The sudden passing on June 1 of Josh Owen, President of Ability/Tri-Modal Transportation Services in Carson CA, was devastating news on many fronts.
Josh was just 43, and left behind two young children among other family. Josh’s dad, Greg, listed on the company management roster as Head Coach, was confident in the knowledge that the firm he’d started was in good hands. We can only imagine the pain in the family.
More than a personal tragedy, Josh’s death is an enormous loss for the California ports and trucking. He worked tirelessly and selflessly with the single-minded goal of streamlining the industry.
My first encounter with Josh was over the phone in 2010. He’d heard that I was working on a solution to measure truck turn time from GPS. He and Bruce Wargo of Pierpass were co-chairing a Turn Time Stakeholders Group (TTSG). A key thrust of their effort was to document the objective facts about turn time, and to address them. He suggested we talk over lunch.
Then he said the words that I believe encapsulate his legacy. He was in Carson, near the LA ports; I was in Santa Barbara, a 2-3 hour drive away.
“I’ll meet you halfway,” he offered.
So we got together in Canoga Park. Seven months later, the first turn time report was ready.
We presented the findings to the stakeholders in March 2011. That day, something magical happened. Terminals, truckers, ports and BCOs agreed on the findings and recommendations. (Those familiar with port politics know that as a matter of religious principle, nobody agrees on anything.) They all acknowledged that there was another way of looking at the data, other than their own. They all seemed to have experienced this meet-you-halfway epiphany, and resolved to proceed to the next phase: solutions.
Observers hailed the breakthrough: The Waterfront Coalition, members of the Federal Maritime Commission. It made the news in Canada, China and Germany.
Not everyone was convinced that this was the best approach. One group of truckers issued a press release characterizing the TTSG work as a “disservice to the trucking community.”
Let the numbers be the judge of that. The period of the TTSG dialog was the only time in the past five years during which the indicators of productivity showed a significant and sustained improvement (Figure 1). There are many factors that affect performance, and this is not definitive evidence that TTSG was on the right track. But it is remarkable and noteworthy, and difficult to avoid that conclusion.
Young as he was, Josh saw the debate over turn time not as a destination, but as a stepping stone. He elevated the discussion past complaints and accusations, to diagnosis and remedies, in a matter of months. He delivered the best understanding and goodwill between truckers and terminals that there’d ever been. This is a necessary foundation for the partnership that it will take to bootstrap efficiency.
In our respective ports, let’s find the courage to revisit and embrace the “I’ll meet you halfway” doctrine. Not just to memorialize Josh. But also because it works.