Atlantic Gateway has been a part of the business road for many owner operators
DorogaRoad is still on the quest to bring the information about different trucking companies.
This time we visit Serge Chestak, the president of Atlantic Gateway Inc.
DorogaRoad: Serge, I have noticed that your business card states your field of business as “transportation” as well as “finance”. Atlantic Gateway is well know as transportation company, how does finance stand as part of your business direction?
Serge Chestak: Well, of course we do not deal with finances in a “banking” sense. The company was founded ten years ago and back then we did some other transactions (for instance purchasing invoices from other transportation companies (factoring)) along with transportation. This gave us some benefits as we learned more about the structure, including the financial details, of the transportation business in Northern America.
DorogaRoad: Is factoring still part of your business?
Serge Chestak: Partly yes, mostly in the cases when we cooperate with other trucking companies that we have business history with. In those cases, we prepay their services (invoice).
DorogaRoad: In this issue of our newspaper (on the next page), we have the official statistical information about the volume of transportations done between Canada and US within the last year. The values are almost identical to those of the year 1998, making last year to have the lowest number of cross-border truck trips within the last ten-year period. How much did this situation affect your company?
Serge Chestak: I am not credible to make statements about the current volume of truck trips to correspond to some specific year, statistics provide much better information here, but the level is very low indeed. The number of trips has dropped; the tariffs are decreasing as well... Recently I visited a conference held by Markel company. They presented number of economical values and discussed the fact that the volume of transportations has been dropping due to a number of factors, such as the rising fuel prices, the hike in Canadian dollar value, etc. However, they also released some information that has been used to make forecasts. The information was gathered from shippers in Canada and US. According to them, the number of transportations will likely increase this year. We cannot say when exactly the rise will take place, but I am confident about it since we are currently undergoing the lowest possible volume of demand.
By the way, the hike in Canadian dollar value has some positive aspects as well. For instance, the equipment, trucks and trailers, became cheaper. Sooner or later, trucking will get back in order. I have no worries about the future of our business. Most of the goods movement within Northern America is done by trucking companies. This is how it has been, is today and will be done for quite many years. Some changes may come in the transportation business but trucks will be part of it no matter what. Moreover, consumers in Northern America cannot say”no” to the convenience of having “door-to-door” deliveries in a shortest time.
DorogaRoad: Why exactly did you settle on starting a transportation company?
Serge Chestak: First of all, I have a degree in “Economy and Organization of Automotive Transport”, which I received before coming to Canada. Secondly, I had experience in Fleet Department and Board of Freight Transport. Generally speaking, motor transportation is part of my life. When I came to Canada, my desire was to keep on doing what I enjoy the most. This is how Atlantic Gateway was born.
DorogaRoad: Where is your main office located?
Serge Chestak: Our office and the secured yard have a rather convenient location on the crossing on Keele & HWY 7, in Concord, Ontario.
DorogaRoad: What does the company specializes in today?
Serge Chestak: Being part of the transportation business for ten years we have settled and concentrated on working with owner operators in long-distance runs between Canada and US. In most cases, the trips are carried in Mid West, West and South West.
DorogaRoad: Why did you choose to work only with owner operators?
Serge Chestak: It just happened that Atlantic Gateway deals mostly with owner operators. At first it was just a mere coincidence, later on we decided to work only with them. Profit making can be done by working with your own trucks as well as dealing with owner operators. Today we intentionally no longer own our own trucks as to avoid possible conflicts of interest. When a company owns their own trucks, there is always place for some rumours to say that the better loads are appointed to the company's trucks and owner operators are placed second in the list. We intend to keep this policy of working only with owner operators in the near future. Another point is that our owner operators have an option to bring to the company a number of trucks instead of just one. By doing so the owner operator can grow within our company.
DorogaRoad: Are such practices encouraged in your company?
Serge Chestak: Generally speaking yes, but we have made the information control a little bit tougher for the owner operators with multiple trucks. We would like to ensure that the drivers who work for Atlantic Gateway are paid fully and on time. Our goal is to prevent any negative issues that can take place within a company working with us (an operator with a few drivers), as those issues may affect the reputation of Atlantic Gateway. For those reasons, we have increased the information control.
DorogaRoad: How many people work in your company?
Serge Chestak: Currently we have more then 50 owner operators, but many of them are teams. Including the office staff, we have around 90 people.
DorogaRoad: In this type of industry, personnel turnover are very common, especially among drivers. People come and people go. Why do you think this happens?
Serge Chestak: Frankly, our company does not have that many issues with the personnel as others do. Any change of position for an operator means some financial risk. Most of the owner operators we deal with are professionals who have been working with us for many years. They are well oriented in the market and choose the company to work with very carefully. The profession of the driver, on the other hand, is not an easy one and people leave this occupation in hopes to find something better. Sometimes the driver simply decides to find the style that fits him best (say, he chooses between driving long and short distances). As it has been noted earlier in your paper, sometimes people leave the company and later on come back to the same company. Such situations are very common. The driver may have tried out different companies and finally making up his decision about the company that fits him best. Sometimes the rumours about some company being better are at fault as well. I must note that Canada is a country with a tough market competition, if some company was better then the others, everyone would have chosen it. Therefore, no matter where you go, no matter what you do, there is some determined level of profit for the driver, the owner, and the rest of the people in the industry. On the other hand, the result greatly depends on the quality of the work that you do.
