ShipEX is a pretty unique company in the trucking space – from the driver compensation to the safety culture, there are quite a few things that make ShipEX different. We thought it might be interesting to interview Eldin Diglisic, the founder and CEO, and learn more about the origins of the company and the philosophy behind the way things are done here.
Q: What were you doing prior to starting ShipEX?
A: In the investment banking world. Dealing with investment portfolios, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, etc.
Q: How did you get into the trucking industry?
A: After leaving the investment world, I got a job with CR England. I started at the bottom, working as a dispatcher. I noticed that the bar was set so low and saw the opportunity to create improvement within the industry.
Q: How and when did you get the idea for ShipEX?
A: During my time at CR England, I realized the drivers were not appreciated. They were always the guy people were pointing fingers at. They had the hardest jobs. That’s how the salary idea was born. Drivers did not like the up and down in their pay. We rolled it out and that was the beginning of ShipEX.
Q: What were some key factors that pushed you to start ShipEX?
A: Seeing how the drivers were treated. They were treated poorly. I knew if somebody could come up with a salary, brand new trucks, somewhat regular routes, even healthcare… It was just a huge opportunity. Looking at it in hindsight, we started ShipEX next to the biggest trucking company in the nation, CR England. We started a little burger shop next to McDonalds – and we succeeded. We continue to grow, and it’s been a fun and scenic journey. Again, goes back to how the drivers were treated, how the market was developing and the realization that “okay, I can do this better.”
Q: Did you ever have any doubts in the process?
A: Most definitely. Tons of doubts. Any journey, you always say, am I doing it right? Am I doing it wrong? The biggest input is from the drivers. When we tweak things around, how do the drivers react to it? Seeing drivers react positively to salary, for example, it just confirmed we are on the right path. Drivers would come back and say, “hey, for the first time, I can afford a house” or “I can buy a car” or “banks are lending me money.” It was the final stamp of “hey, we did the right thing.” Numerous spouses calling in and saying “Thank you. Now I can plan my life better.” It’s helped them stabilize their own household, so that felt good. Same thing with the trucks. We gave our drivers new trucks so they won’t be spending their time in the shops – I mean things happen. Trucks break down. New trucks break down, but they are less likely to break down. It was just tweaking one thing at a time and waiting for drivers to give us the feedback so we can say this worked or this didn’t work, and what’s next? Continual improvement is what we look for.
Q: When you were first starting out, did things go the way you expected?
A: One of my favorite sayings is from Mike Tyson, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” So no, nothing goes as planned. That’s the thrill about it. You start changing as you go. Most of my management probably thinks I’m crazy at times, because I tell them we’re going to go “here”, well if that doesn’t work, let’s tweak it. You’ll always have to tweak, and it goes back to what are the drivers saying? Are they liking certain routes, are they not liking certain customers? If they don’t like delivering to ABC company, we hear that and stop doing business with them or we expect them to be the shippers of choice. It really is a communication from top to the bottom. I know drivers often say, “no one can hear me” but we listen to them. Little things like “hey, this shipper is difficult” or “they won’t let us use their restrooms” That’s the feedback I look for to start changing day-to-day business.
Q: How does it make you feel looking back to 2007 vs. Now?
A: We’re a big company. Back then I drove the semi-trucks myself – 14 years later, it’s a different company. We have procedures in place, different departments, etc. It’s not a small company anymore. It’s built on a strong foundation and it’s ready to continue to grow and go on the right path.
Q; Is there anything you wished you knew in the beginning?
A: I don’t know if I wished I knew everything in the beginning, but you’re always learning. You never know it all. Right when I start telling people I’ve seen it all, something new pops up. It could be something a driver has done, It’s like, “woah, I didn’t think that could be done” or it could be automating certain processes. I know our team is looking at things, making it easier for drivers to do their jobs. For example, the cameras now-a-days, that’s a big push. Forward facing cameras and cameras in general in the trucks – they work great. I wish I had them from day 1. Drivers always get blamed for everything. Accidents or incidents, everyone is always pointing figures at the driver, and that’s not always the fact. Cameras have helped us and continue to help us fight for the drivers, help them do their job, and defend them in many cases. Had we had cameras back in 2007, I think life would have been much easier in many instances.
Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
A: It’s easy to be a Monday quarterback, right? If you look at the game and say “I would have done this and that, etc” but no, it’s been a great journey. We continue to build, come up with innovations. We have a great team. They are always pitching me new ideas that’ll help drivers do their job. New technology, new trucks are coming. So, no, I think it’s just about rolling with the punches.
Q: If you had to name the biggest strength of ShipEX right now, what would it be?
A: The team – drivers, operations, etc. Anyone can buy trucks, trailers, software, etc. The special sauce is the team. I always tell people, “We all know what’s in the coke can. It says right on the back of it, but how you mix that formula is the success.” I have friends who say, “Eldin, you’re successful. Can you give me the blueprint?” I’d give my blueprint to anybody, but it doesn’t mean they’ll follow in my footsteps. You have to know how to mix the right team, get the drivers motivated, etc. It’s the team.
Q: Where do you see ShipEX in the next 5 years?
