Golden Rule

Dexter Ramsey, a 35-year-old owner-operator from Atlanta, says success in the moving business relies on a simple principle: Treat others the way you want to be treated. “I have old-fashioned ways,” he says. “Never try to get over on people, be as honest as you can, and always go out and do the best job you can.”

Ramsey applies the old adage to both people and property. “I always handle customers’ household goods as if they were mine,” he says. Leased to Suddath Relocation Systems’ United Van Lines, Ramsey has been moving families cross-country for 15 years.

“Trucking in the household business is a lot different from regular freight, because you get to interact with a lot of different people on a lot of different economic levels,” he says. “We move everyone from CEOs, to military personnel, to athletes.”

Regardless of his customers’ age or economic status, he tries to treat them the same. “Everyone is a VIP in my van,” he says.

Paul Gleason, Suddath’s vice president of operations, says he judges drivers by a simple standard. “I usually rate a good van operator by whether or not I would let him move my mother, and Dexter is one driver I would let do that.”

Gleason says that Ramsey’s aptitude for putting people at ease has helped him succeed. “You have to be a friend, a counselor and a mover all at once,” he says, noting that moving isn’t just about property. “He is a safe and caring driver.”

Ramsey says his parents taught him the value of the Golden Rule. Born and reared in Atlanta, Ramsey started loading and unloading trucks as a teen for summer work, helping a friend who worked for Suddath. “After high school, it just took off from there,” he says.

As 2008 United Van Lines Operator of the Year, Ramsey competed with 2,000 other drivers nominated for the award in on-time performance, care of the customer’s goods, accurate inventorying, appearance and interactions with customers. “From a quality level, we score on a one to 10 scale, and Dexter’s always a full 10,” Gleason says.

“All of the customers surveyed gave Dexter very high marks,” says Braxton Dailey, Suddath’s president and general manager. “Dexter has a caring attitude, a good work ethic, attention to detail, and he’s always focused on being safe when he’s on the road.

“Most of the people we deal with are in a stressful situation. So you have to know how to manage the details of your job and deal with people’s emotions at the same time.” Ramsey’s ability to balance the many aspects of household hauling netted him $80,000 in 2008.

Ramsey’s role as a husband and father enables his empathy with families as they cope with moving. While he’s on the road, his wife, Tanishia, shoulders the responsibility of their 12-year-old son Christopher and 6-year-old daughter Tyler. Christopher plays sports and is in his school’s gifted program, while Tyler, he says, is exceptionally bright. “My wife has done a good job with them,” he says. “My relationship with my family is really great, and it really does prepare me to deal with customers.”

Making a good first impression on a family is essential, Ramsey says. “You have to make sure the truck and trailer are nice and clean inside and out, because the kids often like to take tours of the truck,” he says. In addition to the basics, on tours through Ramsey’s truck, children can see school pictures of Ramsey’s son and daughter.

The challenge of comforting customers on moving day isn’t the only one involved in hauling household goods, Ramsey says. With a small team, he moves all of the household furniture out of the old house and into the new one. He loads and arranges the van himself. “We work in extreme temperatures, everything from below zero to 115 degrees in places like Phoenix,” Ramsey says, explaining that the physical demands of his job are “exercise enough.”

Arranging goods so they are protected is often challenging. “It’s a lot like playing a game of Tetris or putting a puzzle together,” Ramsey says. “It’s really a challenge because all furniture is different.” The goal, he says, is always to deliver customers’ possessions in the same condition they started in.

Mark McReynolds, Suddath operations manager in Atlanta, says Ramsey’s attention to detail and follow-through make him exceptional. “He takes everything into consideration; from the moment he’s dispatched he owns that job,” McReynolds says, noting that Ramsey contacts the families he moves rather than relying on dispatchers. “For him it becomes a personal mission to see it through to the very end.”

“You have all of their worldly possessions in that truck and you’re responsible for them when you drive away,” says Gleason, adding that Ramsey’s record for property protection is nearly flawless.

Ramsey says that as long as he can balance household hauling with time at home, the job is a perfect fit. “I like that I’m able to meet people from different backgrounds,” he says.

He’s made a few friends along the way. “If I’m out on the road, I have friends in California, and we’ll go out to different restaurants or do a little fishing.”

For Ramsey, winning Operator of the Year was an “amazing” experience. “I felt like it was a big accomplishment, like my hard work was rewarded,” he says. “I plan to continue a successful trucking career until it’s time to retire.”