DorogaRoad met with Jean-Pierre Fafra-Baltes, president of “CANAM Drivers”, staffing company that employs unique approach in drivers training and hiring. Company headquartered in Lachine, QC, although we met in its Ontario office in Mississauga.
DorogaRoad: Jean-Pierre, please tell me about your company CANAM Drivers.
Jean-Pierre: CANAM Drivers is a young company. It has been active on a market for about three years. It comes from a “Training Center” that I took over four years ago in Montreal. At that time, I realized that the drivers who got their “Class 1” (A-Z, DorogaRoad) driving license could not find a decent job because they had no experience. So I bought my own trucks and hired trainers in order to provide the novice drivers with a genuine, real transportation experience. I started knocking the doors of transportation companies and got a positive answer from The Group Quik-X. After a very short while, The Group Quik-X asked me if we could find experienced drivers who would be immediately available for team driving. We went for it and quite quickly, our company turned into a “Driver Service” business. We still have got the training center, but we are investing more resources into the new business. One year after starting our cooperation with The Group Quik-X from Montreal, we moved to Lachine (a transportation hub in Quebec) and opened offices in Mississauga, Ontario. As of today, we grow at a rate of 30 % per year and we have one of the best retention ratios in our industry.
Our “motto” is that CANAM Drivers does not offer just a service: it sells a result!
DorogaRoad: That’s quite impressive.
Jean-Pierre: In fact, we had twenty drivers the first year, forty drivers the next year. Now we have already count more than fifty drivers. This is fast, extremely fast for that type of business.
I invested a lot in time, as well as in money terms. Besides good results, we are oriented for long term profitable growth. We believe that our profitable growth shall reflect positively to the client as well as to our employees.
DorogaRoad: How do you find, screen the drivers and pick the good ones?
Jean-Pierre: First, we advertise in good newspapers, including DorogaRoad and we use some search engines. The manager in charge makes a first selection by talking to candidates by phone. Then the “pre-selected” candidate is invited for a comprehensive interview. Further, he will fill an application. Based upon the application, we check the references, by ourselves or through PDB, depending upon the client. The last step is the road test. If all these tests are ended positively, then the candidate is hired.
DorogaRoad: That looks like very thorough selection!
Jean-Pierre: Despite of the tough selecting process, we are a little bit overwhelmed these days, especially in Ontario where the economy downturn looks so far worse than in Quebec. Furthermore, because we are offering a very attractive package: good wages, weekly deposits, health care plan…we have lots of candidates, so the hiring process must be tough. I always say that there is “no free cheese”. We are somehow rewarded by the clients who do recognize our efforts as well as by the drivers who work in a professional and safe way and stay with us for a long time.
DorogaRoad: What did you do before you launched CANAM Drivers?
Jean-Pierre: I went for all kind of funny challenges a little bit everywhere in the world.
I started in a bank in Belgium after graduating from the University of Liege. I found it boring. So, very quickly I joined the team that positively re-engineered the Belgian iron and steel industry. Then I left to Paris and I joined the Renault Group and it was again about re-engineering. I was leading the team auditing frauds. I traveled to many places in the world where Renault had a business. After three years at Renault, I was hired by a Belgian Holding with a target to re-engineering one of their largest businesses in Zaire. I did the job within one year. Then I was hired by “Aeroflot” to monitor the French and Belgian interests in one of the first joint ventures in the Soviet Union. The objective was to build the first hotel of “Novotel” chain in Moscow vicinity.
DorogaRoad: In the area of Sheremetyevo-2?
Jean-Pierre: Yes. My office was in Sheremetyevo-2. My duties were to monitor financially, administratively the whole process of building that hotel in time. Hiring the people, dealing with the Joint-Venture partners, putting all those pieces together, making things going. Actually, the construction of the hotel was achieved four months ahead of the schedule! Then I was hired by the Group ABB: start-up, re-engineering and management projects. All of that went successfully. I left Moscow after ten years to Istanbul, Turkey, still for ABB. About a year and a half later I quit ABB and went to South Carolina where I positively re-engineered a company that was under Chapter 11. Before landing in Canada, I still spent some time in northern Belgium, on the re-engineering of an old company that was close to bankruptcy. The two last projects made me deal with the textile industry…
Finally, I came to Canada and overtook the craziest challenge of all: launching my own company in a country and in a field of activity that I did not know. Without any support, as there was no Industrial Group neither any Government to provide me with any kind of support.
DorogaRoad: Who contributed most to your company’s success as it stands today? It’s probably you, yourself? Did you have staff working for you, helping you to do the business?
