The name Wes Armour will no doubt be familiar to CT&L readers. President and CEO of Moncton, N.B.-based Armour Transportation Systems, Wes (Wesley) Armour is a popular participant in CT&L's shipper-carrier roundtable and one of its Award Winning Suppliers. This year, he is also being recognized as the 2009 CITA Supply Chain Executive of the Year.
His company operates from 23 freight terminals located throughout Atlantic Canada along with facilities in Montreal and Toronto, and runs a fleet of more than 3,400 vehicles.
But as Armour himself puts it, in describing the relatively modest beginning of what is today Armour Transportation Systems, "We really started at the bottom."
His father had a farm about 25 miles from Moncton, and ran one farm truck, buying, selling and shipping hay.
"In the 1950s, my father bought a Kraft Foods truck and that was really the beginning of our company. I got involved in trucking when I graduated from college. When I was 21, Dad took a mild stroke and I bought the business, GM Armour and Son Ltd., from him -- I couldn't refuse, since I probably didn't have 10 dollars in my bank account!" said Armour, who noted the business already had a good motor carrier licence. Armour and his wife lived off her teaching salary for about 14 months, while he learned the ropes of the business.
"Certainly since I became involved in the business, I've stayed focused on what I wanted to do, and we wanted to put people first, not only the customer, but our own people. We never wanted to lose those family values," he said.
Internal relationships are a priority at Armour Transportation Systems, where fundraising activities, barbecues, and dances take place on a regular basis.
"We make sure we have a balance there and I think that's why our turnover is very low," said Armour.
But he noted the company is very driven by top-down entrepreneurship and challenges, and first and foremost, integrity.
"We've been accepting of changes -- we quickly realized we must excel in change and not complain about it. Certainly, the customer has brought a lot of these ideas to us over the last four to five years," he said.
This has not gone unnoticed among Armour's peers. Ginnie Venslovaitis, manager of transportation services at Unilever Canada, has worked with Armour since 1991.
"I think it is refreshing to see trucking companies take chances, grow and mould themselves to what is happening in industry very quickly. Some of the interesting stories I have heard about Wes prove that. His staff or customers come to him with ideas and challenges and he reviews and allows for changes to be made or for a new business to unfold. This is certainly the quality that can be held out as sign of a leader and strategic thinker.
"I believe Wes has his company, his family, his management team, his drivers, his customers and the whole Atlantic Canada region in his mind as he makes changes and moves his business forward. It is always a pleasure to meet and see Wes as his personality is open and straightforward and under no pretense. It makes you feel good to be around him and his team," said Venslovaitis.
Mike Cormier, vice-president of supply chain for Scotia Investments, has worked with Armour on a business and personal level for more than 14 years.
"In today's challenged supply chain world, traditional cookie cutter approaches do not always work. Each and every customer stands alone based on their own merit with unique operational requirements and constraints. With Wes Armour's leadership, his team is truly dynamic, creative, innovative and open-minded when working with us to find the right fit and solution to overcome these customer/operational challenges. Wes's high level of dedicated leadership has built an excellent business relationship between us, which exemplifies the true spirit of a supply chain partnership," Cormier said.
Many shippers and carriers have recently gone through some tough economic times, and Armour noted that in times like this, flexibility in business is key.
"You don't forget what people did for you and you make allowances for that."
But for some players, said Armour, recession has meant an increased focus on cost.
"You do have customers looking for ways to reduce cost, and they're going and putting tenders out and some of these are companies that have never put out tenders before. You could always sit down with them and go over an agreement. Shippers have got to be careful of that and not beat up on the carrier so badly because I think things will be coming back to normal and there will be problems finding people, and capacity," said Armour.
"We still have many customers looking beyond that, but many are not," he said.
Armour stressed that success can be measured by stability.
"We have to be profitable -- a company that is not is a failure, in my books. Long term, if you're not profitable, the rest of it doesn't really matter. That's certainly one of my strategies," he said.
Another strategy, according to Armour, is that trucking is a mere piece of the total transportation move, so good relationships with other players become paramount.
"People are looking for a total package today. This has forced us to become partners rather than enemies. The logistics business is just booming -- it has been a really positive thing for us," he said.
In February 2009, Armour Transportation Systems opened a multi-purpose, $15-million facility in Dartmouth, N.S., located on 25 acres in the Atlantic-Gateway Halifax Logistics Park, featuring more than 100,000 sq. ft. of logistics warehousing space, 22 loading doors, and cross-dock capacity with 60 doors. A three-bay, state-of-the-art maintenance depot was designed to service Armour's fleet of more than 3,400 pieces of equipment.
The facility has been touted as "a total transportation solution under one roof" and marks the company's commitment to promoting the Atlantic Gateway.
According to Patrick Bohan, manager of business development at the Halifax Port Authority, Armour "is a tireless champion for the betterment of transportation in Canada. Wes and the company he runs are examples of best practices in action. Wes Armour and his team at Armour Transportation have repeatedly demonstrated their ability to step up and meet the needs of customers who use the Port of Halifax. The development and opening of their new facility in Halifax during 2009 was but the latest example where we saw their expertise in action."
Armour is currently chair of the Atlantic Gateway Advisory Council, a group of 13 businesses in the private sector, which give government the private sector view of policies and projects geared to improving transportation through the Gateway.
"That has been an eye-opener for many of us, and certainly very positive. This has also been something brand new especially for the federal government with regard to sharing information with the 13 of us. We try to get a whole variety of executives so we get a great knowledge of the issues that come up. That's the one real refreshing area where we're seeing the modes of transport working together to give the customer a better deal," he said.
Armour said that when the economy improves, there will be some important lessons to draw from the downturn.
"It has certainly made people look at their costs. It made people look for other, better ways to do things. It should make us more proactive, looking ahead for changes. I would hope our customers get away from so much focus on dollars and cents, and making a long-term relationship with a carrier work," he said.
2010 will continue to be busy for Armour Transportation Systems, which also recently achieved Canada's 50 Best Companies Platinum status for the seventh year in a row.
Deloitte, CIBC Commercial Banking, National Post, and Queen's School of Business sponsor this national award, and the platinum status designation "exemplifies consistency, commitment and the ability to be flexible in a changing marketplace," said John Hughes, partner, Private Company Services group with Deloitte.
As part of the designation, Deloitte asked Armour executives to fill out a survey rating them on various criteria.
"It was very interesting because the executives all had the same integrity, we worked the same way and our strengths were all in the right areas. If we had a weakness, it might have been communicating better with others. I'm a very modest person, but I like to think I had something to do with that.
"If your executives rate high, that flows down through the entire company. I like to think that accountability, a 'small business handshake,' respect for employees, customers and suppliers, and respect back from them creates an atmosphere that's really strong and tough to defeat. It appears we have 10 great executives and we were really happy with the results. I feel that I have not changed in all the years of being in the business. But my style has hopefully improved a bit!" said Armour. CT&L