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What Happens Off-The-Paper Really Counts

Feb 1st, 2013 | By | Category: Nick Kemper's Blog

Here is a profile of a typical day at TowPartsNow:

1. I drag my butt out of bed between 4:30 and 5:30 a.m., so I can make a 40-mile commute and get to the office between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m.

2. The order line rings one to four times before I can get to the office. Most of the time I’m able to answer the line on the side of the road somewhere and make some pertinent notes and get the customer taken care of as soon as I get to the office.

3. I organize my day, including reviewing a list of ongoing and pending projects, and I plan to tackle anywhere from 3 to 20 of these before I leave for the day between 5:30 and 6:30 pm.

4. Some time in the late morning or early afternoon, usually right after I have warmed up some leftovers, a handful of calls come in with orders, inquiries, or the occasional problem with a previous order.

5. My plan in step 3 goes all to hell.

6. I scramble for the next five to six hours and maybe I’m lucky to address one to three of the items I planned to address at the beginning of the day.

Sound familiar? It really wasn’t that different when I was managing a tow company. The difference was that I had a staff to handle most of the work at the tow company. Dispatchers answered the phones and took the calls. Drivers ran the calls. Account reps handled problems with accounts. Many days I was left in peace to work on important projects like training development, sales strategy and watching the Red Sox online. It was personnel issues that eventually beat me down like a pizza crust and led me to “greener” pastures.

Some days, though, I’d be forced out of my cave and into a dispatcher’s chair or a tow truck. Although it seemed like an inconvenience at the time, especially if it was unplanned, I usually ended up returning to my desk refreshed, because I was doing something hands-on and contributing directly to the successful operation of the company when I took on one of these roles.

We performed a lot of private property impounds, and we had a lot of properties we patrolled for violations, and sometimes it got too busy during the middle of the day for our drivers to hit all the good patrol lots, so if I was pulled out to run a call, I would sometimes drive by one or two of these patrol lots on my way back to the office. I enjoyed being seen out hitting these lots, especially if I found a car to tow, and especially if I was wearing dress shoes and a tie that day. There was one property in a busy business district, with a few restaurants around it, that we patrolled for permits, and if you went up there any day at lunchtime, you’d find at least one car to tow. It was less than a mile from my office, so that’s a place I hit frequently. One day I was there hooking up to a car, in my dress shoes and tie, and a patriot stopped in his Chevy van and parked right in front of my truck so that I couldn’t leave. He then got out and started yelling that someone’s car was being towed. It wasn’t his car — he didn’t even know whose car it was — he just wanted to hamper our efforts.

I called dispatch and asked them to have a police officer sent up there to make him move, and I continued hooking up to the car. One of our drivers overheard me ask for the police, and he was in the neighborhood, so he came over. This guy is one of these guys who shaves his head, arms covered with tattoos, the cigarette voice, goatee and moustache, a little heavy-set. But, like a lot of guys like that, he’s a teddy-bear inside. He isn’t really tall, so when he got out of his truck, got nose-to-nose with the van owner and told him calmly to move his van, he was looking up at the patriot. One funny aside: the driver’s wife worked for us also, and he was on his way from picking up their daughter, so their 3- or 4-year-old was in the tow truck in a car seat the whole time.

The van owner stood his ground, initially. You could tell he was nervous about the tow truck driver with the shaved head and the tattoos. Not the guy in the dress shoes and tie, but the guy wearing a uniform worried him a little. What tipped the scales, I think, was that our driver kept his voice low, kept repeating the same command, and maintained eye contact. If you can pull that off, it’s the universal signal for “I mean business.” So the patriot got in his van and moved, and I towed the car away.

As a manager, at that point in my career, I was very inconsistent. I had good days and bad days and I didn’t always connect with the employees I managed as well as I wanted to. Most days if asked whether or not my crew would back me or set me adrift if I were Captain Bligh on the Bounty, I would have given myself a 50-50 chance. I have to tell you, when that driver came so quickly to help me, and when he got out and did what he did, it was one of the most emotionally rewarding moments of my managerial career. He could have easily left me to fend for myself — I wasn’t in any danger, and I knew how to take care of the situation — but he gave a crap. When we run companies, we collate and analyze data, we project and respond, we review performance and make very arbitrary decisions. What you see off-the-paper, out on the asphalt, in the eyes of your employees — that is what really counts.

Have a safe and profitable week.

Nick Kemper