Wadhams Enterprises : Safety First

Tom CullumEditorial Team
Tom Cullum - Regional Director Editorial Team

As an historic family-owned transportation company, Wadhams Enterprises is steeped in heritage. We speak with Steve Wadhams, President of the organization, to dive into operations.

The industry is exciting, scary, and unpredictable all at once.”

Those are the words of Steve Wadhams, President of Wadhams Enterprises.

Today, the North American market is dynamic and challenging in equal measure. Steve believes it’s important to be agile and adapt to the latest trends quickly in order to be ahead of the competition. 

“It is exciting if you like change as it is changing fast and it’s hard to keep up,” he explains.

“Technology is moving very quickly, and it is unpredictable.  And sometimes, people say that they want something before they really need it.”

Wadhams Enterprises is a family-owned and operated transportation firm. The company combines the flexibility and capacity of a large business, with the personal, friendly and service-orientated approach of a family-run business. 

In 1949, Earl (Red) Wadhams began the business upon the acquisition of his first milk hauling truck. Today, his sons Rick and Steve work with more than 750 employees while maintaining a fleet of over 430 trucks and 600 trailers. Over the past 72 years, Wadhams has grown and formed three distinct divisions: ARG Trucking Corporation, Earl T. Wadhams Inc. and RIST Transport Ltd. 

“Our three divisions complement the other from an admin side of things,” explains Steve. “Wadhams Enterprises itself gets a lot of buying power from the companies operating under one umbrella, the resources that we use, our safety department manages all the different companies and business units. Our HR department covers all of them.”

The company believes in establishing a foundation of respect, reliability, flexibility, integrity and customer service in order to thrive throughout the years regardless of any industry changes. For Steve, there was never a question over which direction his career would take. 

“Both my brother Rick and I spent our childhoods riding with our dad and drivers on the milk routes, and then later before we were old enough to get our licenses, we both worked in the shop,” he recalls. “We spent time in dispatch operations, and the administrative back-office side as we grew.  As we expanded into other areas of transportation such as petroleum and freight so did our personal growth.”

With a rich family connection, Steve believes that it is his father’s mindset and mantra which has acted as the catalyst for the success the company enjoys today. 

“Ever since 1949, there hasn’t been one minute when everything is shut down or we’re off duty and that includes Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” he explains. “We grew up with that mentality because we realize that we can’t fail the farm community that we service, and I think that carried over to the other businesses. My dad led by example. He never asked anyone to do what he wouldn’t do.

“I think Rick and I have tried to be the same as him but it’s harder now because a lot has changed and it’s almost impossible to know it all. We have had to learn to trust and put faith in others.”

“Safety is our biggest concern. Finding enough qualified drivers isn’t a new story but it is a continuing one. But it’s not just drivers. We must find the techs that will be on call when a driver has a problem at night, or a road service company that will have the techs that will go out at night on a road service call.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic meant companies had to transform operations almost overnight. For Steve, he acknowledged his company had to do things differently to mitigate the impact of the virus. 

“It certainly did change our operations because we had to make a lot of adjustments, particularly in our office,” he says. “We were sending a lot of our LTL traffic and customer service people to work from home and set people up to ensure that we had the proper office set up. We had to do this across all our facilities because ultimately, safety is the key. It did affect us, and we had to think differently.”

As the pandemic took hold, areas such as Northern New Jersey and New York, where one of RIST biggest terminals were based, were one of the areas that were hardest hit initially because of COVID. 

“I thought they were going to shut everything in that New Jersey county down at the time. I didn’t know what we would have done if that was the case because that is one of our major hubs,” explains Steve. “We weren’t taking any chances. Early on, masks were difficult to come by and were extremely overpriced. Fortunately, we found a local vendor here that we got our first masks from and acquired our first 10,000 masks. But our drivers and operations people on the front lines haven’t missed a beat. They’ve stood up to the challenge and have been very diligent.

“The cost has been significant both from a supply standpoint and the time required. We’re already drivers and staff short so we lose productivity with contact tracing when our drivers get told to isolate. But it’s something we’ve just had to deal with.”

For Rick and Steve, they are not used to resting on their laurels and standing still. It’s a mantra instilled in them by their father and one they follow closely today. 

“Since our dad founded this business, we haven’t missed a day of operation,” Steve affirms. “Of course, we’ve been hampered by bad weather and other challenges but there hasn’t been one minute that we haven’t had something happening. I believe this is our competitive advantage. To service our customers in the right way, you have to be there 365 days a year. It doesn’t end.”

Establishing key, strategic business relationships with partners is essential to long-term success. To Steve, he points to his company’s collaboration with Idelic as a key example of a mutually beneficial partnership. 

“It’s a relatively new relationship, but they’ve asked me for a number of years to work together,” he explains. “Their software is something that brings together a lot of the tools that we have already here with our onboard computer software and bring in our drive cam data and our in-house data that brings all of this safety information together almost instantaneously. This allows us to look at our high-risk drivers and enables our supervisors to identify quickly which drivers we need to address, coach and discipline to mitigate risk. 

We are excited about this project and investment.”

As digital transformation has started to transform the logistics and trucking industry, Steve recognizes that the space isn’t like it used to be and he has had to adapt, but stresses that his partners have played an influential role in helping his company remain a major player. 

“Technology and equipment is moving fast,” he says. “Our trucks and trailer equipment vendors are vital to us and our partners that help keep us competitive are important. I can’t emphasize that enough. In my opinion, all the new truck manufacturers struggle with the downtime of the new equipment.

Sensors and check engine lights coming on and shop time needed to evaluate all causes lost productivity. Back in the old days, you bought a new truck and it just ran but that isn’t the case anymore with all the new technology. It’s not as simple as it used to be.”

Recruiting and retaining the right staff is an essential component of any business, but even as a family-run organization, Steve acknowledges the need for great employees to lead and surround the company with talent.  

“Between my brother and I, five of our eight children work in the business,” he explains. 

“They are all working in different departments and are learning different things.”  

However, when it comes to bringing in new employees, Steve is adamant that potential employees must showcase the right characteristics. 

“This job isn’t for everyone,” he says simply. “Hiring the right people that are loyal and have dedication to the business is our first priority. But, it’s not nine until five and it’s not for everyone. Safety is essential and you can’t just turn the switch off at five in the afternoon.”

It is fundamentally clear that safety comes first to Wadhams and as such, the firm is upgrading its Lytex drive cameras to allow for better visibility over driver operations and more coaching opportunities.  

“This will even further make the Idelic software even better for us,” says Steve. “Safety is an ongoing task and it’s tough for supervisors who really need to be promoting safety if they’re so tied up in operations all the time to do their homework to talk intelligently about safety. 

Idelic streamlines this process and allows our supervisors to thrive with the information they’re given in real-time.”

With the future in mind, Steve is keen to continue ensuring that safety remains the priority and is constantly seeking ways to scale it further. 

“We’re seeking continued growth in some areas of the business,” he stresses. “I believe in the LTL and in the milk hauling markets because there are some opportunities there to grow with some major Northeast LTL carriers that have exited the business and with our flexibility in the milk hauling market. With our service, this will give us an advantage over a lot of our competitors. I believe the future is bright.”

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By Tom Cullum Regional Director