Building a Hub of Vision and Passion
Phil Yeager leads the family business with a clear mission: To deliver for team members and customers every single day.
Phil Yeager was just a kid when he first came to work at his family’s business, transportation management company Hub Group. “I always joked with my dad that we might have breached some child labor laws,” he laughs.
As a teen interning at Hub Group during the summer, Yeager met every Thursday with his grandfather, company founder Phillip C. Yeager. “He would tell me what he was working on and ask my opinion,” Yeager recalls. “He also asked me what I was working on, to see where he could help.”
Those talks helped to shape Yeager’s own style of communications and leadership, skills that served him well when he joined Hub Group full time in 2011 as director of strategy and acquisitions. In 2019, Hub Group—based in Oak Brook, Illinois—named Yeager president and chief operating officer.
We spent some time with Yeager to find out more about his leadership strategies.
IL: You worked in banking before you joined Hub Group full time. What made you decide to rejoin the family business?
My goal after earning my undergraduate degree was to go outside the business to learn skills that I thought could help us continue to evolve. I learned a ton in banking and in business school, but I always knew I wanted to make Hub Group my career. I’ve stayed mainly because we have a great group of people, great customers, and an amazing business. That makes it energizing and fun to come in every day. We’ve accomplished a lot, but I think there’s still a lot we can do to bring our customers even more value and an even better experience.
IL: When you became president and COO, what priorities did you establish?
Our mission is to make sure we deliver for our customers and team members every day. To achieve those goals, we’ve homed in on three simple priorities: 1) achieve premier quality in our service, people, and safety; 2) drive profitable growth; and 3) maintain a competitive cost structure. We differentiate ourselves by maintaining a culture of continuous improvement, challenging ourselves every day to improve all three focus areas.
IL: As a leader, what are your most important characteristics?
A leader needs vision and passion. I have both. If you show your passion as a leader, people will follow you.
Here’s an example. We used to be a siloed organization. A customer who relied on us for intermodal services and dedicated trucking, for instance, would work with two different account managers. Over the past few years, we have transitioned to a new model, offering the customer one point of contact for all our services. This evolution required a change of mindset across multiple business units, teams, and silos. Breaking down the walls took time. You can’t achieve success without a vision for supporting customers better than anyone else can, or without passion for getting the team to deliver.
IL: How do you handle recruiting and cultivating talent?
It’s a competitive market across all areas. We’ve worked hard to build a great reputation as an employer. We invest significant time in making sure team members have a rewarding experience, with a career path and opportunities to grow. We invest in their skill development as well. Employees can apply for online certificate programs with the University of Denver or Cornell University, and we’ve done job-specific training outside the organization.
For drivers, we have great safety programs and technology. We make sure they have a good quality of life with pay at the high end of the market, and most of our drivers get home every night to see their families. We’ve invested in their management team to make sure our team members are growing, learning, and being challenged. Another key move came when we hired a chief human resources officer, Michele McDermott, who will help us continue to improve as an employer of choice.
IL: How do you stay in touch with what your customers want and need?
We do a lot of surveys, and we actively meet with our customers for regular business reviews. Plus, we’re adding new value by proactively bringing our customers solutions to help them save money or improve their service. A customer might not always be ready for one of the solutions we bring them, but we engage them in a deeper conversation. By trying to give them what maybe they don’t even know they want, we spark a lot of dialogue.
IL: Does working in a family business pose special leadership challenges?
It actually creates some advantages. As a family, we set the tone for the company. We’ve done a good job in making decisions and investments that will position the company for long-term growth. Hub Group has been around for 48 years, with three generations of the family involved. Our goal is to continue into the fourth, fifth, and sixth generations.
IL: What advice would you offer a young person who is embarking on a career in supply chain management?
Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions about how your company could do better. If you’re willing to put your ideas out there, you’ll get opportunities to grow and be challenged.
IL: Outside of work, how do you like to spend your time?
I spend as much time as I can with my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and amazing wife. Beyond that, we are very involved in the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. For recreation, I love to golf and snow ski.
New Technology in the House
Hub Group has invested a lot of capital in technology in recent years, with special emphasis on driver safety and greater efficiency. One innovation Phil Yeager finds particularly exciting is electric vehicle technology. “Given the short-haul nature of our drayage and dedicated businesses, electric is a great application,” he says. Hub Group has been working with manufacturer Freightliner to help develop and test electric trucks.
“The other area we’ve invested a great deal in is automation, with digital freight-matching capacity to take out redundancy and put artificial intelligence into our processes,” Yeager says.
Among other applications for this technology, Hub Group is honing its ability to give customers an estimated time of arrival for their freight. “We’ve put a lot into customer experience, and we’ve gotten to what we think is the highest industry standard for the visibility we provide,” he says.