When hard times hit, you get behind the wheel of your life and shift into drive,” said Carolyn Gable, founder of New Age Transportation.
It was 1982 and Gable was a single mom of two, waiting tables as she had for the past 10 years. But she yearned for a more stable source of income.
When the restaurant where she was working closed for remodeling, she was faced with the harsh reality of no income for six weeks. She had two options: take another restaurant job temporarily or follow her gut instinct telling her it was time for a change. Option number two changed the path of her life forever.
Gable contacted an employment agency, but without a college education and little work experience beyond the restaurant, other types of jobs were hard to come by. True to her nature she persisted, trusting that her faith and ability to roll with the punches would get her through.
Finally, a Chicagoland trucking company took a chance and hired her as an entry-level customer service rep. Far from her dream job, she knew that getting her foot in the door was what mattered. However, the $12 an hour was well below what she was making at the restaurant, so she went back to waitressing, working both jobs for a time and clocking 75 hours a week.
Quick to learn and eager to move up, Gable had her eye on a different role in the company: sales. She knew she could do well, if only given the opportunity. Once again, her drive was recognized and she advanced.
“From the entry-level position in customer service, I developed a passion for the trucking industry and moved into sales where my entrepreneurial spirit was born,” she said.
Gable took what she learned as a waitress and applied them to her new role in sales: great customer service, treating coworkers and customers with respect, hustling throughout her shift, knowing how to talk to people of different backgrounds, and sheer determination. These were the very things that would make her a successful saleswoman.
A New Age
Gable excelled in sales, but after seven years working for other trucking companies, she knew the time had come to branch out on her own. In 1989, she started New Age Transportation out of the basement of her home.
Within a few years, she had three employees and was billing $100,000 a month — until her largest client pulled his account. With 40% of her business gone, she was once again at a crossroads.
At great financial risk, she switched her business model from a commission-based operation to that of a broker, handling the combined logistics of transportation, distribution, and storage. Today, New Age Transportation has grown from a small operation out of Gable’s basement to a $30 million company with 24 employees and two locations.
For 29 years, Gable has remained true to her philosophy: great customer service delivered in a personal way — exactly what she learned during her years as a waitress. New Age reps will pick up the phone rather than solely rely on email, they remember customers’ birthdays, and they go the extra mile to ensure customers know they can be counted on.
“We’re known as an honest company. Our customers appreciate it and it sets us apart,” Gable said.
Importance of Company Culture
Long before “employee engagement” was on every CEO’s radar, Gable understood the value of finding — and keeping — great employees. New Age employees average more than double the national average length of employment.
Gable instills her passion for customer service into her employees and found the balance between nurturing their individual strengths and high performance expectations — with great results. A deeply spiritual person, she believes in the manifestation of all positive things and expects the same from her employees. And, she leads by example.
When one of her customers was convicted of a crime in 2000, she worried less about the loss of the business relationship, and more about the welfare of his children. Knowing firsthand how difficult it is to be a single mom, she began dropping a few dollars in their mailbox to help with what she calls “the little extras” — items such as prom tickets or music lessons that often go by the wayside when food and shelter are a priority.
From there, a larger idea was born and she founded the Expect a Miracle Foundation which helps single, working parents struggling to provide extracurricular activities for their children due to lack of income. The foundation is 95% run by New Age employees and, collectively, they provide more than 500 hours of community service per year.
Today, the percentage of women in logistics and trucking remains in the single digits. A woman CEO is even more rare in this industry. Gable attributes her success to four things: she had a vision, a desire to succeed, a positive attitude, and she worked her tail off.
In 2010, Gable authored “Everything I Know as a CEO I Learned as a Waitress.” With chapter titles such as Have Fun, Join the Circus, and Expect a Miracle, it’s not a typical “how to be a good CEO” book. Rather, it’s filled with practical lessons, learned at the school of hard knocks.
Gable remains CEO and active with the company, but feels it’s time to turn the day-to-day operations over to the next generation. Recently, Seth Gable — the second oldest of Gable’s seven children — was named president and COO.
Growing up in the family-run business, Seth witnessed firsthand the hard work and determination that went into building New Age. He brings the same tenacity to his new role, and will steer New Age through a growth phase and into the next era of transportation logistics. But he won’t forget the principles on which the company was founded.
“Watching her build this company from nothing, I learned the lessons of positive thinking, having the right outlook, and believing in the laws of attraction ... that what you put out in the universe comes back to you. For us, customer service is everything,” Seth Gable said.