“I would have a hard time seeing myself do anything different or be in a different industry at this point. It really does get in your blood,” Stickling said of his experience in trucking.
Though the industry wasn’t where Stickling expected to end up, since getting his start with Illinois-based truckload carrier Nussbaum in 2007, he hasn’t looked back.
Stickling said Nussbaum’s purpose-driven mission to create a positive impact in every interaction sets the business apart.
“We think business gives us a platform, gives us a sphere of influence. Yeah, we got the business excellence thing down; it enables your platform, but it’s how we use that platform. Are we making a difference? Are we being a blessing? That’s really what gets a lot of us up in the morning and draws a lot of people,” Stickling said.
Stickling has witnessed Nussbaum grow over the past 16 years from roughly 130 employees to over 700. For many businesses, with such growth comes the challenge of maintaining the right culture, but this is an area where Nussbaum has excelled.
“Take [CEO] Brent Nussbaum — he touched everything. [CFO] Bill Wettstein — he touched everything. We’re now the size where you can’t do that. How do you keep the culture in place, how do you retain that as you grow? What we’ve doubled down on with this, Jeremy, is that you’re only as good as your next level of leaders and your mid-managers,” Stickling said.
Nussbaum’s leadership invests a lot of time in its next-level managers, focused on finding the right individuals who are good at getting things done — and more importantly, excited to see their teams succeed.
The company’s mission carries over into how it recruits drivers and all of its employees. This allows it to be intentional about selling prospective drivers and other workers based on reality, not shying away from presenting both the good and the bad to ensure there are no surprises.
Today, it just takes an internet search to see what other drivers are saying about a potential employer. Nussbaum stays mindful of its digital reputation as a means to attract new drivers and takes ownership when it falls short.
“You don’t win with everybody, and those reviews are out there too,” Stickling said. “That helps keep it real. I’d be worried if it was all positive about a company — not that we’re proud of our bad reviews. Sometimes they might be earned, unfortunately. We let people down. Part of the way to be successful is to realize that you do that sometimes, and figure out how to learn from that.”
When it comes to retention, Nussbaum sets its drivers up with tools to help them learn and advance their skills through its Certified RED program. The academy allows drivers to take on extra assignments and hands-on training sessions to grow their knowledge. Stickling said there is a lower turnover rate among Certified RED drivers compared to companywide.
Many of Nussbaum’s drivers are over the road for a week at a time, and Stickling said the company is willing to keep “wrestling” with the tough aspects of long-haul trucking, especially in regard to home time and accommodating drivers’ preferences when possible.
To keep a pulse on driver satisfaction, the business utilizes a third party to field an annual engagement survey, which produces a high participation rate across the company.
“The Nussbaum reputation isn’t how someone like me says it should be, it’s how the people are experiencing each other. It’s how drivers are experiencing driver managers, how safety had that awkward call,” Stickling said.
In 2018, Nussbaum became employee-owned through an employee stock ownership plan, allowing the company to create an ownership culture. Stickling believes that a company’s culture starts from the top but is not sustained by just a select few good leaders.
“It becomes real from the next level and the next level and the next level buying in and living it and breathing it, too,” he said.
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