That horn blowing you don't hear is me not tooting it myself. As a former fleet owner of 1250 tractors and 2500 trailers, I have been fortunate enough to learn from the best and put into practice the compliances, efficiencies, asset utilization, and financial controls necessary to position myself for success. Humility has been learned. If you think everything is going too well, you have overlooked something.
My definition of success and yours may differ, but making money in the trucking industry has never been rocket science, as the price and availability of that fuel for experimentation is prohibitive. The recent past has shown that the same practices that position a carrier for Private Equity or Venture Capital acquisition are the same for operating at a profit. Having been a CFO of a mid-sized $215 Million specialized carrier, I can count beans with the best of them.
Recently, I returned to my roots and became an "undercover" driver for a large Midwest carrier. I will share that experience at a later time, but let's just say the attention paid to safety, compliance, driver retention, and CSA 2010 initiatives is more "lip service" than actual practice - at least by this carrier. My goal was to collect current information (as I did in 2007) about the carriers that everyone recognizes, and where a large number of drivers may eventually become employed, or leave.
The subject of this missive is to entertain my dark side by taking on the masochistic activities related to the acquisition of an asset based trucking company. I was fortunate to have enjoyed Operating Ratios and Margins unheard of for a fleet with the level of competition at that time, and am bent on doing it, again. Mostly because those who can't do it themselves are telling others how to get it done, and I like the feeling of doing something someone else can't do. Accomplishment and challenge will often walk hand-in hand.
I would like to purchase a predominantly asset based niche carrier with revenues between $50 and $160 Million. This carrier would have good maintenance and safety programs, and non-asset based service offerings like Brokerage, 3PL, Warehousing, Cross-Dock, Load Optimization, Transload, Contract Maintenance or Project Logistics capabilities. This carrier may have dedicated, contract, or private fleet capabilities, and need not be all that profitable. As most of us are aware, selling price is a factor of EBITDA - and for me, equipment condition and replacement strategies employed in recent years are essential to create value.
Since selling my fleet to a VC group in 2004 I have been actively engaged in the trucking industry as a consultant (as well as a small fleet owner) providing financial, operations, maintenance, safety, and HR solutions to companies of all sizes. All the travel has been detrimental to my usually sunny disposition-but the financial and personal rewards have been worth the inconvenience of missed connecting flights and too many pretzels.
In my experiences, there are companies who have good people but poor leadership, good equipment but large Accounts Receivable, second generation management who only know one way of running a company, and companies who have overcome, adapted, and evolved with customers and world economies. Some have taken my advice (three turnarounds in the past year); others have allowed me to set up their equipment specifications and divisions to become players in wind power, refinery and petrochemical projects.
Still others find it hard to change; they give it a cursory try before reverting to what they know after I'm gone. Focus, Grasshoppers. Get your advice from someone who has, can, and will get results. I had one guy who failed a safety audit and had the highest maintenance costs for his type carrier I have ever seen tell his operations guy he had a huge issue with getting BCC'd on emails. That was his issue?! I found other issues more pressing, but egos come in all sizes and are fit for various suits of failure. I have stories that would make Ripley's shake their head.
If anyone is serious about exploring an exit strategy, we can discuss your needs and determine if it would be a viable, mutually beneficial arrangement. Financing is secured, so for you to hold paper is not a requirement. I am prepared to do (again) with my own money (again) what others say can't be done. No brokers-Principals only please.
Last year, I obtained a 3-year contract (can't be done) with an automobile manufacturer (profitable) and major vendor for that manufacturer. With a 3-year full maintenance lease, 0% deadhead, and revenues unheard of for what is usually expected for that type operation, I recently sold the small dedicated contract fleet to someone who will learn, understand, and appreciate the metrics of problem solving. I was told that .79 and .99 broker freight (all in) was a requirement of doing business today by an industry Guru who has never dispatched a truck, changed a tire, or planned asset utilization. Some things need to change-starting with where you get your advice.
The customer isn't always right, and will do their best to mess up your well laid plans, but the right PEOPLE, contracts, planning, asset utilization, MIS, and fuel optimization will go a long way to position your operation for profitability and as a potential target for a Private Equity opportunity.
Jim Buchanan has an MBA and has provided turnaround, M&A, and division set up for several companies in the past. As an all too Frequent Flyer, he is looking to become a stationary target and once again assume a leadership position in a niche fleet. As a published industry author in financial, operations, and maintenance solutions Jim has been a presenter at NTTC meetings, and positioned several SC&RA members for new divisions and project work. His privately held fleet was the largest asset based specialized carrier of its type in North America-which he planned, grew, led, and sold.