Douglas Clark Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

Douglas Clark runs his business like he’s driving a race car. The president and CEO of AmeriQuest Transportation and Logistics Resources says that as the head of a company, you can’t just look 20 feet in front of you or you’ll end up in a crumpled heap. Instead, you should be looking way down the track so you’re ready for whatever happens next. Having the vision to stay ahead of technology in the transportation industry is a major advantage for Clark, who has grown AmeriQuest — which offers fleet management services — from 2002 revenue of $42 million to 2006 revenue of $205 million. Smart Business spoke with Clark about how he keeps his team moving full speed ahead and eliminates the fear factor for his employees.

Assess your employees carefully and continually. Don’t make a snap decision, particularly when it comes to personnel and rearranging the seats on the bus.

We’ve had fantastic growth over the past five years, and as you’re growing as a company, you’re continually assessing the people — what they’re doing today, whether they’ll be able to do what they’re doing today next year because of the growth of the company.

And if you have a fast-growing company, the roles change. New talent has to be brought in. The current talent you have might have to be doing something different in the future.

Find the true cause of the problem. The biggest pitfall a CEO can have is what you see on Wall Street: the knee-jerk reaction.

Say we didn’t hit our numbers; therefore, the stock drops 10 percent. Well, if somebody didn’t hit their plan, you’ve really got to understand the reasons why. Really step back and double-check and reassess — particularly in the personnel side of the business.

What are the real reasons it’s not happening? Is it because the company hasn’t provided the resources or created a situation where it’s almost impossible to attain results?

Don’t lay blame on a scapegoat. You’ve got to try to avoid any kind of knee-jerk reaction to any kind of business situation, whether it’s a crisis or just a person not meeting the plan. Really try to understand why that is happening. Don’t just say, ‘It’s X person’s fault,’ by laying the blame on a scapegoat.

Really understand the business relationship to that shortfall or crisis. Dig deep to make sure you understand what is really happening.

That means you have to go to different sources and do a little more homework than you would typically do if you really want to understand the true meaning of what’s taking place and what your next step should be.

Stick to your guns. The transportation industry is a late adopter to technology. We are embarking on the technology to make all of our customers paperless in their payable transactions.

The challenge is, even with my board and my customers, if you’re convinced that this is really good for your constituencies and stakeholders, but they may not get it just yet — if you’re convinced that this is something worthwhile and of value to your stakeholders — you have to do it. You can’t cave in under criticism or cave in under the ability to foster change.

One of the biggest challenges is creating change in an industry that is full of late adopters. You’ve got to move them up because, in order to survive, the embracing of technology is key.

Therefore, if you’ve done your homework and you’re convinced you’re right, you have to keep hammering to get everybody on board.

Don’t give up on change. Not everybody is going to follow you. You can’t develop a business model that’s going to work for all people.

We’ve all got this ego where we say, ‘Man, I want everybody to be happy about what we’re doing.’ Impossible. You’ve got to find who you’re going to impact, bring the early adopters on, and the rest will follow.

I know I’m talking empirically, but the point is this: Don’t give up. Keep pushing your initiatives, and if it’s right, the big dogs will accept it and move forward, and the rest will follow. It’s really important to not give up.

Do your hiring homework. You’ll find there are three types of people you are trying to hire or find. After you’ve found them, you try to monitor them to see if they are doing the job you thought they could do.

There are the very good people; you can determine their capabilities because they do all the things in the culture that you’re trying to embed.

Then you have the person who is not-so-good, who doesn’t fit the culture. Those are easily detectable, too.

The ones who are challenging are those who say all the right things in front of you. You think you’re making progress, and you find out your head has been detached from your body when you go to turn it because they haven’t executed it as they indicated.

We go through a fair amount of interviews [in the hiring process] to avoid that. I try to limit my conversation to 10 to 20 percent of the conversation and ask questions that determine whether the person can do and will do the job we’re asking them to do.

We do use personality testing to round out the process.

Let employees make mistakes. We always talk about collaboration transparency and giving employees the ability to run this company under the guise of authority and responsibility.

Everybody knows they have that ability, but they also know they have the ability to do a gut check, to talk to me about a critical decision. We’ve eliminated the fear factor. That’s what really impedes it.

You can talk about authority and responsibility, but if you’ve made a decision and it turns out wrong, and you get criticized or you get penalized, that just embeds a fear factor to go forward. I try to communicate with our team that we’re going to make mistakes. The issue is really to recognize the mistakes and move on. Correct it and move on.

Don’t try to cover it up; don’t do the things that paralyze a lot of other companies. They have the fear of, ‘Oh, I made a mistake.’ Well, I make mistakes every day. Let’s just get on with it.

Constant communication is how we embed that. It’s a cultural thing that you live every day.

HOW TO REACH: AmeriQuest Transportation and Logistics Resources, (856) 773-0600 or www.ameriquestcorp.com