TORONTO, Ont. — This isn’t the first time Scott Smith has occupied a seat at the head of a boardroom table. The president and chief executive officer of Ontario-based JD Smith led the Ontario Trucking Association from 2004-06. Now, just a little over a decade later, he has been handed the gavel for the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA).
As familiar as the role might appear, this is a time of significant change among some of Canada’s largest trucking associations. Stephen Laskowski is entering his first full year as chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance itself. Recent months have seen changes to senior staff at the British Columbia Trucking Association and Alberta Motor Transport Association, too.
Smith stresses that they can all count on his support.
“My feeling, as a chair, is to support the staff and understand the issues and also understand the issues from the members’ perspective,” he says, suggesting the alliance of provincial trucking associations has evolved to a point where “common sense and business principles rule the day.”
The ultimate goal is to promote ways to level the “playing field” for Canada’s trucking companies, whether the issues involve compliance, labor, taxation, or the environment, he explains, offering the example of efforts to require electronic logging devices in Canada.
Openly supported by the alliance, the framework for such a mandate has now been published in Canada Gazette: Part 1, which is the first step in the federal rulemaking process. The CTA wants a rule in place no later than the end of 2019, which would replace the logbooks of federally regulated carriers in the midst of Smith’s two-year mandate.
But that’s just one example.
“There is a feeling that the industry is getting stronger, that industry safety in general is improving, safety of equipment is improving,” Smith says. “The benefit or rewards for compliance, those still seem to be somewhat absent.” That’s where a strong industry voice would have a role to play, and Smith believes a strong association and healthy industry go hand in hand.
Like father, like son. Smith’s father, Doug, served as chairman of the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) from 1985-86. Sketches in the JD Smith boardroom recognize Service to Industry Awards that each executive earned in different decades.
“I grew up watching my father participate, meeting the iconic figures in the industry at a young age,” Smith recalls. When his dad was named chairman of OTA, committee work seemed like a natural thing to do. And the younger Smith says he’s gleaned as much from the association experience as he has put into it, whether serving on the board of directors or in senior roles with membership and convention committees.
Smith recalls attending a golf tournament with a friend from the economic sector, who was taken aback by all the competitors who had come together. “He found it remarkable, the number of industry people in the same room, and collegial attitude.”
Then again, it’s an environment Smith has known his entire life. Employees remember a young Scott “terrorizing the office” during Saturday-morning visits with his dad. Like other children in family-owned businesses throughout the industry, his first jobs were in trucking as well. At first that involved repacking cookbooks in the warehouse, or unloading boxcars of Dole pineapple. When studying economics in university, he spent his summers at the wheel of a medium-duty truck.
There were a few years outside of trucking, but he returned by his mid-20s.
“There was always the feeling that this is where I wanted to go,” he says. “I loved the people aspect of the business. I liked the diversity of the customer interactions. I could see and touch the impact we were having.”
There were the jobs in over, short, and damage claims; work with the operations manager; various sales-related roles. Ultimately the career path led to where he sits today.
Smith hopes that his lifelong connection to a regional carrier will help other fleet managers to see CTA as more than a club for the largest cross-border operators. One of his goals over the next two years is to increase the voices of those outside of Ontario, further strengthening the national nature of the alliance.
Like other member-driven organizations, there’s also the ever-present challenge of attracting businesses that are not yet involved, especially against a backdrop of industry consolidation, and a younger generation of managers who may not be as quick to join associations of any type.
“One of the challenges I’d like to look at is the aspect of how do we get the next generation interested in participating, and what are the things that drive them or make them join,” Smith says. “Consolidation makes the industry less fragmented, but it’s still an industry dominated by small companies.”
They all need a voice.