Total Quality Logistics has found a way to lure ambitious college graduates into the trucking industry. Hint: It involves money.
A career involved in shipping truckloads of lettuce across the country might not seem to be a natural draw for young strivers straight out of college. But Total Quality Logistics has found a way to recruit and hire them in droves.
The Cincinnati-based freight broker, which acts as the middleman between trucking companies and businesses needing to ship their products, brought in $1.3 billion in revenue last year, serving companies like the grocery-store chain Kroger. A large chunk of the company's 2,316 employees are recent college grads--including many former college athletes and military veterans. Ken Oaks, the company's CEO and founder, has found that this demographic fits in perfectly with his company's highly competitive environment. "They have discipline," he says. "They have a regimen. They're all about coming in early and getting the job done."
What makes TQL attractive is that the business is set up to reward the hardest workers. For entry-level sales jobs, new hires work on a salaried basis during a four-to six-month training period. Once they've got the hang of things, the company moves them to a salary plus an uncapped commission. At that point, they're kind of like stockbrokers, with the opportunity to build their own "book of business"--a set of clients they've signed on--and reap the rewards in big commissions.
The average pay for a second-year employee is $60,000, according to Oaks. After three years, the average jumps to $81,000, and, after four years, $112,000. Given that Cincinnati's cost of living is 10 percent below the national average, TQL's employees can live pretty well--if they are willing to work for it.
Oaks acknowledges that the jobs are not for everyone. "It's high stress, high pressure, but a lot of these people thrive on that," he says. That's a good thing, because they don't work 9 to 5. All account execs must work three out of four Saturday mornings a month during their first six months with the company. "It's because we're getting loads from customers all the time," Oaks says. "We've got carriers on the roads that need our help."
Graham Wagner joined the company in 2010 after graduating from Bowling Green State University with a degree in business administration. He says he likes the company's fast-paced, high-energy atmosphere as well as the freedom to control his income. "A lot of other jobs would be really monotonous," he says.
Wagner knew he wanted to work in sales and wasn't surprised by the pressure. During the interview process, he listened in on live calls with clients--something Oaks likes potential hires to do to make sure they know what will be expected. Any number of unexpected things can go wrong with a shipment, and truckers aren't exactly known for their delicate manners. "They have to have thick skin," Oaks says. "This isn't the floral industry. It's the trucking industry."
There's a reason Oaks pushes his employees as hard as he does. Working years ago for a company that bought and sold produce, Oaks was nearly driven crazy by unreliable freight brokers. "I couldn't find anyone who was dependable and available 24/7," he recalls. "There were a lot of unethical and low-service providers in the industry."
That experience ultimately inspired him to start TQL 16 years ago. "In our industry, there aren't a lot of players that concentrate on the service part of it," he says. He started his business with that in mind. "We're kind of obsessed with making sure we treat customers and carriers the way they deserve to be treated." This year, the company is on track for $1.7 billion in revenue, making it the country's second-largest freight brokerage firm by revenue.
All of this isn't to say that it's all work and no play at the company. Oaks makes sure there are plenty of fun activities at which employees can blow off steam. This fall, the company is hosting its first-ever TQL Urban Race--a 3.5-mile obstacle course run through the streets of downtown Cincinnati. Giving back is also part of the company culture. Last year, for Breast Cancer Awareness Week, it hosted a Great Shave competition, in which the team that raised the most money for charity got to shave its manager's head.