Friday, June 27, 2014

Just Make Friends!

Photo Credit: United Fresh Produce Association

It was just about two weeks ago that I returned from Chicago where I attended the United Fresh Convention. Companies definitely seemed to bring their best game to the trade show floor. Seeing all the bright and beautiful displays of all sorts of produce made me reflect on the sad fact that really there just isn't enough time at home to try and cook with these natural products. It’s not uncommon when loading a produce mixer to have a customer include specialty produce items, so when I get to a convention such as this I get to see what these unique fruits and vegetables look like. Sometimes we even get to taste them!

Spending time and money on a convention is a good thing for many reasons. Meeting new people, connecting with friends, learning the latest news on current issues, and gaining fresh perspectives on familiar topics all are important elements of a trade show for any person working in the industry.  I enjoyed all of these aspects. Most valuable to me, however, were three different experiences that either strengthened me as a person or bolstered my commitment to keep pursuing the vision that I have for this company.

Within the first two days I had the opportunity to meet some of the people who my father considers some of his good friends. On the second day my son and I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with Kid Chef Eliana and her family. And on the last day, the last thing I did was listen to five women discuss the issues that are part of being a female in the produce industry.  

As I started to write this particular blog, I quickly realized that to fully define why these segments of the show were so significant I would need to do this in three separate posts. Today I start with meeting dad’s friends.

Dad has been in the produce industry since time began. Over the years he has accumulated many acquaintances, but few of these have risen to the top of his mind as a ‘good friend.’ These would include people that are trustworthy, and have trusted him. They are individuals who welcome his advice and willingly offer up their own when he is in need. The shared history between these individuals includes projects or business endeavors that were not always pursued for financial gain. More often it was for the pure fun and excitement of doing something valuable and worthwhile together with people that share the same vision and passion for doing a job well done.  

After thinking about these conversations with dad’s friends, these were my observations/learning outcomes:

Takeaway #1: If I want to fill Dad’s shoes, be a friend first. My career path, my ability to run a truck brokerage, my experience and history of participation in the produce industry, etc are all important, but in the end, people remember the person first.

It was a pleasure to talk to people about someone we both respect and enjoy.  I have learned quite a bit from my father, but I have much ahead to gain from his insight and experience. In my conversations with these individuals I could totally relate to how they feel about his vast knowledge on many topics. All of them seemed appreciative of his interest in helping them as often as he was able in whatever capacity they needed. I too have been the beneficiary of these attributes my dad routinely demonstrates.  

Takeaway #2:  People at ‘the top’ are genuine and open. Aspire to be like them.

I had the incredible privilege of conversing with people who were very educated and experienced in their own right. There is a reason that Dad respects these individuals, and just by introducing myself as his daughter I was welcomed and engaged as one of their peers. Perhaps their enthusiasm for knowing my father was the reason for their friendly reception. I was not trying to meet them to gain some advantage for my business, but rather, to learn more about the friends for whom Dad holds deep admiration. Their warmth and sincere interest in our conversation showed me that people at all levels in their careers and positions in their respective companies are for real and do not seem influenced in a negative way by their own accomplishments.

Takeaway #3  Be yourself, and be sincerely interested in others.

Because these men enjoyed talking about Jim, I had the opportunity to practice talking to people in a non-threatening environment. Ok, true, I wasn't completely relaxed because I knew I was representing my father in a way. Of course I didn't want them to think that THIS apple fell too far from the tree.  But because I was focused on maintaining meaningful dialogue, absent any pressure to be anything other than myself, it was a very enjoyable exchange with everyone.  Growing up my siblings and I would watch my father initiate many conversations with complete strangers. This was routine at all events.  He would come home with stories about these people and always seemed so impressed with the things he learned about them.  It was because he was himself, and always, and I mean without fail, used every chance he got to talk to people about what was important to them.  

When I leave for a trade show or an industry meeting, Dad’s advice is always, “Just go and make friends.” Because of his example, and opportunities to follow his advice, I now have some new friends.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Miss Chicago

All it took was three phone calls to new carriers and I realized how much I missed Chicago.  Cold calling trucking companies can be really enjoyable, especially when they find out that I am calling to compliment their truck.  I like to let them know I noticed their truck because it was sparkly clean, or it was a beautiful color, or maybe their driver had been courteous.  There are many ways a carrier can let the world know that they are professional and really care about their image and reputation.

My first call was to a company based in Chicago.  The lady was incredibly patient while I introduced myself and told her the reason for my call.  She did let me know that she had brokers already helping her move her trucks, but I was welcome to call her anytime.  

Next, Minnesota.  Again, a very kind responsive woman seemed more than happy to chat about her trucks.  In fact, she was wondering what color truck it was that I had seen out here on Highway 101 because she wanted to pass the compliment on to her driver.  She too encouraged me to let her know when I had freight going her direction.

So, completely full of myself, I dialed a California truck.  I was clipping through my brief introduction when he stopped me and asked, in a somewhat rude voice, if he could call me back.  And of course, he never did.

