Bolt Express

Ben Bauman, CEO of Bolt Express, considers his company culture to be one of its biggest competitive advantages. The Bolt management team has embraced a servant leadership style that focuses on the growth and development of its employees as a way to ensure an overwhelmingly positive experience for the company’s customers.

Bolt Express provides door-to-door ground and air transportation services in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Bauman started the firm in 2001 with CFO Jeff Weis, four additional employees and 11 trucks.

Today, Bolt Express employs a staff of 130 office employees and expects sales of approximately $60 million this year. The company serves a broad base in the time-critical market, among them: automotive, consumable goods, manufacturing, and energy and utility clients.

In addition, the company is part of Bolt Holdings, which Bauman formed earlier this year in Sylvania, Ohio. The firm’s companies also include Strike Logistics, another transportation company that is based in Toledo.

The Bolt Express management team maintains an environment where employees welcome appreciation and support. “The managers recognize and accept their responsibility in ensuring that our employees are successful,” Bauman explains. “Every member of my team is expected to work hard and provide exceptional customer service.”

However, “We believe you need to have fun doing it too,” he asserts.

Company Culture

This attitude is reflected in the company’s Operation Center in Toledo, Ohio, which is painted with bright colors that are meant to give its workers a positive feeling each day they arrive. In addition, Bolt Express regularly holds activities that workers’ families can take part in.

“It creates a culture where people are willing to work hard and we are willing to do it together,” he says.  “We have received a lot of positive feedback from employees about family activities like trips to the waterpark, baseball games and our fall picnic.

“This year, we are inviting all family members to the Bolt Excellence Employee Awards dinner in December,” Bauman continues. “Santa will be making a special appearance to hand out gifts to all of the children.

“We do these things because we want our employees to feel like working at Bolt has a positive impact on their overall quality of life,” he continues. “This approach has resulted in low turnover, high productivity, exceptional performance and ultimately happier customers; and that is what it is all about.”

A Problem-Solver

A longtime veteran of the logistics industry, Bauman started his career when he joined Roberts Express in 1984, before it became FedEx Custom Critical. At the time, “The whole expediting market was brand-new,” he recalls. “I was on the front end of it pretty early.”

Over the years, “I came up through their company,” he says, noting that he ultimately worked as an outside sales representative in Detroit. Although Bauman broke away and tried to pursue careers in the software and publishing markets, he later returned to logistics.

“I always like coming back to this,” he says. “I like the time-sensitive business. I like the challenge of solving a problem and building a business like this.”

As he manages Bolt Express, Bauman focuses on quality. “It’s easy to get distracted,” he admits. “From hiring people, to building your staff, opening new facilities, to expanding your services, it’s easy to get distracted, but you have to stay focused on excellence. 

“We have established an exceptionally strong quality management system that monitors our ability to meet the needs and expectations of our customers,” Bauman says. “Over the years, we have progressed from monitoring quality on a daily or weekly basis to a real time process monitoring and performance dashboard that is prominently displayed in our Operations Center.”

Another distinct advantage for Bolt is in how it has designed its processes and technology to be flexible so they can ensure a quick response to changing market conditions or new customer needs. “This type [of] responsiveness is what our customer are looking for in a time critical transportation provider,” he says. “Our ability to quickly adapt has played a significant role in the growth we have realized over the past few years.”

Better Tools

Bolt Express strongly embraces new technology in all aspects of its business, Bauman says. “We’ve made all kinds of changes recently,” he says, noting that this includes the creation of a new app for iPhone and Android phones.

The app has improved how Bolt Express supports and communicates with their drivers, Bauman says. “We’re trying to give them tools that will make them more efficient and to help them make better decisions on the road,” he says. “The workflow technologies we provide drivers, streamlines the process for providing required updates regarding location and load status.”

The company also tracks the movement of cargo with the help of SkyBitz, an asset tracking service provider.

Even when the trailers travel into Mexico or Canada, “We know where the trailer is at all times,” Bauman asserts. “We have full tracking capabilities as far as technology goes.”

Bolt Express also has implemented systems that make some tasks nearly paperless for the trucking companies. Drivers can send scans of forms to Bolt Express, while the company can send payments to its drivers within 48 hours of shipment delivery. “We pay our contractors and our partner carriers very quickly,” Bauman asserts.

Finding Good People

Two constant challenges for Bolt Express are finding truck drivers and office employees, Bauman says. Recently, “We lost a tremendous amount of independent truckers in the industry,” he says. “Recent estimates are that we will have a shortage of approximately 200,000 drivers this coming year.

“There are several reasons why so many drivers are leaving the industry; the high cost of fuel and insurance, stricter safety regulations and tighter financing requirements to name a few.”

But the company has successfully coped with this problem.

“We have a companywide commitment to position ourselves as the carrier of choice to current and prospective drivers,” Bauman says. “Much like our approach to managing our employees, we want our drivers to feel welcome, appreciated and supported at Bolt Express. Despite all challenges, we have been able to grow our fleet size and expand our capacity because we are committed to ensuring the success of our drivers.”

Additionally, “We have expanded our Safety and Driver Support teams to ensure that our drivers are receiving the support they need to be successful,” Bauman continues. “We’ve also tapped into some of the different ethnic groups around the country.”

The company’s steps also have included hiring bilingual dispatchers to help improve communication with the drivers, carriers and customers. “We have added Spanish speaking dispatchers to work with our Mexican carriers and customers,” Bauman explains. “We have added Driver Support team members that can effectively communicate with our Arabic or Eastern European drivers. Effective communication is the key to any successful relationship.”

“Internally, it’s still really hard to find good people,” Bauman admits, but he asserts that he nevertheless is proud of his entire staff. “[Our] people have created the culture that we help steer. It takes a lot to create a great team [and] get consistent growth like we do.”

Bringing Strength

One person Bauman is particularly proud of is COO Guy Sanderson, who joined the firm in 2008. “I don’t think there’s anybody in the company that wouldn’t say he’s done an awesome job,” he says. 

“We have growth over 300 percent since Guy stepped in as COO,” Bauman continues. “Sanderson brought us the strong leadership that was necessary to navigate our way through this explosive growth without losing our focus on safety and service.

“While Sanderson has overseen the daily operation of our two business units, Guy has worked hard to recruit and develop an exceptionally talented team to help support future growth and acquisitions,” Bauman declares. “He has been the driving force behind what has proven to be an extremely effective human capital strategy.”

Bauman predicts continued growth for Bolt Express, particularly after the formation of Bolt Holdings. “We are setting the company up in a fashion [of] growth through acquisition,” he says.

“We have and will continue to maintain an aggressive growth strategy. The acquisition of another transportation company will certainly help us move along quicker,” he adds. “That’s probably the biggest change [for us] this year.”

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