’t trust anyone with the bigger equipment because he won’t train them, and is afraid he’s going to miss something.

There is no real hope for the three men I have detailed here.  They’re going to come to an ugly realization when they hit sixty or so that they’ve missed countless family events, times with their kids, and their health is failing, and their bodies are beaten into the ground.

There IS hope for those people reading this article.  Train your people.  Instill confidence.  Delegate authority.  Take time off.  Taking time off shows that you trust your people.  If you can’t take time off and allow someone else to handle things, YOU are the one who truly suffers through that revolving door of angry employees and dealing with your significant other because you can’t take a night or weekend off like people in other companies and other industries.  You deserve to enjoy the company you built, but your own ego and insecurities may have you locked into just having a JOB.