What a difference in attitude and helpfulness!  It made me think back about my week in Chicago.  Everybody was comfortable to talk to and willing to help in any way they were able.  We even had an employee at the aquarium graciously give us two tickets to check out their exhibits.  I tried to get him to take my credit card, but when I told him I was from California and that since I had a few hours to tour the aquarium, he insisted that I go in for free.  When I told a new friend about this exchange, he said that is how they do things in the Midwest.

Chicago has a beautiful sky line, the dining options are endless, the city seemed clean, the parks were unique, and there were a variety of things to do while we were visiting the city.  All of these attributes, and probably more that I can’t remember right this moment, served to provide a very positive experience in Chicago.  

But ultimately, it was the people that made the difference.  Helpful, genuinely interested in our well being, desiring to give or do what we needed, it was all there.  It’s probably not surprising that I can’t wait to return.  I will be very focused on trying to develop business in this city so that I have reason to visit often.

Here at Pam Young & Company, Inc. we use the phrase ‘Experience the Pam Young Difference’ to encourage people to give us try and see if how we load their trucks or handle their freight is truly different than what they experience working with other truck brokers.  Moving produce is not easy, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.  We are confident that our expertise in managing picks and drops, our understanding of product compatibility, and our diligence in communicating the right information at the correct time all serve to set us apart from many other brokers.

However, while these important characteristics of our company are valuable, it is not what will ultimately separate us from everybody else.  It will be the people, the ‘us’ at Pam Young, who will define the ‘Pam Young Difference.’

Yesterday we had a driver call to let us know he was driving out of the DC empty and had clean bills.  I love hearing that!  But the best part came next.  He told me that so many brokers treat drivers with very little respect and rarely do anything more than send a dispatch.  No further assistance, no small talk about how their day is going, nothing other than “Here’s your load.”  He said he couldn’t wait to pick up another load for me because I was really different that everybody else.  And all I did was treat him just like I would want to be treated.

That was rewarding to hear, but I am under no illusions that we too fail to consistently follow through on our own promise to deliver an exceptionally good experience to all the people who work with us.  Cold calling a few trucks, and a week long visit to Chicago helped me once again realize that our mission is nothing without our commitment to be kind, patient and helpful.

Experience the Pam Young Difference Chicago Style!

Does our encounter with the Midwest attitude sound familiar?  Send us your story to

Monday, June 9, 2014

Off to Chicago!

We're off to United Fresh in Chicago!  It was quite a week, one that at times left me wondering if all the loose ends would get tied up in time for us to take off fully prepared for the week ahead.

The 'we're' on this trip is Marc and I.  Marc is my son, freshly graduated from high school. Despite the briskness of the last 5 days, he seems ready to experience all that attending a produce convention may bring his way.   

Probably like many moms who watch their kids go through their commencement exercises, I couldn't help but think back over the years it took to get Marc to this point.  What is really amazing to me today is that sixteen of those years happened while I have owned a truck brokerage.

It has not been an easy road, pardon the pun. I know myself, I know that I prefer paths that won't severely test my resolve. I am not so sure that if I had known the challenges of building a company while raising four kids that I would have chosen this route.

But I did, and while life has become crazy at times, it has been worth almost all of the drama. Not many parents get to make this choice, but for those who do, I have three reasons why one should consider this option.

First, time flies, and even if it isn't all fun, most of it is wonderful. When I first got this company, my oldest was on the verge of starting kindergarten and my youngest was three years away from being born.  Organizing the lives of four children (all homeschooled through our county charter school) while at the same time organizing the pick ups and drops for trucks going back and forth across the country was insane at times.  But...I was present to witness most of the milestones in their lives!  I hear so often from disappointed parents about how much they have missed of their kids' childhoods. I understand sometimes there is no choice.  But do look carefully at options to make sure you aren't losing an opportunity to more fully participate in your child's path to adulthood.

Second, struggling with managing the nitty gritty details that are part of raising kids on a daily basis somehow translated into a greater connection with people.  It didn't matter if it was a buyer trying to make sure his cantaloupes arrived in time for an ad, a driver with a breakdown, a shipping clerk trying to get trucks loaded.  This business is full of potential problems. My experiences handling all sorts of things with my kids helped me understand the effects of parenting on a person who is trying to also solve a problem at work.  It can be hard for people to make good decisions and be effective workers when home is troubled.  While being empathetic in these situations didn't make the transportation problem go away, it did remove the child distraction from the equation and help us move more quickly towards a resolution. 

Last, working in front of my kids has given me endless opportunities to teach them many things. And yes, sometimes it was teaching them what NOT to do or say.  Being a good truck broker in the produce industry has tapped my skills from both my teaching and legal backgrounds. Being a good parent has taught me that winning the war is a bigger victory than winning the battle.  I have had to say I am sorry and I was wrong many times, to both my kids and people who have been part of my business.  But as I observe my children interacting with the world outside of our family, as my dad would say, 'The juice is worth the squeeze.'  They have seen that they can learn from their mistakes.

Good luck, and try to bring your kids to work. It's worth the effort.

What is one of your best work/child raising experiences?