Ellen Voie, founder and CEO of the Women In Trucking Association
How one woman’s flat tire inspired a global trucking movement
The sun baked down on the four door station wagon stalled on the side of the road. And the driver inside fumed and sizzled.
“What do you mean you can’t help? I’m stranded,” she explained in haste.
“Surely, you’re joking!”
The conversation screeched to a tense halt. You wouldn’t need a PhD to know that the driver of the car, Virginia, Ellen’s mother was out of sorts. Virginia was a strong person, but the signs were evident. Her face was red. Her pulse was racing. And her adrenaline was pumping. Unfortunately, it seemed Virginia wasn’t going anywhere fast on that particular day.
Across town, Ellen’s father’s heart was also pounding. He owned the local funeral home and despite his sincere desire to help, he was completely out of position to solve his wife’s dilemma. Virginia’s rear tire was flat and the July heat was driving the mercury level through the roof.
As the proverbial philosopher once wrote, “If necessity is the mother of invention, bad timing is the father.” This seemingly unfortunate incident spawned a significant advancement in the trucking industry. It’s an advancement that we celebrate today.
To understand the impact of this one lady’s untimely flat tire on an entire industry, you’d need to fast-forward almost a decade. On another memorable occasion, Ellen’s now calm, cool and collected mother stood beside Ellen quietly encouraging her with words like “You can do anything. You can be anything you want to be. Don’t let anything slow you down.”
Then Virginia harkened back to that fateful afternoon in July. “Remember that time I was stranded with the flat tire?” her mom reminded her. “It never happened again. I took matters into my own hands. That was the moment that I decided to take my first mechanics course.” Virginia smiled.
Ellen Voie took the direction from her mother’s experience quite literally. And she applied that advice in ways beyond her mother’s wildest imagination. In 2008, Ellen founded Women In Trucking: an association designed to be a resource and encouragement to transportation leaders.
Ellen’s ride to the top with her association group hasn’t always been smooth cruising either.
She’s encountered her own array of potholes along the way. But she has persevered while pursuing experience in steel fabrication, traffic management, and transportation regulatory consulting. Ellen even owned a multi-truck fleet while married to an over-the-road driver. So she has seen the trucking industry from almost every conceivable angle.
Here are five specific strategies Ellen put in place to accelerate her progress. Regardless of your gender or profession, you will likely find them helpful and motivational.
1. Ellen listened to and followed the advice from a woman she deeply respected. She didn’t question whether she had the talent to succeed. She accepted the encouragement offered and set a goal to achieve something special. When her mother passed away near Ellen’s 19th birthday, Ellen picked up the leadership encouragement torch and drove forward.
2. Ellen prepared for every position in which she served. She never assumed that the world owed her a fortune. She set aside preconceived notions regarding the appropriate role of women in any enterprise and apprenticed in a variety of positions that others might have avoided. Eventually, Ellen was so well diversified that she wrote a thesis on the complex identities of women married to professional drivers.
3. Ellen worked in both traditional and non-traditional positions. Ellen’s gender never stopped her from learning about all sorts of topics like drafting, steel fabrication and detailed trucking regulations. She spent almost 18 years licensing and permitting carriers in Central Wisconsin. Ellen isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and she loves strategic planning. Ellen can shift all 10 gears with the best of them.
4. Ellen continues to surround herself with bright minds. She doesn’t need to be the smartest person in the room. Ellen has formed a Board of Directors for Women In Trucking that is steeped in wisdom and experience. She continues to attract fellow visionaries from global corporations to guide and fuel her vehicle for helping women. As a result, Ellen’s association is picking up speed and adding new members daily.
5. Ellen mentors people by empowering them to make decisions, take risks and achieve their dreams. She has established a leadership culture that enables women in the transportation industry to build their confidence by proving themselves capable and competent. Ten years ago it was unheard of that women were starting trucking companies. Today, many women are taking over truck lines from their fathers and these companies are continuing to fire on all cylinders. Ellen loves to mentor.
So do you think Ellen ever encounters her own flat tire of sorts? Absolutely!
A few years ago the economy turned down at the most inopportune time. Ellen wanted to grow the association but many companies were in dire straits and unable to pay their dues. This posed a significant threat to the still-budding association she had established.
Did Ellen wither in the heat of the noonday sun? Hardly. She devised a plan to extend the term of struggling members from 12 months to 18 months. Voila! The association continued to grow despite the economic pressures.
Remember Ellen’s mom? The sun baked down on the four door station wagon stalled on the side of the road. The driver inside fumed and sizzled.
“What do you mean you can’t help? I’m stranded,” she explained.
“Surely, you’re joking?”
It may have seemed like just another flat tire at the time. But, that was the day the trucking industry took a turn for the best. Women in transportation have never looked back.
Step on it Ellen!
Keith Martino is head of CMI, a global consultancy founded in 1999 that customizes leadership and sales development initiatives. Martino is the author of Expect Leadership, a series of leadership books – The Executive Edition, in Business, in Engineering, and in Technology. After more than 20 years and numerous awards at FedEx, Xerox and Baxter Healthcare, Martino and his team provide world-class counsel and proven web-based tools that produce consistent results