Q&A: ATA Chairman Barry Pottle

April 24, 2019 10:55 AM | Brandon Moree (Administrator)

In October of 2018, Barry Pottle, CEO of Pottle’s Transportation based in Bangor, Maine, was elected the federation’s board of directors to serve as the American trucking Associations’ 74th chairman.

Pottle’s Transportation has a terminal in Allentown as well as in Bangor and since 1988, when Pottle purchased the company from his father, it has grown from 11 trucks to more than 160 trucks with more than 600 trailers.

On May 17, at the 2019 PMTA Annual Membership Conference and Expo, Pottle will be one of the first speakers on the schedule Friday morning.

Pottle took the time to speak with Brandon Moree of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association to reflect on his career and his new role with the ATA.

PMTA: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Let’s start by talking about how you got your start in the trucking industry.

Barry Pottle: At a very young age, I was working at a truck stop and I interacted with all the drivers and it really inspired me to hear where the drivers had been and where they were going. And my dad was always in the trucking business so I had that background as well. That was what I always wanted to do: drive trucks. So I graduated high school in 1978, bought my first truck in July and went trucking for five years as an owner operator. 

PMTA: Times have certainly changed since then, what allowed you to buy a truck at that age?

BP: When I was in high school, I just worked a lot. I had what a lot of kids didn't have because I worked so much. Back then, I was probably making $1.75 or $2 an hour but a brand new pickup back then was $5300. So compared making $20 today and a brand new pick up is $70,000. But I was able save money and my dad cosigned for me and I went trucking. 

PMTA: What has been the biggest factor in the success that you have had growing Pottle Transportation into what it is today?

BP: There's no question, you have to surround yourself with good people. That's what I really always try to do; surround myself with people smarter than me. I encourage my people today in management, if you bring in a dispatcher or whatever, I try to get them to understand the people that work for you, teach them and work with them so that they can have your job. I've got a lot of guys that started washing trucks down at the shop that are number one mechanics today. I've got people that work for me that were hired as dispatchers that are director of sales and marketing. It's just trying to encourage people to do the best that they can do and I've tried to surround myself with good people and people smarter than I am.

PMTA: That's strong advice. Is that what you would advise people that might be just getting started in the industry?

BP: Absolutely. It's worked for me and I think it works for a lot of people. You've got the knowledge and everything but there are always people out there smarter than you are. I'm not just talking about the people that work for you. You have to have good accountants, good attorneys, you have to have everyone around you -- good bankers -- people that understand your business. When you do that, you will succeed in business.

PMTA: Switching gears a little bit, how did you get involved with state trucking associations and why do you think that those are so important?

BP: When I look at my history, being on the local level with the state association, having some of the issues that we've had to conquer, it's always been a state association doing it. Back when I was involved with the state association at an early age, I could see that we were making a difference and I just felt that if I was going to be a player in the trucking industry, I needed to also be a player in the state association. As I got more involved with the state association, that's when I wanted to know how things got done on the federal level. That's how I got introduced to the American Trucking Association. I started attending those meetings a long, long time ago, probably 30 years ago. Being a small carrier, I never thought that I would have an influence. But the more that I learned about what was going on, the more that I knew that I could have some influence.

The thing that I would say to people on the state level, if we didn't have the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, where would our state be today without the association fighting our battles in Harrisburg? And so, then what we say is, if we didn't have ATA, where would our industry be today? All the things that we fight and argue on and get done, it helps our industry one way or the other. If we didn't have our associations supporting our industry, we would be in a mess.

PTMA: There are a lot of items catching headlines right now but what do you think is the biggest challenge that state associations are facing right now?

BP: I think all associations are struggling with memberships. People have got to understand that we need to support our associations because that is what is supporting us. A lot of people sit back and say let the guy across the street do it but the more membership that we have and the more money that we have to fight our issues, the stronger that we can be. We need to be united on things. We're not always going to agree on things but if we all have a seat at the table and we have more of those people at the table, the stronger our associations can be on the state level and on the national level.

PMTA: So the best way to make a difference is to be active in the state association?

BP: Absolutely, have a seat at the table. 

PMTA: Working at the national level with the ATA, what has been the most rewarding part of that work?

BP: Right now, I'm only three months into it, so it's early. But I would say, getting out and meeting people, learning what their issues are and seeing the businesses. I just got back from California, I've been gone nine days and I met with allied members and new prospect members and just people really like it when the Chairman of the Association is coming in and calling on them and shows interest in what they are doing. I think that's one of the biggest things that I've seen right now. People want to see you, they want to bend your ear a little bit, they want to know what you're up to, what you're doing, what your goals are and just tell their story.

PMTA: What is it that you believe to be your biggest challenge in the role of Chairman?

BP: I think it's helping ATA be sure that they are aligned with what our members want. Working with (ATA President and CEO) Chris (Spear) and his team on the insights from the carriers, and just making sure that we're out there doing the things that our members need us to do. 

Tolling is going to be a major issue this year but we have to make sure to continue to do the things that affect our members and I think as Chairman, I try to follow that line and make sure that I'm staying engaged with our members and what their needs are and making sure that I'm conveying that to Chris his team.

This article appeared in the second quarter edition of PennTRUX Magazine, a publication specifically for members of PMTA.

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