During the summer months, Roadrunner Transportation Systems was transforming its business strategy, finalizing its separation from Ascent Global Logistics, opening three service centers — all during a pandemic.
"It's been a very busy summer," Frank Hurst, president of the company that now goes by the name of its LTL brand, Roadrunner Freight, said in October. It was certainly an understatement.
Peers laud his decisions and how he gets things done while maintaining a people-first mentality. Those who have worked with and for Hurst appreciate that he empowers the people around him. These qualities become even more integral when leading a business through turbulent times, which is why Hurst has earned Transport Dive's award for Executive of the Year.
A timeline of Roadrunner's divestments and spin-offs
Nov. 5, 2019
Roadrunner sells Intermodal Services to Universal Logistics Holdings.
Dec. 9, 2019
Roadrunner divests its flatbed business unit.
March 2, 2020
Roadrunner sells Prime Distribution Services to C.H. Robinson.
March 26, 2020
Roadrunner announces it will voluntarily withdraw common stock from listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
April 1, 2020
Roadrunner sells Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution to J.H. Rose Logistics.
July 27, 2020
Roadrunner announces it will split from Ascent Global Logistics and that Frank Hurst will become president of Roadrunner Transportation Systems, once that spinoff is completed.
Aug. 7, 2020
The spinoff of Ascent Global Logistics is completed. Frank Hurst becomes president of Roadrunner Transportation Systems.
Aug. 17, 2020
Roadrunner sells Rich Logistics and Integrated Services and Roadrunner temperature Controlled, becoming a LTL-only company.
Empowering others in a crisis
Maintaining customer service remained a priority during the pandemic, but first and foremost was safety in an essential business, Hurst said.
"It was surprising for me that Frank cared enough about who in our area [the virus] was affecting," said Sherry Meddley, director of call center operations for Roadrunner's facility in Akron, Ohio. "Roadrunner has been very involved in making sure that we have what we need."
Meddley was tasked with decision-making around how to transition employees to work remotely. And now that the conversation has switched to eventually bringing people back to the office, Hurst continues to look to her.
"It makes a big difference when you have somebody that actually believes in you."
Director of Call Center Operations at Roadrunner
"This makes you feel empowered, like, OK, he trusts me enough. He doesn't have to see the plan; he just says, 'OK, work your plan,'" Meddley said. "It makes a big difference when you have somebody that actually believes in you."
Support from the C-suite matters perhaps even more during the hard times, Meddley said. Operations sometimes move more slowly these days, and drivers may not be able to get out as quickly. Other businesses may be closed or have limited operations, affecting activities up and down the supply chain.
Culture starts at the top
Meddley, who has been with Roadrunner for a year, used to report directly to Hurst. When he was promoted, she received a new direct supervisor. But she and Hurst maintain a good working relationship.
"He is one of the most open people I have ever met in his position," Meddley said. Meddley sees (via video conferencing) Hurst and other members of leadership once a week.
"Even if you're having a problem or something else, or something difficult, he has just been that person that you can always share those thoughts with."
Director of Call Center Operations at Roadrunner
Not being able to meet in person has been a big adjustment for Hurst.
"I was used to spending a lot of time and walking around the office ... I also like to be very present, walk around and talk to people and shake hands and so forth," Hurst said.
He now spends more time on the phone, speaking to managers, customers, drivers and other employees, because he can't physically go to Roadrunner's nationwide locations.
Hurst also makes unscripted video messages to employees and drivers, because they were so used to seeing him out in the field.
"I wanted a way where I could communicate to our team and give them updates; they could see my face," Hurst said.
One of his key takeaways from the new normal, he said, is learning how to be available despite a greater physical separation. Hurst guessed he has spent more one-on-one time with colleagues now than he did before the pandemic, albeit not in person.
Hurst said he has leaned on his mentors during the pandemic, especially regarding communication. He has contacts with customers, suppliers, partners and others that he's met along they way. "I've ... reached out to leaders that I know and just said, 'Hey, I'm struggling in this area .... can you give me advice on things that you're doing?'" Hurst said.
Leading through difficulties
Hurst faced tough decisions for Roadrunner through the pandemic. It made "cost changes," including pandemic-induced furloughs, he said.
"We had to make the decisions that were best for the company. And luckily, we came through it very well, and we're seeing a positive growth in our business, and services continue to track positive. So, I think all those decisions were the right ones at the time," Hurst said.
Opening new service centers was among the most difficult duties Hurst had to carry out, particularly because he couldn't be onsite, he said. The facilities added 169 dock doors to Roadrunner's network and are spread out across the country in Riverside, California; Philadelphia; and Chicago.
Michael Zanolli, retired from a decades-long career in transport, worked with Hurst in the early 2000s and said he has "full confidence in Frank's knowledge and decision making ability in order to lead Roadrunner into the future as a viable competitor in the transportation industry."
"He believes in his people, he is a team player and is open to new ideas that will improve the operation/company."
Hurst and Roadrunner are now focusing on growing the company. Perpetually on his to-do list is finding better ways to support employees and drivers. That will have a chain reaction, he said and improve customer service and employee safety, fulfilling the company's "Ship it like you own it" motto.
"He believes in his people, he is a team player and is open to new ideas that will improve the operation/company," Zanolli said. "[Hurst] is a tireless competitor."