When Tobin Cassels first told me about his philosophy of "servant leadership" at Southeastern Freight Lines, I must admit I mentally rolled my eyes a bit. I'm sure that, like me, in your personal or professional life
Corporate culture is often cited as a factor in the success of companies such as Google, Disney and Southwest Airlines.
Corporate culture is often cited as a factor in the success of companies such as Google, Disney and Southwest Airlines.
you have known of more than one company that said such things in their mission or advertising or public relations, but discovered it was quite a different story in real life.

"Leadership is all about taking care of its people," he told me, "helping them to be successful, and to serve their needs." That was in 2009, when Cassels, president of SEFL, was being honored by our sister publication, Heavy Duty Trucking, as an HDT Truck Fleet Innovator.

I've come to realize the less-than-truckload company really does have a corporate culture that emphasizes serving, whether it's their employees or their external customers. As Senior Vice President Mike Heaton told me recently, "We believe that to truly differentiate our company from the rest of the industry, we've got to serve better than anyone else."

For a demonstration of that commitment, consider the fact that even through the worst recession in our lifetimes, SEFL managed to continue its tradition of never having a layoff. Company leaders worked hard to find creative ways to keep people working. As a result, morale spikes, employees put in extra effort, and instead of the $15 million loss the company had budgeted for in 2009, they actually turned a profit.

So why, you ask, am I telling distributors about the corporate culture at a trucking company?

One, because it's important to learn from the best, no matter what industry you're in. SEFL, in its efforts to always keep improving, has had meetings with other companies reknowned for their service-oriented corporate cultures, such as Chick-Fil-A and Ritz-Carlton.

Two, because I want you to think about your own company's corporate culture.

"Corporate culture" isn't something you can touch, like a brake shoe or battery. It's essentially the personality of an organization, or "how things are done around here." It includes things such as core values and beliefs, corporate ethics, and rules of behavior. It may be reflected in the mission statement, in the office decor, by what people wear to work, by how people talk to each other, and how employees and customers are treated.

You already have a corporate culture, whether it's officially defined or not. Corporate cultures are often cited as a factor in the success of companies such as Google, Disney and Southwest Airlines. More than one corporate merger has failed because the companies were unable to successfully mesh differing cultures.

Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week, to be held Jan. 23-26 in Las Vegas, is making it easier for you to learn more about corporate culture, and to learn from companies outside your own industry.

The HDAW '12 theme is "Corporate Culture: The Foundation for Success." The keynote speaker is from a company that's known for great customer service and a great corporate culture, but they don't sell truck parts. They sell shoes, and very successfully.

Robert Richman is the product manager of Zappos Insights, the Zappos Family company dedicated to helping businesses with their corporate cultures. Business leaders, managers and entrepreneurs take the Zappos Insights training to discover how a workplace can help people grow, inspire amazing service, and ultimately drive revenue.

And isn't that what it's all about?

You can e-mail Deborah Lockridge at dlockridge@truckinginfo.com. You also can find her online on Linkedin at www.linkedin.com/in/deborahlockridge.

From the October/November 2011 issue of HDAJ.