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How well do you understand South Asian drivers?

Posted: August 8, 2018 by Mike McCarron

I was disappointed when I read headlines about the “Indian” driver who was criminally charged for the horrific Saskatchewan accident that involved the Humboldt Broncos’ team bus. If guilty he should face justice, but I’m not sure where he was born has anything to do with it.

I’m guessing if the driver were Italian it would not have been mentioned.

In my travels I can’t tell you how often I hear truckers tell me they “can’t compete with the Indians,” and I’m never sure how to react. Some of the most successful and fastest-growing trucking companies in the county are owned and operated by people of Indian origin.

To better understand this thriving community within the trucking industry, I met with Manan Gupta, the general manager of Newcom South Asian Media. Here’s what I learned from my old buddy over a sandwich.

South Asian

The first thing Manan confirmed is the way to refer to “Indians” is actually South Asian. Most South Asian truckers come from five countries: Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The majority are from Northern India and speak Punjabi, which according to Statistics Canada is the fifth-most-spoken language in Canada. It’s in a three-way race among the top languages of immigrants overall.

Northern India is rural and considered the country’s food bowl. Farming and trucking go hand in hand, which is why it’s a profession of choice when Punjabis immigrate to Canada for better opportunities.

Sounds similar to Canada in the 1930s, when farmers fueled the growth of an emerging trucking industry.

Choice of professionals

Many South Asians are trained as doctors, lawyers, and other professions, but their credentials are not recognized in Canada. New immigrants use their close-knit religious community to find jobs driving taxis or in factories, but trucking is by far the preferred occupation for many South Asians coming to Canada. It’s natural that some will use their expertise in business management, finance or law to become trucking company owners and managers.

Good, bad, ugly

I’ve seen South Asian fleet owners make deep personal sacrifices to make money and make it fast. They’re not putting nine men in a truck and cutting holes in the floorboards so they don’t have to take bathroom breaks, but the hyper-focused business philosophy can lead to their reputation as tough competitors.

Manan says it’s safe to assume you can apply the Clint Eastwood “good, bad, and ugly” formula to the South Asian trucking community — the ratio of guys running crappy equipment, smuggling contraband, and pushing hours of service limits is the same as the industry overall.

It’s a safe bet, though, that the color of their skin and turban on their heads make South Asians more visible and open to scrutiny at scales, border crossings, and on the road.

Access to drivers

I recently sat in a South Asian trucker’s lobby prior to an appointment and watched driver applicants file in one after another.

Many of you will snicker, saying access to drivers is more about how South Asian operations pay versus where candidates were born. Driver Inc. – where fleets encourage drivers to incorporate themselves to avoid source deductions – is all the rage these days, and the Canadian Trucking Alliance is lobbying against this perceived advantage that many South Asian carriers are thought to be using.

Not sure what I would have done if I still owned trucks, but my sense is I probably would have joined the Driver Inc. parade while it lasts. No one (including the Canada Revenue Agency) can definitively confirm that Driver Inc. is illegal. Sources also tell me that the government is not interested in shutting down the Canadian economy because of a loophole that carriers have been utilizing for decades.

Back to hockey

One of the many things I learned about many South Asians is their love of trucking and hockey. I’ve been moonlighting in the hockey business for years and know they represent the fastest-growing segment of the sport. If you don’t believe me, go to any community arena in Surrey, B.C., or Brampton, Ont., on a Saturday morning. Seems Canadian to me!

Mike McCarron is the president of Left Lane Associates, a firm that specializes in growth strategies, both organic and through mergers and acquisitions. A 33-year industry veteran, Mike founded MSM Transportation, which he sold in 2012. He can be reached at mike@leftlaneassociates.ca, 1-844-311-7335, or @AceMcC on Twitter.

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