Jean-Pierre: What helped me was to think straight in terms of “result”. And, accordingly, surround myself with top quality staff, clients, accountants and lawyers. Among others, the quality of staff is essential. Denis in Montreal has about 20 years of experience in the trucking business and was previously a truck driver. His dedication, competence and stability in CANAM Drivers are remarkable and contribute to our success. While being younger, Ian has also an extensive experience in the trucking business and entertains an excellent relation with our Ontario based clients as well as with the drivers. Diana has no trucking experience, but her top education combined to a very professional approach result positively onto the business. For example, we do not have payroll issues since she is with us.
My little family is also playing a great role. While not being involved in the business, my wife and my daughter are present as the biggest comfort and incentive, day after day.
DorogaRoad: What is the biggest obstacle you have to overcome today in your business?
Jean-Pierre: The agencies do not have a good recognition, neither a good reputation in Canada. A lot of them are driven by short term profits. The true good professional “Driver Service” companies are a minority.
As a result, transportation companies as well as drivers would not trust agencies, because too many of them are stealing from the drivers and consequently damaging the business of their client. For those agencies, the notion of “added value” is like a Science Fiction.
I repeat, it is hurting us as well as the clients using our services. And it indirectly prevents the clients, existing or potential, to increase their competitiveness. We are specialized in Human Resources and we let the client focus on the other aspects of transportation. We offer higher quality and better utilization at a lower cost. Besides, using a “Driver Service” company is better cash wise as well as on the Balance Sheet. Believe me, these advantages do reflect directly or indirectly, but in any case positively, on the driver him/herself!
DorogaRoad: Can you tell a bit more about “better, cash wise”?
Jean-Pierre: For the client, a “Driver Service” is a “supplier”. Accordingly, the client can wait up to one month (or even more) before paying the invoice. The employee wouldn’t wait for the cheque for one month! So the “Driver Service” generally finances the wages during that time before getting paid of its invoice. This improves the cash situation of the client, consequently.
DorogaRoad: What do you think government can do in Quebec and in Ontario to help businesses like yours?
Jean-Pierre: To help businesses like ours, they should reset the WSIB (Workplace Safety and Insurance Board – DorogaRoad) / CSST rates. In transportation business the margins are very thin. The high rates penalize us, as well as the transportation companies willing to addressing to us. The rates are higher than those set for transportation companies, just because we are an “agency”. While at the end, we are also doing transportation and I do not believe that we expose our people to more risks than the transportation companies!
DorogaRoad: Is it the same in Quebec and in Ontario?
Jean-Pierre: Yes. The rates set for the “Driver Service Company” are about 40 to 50 % higher than for the “transportation” activities, in both provinces.
DorogaRoad: What do you think, Jean-Pierre, when the economy and trucking industry in particular will turn around?
Jean-Pierre: I don’t have a crystal ball but I think that 2009 will be extremely tough. The first half of 2010 will not be easy, too. Then maybe at the end of 2010 we would see a weak recovery. I do not want to be too pessimistic, I just, have been going through a lot of crisis in different times and I may tell you that this one is a big. It is global. It threatens some of the fundaments of the capitalistic world. However in any crisis there are opportunities you can see. The weakest players will disappear and the strongest ones will emerge.
DorogaRoad: Why this crisis is different?
Jean-Pierre: The American economy is getting transformed. Somehow, it is getting a little bit more “socialistic”. Not to the level of Sweden, but the last moves will make people and corporations paying more taxes. Putting a couple of billions or even trillion dollars on the table is one thing. But it has to be repaid. What’s happening these days is going to have an impact on many years ahead. Americans will have to “adapt” to a new system.
DorogaRoad: Jean-Pierre, I must say you are one of the most dedicated supporters of DorogaRoad. Literally, from the first issue. We’re marking the two years anniversary with this issue. I would like to thank you very much for your support and ask you a question: why do you think such a type of press, like DorogaRoad, the trade ethnical press, is important?
Jean-Pierre: Canada is welcoming immigrants. So it is important for them to feel some presence of their culture. DorogaRoad is an excellent tool helping making the transition between the Canadian reality and the environment that surrounded the person before he/her’s landing. In Canada, unlike in some other countries, we do pay respect to the culture of the newcomers. That results into a mosaic, which makes the country quite unique. So I find your press being an excellent idea that goes along with the attitude of Canada towards its people.
DorogaRoad: Thank you very much. I know that it is your birthday in May as well, May 9th to be exact. I wish you a Happy Birthday; I wish an every success to your unique company CANAM Drivers in Ontario, in Quebec and all over Canada. Those who want learn more about CANAM Drivers and its service can contact company directly by calling 1 866 256 0015; 905 795 9568 or via e-mail [email protected]. Thank you for the interview.