Who’s the Boss When You are Gone

I was doing a seminar in Baltimore several years ago and after the seminar a company owner came up to me after the class and told me he had a problem.  He said I hate my drivers and they hate me.  Obviously that’s not a good position to be in, but I find that when I talk to tow companies it’s not uncommon that owners and employees sometimes find it difficult to get along.

When I do a seminar, I tell the attendees you can go out on the show floor and find anything you need as it relates to towing.  The only thing that will make you different than your competitor is your employees. When I got into the towing business, I knew nothing about towing, but I did know a lot about business.  I knew I had to learn from my employees.  I started to define what I wanted my company to look like.  I looked at the following:

  • I wanted to play by all the rules established by the state of Texas
  • I wanted employees that I could trust
  • I established morals and ethics I wanted my employees to live by
  • I wanted the customer to come first
  • I wanted to look professional
  • I wanted all my trucks to look the same
  • I wanted my employees to wear uniforms

The first thing I did was identify who did not fit into what I wanted to establish.  I had to let go of a few people.  The rest I trained to do the work the way I wanted.  Then I hired a few positions that I felt I needed to be successful. 

After about 6 months I had the staff I wanted and was heading in the right direction.  I provided them with the necessary training they needed to do their job.  My thinking was I wanted the company to run when I was not in the office.  That’s the mindset I want you to establish in your company.  I know you think I do not have anyone you can trust, or who has the ability and knowledge to run the day to day operation.  To be successful, I feel you need to be out of the day to day operation and let your staff make decisions. 

Keep in mind they talk to your customers every day and they have established a good working relationship.  You have a dispatcher that makes $12 a hr. and talks to your biggest customer every day and with great success.   I learned early that if you show confidence in your employees they will respond with great success.  As I went through this learning process they made mistakes, but I would pick them up, dust them off and send them out again.  By the end of my training session they were doing a better job than me because they were involved in the day to day operations.

I had 35 employees in my company so I decided to take about 5 key people out to lunch and give them a little survey.  I ask them questions like:

  • Who was the best employee
  • Who was the worse employee
  • Who was the best driver
  • Who was the worse driver
  • Who was the best dispatcher
  • Who was the worse dispatcher
  • Who was the key employee of the company

When I first opened the door to my company, a sales person came to me from another company, and I would have loved to hire him but I was not sure I could afford him.  I went ahead and hired him and worked out some pay options.  He had a personality that was awesome in sales, but all my employees thought he was a pain in the ass.  Every tow company in Dallas knew of him, and they all had the same opinion. 

The survey opened my eyes to what I was not seeing in my company.  They all agreed on the best employee.  I did not agree with them on the best driver.  Their criteria were different than mine.  After they explained why their selection was different than mine, I agreed with their choice.  My choices for best driver and best dispatcher were also different from theirs.  What I found out about the dispatcher was my best choice but was their worse choice.  Again they explained to me and I agreed.  The problem was this was my highest paid dispatcher. 

I guess the biggest surprise was the key employee.  They agreed with my choice.  I chose the person that was the pain in the ass and surprisingly they all agreed with me.  That told me that as much as they thought he was a pain, they also realized the value he brought to the company.  This survey showed me a few things:

• I did not know my employees like I thought I did.   

• The people who work with each other on a daily basis will know the strengths and weaknesses of each employee.

• My employees realized the value of key employees. 

• It also told me that I have some good managers and I trained them well.

As we walked away from our lunch, I realized that I had people I could trust with my company.  We trained the employees that were the worse and placed them on an improvement program.  I took my highest paid dispatcher and told him I expected more out of him and for his performance to improve.  I also took my key employee and told him that no matter what others thought about him they all valued him as the key employee to the company.

Since that lunch, when my wife and I would go on a vacation, we would let my key employee be in charge and I knew he had the support of the other employees.  I was never afraid to go

on vacation after that because I knew I had my employees working together to be successful.   What a difference it makes knowing you can leave for a period of time and know you will have a company to come back to.

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Dan Messina
In 2003, Dan Messina started his own towing company starting out with just one truck and no accounts. In two short years, he was number one in the industry. In 2006, he founded Southwest Tow Operators, one of the largest tow associations in the U.S. We are proud to share Dan's business advice with the towing industry.