Chris Gonzalez

Interview by
Published on
April 25, 2022

In this episode...

Chris Gonzalez has been around the block in almost all aspects of the trucking industry - he was a lumper before he joined the military, became a bilingual fleet manager, freight agent, brokerage manager, and now Clean Harbor’s Driver Recruitment Engagement Manager. With the industry looking highs and lows, Chris wants the trucking industry to shape up while enjoying the ups, so that they’ll be ready for any downs. From driver retention, business longevity, and knowing your company’s cost-per-mile, Chris sits down with Life By The Mile in a heartfelt, highly informative, and entertaining conversation about his passion for the trucking industry - in his words; “Once trucking gets in your blood, it never leaves.”

Chris Gonzalez

Logistics/ 3PL/ Brokerage/ Trucking Operations/ Owner Operators/ Drivers at Clean Harbors


i'm actually the co-lead for the vet erg within our company great um i'm uh with the vfw of vfw writers out of ohio i have a big mission to be able to essentially help veterans overall right now the reason i see that veterans make a good fit within the transportation industry is veterans are used to being given an assignment and even though if there's variables or whatever it is they can accomplish that mission and then keep moving and driving forward right

this life by the mile delivered by freightworks i'm the host butch maltby i am so excited to have chris gonzalez but you go by gonzo that's right i'm happy to be here butch uh yeah gonzo is what i've been known since about 17 years old i'm gonna ask you the question my real name is dwight by the way my dad used to give me a butch haircut they called me butch and it stuck so how did you get the name gonzo well i guess it's uh probably maybe a similar story to what you got there on the butch side but i was 17 years old joined the military and uh my drill sergeant kind of looked at me saw gonzalez and i guess he just didn't like the last name and just says from now on you're just named as gonzo and it stuck it stuck because at the end of the day it's a outlandishly unconventional is actually the meaning of gonzo and when i think about what my career over the years that's actually pretty much sums it up we're gonna put on the hip waders and we're gonna jump into that river of so many different stories i can tell by the way gonzo and butch is a good name for a pond podcast butchen gonzo's probably sounds better though doesn't okay you know what you're a marketer too all right well let's let's uh get into your story i mean you're you're with clean harbors norwell mass you're somewhere else we'll get to that in a minute but how did you come into trucking and logistics when i was 17 years old actually before i joined the military a buddy of mine still owns the company cargo services express down in south florida i was one of his lumpers my brother was one of his owner operators and just kind of found into the industry that way i joined the military when i got out of the military i was an mp uh military police and when i got out i thought that's what i wanted to do i wanted to be in law enforcement and within six months i was back in trucking been here ever since okay so it just grabbed your heart or grabbed your passion and you wanted to get back in yeah that i'm telling you they tell you that it's once trucking gets in your blood it doesn't leave that is true i've seen guys retire and two or three years later they're right back in the truck in some form or another i'm going to ask you a question i'm going to put you on the spot you said you were a lumper at one point right yes what are the three things people don't know about lumpers but should know three things people know about lump resolution no the lumper itself doesn't really get paid anything it's the person that's actually running the lumper service that gets paid the money behind it that's number one uh number two would be it's a lot of hard work i mean everything that's going in and out of that trailer you're handling most of the time it's gonna be piece counts um it just was a whole lot of hard work uh number three um i was in shape back then and i was able to stay in shape you know okay so so so being in shape helps if you're a lumper it definitely does you know what i've always wanted to ask somebody those three you're the first person i'd have asked that of and you actually have an answer for it so well let me go back to then to your journey so keep walking us through how you've gotten to where you are today so i uh as soon as i got out of the military you know like i said within six months i was uh i ended up working for u.s express uh that was my first company on the train size no i was actually a fleet manager the bilingual fleet manager okay sitting and then taking discharge um you know or at the prison spanish was your last language your second language it's my first language actually okay yeah yeah it's my first language uh born in puerto rico okay midway la cabeza

