Improve, Adapt, Overcome: The Navajo Way
Brandon Bodine, Vice President of Navajo Expedited, discusses prioritizing team spirit and maintaining a prestigious reputation on North America’s logistical landscape
Writer: Phoebe Harper | Project Manager: Tom Cullum
“In transportation, those who adapt the quickest tend to be the most successful,”- so states Brandon Bodine, Vice President of Navajo Expedited – the most recent brand within the Navajo Express Incorporation. “It has forced providers like us to improve, adapt and overcome. We are very proud of the way we have responded to this most recent set of challenges.”
Bodine’s statement, in reference to the ongoing logistical hurdles posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, surmises the adaptability and agility that is foundational to Navajo Express’ logistical prowess on the North American supply chain landscape. The very name hearkens back to the semi-nomadic Native American people, connoting the peripatetic nature of facilitating transport solutions across the breadth of North America.
“At our core, Navajo Express is a long haul refrigerated carrier who specializes in the delivery of protein (meats) and temperature-controlled grocery products,” Bodine outlines.
From their headquarters in the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado, Navajo Express leverage their experience of over 75 years providing freight transportation solutions across 48 states. Bolstered by the backing of a 1,000-strong team of professional drivers, and an equally sizeable fleet of tractors and trailers, Navajo Express is well-established as a leading trucking company.
Complimenting the core over-the-road (OTR) business are a string of regional operations teams dedicated to serving specific customer needs.
“Our customer base is a very diverse mix of the top grocery chains, meat packers, water and beverage companies, and general food suppliers in the US,” Bodine elaborates.
“Since the early 1980s, from our base in Denver we have picked up protein from what we call the meat patch (IA, NE, AR, MO) and delivered it all over the country, often returning to the center of the US with produce on our reefer trailers. This has been the core business model for our over-the-road trucking business for several decades,” Bodine explains.
Fast forward to today and the constantly shifting phenomenon of logistics has bought adaptations within the Navajo family. Indeed, Bodine’s career trajectory is intrinsically linked to the advent of the Navajo Expedited brand, which launched in 2019 as the latest extension of the Navajo Express Incorporation.
“I have been with Navajo since October 2018 and coming here was the perfect pairing. We have been able to accomplish some amazing things together in a relatively short period of time,” he muses fondly.
“The launch of Navajo Expedited has been an absolute dream come true. We started with a great trucking brand, and an ownership who deeply understands trucking. They allowed me to assemble a group of driven and like-minded people to steer the course of this Limited Liability Company (LLC),” Bodine continues.
“We launched Navajo Expedited on January 1st, 2019, and in year one we eclipsed $25 million in revenue – this was about $10 million above my projection.”
The challenging context of the two years subsequent to the inception of Navajo Expedited has not thwarted the brand’s impressive growth during its nascency.
“That successful first year paved the way for us to more than double our revenue in year two, breaking $62 million in 2020. Through the first four months of 2021, we are well on our way to doubling our business once again and eclipsing $120 million in revenue,” Bodine informs us.
“We feel these results are unprecedented, especially considering that we did not start with millions in seed money or a massive head count,” he observes.
Bodine’s own path into the logistics industry is reflective of the dedication and entrepreneurial spirit that Navajo values within its employees. Bodine pursued opportunities despite the challenging personal circumstance of establishing a fruitful career whilst raising a young family and balancing the commitments of working in the customer segment of the supply chain alongside studying for an MBA.
“I travelled across the state of Florida, interviewed with, and ultimately took a new job with a brokerage that was approximately three hours from home and my very pregnant wife - it was a gamble for sure but one that has paid over more than I could have ever imagined at the time.
“I started off just working the phones and working freight but took the company laptop home every single night. I was a sponge learning everything I possibly could. Within 30 days I was the leading broker, within 60 days I had my own accounts and at 90 days I managed a small team. Since then, this has been the industry I have called home.”
