Successful People from Our Neighborhood – Dave Cox, VP and Owner of Polaris Transportation Group

If you work in logistics and don't know who Dave Cox and Polaris Transportation are, there are only 2 options: you either haven't been in the field long enough or you are looking in the wrong direction. Dave hates being the center of attention and getting his permission for this publication wasn't easy. Running one of the largest and most successful transportation companies in North America, managing over 180 people, working 168 hours a week and always hiding from his well deserved round of applause – this is Dave!

Where are you from, Dave?
Scarborough. I was born in Scarborough, grew up in Scarborough, love Scarborough. When I was in school I kind of fell into this industry. First 2 years I went to University, I actually enjoyed it, as most people do. Then I got a job at Challenger Motor Freight and this paid for my education, which was exceptional! It was hard, as I was working full time and going t school. But as a 21-year old making 40 thousand dollars. This really put me through school. And from there on I always stayed in Kitchener-Cambridge area, met my wife and she was not coming to Scarborough, so I haven’t seen Scarborough in 20 years.
What were you taking at school?
Business and political science.
That’ not very close to logistics!
Yes, I know.
You have a daughter right?
Correct, almost 13, too old. She is very beautiful daughter, she is great at school, I am very proud of her. But I am afraid of boy thing.
What boy thing?
Well, as she gets older and boys come along. I am very protective. I really liked when she was five and six…
Would you like her to get into logistics?
No, no. Well, if she’d chose to – fine. But I don’t want her to come here, to Polaris, just because she thinks I expect her to. She needs to find out who she is as a person and it might take a few tries to figure out who she is, and may be start this or that and find out she doesn’t like it. But I want her to be herself, get her own education for what she wants to go through. And after all if she wants to be in transportation then I would invite her in. She would start at the very bottom as I did at Challenger and work her way up, as I think this is the only way you can really get respect.
Polaris truck
What was your big dream as a child?
I always wanted to be in business and my parents always had businesses. And that’s why I went to school majoring in business. Pretty dull child, eh? Just let me be in business!
How did Polaris get started and how was your Dad involved?
Pretty simple actually. Larry’s background in 70-ies was union negotiator and he represented unions. A lot of industries back then were unionized. My mother worked at an old school trucking company – all regulated, so you could make lots of money. So, Larry thought: “Wait, let me try my hand in it!” He got out of labor negotiations, bought a trucking company, that’s been around for 45 years and made some money. Then the industry deregulated and along with that came many problems, he ended up going bankrupt mid 80-ies. And Larry is such an entrepreneur, he got himself back in the business – this time with warehousing and distribution. Made some god money. Early 90-ies – another recession came, there were a lot of empty buildings in Toronto, and landlords were desperate. If you were paying utilities – here is a free building for you. So, this was really hard to compete with and he went bankrupt again. So, this was around 92, we worked for a transportation company for a couple years and started Polaris. He lucked out – had some friends who gave him some business, he also had a friend who gave him some free office space, he had no money, so he financed it through the bank line and started with the runs to Chicago. I remember I was coming from the Challenger meeting and I saw this Polaris truck going down the road. And I drove for 5 minutes and I thought – this is a really catchy name, looks really good. And then I thought – wait, this is my father’s company! So, the long story short, he asked me to come work for him 3 or 4 times and I said “no”. Frankly, I did not know enough at the time. Challenger was much larger company and I was still learning. And in 97 I finally said “yes”, because I though, may be I did have something to offer – so I decided to join. Larry started the company more out of a necessity – he needed money, but he also has this entrepreneur spirit. When I first joined him in 98 – it was myself, he, my mother and we were in a small office and slowly but surely we were expanding what we do, trying to provide service, listen to our customers, what they want. If we are doing something wrong, doing our best to fix it. So, listening to our clients – it was a lot of word of the mouth, referrals for us. It probably wasn't till 2000 when we finally got the bank line.
