In It for the Long Haul
Thirty-nine years ago, a trucking company started in a boy’s bedroom. Perry Olson used to listen to stories from the road, as his mother and father discussed route strategies back when Fortune Transportation only had one truck.
“My little brother and I had to share a bedroom,” recounts Olson. “I was used to people showing up to work in our house when I came home from school.” As the business improved, the basement was renovated, and Olson got his room back – eventually becoming the Chief Executive Officer.
Fortune Transportation, which started in 1980, is now a full-truckload, over-the-road refrigerated carrier with terminals in Windom, Minnesota; Greeley, Colorado; and Roswell, New Mexico. Fortune’s 150-truck fleet mostly moves food and beverages east of the Rocky Mountains to west of the Mississippi all the way up to the Canadian border and down to the Mexican border.
Using top-tier technology and a family-first approach, Fortune has become a niche provider for clients who need goods delivered to small towns or out of the way locations. “We’re a carrier that’s willing to go to Devils Lake, North Dakota; Windom, Minnesota; Artesia, New Mexico,” says Olson. In these hard-to-reach places, even though technology is everywhere, people still operate in the old ways. Yelp reviews do not determine popular local restaurants, and the best doctors are known by word-of-mouth.
The delivery that arrives with the kind trucker who smiles and who asks the receiver about their kid’s football game is handled differently and talked about differently than the one that was delivered by a weather-worn stranger. “We’re still in the relationship business,” says Olson. “We try to send the same people into the same locations with consistency, so our drivers are able to develop those relationships and trust.” Sending the same drivers helps build relationships and makes sure deliveries are on time.
Drivers know how much weather and lighting affect handling and visibility, something with which Google Maps just cannot help. The best roads to take under sunny conditions can be the worst ones during a snowstorm. Predicting how to handle varying weather conditions comes from practice; a driver who knows the roads can plan and time their route and stops accordingly. Drivers who are familiar with the territory are sent again, and over time, build bonds. It is not only the drivers with whom customers work, but it is also the support staff.
Fifty support staff members manage information technology, road assistance, customer care, and truck maintenance. “My customer service folks have been working with many of those people for usually long periods of time, sometimes as many as twenty years, so they have long-standing relationship they’ve developed and fostered over time,” he continues. “Our customers are a hundred and sometimes a thousand miles away from us, but you still know what their kids and grandkids are doing on a regular basis.”
Inside the workplace, there is a real camaraderie, where everyone helps out with common tasks, like cleaning. “One of the things that we talk about quite regularly within our company is our company kitchen. If the garbage bag is full in the kitchen, I don’t care if I’m CEO and owner or the janitor, it’s in your job description to change the garbage bag,” explains Olson.
It is not just about keeping the office clean; it is about treating people with dignity. “Most of our office and maintenance staff don’t miss a lot of football games and proms and graduations and things of that nature,” he says. “Even though it’s harder for drivers to make the everyday events, they don’t miss the big events like the graduations and big things with the kids and grandkids. We get them there for those types of things.”
Fortune shows its appreciation of employees by accommodating those special family events and provides a very generous employee benefits package. This includes vacation and holiday pay, profit sharing, employer-paid life insurance, a health plan, a safe mileage award program, and a 401(k). Company policy also supports the thirty-four-hour weekly restart program that ensures a break at the end of a work cycle. Drivers are paid weekly based on their average mileage, allowing for a consistent paycheck, which makes life easier on the family. Differences are settled quarterly.
Fortune’s traffic department matches drivers with loads based on driving ability, E-log requirements, load availability, and location of a driver’s home. Employees love working for Fortune, and the company has mostly grown from referrals. Workers stay long-term, and their friends are quick to follow. “Thirty-five to forty percent of our employees are related to somebody,” says Olson. “We’ve had, at times, three generations of more than one family working for us at one time.”
Some of its workers have been with the company for so long that it even has a million-mile trophy. This two-foot-high award is given to drivers who have completed a million miles of driving with Fortune. But it does not just stop at a million. “We are going to have our four-million-mile member number three this year, as well, so those are very, very significant milestones in any driver’s career.” Happy drivers, who have a positive and strong work culture make reliable and safer drivers.
Fortune won the 2017 ATA president’s safety award for small carriers. To win the national award, it had to win at the state level first. The award winner is determined by looking at the statistics of accidents per million miles, and lack of severity of actual accidents, lack of violations, and in-house safety and education programs. “What are you doing in-house to train your drivers to maintain safety? Is it a key component of your company’s culture? Having that safety education program continually advancing is something that we’ve done successfully.”
A large part of the safety program comes from company culture, but technology is also relieving burdens on staff and making life easier on his fleet. Olson remembers when technology was simpler. “Fortune has always been an early adopter of a lot of new cellular technology. We started communicating with our trucks and putting cellular technology in our trucks in the early-to-mid-nineties.” Technology now allows the company to know how fast the driver is going, what kind of load they are putting on their engine, and the contours of the road and then automatically accelerate or decelerate the vehicle. Office staff can even know if a door is open on a vehicle.
Technology is also enabling Fortune to monitor emissions and become a greener company. Fortune is part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay program that monitors company’s supply chain sustainability. SmartWay measures factors like CO2 emissions per mile. Fortune is among SmartWay’s top-rated freighters in America.
Fortune’s ability to hit top benchmarks in safety and environmental standards is a testament to its work culture and its embracing of technology. The close bonds staff form with customers and within the organization means their problem-solving capabilities are second-to-none, especially in those hard-to-reach markets.
For shippers looking to expand to new territory, build new connections, or strengthen existing relationships, Fortune Transportation should be the first place to call. “When customers think of Fortune Transportation, I want them to think of the biggest problem they have and to see us as the biggest problem-solver they can find,” Olson adds.