“The level of engagement, buy-in and alignment in this group is off the charts. We have a core group of people who have given so much to achieve these results. I am incredibly grateful for the team we have in place”
FAMILY IN THE FRONT SEAT
It soon becomes apparent that for Navajo Express, alongside the all-important company numbers, there are other metrics that the company measures its success by, such as employee retention.
“I was extremely satisfied with the staffing, structure, and relationships that Navajo Expedited were able to establish in year one,” comments Bodine in reference to Navajo Expedited. Indeed, the LLC’s first six “critical” hires continue to excel in their prominent roles two and a half years later. “I know that all of them will be here for years to come training, coaching, and developing the next waves of talent we bring in,” Bodine quips confidently.
“Navajo Expedited ended year one with approximately 12 employees, year two with 26 employees and we will likely end this year with right around 50 employees,” Bodine informs us.
In keeping with the mentality that one might expect from an historic, family-owned enterprise, it is this banding of ‘driven and like-minded people’ across the entire incorporation that is fundamental to Navajo Express’ operations. Again, the company’s name connotes the sense of kinship behind the clan structures of the Navajo people which is reflected in the community ethos and personal touch that Navajo Express fosters.
“All shippers within the Navajo Express enterprise employ a total of over 900 employees between our corporate office and terminals,” states Bodine. “We are still a family-owned company where myself - and even our owner Don Digby Jr - visit our customers and know them personally, and all of our drivers as well.”
For Bodine personally, the spirit with which he manages staff is the result of a sports mentality nurtured as a former athlete, centered on team spirit and a healthy degree of competition. “I have one motto that I live by when it comes to employee performance. My belief is - if you want to get the very best from your employees, all you have to do is keep score.
“Even though each position group does compete internally, all our monthly goals are team and customer driven. There is a lot of friendly banter in the office but we are all pulling the rope together, in the same direction.”
Although steadily enjoying continual growth, Navajo Expedited remains dependent on a small team. As such, Bodine is fully cognizant of the value and efforts of the individuals behind the brand.
“As you can imagine with such a small group generating 4,000 plus loads per month and this kind of revenue, it takes an exceptional group of people.”
The personal approach that is central to Navajo Express’ staff relations extends to all professional working relationships and serves to empower employees by creating recognition and a sense of value.
“This not only creates a very natural alignment within our company, but it also gives the teams in our corporate office, our offsite terminals, our drivers out there being our face to customers that, sense of pride,” Bodine explains. “They know the brand and the company they represent and care about representing it in the best way possible. These factors create internal alignment and stability which allows us to offer a product with those qualities to the market.”
Higher up within the company structure, inspiring leadership and an intimate involvement across all avenues of operation streamlines inter-company communication, enabling the efficiency that Navajo Express is most known for.
“Although a relatively young LLC, Navajo Expedited has a fantastic group of business leaders which is led by Matt Yasovsky, our Vice President of Operations. He is not tucked away in some office - he is right on the floor with Operations.
“He is a visible leader, communicating with this group and ensuring our replies are near immediate. Therefore, we maintain the ease of use and we are always aligned. These are just a few ways we remove the typical barriers to productivity in our industry,” Bodine informs us.
This also falls in line with the Navajo Express leadership. Indeed, Bodine’s first impression of Navajo Express’ owner, Don Digby Jr, immediately highlighted such differences. During a meeting at Navajo’s corporate office, Digby Jr delivered a message hoping to improve the company’s on-time delivery – which, although operating at a success rate in the high nineties, was not quite at 100 percent.
“What struck me was the fact that he (Don Digby Jr) did not just lament his frustrations but gave a detailed description of the action items each department would take to improve.
“This left a lasting impression on me, as previously I worked with C-level executives who were great at voicing displeasure but could not lay out the ‘how’ the way our President just did. I feel this is a direct result of the fact he came up in this business - he knows the operation inside and out and has sat in just about every chair within our organization at one time or another.”
A wider extension of the Navajo family are the essential, formulative partnerships within the company’s supply chain operations. As Bodine observes, “it has never been more important to focus on positive partnerships with shippers, suppliers, and vendors as we continue to experience tight capacity, and challenges with driver retention.”