So, Polaris started as a transportation company primarily? Cross docking and warehousing was added later?
Larry went from cartage in the 80ies to warehousing and distribution in late 80ies, and again to strictly trucking by1994. And as we grew, yes, we added up cross docking, and it became Polaris that you know today.
And how big is Polaris now?
About 180 people, about 110 pieces of equipment between the city and highway, 120 trailers. And what we do is very straight forward. You know the Grey Hound bus – this is Polaris philosophy. My drivers go to the specific terminals, they don’t deviate. If we have 1 skid on the truck, or 50 skids on the truck – we go. And we never say to the customer that we didn't move your freight because we didn’t have enough freight – we just go. And this is the Gray Hound Bus Model – Larry and I started. I remember when we first started running terminal to terminal, we decided to introduce this model – we had about 4 feet of trailer space and 49 feet empty and I thought: “Could it be that we fill this all out one day, wouldn't it be great?” And now, touch wood, we’ve done ok!
What is the most difficult part of your day to day work?
I am actually making it difficult myself. I am a perfectionist in the sense that if I say I’m gonna do something – I want it done. I’ve struggled, and I am getting better now, with delegating authority – big lessons to learn. I have a phenomenal team, that helps me delegate authority and they are really good, I can delegate more and more comfortably. And I think this is toughest thing I deal with on the day to day basis – me.
To let go?
Yes, let go. Absolutely. Someone asked me what my job was. My job is to feed 180 families. And I take this very seriously. I am afraid to make a bad decision. We all make bad decisions, of course. But again, on the overall scope of things, I make sure, that decisions we make are sound, or as sound as possible, so that I can sleep at night, knowing that I am not going to mess up 180 families, because they are relying upon those decisions.
What is your most favorite part?
It is like this – I think I am addicted. They always say alcoholics are addicted to alcohol, drug addicts – addicted to drugs, gamblers addicted to gambling. I love at the end of the week to say we made it to Saturday morning, we did a decent job. And there is many struggles day to day, right? With weather, mechanicals, border issues, sensitive clients with sensitive needs, and trying to meet all expectations. This is Saturday euphoria – I walk around my house relaxed. And closer to Sunday night a start to ramp that nervous energy for Monday morning again. This is the most exciting part, and it probably shouldn't be that way.
Polaris Wall of Fame
Polaris Wall of Fame
Does Dave have any hobbies?
I love sports – watching sports. I don’t have any time to play sports.
What are you still trying to achieve?
I am trying to make people at Polaris better managers, better people, better-rounded. They don’t necessarily have to be a manager or supervisor, but the way I like to work, whether it is from the clerical position or senior manager position, I let people work within their own parameters. I think people like creativity, I don’t like standing over someone’s shoulder, trying to make people rely upon themselves, and doing this helps the company. I think people take a little more from their job. We've had people who started in the very clerical functions and they come up to the most senior positions. And I enjoy watching people succeed. When people succeed they obviously help the company.
Do you have a lot of people who have been with the company for a long time?
Our first driver has been here for almost 20 years, and he is still here.
Polaris transportation truck
Do you still call all your drivers to say “Good night”?
Yes. I do. I don’t do it as often as I used to. Probably every other week or once a month. Typically I do it on the way home.
It is very important to them – to know someone cares.
Absolutely. And as matter of fact I had three conversations like this today when I got up  – “Hey, how are you doing? Is everything all right?” Also trying to call at the end of the week, thank for their hard work. Being a driver is truly very difficult job – dealing with roads, other cars on the roads, dealing with different people and trying to be on time – it is a lot of pressure. I always encourage them to go have time with their family.
How do you deal with unfair accusations and crazy expectations?