A: The next 5 years are really exciting. I actually read all of the surveys we send to our drivers. I’m reading the surveys, I’m hearing and listening to the drivers on what’s important to them. Of course, the equipment is a big part, and the comfort level of the equipment – heated seats, cool seats, etc. Our fleet, being a fleet of almost 400 trucks, it’s unusual how we speck the trucks. We are driver-focused. What matters to the driver? What’s the best equipment out there to do his or her job? We want to provide what truly matters to the drivers. We will continue to listen and take feedback from our drivers, so we know what we can do to make their job easier. We have a lot of big things coming.
Q: What will make a successful driver here at ShipEX?
A: I often get asked this question when I’m down at the yard. The biggest differentiator between a successful driver, and a driver in progress, is trip planning. I often joke around and say, “hey do you know the difference between trip planning and pre-trip?” I’ve been in this industry for close to 20 years and the biggest difference is the trip planning. A driver who knows what time he’s taking off, where he’s stopping, how they schedule his 70 hours, really makes a big difference. I often give 2 examples: there’s a driver who’s scrambling – he has to walk the dog, do laundry, jumps into the truck last minute and is driving from UT. By the time he enters WY, he’s already tired. Driver safety is #1. I don’t want drivers being tired on the road. That driver has lost his whole day, and he hasn’t even entered into WY. Whereas a good driver, will make a mental note of “I have to leave UT at 10 am because by 7pm, I’m going to be shutting down in Big Springs, NE.” He has his schedule set for him, which helps tremendously. What this also does, is it sends a message to their driver manager, and says, “hey, I know what I’m doing.” The expectations are set on both levels – “I expect a load when I deliver this load, because I’m running on time” vs. a driver who says, “I’ll get there when I get there.” Trip planning – knowing what you’re doing, it’s a huge difference.
Q: Why does ShipEX have a No Chain Policy?
A: Safety is number 1. A lot of these drivers have worked for other companies, because we don’t hire brand new drivers. We always look for 2 year’s experience. All of these drivers have been able to be a part of a bad company or a good company, and for whatever reason have joined ShipEX. I hear it and see it all the time – “Eldin really means safety matters.” There is no load worth your life. I’ve told drivers, I do not want you to chain up. There are of course some jokes after that, “oh Eldin is too cheap, he doesn’t want us to use the chains.” No, if you need to use them to get out of a spot, go ahead and put them on. But, if you have to drive on chains for hundreds of miles… Why? What’s so important on the back of the truck that your life is worth risking? Safety matters. To the best of my knowledge, I’m still the only CEO where the safety department reports directly to me. I want to know what the drivers are doing, what they’re seeing out there. If they’re not safe, I don’t want them working for ShipEX. I often reference, my own brother doesn’t work for me anymore because of safety related issues. Safety matters, it’s not just a slogan we have on a wall. No, it’s our culture. It’s what we live by.
Q: Where did the idea for the salary come from?
A: It came from wanting to raise the bar. The bar was set so low in the trucking industry, where a typical trucking company pays a driver $43K-48K. It’s always fluctuating and spouses at home are not able to plan their basic household budgets. The way I looked at it, a lot of drivers I felt like, would push the limit. They would drive the extra 200 miles even though they were tired, because they knew the car payment was coming. I wanted to take all those worries from the driver. I often compare our salary to a NFL team. I have all these players, I got to pay their salary. Yes they have to training, and play the games, and there are expectations that need to be met. If they go run the extra yardage or score a touchdown, we’ll go ahead and pay them extra. The salary is basically a base to make sure the driver can focus on what’s important – on driving the truck safely. It wasn’t “hey I have to push the extra 100 miles, I’m tired, I can barely see, but I have a car payment due.” So that’s really where the salary came from. Another thing is, there is no fine print. I often get asked, well what’s the catch? There is no catch. There hasn’t been any fine print. We don’t have a model where we have to lure the drivers in and somehow take them off the salary. It’s been salary since the day we rolled it out and we will continue to build on it. We won’t be canceling that option anytime soon.
Q: What does it mean to a driver to be on salary vs CPM?
A: It’s peace of mind. We had a recent event where I-80 in WY was closed for 4.5 days. Trucking companies had drivers stuck, by no fault of their own. Weather delays, customer delays, our drivers still get paid. If I was a driver working for somebody else, it would be extremely hard to be patient, to be calm, getting calls from back home and hearing, “you’ve been sitting for 4 days, you’re not getting paid. How are we going to make the power bill?” ShipEX drivers don’t have to worry about that. They know they are taken care of. The payroll does not change, because it is nothing they have done – it’s out of their control. So, as a driver, if I’m on salary, it’s probably the best thing out there. I can’t think of any other scenario. You’re getting paid, it’s out of your control and life is good.
Q: Is there anything else you want the drivers to know?
A: I appreciate everything they do for us. They are the backbone of this company. Without them, we couldn’t do it. I always say, you can buy trucks, buy trailers, you can find customers, but the ShipEX difference is the drivers. Thank you for everything you do. We appreciate it, we hear you – please complete the surveys on a monthly basis. They do come to me and I do anything in my power to make your experience better here, and to ensure you don’t leave ShipEX. With that, again thank you and I appreciate everything you do.
So there you have it – an inside look into ShipEX, how it all started, and why we do things the way we do them. If you’re interested in a company that has been driver-focused since day one, you should check out ShipEX.