Here, as with their staff, longevity is an asset, and Navajo Express prioritize the treatment of their drivers when pursuing and forming new client relations.
“When our team discusses new opportunities with our current or potential clients, the first question is, “how do you cater to the drivers?” Do these suppliers, vendors or shippers have the abilities for drop trailers, do they have driver facilities, what ways can they improve daily life for our drivers or equipment? These are all things that are important to keep our drivers moving and our customers needs met,” he explains.
“We are fortunate to have customers and suppliers that we have been working with for over 20 years – those are the people you enjoy doing business with.”
“Our philosophy is to bring simplicity to our customers’ supply chain”
In a world that is anything but, Navajo Expedited endeavors to keep things simple. At the very crux of simplifying what can be a complex and fragmented process, lies communication. “Our philosophy is to bring simplicity to our customers supply chain,” Bodine concurs.
“We set up our operation so that customers have direct contact with our key decision makers every single day - all day and night. We believe this removes indecision and delays from the process and provides quick answers and actions.
“I have very specific metrics on our turnaround expectations when it comes to Requests for Proposals (RFPs), bids, and especially spot quote requests from customers. We reply promptly and we provide an option for coverage,” he explains.
Indeed, it is this simplification that Bodine attributes to Navajo’s ongoing successes.
“The key differentiator at Navajo Expedited is our ability to work faster, longer, and more efficiently than the competition,” Bodine observes. “Our employees know exactly what we need in terms of freight, rates, commodities, etc. and these are the people our customers are interacting with. Therefore, when our customers offer us opportunities, we have accepted the order and likely entered it while our competition is still ‘checking with their planners’.”
NAVIGATING LOGISTICAL HURDLES
Turning to talk of the pandemic, the benefits of the fundamentals of communication that are embedded into the core of Navajo Expedited’s operating model became obvious.
“During the pandemic, this set up has really paid off as customers are short-staffed, working remotely and are seeing all-time highs in terms of freight volumes. They simply do not have hours or even days to wait for a response from a carrier partner - they need prompt replies and even more importantly, prompt actions.”
Bodine attributes the strength and sheer capacity embodied by the full gamut of Navajo Express’ services that have helped to introduce stability into the brokerage market during disruptive times.
“The pandemic has really brought our craft into the forefront. In general, most of us in North America just took it for granted, the commodities we want, and need would be on the shelves at our local store - until they weren’t.
“Whether it was a shortage of general commodities at grocery chains, materials for construction of homes or cars, we have all felt some type of supply chain challenge over the past year plus,” Bodine goes on to comment.
Enabling Navajo’s paramount concerns of speed and flawless execution, the complimentary intersection of a sizeable trucking division with the Expedited business presided over by Bodine, is immensely beneficial.
As Bodine concurs, “we are large enough to handle our customers’ needs in a timely manner with the professionalism and execution they expect.”
Despite being in an industry constantly defined by “peaks and valleys”, North America’s logistical landscape today resembles something of a level playing field in terms of parity and transparency.
“Almost all of us carriers and logistics providers have access to the same set of tools and utilize Transportation Management Systems (TMS) which perform most of the same functions. In fact, in most cases, customers have access to the same rating and pricing tools as us carriers,” Bodine explains.
Therefore, key defining factors that a company can stand by, such as a streamlined operating model guaranteeing efficient communication, are essential. As such, Navajo Express are geared for growth.
Within Navajo Expedited, their third year in operation is tinged with anticipation as they seek to break $100 million in the fourth quarter – what will surely be a “crowning moment” for Bodine and his team.
“We will certainly celebrate and enjoy the moment then sit down and draw up the plan for how we can achieve $200 million in 2022. This will definitely involve expansion as right now the team for Navajo Expedited is split with most of the team in Lakeland, Florida, and the rest at our corporate office in Denver, Colorado,” he adds.
“We have flown under the radar in our first two and a half years, however without question we are right up there on the list of fastest growing brokerages in the United States,” Bodine surmises.
“This is a testament to the determination and dedication of our team at Navajo Expedited.”