I am trying to listen with a balanced approach. Again, me being a perfectionist, I am trying to do everything perfectly, but this is hard to do. First of all, I always try to listen to the person, to see if we ca do something better, to see if we can fix it. May be they have expectations level that is not realistic, but to them this is important so you have to really make them feel important and try to dialogue with them. We usually get a good back and forth. A lot of times just because this is such a spontaneous industry, the clients might be under a lot of pressure for that and sometimes the client just needs to be heard, sometimes they just may be upset, and sometimes it may not be us – they are just upset, and you just have to listen to them. But I always find this lead to a stronger relationship, and I always try to build this relationship. You may not always get along, just have to try as hard as you can. And you know, almost every time I ran into a disagreement with someone – it led to a stronger relationship. I don’t know why.
Well, that’s why they call it a moment of truth – there is an argument and depending on how you handle it, your relationship goes up or it goes down.
Yes, exactly.
Polaris Green Initiatives
And for you it normally goes up?
Yes, we try. Our big thing as a company now is… This industry has become so transactional, no one talks to anyone anymore. This is good and bad. And from our perspective may be 7 or 8 loads you can get away with that. Loads picked up and delivered, no problems. But then the time comes when client needs to talk to someone, and may be they need this soft approach. And this is where our biggest concentration for this year – to make it less machinelike, more personal. So, we are spending a lot of time putting this special department together, it will hopefully be up by the end of June.
You are a very unusual company, as most LTL companies have a lot of sales force on the roads and not as many employees in operations. Yours is quite the opposite. Do you still have only one sales person?
Yes, for the most part Dave B is our only sales person, officially he is a business development guy. He helps us set up relationships with our partners and clients. We also have some commission sales people, but just a small group. Everything we’ve done is for the most part word of mouth and reputation. When we have some successes – we are thankful for it, but we also have to analyse what we do to make it success. And when we have failures – we have to do the same. I have one model – I am trying to be better today than I was yesterday. May be yesterday I did not succeed at all, but today I will succeed. And if you keep doing it every day – it builds and builds and builds.
Is there something new you are trying to learn?
I am trying to learn how to enjoy life. I've had luxuries that I never took advantage of. I want to spend as much time as I can with my family, but I work 80 hours a week. I am a workaholic. And this is what I am trying to learn – how to enjoy life more.
What is your favorite food?
I love all kinds of food, but I guess  – any kind of fish. I’d like to try some exotic foods – shark, squid, octopus, you name it, alligator, stuff like this. Not that I would eat it regularly: “Oh, what’s for dinner today – Oh, alligator – Oh, good”.
Where would you like to travel?
When I was younger I always wanted to see Europe. As I am getting older – I fell in love with Europe. I’ve never been there. But there is so much to see. Italy for sure, but the country side, not the tourist’s places. Monaco! I want to see F1 race in Monaco in May, any May. Also UK, but not to see Big Ben or Buckingham Palace, I want to see soccer match, pubs, people. I want to see new people, try to understand them.
When it comes to gifts, do you prefer giving or receiving?
Giving. If I don’t get any gifts from anyone – I would be quite happy. The most uncomfortable topic in the world is attention on me. I hate talking about Dave Cox. I am uncomfortable talking about Dave Cox. But if I can get a gift for someone, or just help, I would rather do it. I get really uncomfortable when my family asks what I want for Christmas.
Just say socks!
Yeah, right, socks.
Do you have a professional message?
Very simple – if you give your word, follow through on your word. Integrity is everything. I have  made many bad decisions but I have  followed through  to keep my word. But integrity is everything. I believe that all people make mistakes and if I caused some harm to someone, may be I've spoken out of turn, or I was just completely wrong, I've got no problem extending my hand and saying “I am sorry, I was wrong” This is a big thing.  Especially in transportation. I've spent thousands of dollars on hiring expedites because I've given my word and something had gone wrong and I felt it was my duty to make things wright. I never told the client, they have no idea the costs I've incurred, but I want to make sure I don’t break my promise. Integrity – this is my professional message.

Compliments of Marina Gavrylyuk
Real Estate Agent with Sutton Group Summit Realty

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