Paez tackles the Olympian challenge of cross-border trucking
Posted: November 30, 2018 by John G. Smith
PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico – Crossing an international border can seem like an Olympian task at the best of times, with challenges ranging from ever-changing regulations to the search for backhauls. But Olympic Transport has been rising to those challenges for 29 years.
These days it is working comfortably in three jurisdictions, from its headquarters in Mexico and up into Canada.
Now with 140 trucks, owner and CEO Fernando Paez established the business when the Mexican government first allowed American trucks to be imported. He found a used 1985 tractor armed with little more information than some dealership names copied from a phone book.
But the operation is clearly more sophisticated today.
Daimler Vehiculos Comerciales Mexico president and CEO Flavio E. Rivera and Olympic Transport CEO Fernando Paez.
“We are competing with big names, and not only big names in Mexico,” he said during a discussion hosted by Daimler Trucks North America. In terms of the quality of today’s equipment, he shares the story of an Olympic truck that was parked next to a U.S. counterpart in front of Department of Transportation offices in Washington, challenging people to determine which truck was from Mexico. (Nobody could tell the difference.)
The fleet faces challenges that will sound familiar to operators in Canada and the U.S. as well.
Paez, for example, refers to pending changes to Mexico’s emissions regulations, and his worries about the higher sulfur content in the country’s diesel as well as limited access to diesel exhaust fluid. As fuel prices continue to rise, he stresses the importance of telematics and new vehicles, and the ever-present question of when to adapt emerging technologies like electric vehicles. FAST cards are needed to streamline border crossings that typically take about two hours between Mexico and the U.S., too.
With close to 95% of Olympic’s business involving cross-border shipments, he watched NAFTA negotiations with concern, but is now confident that a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement will be signed soon enough.
Still, operating in the U.S. requires more than good equipment and secure trade deals. He also talks about the importance of ensuring drivers grasp English well enough to perform their jobs.
“How are you going to teach English to an operator – who can be a very experienced operation – but he is not educated in high school?” he asked.
New Olympic drivers are assessed for their grasp of English and offered additional training to bridge any gaps. But the focus is on the basics, including how to interact with U.S. enforcement officers. “They’re very rigid, so if the operator is not well prepared, and if we haven’t given them the right training, he is going to feel intimidated,” he said. The drivers are taught how to respond kindly and with respect, looking officers directly in the eyes and offering a “yes sir”.
The training even includes a simulated inspection where they are peppered with English questions about the load and where it’s going. “We want him to feel that pressure, so when tomorrow he goes to a real inspection he already knows what it feels like,” Paez says.
Of course, finding drivers in the first place can be a challenge for any fleet.
One of the main tools to attract new drivers is a good truck, he says. With that they can work comfortably and be efficient. “We’re trying to be very competitive in terms of price, and we’re trying to increase the salaries in parallel with the market, but it’s not always about money. It’s about how you treat the driver,” he adds. Other incentives include entertainment and motivational speeches to help them identify with the company.
“We’ve had good times, bad times – and right now we are going through an important time with lots of work, with [a] stable economy,” Paez says. “We’re very glad of what we’ve been able to achieve.”
All quotes in this article were provided through a translator provided by Daimler Trucks North America.