Raising kids, raising companies

MAYBE you have pushy kids. You know, the kind who never seem to be pleased with what they get.

Buy them a kid's meal, they want it super-sized. Get them a bicycle, they want a motorcycle. If a pushy kid and a sibling each have a toy, the pushy kid wants both of them.

Of course, being a pushy kid isn't all bad. Those same traits that drive parents up the wall — when allowed to mature — can drive us to succeed as we get older. The desire to obtain more, to achieve more, and to grow more is what has led many to leadership positions in their companies — or to start a company of their own.

Since its infancy, the commercial truck and trailer industry has been like the family whose parents laid down rules and rarely enforced them. State and federal agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration require a lot from this industry, but regulators are not enforcers. There is no NHTSA police department. Companies generally are on their own to comply — Mom and Dad won't be checking on us anytime soon.

Nevertheless, most companies do what's required. They certify that the vehicles they produce comply with applicable safety standards. They maintain high quality standards and reputable business practices.

But some don't.

To put it in kindergarten parlance, that's “not fair.” But since we are all adults here, let's say that not following the rules creates an unlevel playing field.

For decades, our industry has complained about backyard shops — those that forgo product liability insurance, that neglect the engineering required to certify completed vehicles, that fail to collect federal excise tax, and that are willing to build whatever the customer wants — regardless of safety. But only in the past decade have we been systematic in recognizing those who play by the rules — and rewarding them for doing what's right.

During the past year, these efforts really gained traction. Industry trade associations took major steps to elevate performance standards in the commercial truck and trailer business. For example, the National Association of Trailer Manufacturers last year voted to make its compliance verification program mandatory for membership in the association. That program includes having an NATM staff member do on-site inspections to verify that the company really does what it says.

The Canadian Transportation Equipment Association is developing a similar program. At its annual manufacturer's conference (see coverage beginning on Page 30) CTEA's Eddy Tshirhart led a presentation on the association's new Job File Level of Excellence program. The CTEA program, like that of NATM, involves sending association staff for on-site consultations. It's designed to spotlight those companies that do what they should and to provide them with ways to do things even better.

The issue is an important one for the National Truck Equipment Association. Effective mid-2011, the association again raised the requirements of its Member Verification Program (MVP).

“MVP has been a continuous march for us since the program was introduced,” says Bob Raybuck, NTEA's director of technical services. “We started in 2005 with five criteria, four of which were optional. Today members have six criteria that they must meet, and we require members to meet at least one of three optional criteria.”

NTEA has been putting higher standards in effect in July on an annual basis. This year the association added two optional criteria — a written policy outlining the company's environmental policy and a customer post-sale follow-up process. Raybuck says additional requirements are in the works. The association will be placing more emphasis on education, encouraging its members to upgrade their expertise through a wide range of sources.

As we mature, the decisions we must make become more complex. Often we are forced to choose between what's best for ourselves and what's best for our company. And we have to weigh short-term gain against long-term vision.

Kids still grab toys, and some companies still grab easy sales by taking shortcuts. The programs that our associations are developing can't send those companies to time out. But by keeping the spotlight on the professionals, they can show the pushy kid his time is up.

Agree or disagree? Make your voice heard by visiting trailer-bodybuilders.com and clicking on “Contact Us.”

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