FreightWaves 3PL Summit: Crisis underscores wisdom of early tech investments (with video)

3PL Summit: Trinity Logistics

Preparation for the coronavirus pandemic began at Trinity Logistics eight years before anyone heard of COVID-19.  

“We made the decision to move our phone system into the cloud. We had [local] systems in all the offices that we had,” Trinity Chief Financial Officer Doug Potvin said in a fireside chat with Trinity President Sarah Ruffcorn during the FreightWaves 3PL Summit on Tuesday.

“As a company, we live and die by the phone and computers and the infrastructure we have in place. It’s all relationship based,” said Potvin, who pressed to get laptops for every employee over objections of cost-focused senior leaders at the Top 20 third-party logistics company.

To make his case, Potvin assumed the role of weather forecaster, pointing to the annual tornadoes in Kansas and Texas, and the possibility of a hurricane in Trinity’s home state of Delaware. He mentioned more common traffic-snarling snowstorms that prevent employees from getting to the office.

“What are we going to do if these offices were hit by a natural disaster?” Potvin asked, his query foreshadowing the coronavirus.

Fast adjustment to COVID-19

“When COVID-19 hit us, we had the ability to move pretty darn quick into the home environment. We had 90% of our people home within a day, and the only thing we were waiting on to get the rest of the people to function was jet packs from Verizon so they could continue with internet connectivity.

“We have not missed a beat, and in some cases, we have seen productivity gains.”

Trinity also changed its leadership mentality from an office-based, centralized culture to manage a dispersed workforce. In normal times, Trinity operates seven regional service centers and 120 agent offices. The family-owned Delaware company started in 1979. It now employs more than 300 workers. Trinity became a freight brokerage arm of Burris Logistics in 2019.

New ways to engage

“The priority for us has really been about keeping our team engaged, keeping them very connected,” Ruffcorn said, mentioning a weekly video to keep employees current on internal news and how the external environment affects the business and them personally. “As time goes on, there are new ways that teams are finding to do that.”

Approaches include daily standup meetings intended to cover material quickly while deciding how often to meet and when to inject some fun — such as a beach party theme.

“We’ve really worked hard on communicating, even overcommunicating during these times,” Ruffcorn said.

Technology is a big part of that. And not just the ubiquitous Zoom meetings. Trinity added Microsoft Teams a year ago. Potvin “wasn’t into that newfangled type of stuff,” preferring traditional email. He has come around.

“The connectivity has been greater throughout that process,” he said. “We’ve used a lot of it. We started meeting daily on Teams.” After a couple of weeks, the frequency of meetings slowed.

Trinity also finds technology makes hiring throughout the United States easier. It recently brought on a claims representative from Missouri without an in-person interview.

A general sets the tone

Ruffcorn credits U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman with inspiring Trinity’s approach to human resource management before and during the pandemic.

“She talks about listening. She talks about love. And she talks about lifting up. I just think that’s a great way of summarizing our culture for the last several years but especially for the things we’re encountering right now,” she said. “Being very real and very vulnerable and not having all the answers.

“It’s not just about all the time telling them how great things are but it’s about holding them accountable during this time, too, and being very transparent about progress toward the goals we’ve set.”
Click for more FreightWaves articles by Alan Adler.

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