Committed to Doing Things the Right Way
CMAC Transportation steered by family, veteran principles
Scott Christie is the first to suggest that he benefitted from his father’s reputation.
Dave Christie spent more than four decades in the transportation industry and managed four years in the Air Force, too, including multiple combat tours as a munitions loader during the Vietnam War.
So by the time Scott decided he’d follow the old man’s occupational footsteps at age 23, he was already taking advantage of knowledge he’d gleaned and the doors his father’s work had allowed him to open.
But with that advantage, he concedes, also comes some great responsibility.
“I have big shoes to fill,” he said. “It always weighs on you. You always want to be your own person. It gets difficult at times, but what I try to do is take the good and bad of every situation. The expertise of my father and the knowledge he had given to me, I knew it had the potential to be something special.”
To say it’s reached that level would be flirting with an understatement.
CMAC Transportation was founded 13 years ago with 15 drivers, seven trucks and 20 trailers has since swelled to more than 300 employees – 75 percent of whom are drivers, Christie said – and a 287,000-square-foot warehouse space in the southwest suburbs of Detroit that’s a key linchpin in a logistical chain stretching across the U.S. and into both Canada and Mexico.
The company provides warehousing, consolidation, transportation and on-site switching services, and its revenue, which was flagging at $13 million in the midst of an automotive industry-ravaging recession five years ago, is now in excess of $50 million according to Christie, who’s now its 36-year-old president.
“Things were really rolling well until we hit 2008,” he said. “Until Chrysler and GM filed for bankruptcy, we had this dream of doing everything really well and we were making money and things were going great. Then suddenly we were sitting around a table as a three-shift operation and we had to scale it back to two shifts and then back to one shift.”
The business back then was 80 to 90 percent reliant on automotive customers, but it’s since been diversified to include other industries, with an ultimate goal of reaching a 50/50 or 40/60 split.
CMAC’s largest customers these days include Johnson Controls, a Milwaukee-based provider of energy and operational efficiencies for buildings, lead-acid automotive batteries and advanced batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles and interior systems for automobiles.
The relationship stretches back to CMAC’s initial days as a formal entity, and Christie said the unique partnership allows his company to develop management skills it’s able to bring to other clients as well.
“In a lot of cases, we’re loading truckload quantities out of our facility to go to one of their facilities out of state. And if it’s not full, then they’re actually shipping air,” he said. “With the freight rates being what they are, they don’t want to ship air. They want to make sure that the cube of the truck is full.
“So what they say to us is ‘Act like you’re using our checkbook. If you saw that every day and that behavior started getting to a point where that truck started diminishing down from a full truckload down to maybe three-quarters or then down to a half, raise the flag and tell us that we’re not behaving appropriately. Because the plan is to keep that truck full.’
“When you’re able to walk into a relationship with a customer and you’re able to have that give and take, in the big picture you’re helping out your partner and you’re doing things for the right reasons.”
That “doing things for the right reasons” mindset goes in other directions as well.
A significant point of pride for Christie and his CMAC colleagues is the company’s status as a veteran-owned enterprise, which does help it to access clients who mandate a certain percentage of their business go to veteran-run partners. However, he said, the broader goal going forward is to make CMAC a workplace destination for servicemen and women coming back from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially those with wartime Class A-type vehicle operating experience.
“When they come back to the United States and they come back home, there’s no avenue for them to go and pick up a truck-driving job,” Christie said. “We’re working with our Congressmen, both locally and in some of the adjoining districts, and what we’re trying to figure out is how do we get those veterans out of the military and be able to put them to work and into a career – whether it’s driving a truck or working in the warehouse – to attract them to our industry?
“The one thing that I hope in five years is that we’ve been part of a group that’s been able to find a way for veterans to work in our industry and to create a road map for them to come out. What happens now when they come out is their experience doesn’t count in a lot of cases, and that’s wrong. Whatever we have to do, we’re trying to create that path and that road map. I hope we can accomplish it.”
If the approach continues and the mindset is kept, Christie is sure recognition will follow, too.
“I hope to be one of the ones that are recognized for the best in class,” he said.
“We want to be one of those best-in-class type carriers that, when people talk about the industry and where carriers have gone, they point at us and say ‘Hey man, they’re doing it the right way. Not only are they family-owned, but they’re veteran-owned and good people, but they’re doing things the right way.’
“We’ll continue to do the best we can to put a service out there that customers are happy with.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: CMAC Transportation
WHAT: Subsidiary of HMS Integrated Management Systems that provides asset-based warehousing, consolidation and transportation services to a variety of industries and customers
WHERE: Brownstown Township, Mich. – 20 miles southwest of Detroit