LeaderSHIP Profile: Right on the Dot

LeaderSHIP Profile: Right on the Dot

Bryan Langston has had a busy few years. He’s getting his company back up to speed after the pandemic; focusing on driver safety, training, and retention; and opening a new distribution center. But, he is never too busy to be there for all his employees and his door is always open.

In 2021, Bryan Langston made a leap to the other side of the loading dock door.

For more than 20 years, Langston had worked in a series of warehouse-focused management positions at Dot Foods, the largest food industry redistributor in North America, based in Mount Sterling, Illinois. Most recently, he served as the company’s vice president of warehousing.

Then, Dot promoted him to president of its affiliate trucking company, Dot Transportation, Inc. (DTI). In a conversation with Inbound Logistics, Langston discussed his move to the transportation side of the business, his development as a leader, and what he’s up to lately.

IL: What was it like to transition from warehouse operations to trucking?

It was like going back to being a rookie again. After many years of knowing who to ask and where to go for things, I felt at first as though I were in the dark. But our company has really good people who helped me along while I learned the ropes.

IL: Describe an experience from early in your career that helped to shape you as a leader.

A long time ago, I worked as an assistant department manager in a retail grocery store. We were doing a big inventory, and one individual who worked for me came in three or four hours after we were scheduled to start. This person had a pattern of being tardy.

Unfortunately, I lost my cool and did not communicate well. His reaction was just to smile at me. This experience taught me the value of maintaining composure when you deal with a tough people situation, no matter the circumstances.

IL: When you became president of DTI early in 2021, you said the company’s top priorities would be safety and staffing. How has DTI progressed on those two fronts?

We’ve had a phenomenal few years with regard to our motor vehicle accident rating. On the personal injury side, it took some work to get everyone back up to speed after the pandemic, when we weren’t going on customers’ docks or doing our other usual physical work. 2021 was a challenge but 2022 was a good year. As for staffing, we’re well above our driver hiring plan.

IL: To what do you attribute your success in those areas?

The key to safety is attention to detail and having people do the right thing. It’s also a matter of training and focusing on where we have opportunities to improve. Our staffing success comes thanks to a dedicated group that focuses on hiring and taking care of our existing drivers to reduce turnover.

Also, in 2021 we started our own commercial driver’s license school. That has paid dividends from a staffing standpoint and has also helped us attract a diverse pool of candidates.

IL: How have pandemic-induced supply chain distortions affected your customers’ requirements, and what adjustments have you made at DTI to meet their needs?

Just like consumers, the businesses we serve want to be able to buy what they want, when they want it. Although our suppliers sometimes struggle to produce at a high level, we have to minimize the effects of that challenge, so there’s no negative impact on our customers.

One big thing we worked on in 2021, and improved in 2022, was on-time delivery. Limitations in the market sometimes keep us from shipping every single product in a customer’s order. But keeping our delivery appointments is a high priority.

IL: What’s at the top of the agenda for DTI right now?

We’re concentrating on retention and driver satisfaction. Some drivers want to be on the road for many days and accumulate lots of miles, while others want to get home every night. We want to make the right scheduling match for each driver. For example, we’re looking at how we can place additional terminals around the country, so we’ll have more runs that get drivers out and back home in a single trip.

We also have a new distribution center coming on line next year south of Nashville, and we’re already hiring drivers for that market. We’re upgrading our drivers’ handhelds and in-cab units, and keeping an eye on the next generation of safety technology for our trucks.

In addition, we’re working to upgrade the information technology platforms that we use to manage our business.

IL: How would your team describe your leadership style?

Most folks would say it’s collaborative and transparent. I ask what other people think we ought to do, rather than say, “Here’s what we’re going to do; I hope you like it.” I also like to walk the department and the break area to interact and talk to our drivers to learn what’s happening on the road.

All of us at Dot Transportation have an open-door policy, and I try to be available to people no matter what job they do. That helps me understand what’s going on throughout the business and learn when there are developmental opportunities for leaders. It also gives me insight into what issues the business needs to work on.

IL: What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Slow down. Start earlier in life to establish a routine for staying healthy physically, mentally, and financially.

IL: If you could have dinner with one person, alive today or from the past, who would that be?

My paternal grandfather, Patrick Lynch. He knew how to do just about anything with his hands, which is not a talent of mine. By the time I was old enough to realize how deficient I was in that area, he was too old to help me learn to fix a car or repair a roof. He is one of my heroes.

IL: How do you like to spend your time outside of work?

I play golf and hunt. My wife and I like to travel and try different kinds of food. We also have active kids: a trumpet player, Boy Scouts, and a soccer player. I like seeing what they do and remembering how much I enjoyed those activities.

How Goes the Flow?

Every morning, Bryan Langston’s first business task is to scan his e-mails for emergency issues he needs to address right away. Then, as soon as he walks into his office, he checks on what he calls the flow of his operation.

“Based on my previous life in warehousing, combined with my current work in transportation, I have a well-rounded observation of how things are flowing: how well we’re moving loads, whether we’re running on time, what’s going on in the warehouse that will or won’t set DTI up for success,” Langston says.

He also checks conditions on the road, including disruptive weather that might require the company to redeploy resources. “The beautiful thing about our network is that we can move drivers from one DC to another to lend support if we’re going to lose a couple of days of delivery, for example, because of a hurricane,” he says.