The story of Cliff and other business people

Updated Feb 21, 2012

I learned today the story of Cliff. Learned by reading it.

Diane and I woke up this morning in our Florida vacation house where we have been since early January. We will be back on the road soon.

Checking my social networking accounts today, I came across a true and thought provoking story written by Tom Kretsinger, Jr., President/COO American Central Transport, Inc. He gave me permission to republish it here. My reply follows.


Dispatcher Lied to Me
Tom Kretsinger, Jr.

Cliff got out of his truck at the shipper’s dock. He had been there for two days turning down load offerings and was frustrated that he was not getting any miles. He was paid by the mile. Why wouldn’t the company give him a load to Dallas? During that time, he had idled his truck to keep warm, but this was costing him about one gallon per hour. His dispatcher was refusing to give him any more advances and he was about out of money. Even though his income had stopped, his truck payment and insurance bills didn’t. His settlements showed he was running in the hole the past three weeks.

As he climbed down into the snowy parking lot, he looked down the line of his company’s trailers. They all had been sealed, so he knew they were loaded. Why could he not get a load to Dallas? His mind had been on Dallas all week. His fiancée, Kathy was waiting for him. How nice it would be to get out of this cold and back to her. He had originally planned to be out two weeks, but he had been out a week and landed in Chicago when she called and told him she missed him. He asked his dispatcher Shawn for a load to back to Dallas, but Shawn said they didn’t have any going that way. Shawn had offered several other loads, but they all took him further away from his sweetheart in Dallas.

Shawn sat in his cubicle looking at his computer screen. “Why has Cliff been so difficult lately?” he wondered. The guy had been complaining about low miles for a month. Shawn had offered Cliff five different loads but Cliff kept rejecting them. He was now going home every weekend and staying for three days. And here he was in Chicago and for two days he had been turning down loads. He turned down a load to North Carolina, one to Georgia, one to Birmingham, another to Pittsburg, and another to South Carolina, all good runs with lots of miles. He had been sitting lately looking for that perfect load for several weeks, while other drivers were running hard and making money. Shawn tried to talk to Cliff, but Cliff was becoming more and more abrasive.

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Cliff opened the door and walked into the warehouse. The warehouse manager welcomed him and showed him to a break room where hot coffee was on the burner. “Do you have any loads to Dallas? Cliff asked hopefully. “We have lots of loads,” the manager replied. “It’s been busier than heck around here. We just loaded three trailers to Dallas this morning.”

Shawn noticed that his computer screen showed 10 loads and five trucks in Chicago. Customers were getting anxious to move their loads, yet Cliff was still turning down loads. “What is going on with him?” Shawn wondered. Just then, the phone rang. Cliff was on the other end. “When are you going to work and get some miles?” Shawn asked him. “I want one of these loads to Dallas!” Cliff replied. Shawn looked at his computer and the 10 loads. None of them went to Dallas. “Cliff, I don’t have any loads ready for Dallas. If you want to start making some money, you’re just going to have to take one of the loads we have,” Shawn advised. “Well, I’m deadheading home,” Cliff replied. “This company just doesn’t provide drivers with any miles.” Cliff hung up abruptly. Shawn just shook his head and went on to dispatching the other drivers.

The next week, Tom was sitting in his office working at this computer when Cliff walked in. Tom, turned, smiled and put his hand out to shake Cliff’s and greeted him. “How are you doing, Cliff? Good to see you,” he said. “Dispatcher lied to me,” Cliff grumbled in response. Tom’s face suddenly turned serious. “Sit down and tell me,” he said. “Well, last week, I was in Chicago, there wasn’t any freight, and Shawn told me there were no loads to Dallas, so I had to deadhead all the way home. I talked to the warehouse manager, and he told me they had three loads to Dallas. Dispatcher lied to me. I’m losing money because this company can’t give me any freight.”

Tom picked up his phone, dialed an extension, and said, “Shawn, could you come to my office?” Cliff suddenly looked a little apprehensive. “We’ll get to the bottom of this when we talk with everyone involved,” Tom stated. Shawn came in looked around and sat down. “What is the problem?” he asked. “Well,” Tom replied, “Cliff says that last week he was in Chicago waiting for a load to Dallas. He claims you stated you didn’t have any loads to Dallas, but the warehouse manager told him that they had loaded three loads for Dallas that morning. Do you remember this?” “I remember Cliff sitting in Chicago turning down load after load because we didn’t have any going to Dallas. Those loads he was referring to, we were not allowed to pick up for three days. If you want to pull them up on the computer, I can show you,” said Shawn. Tom looked at Cliff as he laughed, “The view is sure different from the driver’s window than from the cubicle! You both were telling the truth but just seeing different things from your own perspective.”

One month later, Cliff sat in orientation at another company. He had been there all week. They only paid $200 for orientation. He was now four weeks behind in his truck payments. The driver beside him looked at Cliff and said, “Why did you leave your prior company?” “Dispatcher lied to me,” said Cliff, “why did you leave your prior company?” The other driver looked at him and said, “Couldn’t make any money, no miles, couldn’t get home.”

Copyright 2011,Tom Kretsinger, Jr.
Used with permission


My reply:

Tom, being an owner-operator myself, I am simultaneously critical of and sympathetic to Cliff as he is portrayed in your story.

Owning and operating a truck is a business and if you do not approach it as such you can be easily led into a downhill spiral by emotions and perceptions that, while real, do not help you achieve your business goals.

An owner-operator who wakes up each morning (or night) without his or her specific business goals in mind will default to meeting emotional needs. That leads to faulty perceptions and poor decision making, which leads to reduced revenue and more pain, which leads to more poor decisions and ultimately to failure.

On the other hand, based on the information Cliff had at the time (and I grant that he did a poor job in getting the full story), it is easy to see how he arrived at his conclusion that his dispatcher lied to him.

Now comes the part that truckers will immediately grasp and office people will not. That’s the part about sitting in a truck for two days and two nights, alone, having nothing but time to dwell on the causes of your pain.

If you are hoping for a load to Dallas and did not get one when today’s freight cycle closed, time passes agonizingly slow while you wait for the next day’s activity to begin. The next day’s hope will be elevated and the disappointment increased, magnified by your girlfriend’s wish to see you and your desire to get someplace where you feel can loved again.

This is not a case of a man who is his own worst enemy. It is a case of a man who is in business but not focused on it.

Kindly note that you don’t have to look only at owner-operators to find people like that. The world is teeming with people who get into businesses of all kinds (including motor carriers, freight brokers and every other business represented in this group) without clearly defined goals. Not knowing what they need to do to make the business work, or not being willing to do it, they do instead that which feels good and thereby run the enterprise into the ground.

Such people are not their own worst enemies. The are doing the best they know how to do while being blind to their emotional needs they are trying to fulfill and the bigger picture that one must see to succeed in business.

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