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2010 Truck Fleet Innovators: Ben Bauman, President/CEO, Bolt Express

March 2010, TruckingInfo.com - Fleet Innovators

by Diana Britton, Managing Editor

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When Ben Bauman thinks about the accomplishment he is most proud of, he thinks about helping and supporting his son, who won two gold medals in the world championship of Taekwondo at the age of 16.
Bauman's son went up against 890 competitors representing 88 countries, and even snagged an invitation to the Olympics.

Bauman provides this same kind of support to his team at expedited carrier Bolt Express, Akron, Ohio, where he serves as president and CEO. "Professionally, I was proud of how my team pulled together last year to help us navigate our way through the Great Recession of 2009," Bauman says. In 2009, the company achieved 9 percent growth over 2008 - Bauman's second accomplishment he's most proud of. "My team showed a great deal of character and innovation."

Bauman says the similarity in his relationship with his son and the Bolt Express team can be seen in the way he values rewarding accomplishment.

"I believe that the leadership of every organization should establish clearly defined goals and to ensure that every member of your team has the expertise and resources required for proper execution," Bauman says of his leadership philosophy. "I also believe in the capabilities of a results-oriented work environment. Your influence over people is strongest when you recognize and reward their ability to get the job done right. My team's incentives are based on their ability to deliver results."

Bauman started Bolt Express in 2001 after nearly 20 years working in the expedited industry. The company has experienced tremendous growth, with a yearly average growth rate of 55 percent between 2003 and 2008. It has diversified into areas such as truckload and logistics, and in 2008 moved into a new headquarters twice the size of the previous one.

Navigating the recession

When the recession hit, Bolt Express began retooling and focusing more on operations.

"We have challenged ourselves on every front in the business," Bauman says. "Operationally, we have increased our intensity on monitoring and measuring our leading performance indicators. All departments successfully challenged themselves to operate more efficiently. Strategically, we focused on sales and the development of new services and capabilities to ensure that we would benefit from the expected rebound for the economy."

In 2009, the company launched several new services, including an agent program. Under the program, Bolt offers smaller trucking companies, who have trouble getting lines of credit, the opportunity to become a dispatch office, so to speak, under the Bolt name. Bolt takes over the company's financing, and the agent can take advantage of Bolt's resources, allowing them to grow. In January this year, Bolt hired a president of agent operations for North America.

Last year, Bolt also officially opened Bolt Logistics, S.A. de C.V., a new company domiciled in Monterey, Mexico. While Bolt Express has been providing service to and from Mexico since 2006, this new domestic company will provide point-to-point delivery within the country. "We see a lot of opportunity in the international business, especially Mexico," Bauman says.

The company also added new software tools to the mix, including Advantage Source, a mode optimization program. This software ties Bolt Express to other trucking companies' information for more efficient freight management.

But more than the technology, Bauman attributes the carrier's success in 2009 to its people. "Everybody was performing at their highest level every day."

Bolt did have to tighten its belt with a few layoffs, but through it all, the company has made sure that everyone, not just upper management, is trained and understands the importance of gross margins.

Expedited expertise

While attending the University of Akron, Bauman got to know Sue Simpson, the wife of Bruce Simpson, who was the president and CEO of Roberts Express. "I didn't know anything about trucking at all," he recalls. But he was fascinated, and went to work for Roberts Express in the customer service department.

Little did he know that Roberts Express, the first expedited freight company to emerge after deregulation, would one day become FedEx Custom Critical. Bauman says the company defined all the processes and terminology associated with the expedited industry.

For Bauman, the expedited sector offers "the intrigue of solving the problem." The excitement for him comes in the challenge of finding solutions to such problems as plant shutdowns and critical loads.

Because of the nature of such time-sensitive, critical loads, the expedited freight arena is a whole different animal. But when the recession set in, everybody was trying to find freight wherever they could, including critical loads. The thing that set Bolt Express apart was its flexible approach to running the business, a characteristic that seems to come naturally to those in the expedited industry.

"Our business model was engineered to respond quickly to a change in market conditions or a customer's needs," Bauman says. "Our systems and processes are flexible; but more importantly, all members of my team understand the importance of being responsive."

Being responsive meant being able to solve problems, and this gave Bolt a leg up on the competition. "We had a solution for every shipment," Bauman says.

"Our success in the expedite sector came from our commitment to provide a high-quality service to our customers. This heightened level of customers became part of the culture at Bolt Express and has carried over to our other modes of service."

Technology

Another key to Bolt's success has been technology, Bauman says.

"This is one of our competitive advantages in the marketplace. Our roots come from the expedite industry, so everything that we do from a service standpoint is performed at the highest level of execution. Therefore, our technology was designed to process and communicate to our customers at service levels that you would expect from an expedite shipment, no matter what mode of service we perform.

"Our company has a strong commitment to continuous improvement, so our software development capabilities and the existing flexibility we have in our TMS allows us to pursue new ideas and methods in a timely manner."

Bauman says the company's strong reporting capabilities have provided a tremendous advantage for their business. "We rely heavily on business intelligence tools to support the important operational and strategic decisions we have to make."

In 2009, Bolt started using onboard electronic logs in an effort to keep drivers safe and violation-free. The company is predominantly an owner-operator-based organization, with drivers and assets scattered throughout all areas of the country. "Our trucks are moving all over, all the time."

With more than 200 power units, that makes it hard to keep up with driver hours of service. Because of the time sensitivity of the expedite business, Bolt needs to know the status of its drivers immediately. "Within an hour or less, I have to have a truck dispatched."

With electronic logs, the company now knows right away if a driver can handle a load or not.

Looking ahead, Bauman expects great things to come along for Bolt Express as well as for the transportation industry.

"I really enjoy the transportation industry and feel like we are at a time where the innovators and the companies willing to broaden their horizons will really prosper in the next 10 years."

From the March 2010 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.

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