Managers play an instrumental role in creating a workplace environment. A bad manager can hurt productivity and foster an environment that is unbearable or even unsafe, while a good manager keeps things running smoothly and fosters an environment that is safe and fulfilling for its employees.
Nowhere may this be more true than at Transport America’s support center in North Jackson, Ohio, where more Transport America tractors and trailers are serviced than at any of the company’s support centers.
Servicing an average of 25 tractors and trailers per day, the North Jackson support center is outfitted with 5 drive-through work bays and is staffed by 17 diesel mechanics.
With that level of volume, it would be understandable that the patience of the center’s mechanics and technicians would be tested daily, as Transport America drivers feel the pull of the road and the need to keep their wheels moving. But to Shenard Gordon, the North Jackson Shop Manager since June, the key is to maintain a positive attitude and a respectful workplace.
“I’m not a sit-down manager,” says Gordon. “I put on the uniform and get my hands dirty side by side with my technicians. We’re all on a first name basis and I keep a positive attitude so we can joke around and have fun while taking our job seriously. I think they respect that.”
As important as the relationship between the shop manager and technicians is, for Gordon the customer always comes first.
“We judge our success by the customer service we provide to our drivers,” says Gordon. “Without them there’s no Transport America. When a driver comes through our doors they probably aren’t in the best mood — something’s wrong with their rig and the last place they want to be is sitting, waiting around for their truck to be repaired or maintained. So we greet drivers with respect, call them by their first name, and try to get them in and out as fast as possible.”
It’s that kind of positive energy that is transforming the relationship between technicians and drivers throughout Transport America, starting in North Jackson.
“We are all on one team. We all sink or swim based on our mutual respect for one another,” Gordon adds.
Gordon’s empathetic management style is inline with Transport America’s commitment to safety, respect, and integrity.
“Transport America feels like my home,” says Gordon. “Everybody seems to care, you’re not just a grease monkey to them. It means a lot when Paul Simmons (Transport America’s President) or Phill Reynolds (Vice President of Maintenance) comes to your shop, shakes everyone’s hand, calls you by your name, and has an actual conversation with you. I’ve been with other companies where that’s not the case.”
Gordon has been with Transport America for 14 years but he’s been a diesel mechanic for more than 20. It was a long road to Transport America and North Jackson, and Gordon had his sights on something completely different when he was a kid.
“You may not believe this but I wanted to be a mortician when I grew up,” says Gordon. “I planned to go into it once I graduated from high school, but my dad encouraged me to think about going to school as a diesel mechanic, instead.”
From a young age Gordon was good with his hands and curious about how stuff works.
“I would take apart things like lawnmowers, watches and clocks and put them back together just to see how they work,” says Gordon. “My dad was a truck driver for 27 years and he recognized that my talent would make me a great diesel mechanic.”
After graduating from high school, Gordon took his dad’s advice and went to technical school. Soon, Gordon was putting his skills to use but he didn’t feel at home.
“When I was working as technician for a different company before coming to Transport America, the CEO would visit the shop, go straight for the manager’s office and leave without speaking a word to any of us,” says Gordon. “To them I was just a number and not a human. It’s completely the opposite at Transport America.”
Now, Gordon does what he can to help other diesel mechanics follow the same path he took.
“I share my knowledge and mentor those technicians who want to excel,” says Gordon. “I go out to restaurants near truck stops looking for mechanics who are seeking a better place to work. I drop by local technical schools, and let them know about opportunities in our field. The point I make to everyone everywhere I go is: every mechanic should be treated the way we are at Transport America.”
Part of that treatment is the emphasis Transport America places on the safety of its workers.
“It all starts with safety. If you care about the safety of your employees, you respect them. That’s why we take safety very seriously,” says Gordon. “We practice safe work methods such as wearing safety goggles and face shields, and once a week we do a safety walk around the shop and make sure things such as cords and fire extinguishers are secure. We also complete OSHA safety training every month.”
An important aspect to maintaining a safe working environment is staying up to date on all the latest technology.
“There’s lots of training to keep up with Transport America’s newest technology,” says Gordon. “We have to stay ahead of the game and know what it is we’re working on. The latest software in our trucks actually gives us step by step troubleshooting instructions, but if we still have to know every component and how each works, otherwise we’d be lost. That would make drivers spend more time in the shop and hurt our goal of driver satisfaction.”
When asked what makes North Jackson such a successful shop, Gordon’s answer is simple.
“The biggest thing is how you treat people. Respect goes a long way and there is a lot of respect at Transport America”