I believe that in order for a business to perpetuate itself, you need to continually break the model and recreate the model, and continue to challenge yourself.
Ahern & Associates is a transportation consulting and analytical firm that focuses 100% of their practice in trucking, logistics, and warehousing.
The Chief Executive Officer of the company is Andy Ahern, and he publishes a nationally recognized transportation newsletter, The Ahern Advisory, and he also produces a weekly podcast on his website. The newsletter and podcasts provide pertinent information for owners and managers of transportation companies.
Mr. Ahern has also written numerous articles for the transportation industry, including Fleet Owner Magazine, Pallet Profile, Transportation Intermediary Association, the Logistics Journal, the Arkansas Trucking Association, the Memphis Business Journal, Reuters News, Transport Topics, Cargo Network Services, Bloomberg Report, and Heavy-Duty Truck Magazine.
Mr. Ahern was profiled by American Executive, recognizing him and his firm as one of the most progressive transportation consulting companies in the country.
Ahern & Associates also has created groundbreaking technologies in software specifically designed for the trucking and logistics industry, to track their cost on every individual dispatch.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
In 1987, after spending a substantial amount of time in the trucking industry, I recognized that there was a void in the trucking industry, for consultants that actually understood the challenges of the industry. I recognized at that time, in order to be successful in this business, I had to be able to offer services that would have a direct economic impact to a trucking or logistics company.
What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?
There is no such thing as a typical day in my business.
• There are always challenges;
• We are constantly looking for solutions to problems; and
• I spend a substantial amount of time networking: working with clients in developing shareholder value; addressing CSA compliance, Hours of Service, and driver capacity issues.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I believe that in order for a business to perpetuate itself, you need to continually break the model and recreate the model, and continue to challenge yourself. In the trucking industry, it is a pennies industry, and you need to focus on reducing operational costs: tracking cost, instilling accountability, and rising to occasions. I am constantly networking with transportation CEO’s that are extremely successful, as well as many of my auditing staff are ex-CEOs and Presidents of major trucking companies who retired early, and don’t have to work but want to work.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The challenges of the industry, and the stigma of the industry, really makes my job worthwhile. The trucking industry is one of the safest and most highly regulated industries in the country. The trucking industry moves approximately 70% of all products in the United States; they have one of the safest driving records in the country; yet, we are one of the most disliked industries in the country. Trucking is the backbone of Middle America, and I like the challenge of defending Middle America against the onslaught of misperceived conceptions about who and what we are.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I recognize I am not the “smartest spark plug in the engine”; I recognize that in order for a company to be successful, you have to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you, but you also have to surround yourself with youth. Youth is the future; knowledge is power.
What was one of the worst jobs that you ever had and what did you learn from it?
It was a dry cleaning job, when I was 10 years old. My mother arranged for me to deliver dry cleaning for 50¢ an hour. We lived in the Midwest so the weather was extremely cold. I would walk for 2 or 3 blocks with below 0° temperatures to deliver dry cleaning. I may get a dime or a 15¢ tip. What I learned from that is, don’t expect anybody to give you anything. If you want to make your way in life, you have to earn it.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I believe the first thing I would do is develop a business plan. I would develop:
a) How I am going to grow the business;
b) How I would capitalize the business.
c) What are the pitfalls of the business going to consist of?
d) How I will be able to afford to hire staff to grow the business.
e) Where is the cash going to come from? And most importantly;
f) Make sure I never leverage myself too high with debt.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over again and recommend everyone else does?
I keep looking at my business model and I keep changing it. I believe that if you’re comfortable in your business, that is when the decay starts. I constantly look for ways to break my model; restart my model; I constantly look for ways to continue to challenge my employees, and I continually teach my employees to consistently think outside of the box. Stay ahead of the technology curve.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Surrounding myself with people that are much smarter than me. When I started this business, I took 3 sheets of paper and I was going to list all my strong points. After a half a page, I recognized I had 2 ½ empty pages. I recognized in trucking, you need someone strong in Operations; someone strong in Accounting; someone strong in Safety; someone strong in Maintenance; and these are all very critical components to successfully operate a transportation company. Therefore, I started surrounding myself with people that had retired early, received their “Golden parachutes”, but still wanted to work. They had the knowledge I lacked.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?
In my first business, I was undercapitalized. I had too much debt and too much overhead and I lost everything. It was one of the most emotional times in my life. I had failed in every aspect of life, and it took me a long time to recognize that the problems were created by me, and only me, and feeling sorry for myself wouldn’t solve my problem. Today, Ahern & Associates is a very successful consulting company and we are entering our 28th year in business.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to your readers?
The name of the book is, The Truth about Burnout. It’s written by Christina Maslic and Michael P. Leiter, and it describes how organizations cause personal stress, and what to do about it. When growing a business and for a business to continue to be successful, it has to focus on their people skills. People make companies grow, and if an organization puts too much stress on an individual or too much pressure, or they are not compensated for their efforts, or those employees aren’t appreciated, that’s when problems arise.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
That is a difficult question to answer, because there have been many people in my life that have influenced me. My step-grandfather was probably one of my key influences in my life, as well as my grandmother and my mother. They taught me that you should always respect your elders; never be afraid to work; always love your children, and deal with problems head-on, never run away from them. I have also been influenced by some very successful people in the trucking industry. I admire their tenacity; I admire their drive; I admire their will.
In closing, I’m focused on inspirational leaders who have changed the direction either of our country, or businesses. When I look around, there are people in all walks of life that have made an impact in every aspect of their life. For example, Rudolph Giuliani, who in the midst of America’s greatest tragedy, took on dozens of critical roles and executed each one masterfully.
George Foreman, who is respected worldwide, not only as a legendary boxing champion, but an entrepreneurial genius. He continually talks about lessons in success from “The Comeback King”. Barbara Bush and the special message she was able to convey to the nation on how important families are. Or Joe Montana, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the nation.
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Ahern & Associates on Twitter: @ahernassociates
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.