People: Your best assets

By: Matt Wilson, NTEA President
Chairman & CEO, Switch-N-Go, AmeriDeck & Bucks Divisions of Deist Industries Inc. (Hadley, Pennsylvania)

This article was published in the January 2017 edition of NTEA News.

This topic has been on my mind for a number of years. In an ongoing effort to best communicate NTEA’s long-term plan and development of the Employee Recruitment and Retention Task Force, announced at The Work Truck Show® 2016, I’m going to write to the business owners, managers and influencers out there. So, don’t read this article if you are new to your job or feel like you are stuck in a rut doing the same thing every day with little to show for it (just kidding — this is for you, too). This is about the people we work with (I’ve never felt comfortable saying work for us) and how they are assets within our businesses. True enough, I believe they are not just any asset (think computer, brake press, etc.) — they are our best assets. 

Reminiscing about this topic while traveling last month, I started thinking of when I first considered myself an asset to a business. As I’ve written before, fresh out of school, I joined a large financial services firm, working in the energy trading audit practice. During some of those long, out-of-town projects, away from family for months at a time, there were moments where I felt like little more than a cog in the machine that helped Fortune 100 companies get back on track. There were years where my teammates and I eclipsed 2,000 hours . . . in overtime — and yes, we were salaried employees with no bonus or extra pay opportunities available. That said, we would have worked more if our output hadn’t suffered. More to the point, if we didn’t do the work, there were more ready to take our place. Looking at this part of the equation doesn’t make sense. Why would people do this to themselves?

Understanding why is the other part of the equation. It wasn’t until I had a few years under my belt that I realized the cycle of our work in the firm. There were learning processes that needed to happen in the field. I had a peer mentor who could be a reference point for me throughout the year. I was assigned a career mentor I met with to discuss my progress within the firm. I was guaranteed at least 80 hours of professional education each year on top of many other non-work-related learning opportunities afforded by our firm (think etiquette classes — yes, I took them as part of work). Also, there was a human resources counselor who periodically checked in to make sure I was taking advantage of all of these tools. Additionally, we had affordable healthcare, plenty of vacation and sick days. 

Adding these two parts of the equation together enables greater understanding of how my former firm kept us engaged and themselves consistently ranked on the Fortune 100 list of Best Companies to Work For. (Quick call out to NTEA member company ARI, which ranked 24th on Fortune 100’s 2016 list.) In reality, these firms are best-in-class at employee engagement, and small and medium-sized businesses can emulate some of their practices.

Looking back on the breakout session Amy Hirsh Robinson led at NTEA’s 2016 Executive Leadership Summit, a great question was asked. “How do we compete with these best-in-class companies when we are a small business in the truck equipment supply chain?” Amy responded in a way that sparked side conversations after the session ended. Paraphrasing, she said, “in that instance, it isn’t your job to compete against the best-in-class nationally or internationally — but you should aspire to be the best-in-class for your area, market or region. Also, you cannot do this all at once. Find the areas where you can improve upon or focus on your strengths and emphasize those points.” 

This year has been especially busy for me in a few ways, but in particular because I devoted more time away from my business working on valuable NTEA matters. I benefited from the hindsight of some of my past president colleagues who informed me of the travel and time commitments I would need to allocate to the Association this year. I love our business and the people who work so hard to achieve our goals. I worked closely with our president to make sure expectations were set and that a structure was in place to support my time away. I have great confidence in our team, but my role was changing as were the roles of many people in the company. New opportunities and challenges would present themselves for most people, regardless of position. This year, instead of getting daily updates as I walked by work stations, I received regular reports on strategy progress and financial results. We know that in our market, we will likely not be considered best-in-class nationally. But in our segment and, in particular, in our region, we achieved higher employee engagement, met education goals and expanded our benefits package all while I was away more than ever before. I write this knowing I’m completely biased, but this is a great example in western Pennsylvania of employees not just being our assets, but our best assets. 

In conclusion, I truly could not have contributed as much to NTEA this year without all of the help from our team in Hadley. I encourage every person (regardless of your position) who has a chance to read this article to reflect on how you may be able to improve your company’s staff engagement. If you think you are in great shape, take just two more steps and check with a newer employee and an experienced one, and ask how engaged they feel. If that checks out, then great — but I’m guessing most of us will still have some work to do. 

On a last note, I recommend attending at least one of the recruitment and retention-focused training sessions this March at The Work Truck Show 2017 in Indianapolis. Learn more about the Show and educational program at I hope to see you there.