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Ryder Cowboy

Posted: August 1, 2014 by Peter Carter

In 1968, when Dan Cushing was only 18 and learning how to fix cars in Windsor, Ont., the guy he was working for, Tom Finlay, offered him a full partnership in his service station.

You read right.

A full partnership in a thriving business. Cushing was 18.

Finlay must have known a good thing when he saw it.

Because in May, 2008, some 33 years later, Cushing was named the top fleet maintenance manager in Canada.

He’s the go-to maintenance guy for Ryder Canada and as such, oversees almost 15,000 trucks and about 500 staff in locations all across the country.

The 58-year-old was presented with the coveted prize by Don Coldwell, Volvo Canada’s Service Marketing Manager at the 45th annual Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar in Toronto. And before he handed Cushing the award, Coldwell said he has personally known him for more than 30 years and that Cushing “walks the talk.” 
Not only is Cushing a deft wrench wielder, he holds the future of his profession near to heart and realizes that the trucking industry should be addressing the looming shortage of technicians as vigorously as it does the driver shortage.

That’s why he spends so much of his time chumming the educational waters trying to attract techs to the business.

His office is a gallery of thank-you plaques from educators around Southern Ontario, and he was awarded the 2003 Award for apprenticeships by the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities.

“We’re always looking toward the future here,” Cushing told Today’s Trucking.

“If I interview some guy or girl and they say ‘I want your job,’ I’ll say ‘that’s the person we need.’”

He says he’s not sure how he developed the passion for recruiting and apprenticeships, other than having an innate desire to give something back, but he knows what it’s like to work your way up from the lowest rung.

After taking the partnership in Windsor all those years ago, he was attracted away from the auto end of the business to go work at a White Freightliner dealership, where he furthered his heavy-duty technician apprenticeship.

In 1978, Ryder was looking for people and somebody Cushing knew at Snap-on Tools suggested they tap Cushing.

“Of course being offered another $2 an hour didn’t make it hard to take,” he says.

“I guess they realized early on that I was kind of a take-charge person.

“The big boss from London, Ont. came to see our operation and he looked at me and said ‘how come you know all
our customers?’”

He puts it this way:  “I hated the phone and I thought if the phone didn’t ring it meant everything was going okay.”


Working With a Net: Cushing makes tech work sound rewarding

His next promotion took him to Oakville, where he stayed for 10 years. By that time, he and wife Audrey had started raising their two children Karen, and Brian.

Finally, he moved to the Toronto location. He took a look around, saw that he was in charge of nine facilities with 200 employees and only three apprentices. “I said to the guys ‘who’s going to replace you when you guys are gone?’”

At one of his first staff meetings, he told the technicians that before the next gathering, they were to contact their nearest tech school and come back with a contact person so Ryder could start discussing training possibilities.

The next meeting time arrived, Cushing asked how many had contacted a school, and nobody had done so.

“The meeting started at 9:00 and it was over by 9:05 because nobody had done as I suggested.  They said ‘man you’re really serious about this school thing, aren’t you?’ and I said you bet I am.”

By the time the next staff meeting rolled around, three of the techs had contacted schools. They were allowed to remain; the rest were sent packing again.

The upshot is, these days, apprenticeships and training and co-op programs are ingrained in Ryder tech culture.

Cushing even brought a whole committee of academics and guidance counselors out to one of his sites so they’d know what they were talking about when they were referring students. Most, he says, had never been near a truck before.

“I just keep trying to get the word out that there’s some awesome money to be made in this business and that people who are involved love it. And Ryder is a great way to get into it, right across Canada.”

“Even if a guy starts here with no education but he’s washing trucks we want him to feel like we’ll help him get started on a career.”

Of course it doesn’t hurt Ryder’s evangelism to be hooked up with the huge international company, with its vast array of customers ranging from individual renters to multi-thousand tractor full-service leases.

He also gets to take advantage of Ryder’s expertise, its buying power and its testing abilities. For instance, Ryder’s class-8 trucks consist of about half Freightliner half International.   

Even though you might think it would make more sense to go with one single line, when you’re as big as Ryder, you don’t want the OEMs to take you for granted.

And a good mechanic, Cushing says, knows you shouldn’t take anything for granted.

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