all right so so tell us uh tell us what happened next i mean you saw you were you were fleet manager i started as a fleet manager there i've worked with company drivers then i moved over to some extended shift then i ended up with the owner operators in about 2006. okay ever since 2006 working with the owner operators honestly it's been a passion and love you know because not only do they have the passion for driving but they have the passion for business growth it's just two different entities you know coming into one i've just always had a passion for the driver but the owner operator is probably gonzo i want you to drill down on this for a minute can you describe can you describe for people in ways that they'll really take heart and understand talk about the challenges owner operators face talk about what they deal with yeah i'll be honest with you the market the market vulnerability is probably one of the biggest things right you know 2020 2021 has been great years for for the transportation industry rates have been at you know highs that i never even would ever imagined i mean i remember back in 2012 1.85 you know rate per mile that was that was a decent rate if you're running that within your fleet i mean to be able to see 350 340 330 in that market you know that's phenomenal but every up has it down and 35 cents down in the last two weeks already and it's going to continue to go down while fuel continues to go up it's tough well and a lot of people that have come in to the business during kind of this significant uptick they'll get spoiled they're going to get spoiled we're going to see businesses go out of business that's exactly it talk about that um i mean if the guys that are going to survive are the ones that know what their cost per mile is they know what it costs to actually truly move the truck right before i came to clean harbors i ran a brokerage office and listening to some of the guys i would even take and look if you're not going to take my load at least give me 10 minutes on the phone so we can discuss your business right right um you know not really planning out what knowing what the rate the total mile is empty miles loading miles what the markets do in certain areas and know what they got to get behind it um you know to demand three dollars and fifty cents a mile out of a backhaul market like central florida it basically tells me that you don't know how that industry is flexible and it is versatile right right to supply and demand market and obviously it's a consumer market down in florida your your supply is not going to be very it's going to be high so that reflects to you they don't they really don't know they don't they don't know the calculus of how all of this happens right that's it yeah and i used to take even if they didn't run that low for me give me 10 or 20 minutes let me let's let's just have some face-to-face education and i've even had guys months later it's like you know what man i was let's have more talks right you know we've talked about you know what it's like to actually break down my my actual cost all the way down to i want to know what my fixed costs are per mile what my variable costs are per mile you know what rates do i need to take into certain markets and how do i how do i really flex that out um you know it's it's going to be tough when we get down it back into that low two range for a rate per mile and it's going to happen i mean we all know it's going to happen right and and for people that are not uh long enough for the business to experience the volatility and the ups and downs you can become enamored with and kind of intoxicated with oh it's always going to be this way it's just not is it no it's not and where do you think we are right now um i think we're basically at the top of the hill and we're about to feel the roller coaster really start to take back and look over the last couple years you know to me it really started with the trade wars even before copenhagen okay you take the trade wars into peace i mean right now we're short on chip the the computer chips and everything why it's all that copper wiring and pieces that were missing that wasn't being imported anymore it got shorted out so that's cause you know supply chain issues now a year or two down the road then covet comes around covet hits the port's out and shut down for two months so you don't have anything really coming into the west coast that doesn't mean that product wasn't being made right it would still be made in asia but it was sitting at their ports right so now you inundate coming into the springtime in 2020 which is going to be a high season anyways and it's literally taking us two years to get out of that but i think we're out of that now i mean look in california it's it's in a negative state other than across the border you know it's it's the markets what's interesting is we had somebody yesterday tell us that a lot of the ships that were sitting offshore have migrated to places like charleston and and other places so you kind of moved the issue around right yeah when i was uh working at the brokerage uh one of our customers and that was one of the things that we did for them is is they're like hey you know what what do i got to do in southern california and up in washington i can't get capacity i said well let's look at houston let's look at jacksonville so it just migrated from the west over to the east that's yeah that's it and now you got some issues in charleston tonight yeah the carol the carolinas are still running overbooked right so when you look at that market you know it's your savannah and your charleston's that are still running