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Building a Balance: CalArk President Rochelle Bartholomew strives to create a driver-friendly workplace

By: Brad Bentley

Brad Bentley

A University of Alabama graduate with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Bentley spent 15 years as a trucking Publisher before becoming the Editorial Director for Randall-Reilly's Recruiting Media division.



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If you’re interested in ‘balancing’ work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable. – Donald Trump

With a personal mantra of “no one’s perfect”, CalArk Trucking’s Rochelle Bartholomew says she tries to learn something new every day. The first female executive Best Driver Jobs has interviewed for this series, we found her with a laser-like focus on creating a pleasurable work environment like Trump refers to in the above quote.

In today’s business climate, more women are being called upon to lead at the top of companies nationwide, and Rochelle understands the unique challenges of running a company in a male-dominated industry. She literally grew up in trucking.

In 1975, her father started a fleet to serve a food packaging company with manufacturing plants in Arkansas and California. This was before deregulation, and his vision was to create a company that competed for irregular route freight and be the best at providing customer service.

In her teens, Rochelle worked part time at CalArk during the summers learning the tools of the trade for administration, operations, and safety. “I was able to learn from my father the importance of controlling costs for things he called “show business” which really did not add value to the operation. That should not be confused with cutting corners which affect service or safety,” Rochelle said.

Upon graduating from the Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, she worked in outside sales for CalArk for several years. Rochelle says all of that time on the road kept her in touch with what customers are looking for and was very valuable training.

CalArk had established a motto of “Wheels of American Business” to emphasize their range of operation to include not only runs from Arkansas and California, but most of North America by the time Rochelle was elevated to company President in 2000. To manage in the new millennium, Rochelle says women must have good leadership skills to be accepted. “Communication styles of men and women are sometimes different, and in today’s business it is really important for both genders to learn how to work together for the good of the whole, Rochelle said. “Individuals and companies who understand this will be most successful and I’m not arrogant enough to think I have all of the answers.”

A strong believer in accountability, she is not too proud to admit when she’s made a mistake. One thing Rochelle wishes she could do over was launching a refrigerated division a few years ago.  “We pulled the trigger too quickly without developing a thorough enough business plan,” Rochelle admits.  “We tried to manage it with mostly our existing staff from dry operations pulling double duty. We didn’t have enough experience to be successful.”

They say the difference between greatness and mediocrity is often how an individual views a mistake, and Rochelle tries to learn from hers while encourage her management team to focus on corrective action and moving forward rather than passing blame to others. “I think the fear of being wrong or making a mistake can be so paralyzing,” Rochelle said. “It keeps us from thinking creatively and trying new things.”

Knowing that diversity has been proven to add value in the workplace, Bartholomew says she will always strive to foster a positive work/life balance at CalArk. “I feel strongly that when people are happy with their lives they’ll be more productive, less stressed, and will be better teammates. Our industry is one which has been historically difficult for especially drivers’ personal lives, Bartholomew stated. “We realize that if we want to attract quality people to our team, we must constantly look for ways to help drivers take care of their health, spirit, family and friends.”

Bartholomew practices what she preaches.

Away from work, she enjoys Yoga, Zumba and boating activities with her family. She is also in the process of establishing a health and wellness program at CalArk. The company recently purchased a larger facility in which they plan to move their operations in early 2013. In addition to giving their supporting staff more room, the new location will include larger driver’s facilities such as sleeping quarters, cafeteria, and a weight room and gymnasium.

Although Bartholomew is striving to achieve work/life balance for CalArk drivers, she’s worked even harder to increase their bank balances. The carrier implemented a 3-cent-per-mile pay increase on August 15. Despite the challenge of an economy that remains unstable and the availability of drivers to support this growth, bold moves like this will allow CalArk to accomplish their goal of growing their fleet by 5% this year.

In the next five years, Bartholomew would like to increase CalArk’s fleet to 1000, with a combination of company trucks and owner operators. “Many of our customers are moving production back to North America from China, India and elsewhere which is good news for us since this is our core business. I want CalArk to be a premier work place for anyone in our industry. Our employees are the key to growth and success,” Rochelle stated. “We care about our people as people, not machines, and we understand that they have emotional and personal needs. I have a true open door policy to our drivers, and I don’t just give them lip service.”

Bartholomew says the biggest short-term challenge facing our industry is drivers, and she thinks carriers must find ways to make driving jobs easier. “The companies that can develop new ideas that will guarantee new drivers more home time will be the companies that fill their driver deficiencies,” she said. Bartholomew plans to address this issue by expanding CalArk’s services to warehousing and distribution in addition to truckload and offering a broader range of services for shippers.

She added that CalArk is working on more dedicated routes for their drivers, and that the company is striving to be competitive in their support programs. Being a mid-size carrier operating in a depressed economy makes it difficult to cover every need, but CalArk has a program where a driver can receive a renovated truck for providing driver referrals to our Recruiting Department. “Over the past 5 years, we have given away 10 refurbished trucks to the driver with the highest number of referrals for the period,” Rochelle said.

Even with a driver shortage, Bartholomew is optimistic about the future of the trucking industry. “The USA is still a world power and the greatest place to live and raise your family. We know that our economy will continue to recover and to grow,” she said. “The way our industry works will continue to change and we’ll be forced to work more efficiently and safely than ever before. We’ll need to develop ways to save fuel and other resources while responding to the evolving needs of shippers. CalArk will rise to the challenge in a green, clean way.”

It has been said that life is like riding a bicycle – to keep your balance you must keep moving.

Rochelle Bartholomew is building that balance at CalArk Trucking and is moving the fleet in the right direction.

For find your work/life balance at CalArk, call 888-422-5275 or log onto www.calark.com.

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