Clear Direction, Abundant Communication

Clear Direction, Abundant Communication

Manny Calandrino got his first job in a trucking company in 1976, in the customer service and overage/shortage/damages department. Working his way from this entry-level position through every department, he discovered that what had started as just a job had grown into his career.


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“I fell in love with the business,” he says. “I did seven years of night school to get my diploma from the Canadian Institute of Traffic and Transportation.”

Calandrino’s history with trucking company Fastfrate dates back to 1985, when he joined Kingsway as a regional vice president of operations. He later became vice president of sales. Through a series of acquisitions and a spinoff, he served as a vice president in several business units within the Fastfrate group of companies.

In December 2016, the parent company promoted him from vice president for Eastern Canada to president and chief operating officer. We talked with Calandrino about his goals for Consolidated Fastfrate and his leadership philosophy.

IL: In your new role as president and COO at Consolidated Fastfrate, what’s at the top of your agenda?

One of our main priorities is providing service excellence. That involves not only the way we move freight, but also the way we provide visibility and communicate with customers. Our other big priority is being simple to deal with, which means responding to customers’ requests properly and quickly. Our in-house operating platform, Fastnet, has helped us with both those goals. We hope to do even better with our new system, TruckMate, which we purchased at the end of 2016. We’ve implemented it in our logistics division and plan to roll it out soon to each of our other divisions.

IL: What are the biggest issues your customers face today, and how are you helping with those challenges?

The market has changed, with a lot more import and export volume. Many of our customers are importing from Asia through either Vancouver or Halifax. They want to transload their cargo from marine containers to domestic containers. So we’ve opened transload centers in Vancouver, Halifax, and Montreal. We’ve also opened warehouses in Calgary and Halifax. If companies are bringing in product and want to store it before distributing, we can provide that capacity. Then we can distribute the freight through our less-than-truckload (LTL) network.

IL: What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen during your years in the logistics sector?

Customers are looking for more information technology these days. That’s good for a company like ours because we’ve invested substantially in IT. Another big change is the amount of consolidation in the industry. In Canada, TransForce seems to be buying a company every month. Shrinking capacity will bring new opportunities for our company. There has been a lot of consolidation among shippers, too, which changes distribution patterns.

Instead of shipping LTL, companies are moving full loads on rail into major centers and then looking for last-mile services. We also provide those services. The growth of e-commerce might offer new opportunities for last-mile delivery as well.

IL: How do you stay in touch with customers’ wants and needs?

We have a third-party marketing firm, plus 20 salespeople across the country who call on our customer base. Most of our larger, national customers deal directly with the executive team. I consider us an entrepreneurial company; we’re open to opportunities and solutions that require investment. For example, we built our transload facility in Halifax because customers told us they wanted to divert some of their volume from West Coast ports.

IL: What’s your leadership style?

I lead by providing clear direction and mandates. I like a lot of communication with my people; you have to communicate often before the message becomes clear. I believe in knowledge sharing; this creates a stronger team. My leadership team comes together on a conference call each week to review our objectives and talk about where we stand on the direction that was given. I also stay in touch with my people through email. And I insist that all branch managers and regional vice presidents meet with their entire staff weekly to share our message and direction.

IL: How has your leadership evolved over the years?

I used to be a hands-on micro-manager, doing 90 percent of the work myself, which is a recipe for eventual disaster. Now I rely on my people. To do that, I have to be clear in communicating what I expect from them, and I have to provide clear direction and expectations. I’ve also started to put a strong focus on succession planning. When I interview a candidate today, I’m looking not only for someone who can do the job at hand, but for someone who shows the potential to grow into a bigger role in the future.

IL: What have you learned from your business role models?

From Ron Tepper, our CEO and chairman, I’ve learned that you have to be a visionary and see every challenge as an opportunity. He has also taught us to become entrepreneurs. Another thing I’ve learned over the years is when you have a list of priorities, you should always tackle the big issues first.

IL: When you get up in the morning and start thinking about your business, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

It’s the thing I tell my executives all the time in our meetings: Every day we have to make decisions that will keep the company financially healthy. We have 1,500 employees who depend on us. Besides growing and managing the business, we have an obligation to them to make sure we continuously make decisions that allow us the financial stability they need to support their families.

IL: How do you like to spend your time when you’re not working?

I’ve been married for 42 years. We have three beautiful children and four grandchildren, and they take up a lot of my time. I also go to the gym every day, working out to stay healthy and in good shape.

Wanted: Well-Rounded Entrepreneurs

One of the hardest aspects of Manny Calandrino’s job is finding talented people who have worked in a variety of roles at logistics companies. “Because we are entrepreneurial, we don’t have many layers of management,” he says. “The people we choose have to be well rounded.” Ideal candidates combine experience in sales and operations and have a good understanding of costing or pricing, he says.

“When we hire somebody, we say, ‘You have to come in and run a business,'” Calandrino explains. “You can’t run a business in a silo. You have to understand the top line, your operation, your costs, and your return.” That’s different from working in a departmental or siloed role in a large corporation.

Given that view, the advice Calandrino offers to young people starting out in logistics comes as no surprise: Move around. “Become well versed in the logistics world, and don’t stick to one particular department all your life. Get a well-rounded background. Once you have that, in this business, good people rise to the top.”

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