overbooked because those extra ships out of california have kind of moved over but it'll clean itself up i mean consumer confidence isn't what it was a year ago right and it was interesting because you had some industries like the fashion industry that missed a whole season of fashion i mean and so you have like liquidators and others that benefited from all of all of that where do you think we are right now in the market i mean what do you think is going to happen in the coming year um for about two years though i've been saying september of 2022 is when carriers are really going to start to feel that pinch my guess and just the way i really look at it unless some something drastic happens by february or march of next year you're going to start seeing some carriers either lacing on with carriers because they can't handle their own authority anymore they weren't figuring they're talking about the owner operators yeah and then company drivers i mean there's been a lot of pay increases uh pay increases means that the carriers are either going to have to maintain those high rates or they're going to have to cut back on their driving force because they can't afford the uh when when is the pain point for an owner operator at that point where they start to say i may want to jump on with somebody where does that happen um it's probably gonna be different for everybody honestly uh a lot of times when i see guys going to carriages for two reasons it's not you either see one that knows how to run a business but at the end of the day he knows you know what three to five percent difference in my total net is not worth my headache for me to run under an authority right because i mean i i used to recruit agents that was one of the things i used to tell them too can you make more money on your own authority yes but once you're you're always one accident away from being out of business right right so when you lease on a carrier that takes some of that liability away okay and then it puts it on it puts that on the carrier so if they have that one accident accident gets you know truck gets fixed if the carrier doesn't dismiss them they can continue running if not they find another carrier that they can lease on to you know they didn't just lose their business all at one time right and so the risk tolerance for every individual owner operator is probably it's going to be different some people are more cautious some people are more like america's cowboys i'm going to ride out into the wilderness and i don't know what i'm going to see around the corner i used to know an agent that he was a pretty good side agent about 85 trucks and i used to ask him all the time why you're even leased on you could be so much better on your own i mean he had his own shops his own everything a really good guy and he basically had told me at the end of the day it's not worth five percent exactly gonzo do you ever lose the exhilaration of driving no you don't no my retirement plan is actually to take my wife on the truck with me so that's that's great now tell me a little bit about memorable places across the country like through the windshield where are some of the vistas that never cease to amaze you or make you see what a great country god made you know let it be in a car a truck or a motorcycle i'd probably put more miles behind a motorcycle now than i do a truck but to me it doesn't matter where you're at in the country to me one of the best things about driving is it's that sunrise in the sunset the fact that you you start your day you know you're about to take on your challenges and every sunrise is different depending when you're at and the fact that you can wake up in one type of sunrise and go to sleep and see a totally different backdrop you know that is so that is so true i you know i tell people the the rosy finger of dawn in new mexico for example uh compared to other states is just uh incredible yeah i mean if you want to take like colorado you're running westbound into colorado you're let's say in like lyman colorado on i-70 you're about 150 miles from denver you already see that picturesque mountain rest i lived in colorado springs i was stationed in fort carson you're kidding me yeah i was there for two years okay well we actually lived in monument oh i know we're monumental yeah you've got monument hill there's actually a way station right right right there that's a very dangerous place so if you use that place as an example if you face to the east it looks barren it looks dry and you're like man this is why do i even live here and then you turn around you don't even have to move you just turn around that's exactly right yeah we had a 50-yard line view of the air force academy on my deck and so i know exactly where you were i lived right outside of gate or right yeah right outside of gate three and this apartment building is right there no kids out of fort carson yeah and most people don't know that way now what you were an mp i was an mp okay great when were you there uh was that fort carson from january uh 2002 to about uh february 04. i was there not at fort carson but we were driving around the same place well unfortunately in my two years that i was there i was only there for about six months were you overseas i was overseas for i spent about a year in guantanamo bay and uh and then another six months or so kind of running between a couple other countries i'm so tempted to chase a rabbit right now we can't ask me about guantanamo i was going to ask you about gitmo that's a whole other episode okay now listen gonzo you are going to come back and we're going to have that episode at some point okay