DorogaRoad: What do you usually say to a novice owner operator coming to your company?
Serge Chestak: First, let me tell you what the company manager Sergey Kluchnikov says to the leaving owner operator: “Once you are out of money, do not hesitate to come back”. But seriously speaking, we never give the new owners unreal promises. We explain our policies to them, how much our services cost and how much the owner can earn. In case when there may be some differences in the outcomes, those will be minimal. We also listen to the owner, try to understand his situation and often are willing to help. In most cases new owner operators, unfortunately, can not cover all the initial costs at once. We also give a hand to the drivers who want to become owner operators.
DorogaRoad: Do you take in people without any experience, coming directly from driving school?
Serge Chestak: We take in people with experience as well as without experience. Of course, we ensure that all the transport ministry requirements are met. We also have a support program for the new drivers. In this program, we assign the new driver to go on trips with someone experienced. Usually the first couple of runs will show the person's abilities. Later on, we decide whether this person fits our company and discuss this decision openly with him. Once the new driver becomes part of our team, we guide him to become a professional. Within three month or half a year, he can go on trips by himself, and later on maybe even teach the new drivers as well.
DorogaRoad: Does it mean that a new driver has to go on trips in a team with someone for three to six months?
Serge Chestak: It depends on the person. Some insurance companies, for example, give much better insurance rates for the drivers with the driving experience of more then three years. It is logical. Being able to drive a truck does not imply being a professional. Driver duties also include but not limited to safety and logbook compliance, crossing the border, working with documents, performing pre- and post trip inspection of the truck and the trailer, securing load, dealing with shipper and receiver, ability to deal with emergencies and many others. All those skills can be taught neither in the office environment nor in team trips over a couple of months. It is assumed that once the person has worked three years in the industry, he has been exposed to various situations and can be considered as a professional. But once again, this greatly depends on the person. Some people may require much less time, while others may never acquire the skills. I want to note one more time that we take in owner operators and drivers with different experience levels, although they have to pass the standard hiring procedure, including taking a driving test.
DorogaRoad: Among the numerous issues, you have to deal with every day as the head of the company, which one the toughest?
Serge Chestak: The head of the company has to take care of all the problems. People come with different types of questions and they want answers. Everyday problems are not as challenging as the more global ones. For instance, I am responsible to ensure that the company runs smoothly, that is why I pay a lot of attention to the company's finances. The rest of the issues are taken care of by our vice-president - Sergey Kluchnikov. Regarding what issue is the hardest to deal with... Each of them is challenging! I should rather say that everything is easy once you know how to do it. As for my personal opinion - business handling is very easy and accessible in Canada, you just need to know where to obtain the information and how to use it. Once you know the how-to – nothing is too hard.
On the other hand, everything requires constant effort and attention: drivers, safety, finances, clients... That is why we need people in the office and behind the wheel who know what they are doing. Atlantic Gateway has the staff we can rely on. Those people are the vice-president Sergey Kluchnikov, who can deal with all kinds of operations issues, and the dispatchers Konstantin Pestrikov, Dmitri Romanjuk, Egor Romanjuk, and Evgeni Tsypis. Those are the professionals with great experience in trucking business, “live-engine” of the company, which runs non-stop, even on holidays. I also can not leave out my bookkeeping helpers Tatiana and Lena.
DorogaRoad: How do you visualize Atlantic Gateway in about five, ten years?
Serge Chestak: It is hard to say. The company will keep growing; we have the necessary experience, funds and abilities for that. Some changes will come, but they will be gradual and will harm no one. We are considering buying our own yard, repair shop, and warehouse.
DorogaRoad: Does it mean that Atlantic Gateway will soon have a team of sales professionals?
Serge Chestak: This information is confidential. However, once we reach that level, we will think about what to do next: expand the size of the company or go into say, warehousing, or do something else. Right now, our goal is to strengthen what we currently have.
DorogaRoad: Is there anything else you would like to tell us, what I might have forgotten to ask?
Serge Chestak: I would like to note that regardless of the current market situation our company has a lot of confidence in our future. Our work is stable, and I am sure we will continue to work this way regardless of the market changes. In addition, we depend on no third party in financial terms, which is very important. Our staff is reliable as well. All of those points make our company distinct from others and provide us with the confidence about our future. Finally... Everyone should come to work on time and do their job to the best of their abilities.
DorogaRoad: I have noticed you are quite knowledgeable about our paper materials.
Can you state your opinion about our publication?
Serge Chestak: The newspaper is well known and readable. It is very helpful for both drivers and company owners. We did not provide any material for the newspaper before as we were familiarizing ourselves with it, as it often happens with any new business. Now, is the time to start doing what we just did.
DorogaRoad: Thank you for the interview, Serge.