let's get back into trucking and logistics for a minute so what do you do today so today i work for clean harbors um essentially i work with driver attraction the driver programs um you know right now i've been looking at the owner operator compensation where do we need to be at where we're competitive not just today but next year as well you know what's that right year-to-year market rate uh we've just established it we're about to push out now just real quickly drill down on that what kind of data points do you look for to come up with that yeah so i mean one of my favorite tools is a freight wave sonar right you know people ask me why do you look at sonar if you're in like a recruiting type realm i want to know what the market's doing because if i know what the market's doing i know what the drivers are thinking if rates are high and the spot market is high they're you know guys are out there they're chasing the money they're chasing the freight okay so you're interpreting from the data the psychology of the driver that's it okay when the market starts to run down people now they want that confidence that they can still make that continued change so then we can look to see okay what's what's the right move we got to do depending on what the market are you able to get ahead of the curve a little bit are you able to anticipate from the data so that you're making decisions not based on where things are right now but where it's kind of headed yeah and i think we're there we've been growing our owner operator program over the last uh four or five months really just driving that same message right hey you know what i know you're making ten thousand dollars a week right now you know i know you're not lying i know what you can do but here's what we can do realistically right but not just this year next year and the year after the year after so if we take a four-year average of an you know inflated rate and then a medium rate and then a low rate that's where i want to find where my baseline is so that way these guys aren't they're not having to sit there and stress what's my rate going to be right here right and it seems to me that once they know that you're trying to work with them it's not just you trying to coax them or seduce them into some kind of a relationship you're trying to help them right well my job is retention too right so if i lie them on the forefront i mean what's going to happen to me on the back end um so i mean i've always been a firm believer that you have to recruit based off on on retention not just for numbers you know bring the right people in and when you bring them in you make sure that you deliver what it is that you you know that you're actually selling them and if you can do that then one kind of balances with the other let me let me ask you this question so many drivers that come to freight works and we put a high value on truth telling making good on our promises not over committing and under delivering so many drivers come in and they go i just feel beat up you know i was made a number i was lied to everybody says we'll give you good miles we'll give you good money we'll give you a good truck and we and you're a family i mean it's just out there in the marketing well i mean when you're looking at nine you know nine jobs right now to every you know to every one driver in the industry you know people are going to get desperate and they're going to do things to be able to entice to come over hey we'll pay you 80 cents a mile well i could take a rate that i'm currently paying someone and they're like oh i'm making much more than that okay well now let's really look at it how are you getting paid are you getting shorted your miles because you're doing a zip to zip right how much free time are you at the dock you know when we start taking all those numbers into place a 50 cents a mile actually equates to about 80. so it's a matter how you sell that package so to me when i see these packages at 75 85 cents a mile i know and i've ran you know i ran a trucking company in mississippi i know what's sustainable and what's not and paying consistently at 85 cents a mile year-over-year that's not going to be sustainable so to me you've already lied to the person right off the bat and it's just trying to get a click that's it right it's just click bait which is not good at all what uh tell me a little bit about the things that cause drivers to quit communication i mean you'll always hear that and it's it's the number one thing but people got to understand why communication right you got to understand that when you're managing you know a driver a driver is is not an office employee they don't have somebody else next to them us as people we have to have some type of interaction okay now there are a lot of drivers that are you know introverts and that's why they do what they do yeah they want to be in a cab they want to be alone they want to hit the radio and just be alone give me a mission a to b i'll accomplish it i'll do it better than anybody else but let me be okay but where that communication piece really comes in is it's not just telling them what you know what that point and what that information is it's knowing more about them to me a fleet manager or however you want to call that position dispatcher should be a driver's angel right on their shoulder at any time they know they can contact them be able to communicate with them you know a good one will always be you know proactive hey i know what your hours are i've already assigned you i know what this is what you can do to me when you can work with a driver with that a driver has that he has that sense of security because the last thing a driver needs is to drive for 11 hours a day not hear from anybody and they have nobody by their side to be able to interact with exactly exactly let me shift gears for a minute talk to me about why trucking and logistics is a good career path for veterans well that's my favorite question you know what i didn't know that but you know what i just did i just served up to volleyball for you to spike well first of all like um i'm actually the co-lead for the uh vet erg within our company great um i'm uh with the vfw of vfw riders out of ohio i have a big mission to be able to essentially help veterans overall right now the reason i see that veterans make a good fit within the transportation industry is veterans are used to being given an assignment and even though if there's variables or whatever it is they can accomplish that mission and then keep moving and driving forward right one of the things like when i first got out in 2004 i had a very low tolerance for dealing with people well that's about about the best way you could put it now over the years i've you know changed and i've learned how to you know re-adapt but it was a really hard you know time to i couldn't deal with the stupidity you know it's like what do you mean you you can't stay on your feet for 20 minutes what are you talking about you know you got a job right because you were so used to here's the order get it done and that's it that's exactly it and it was it was very organized you always had you know you had structure um that was always there and and a driver can do the same thing i mean the structure he has his hours of service he manages his time you know he kind of sets his schedule that's part of that structure you know within it you know the pickup and the delivery that's my mission right and guess what when i finish that mission i have another mission and when i finish that one i got another one because i got a big battle that i got to handle that is so good and they understand structure and authority as well right correct that's that's it and and can't forget the brotherhood right i mean the brotherhood is probably one of the things that i missed the most when i got out of the service and the brotherhood in trucking is probably one of the strongest brotherhoods that i've seen out there outside of the military so so you you see bets as a great target market for the industry no definitely definitely i mean that's i would i would take a vet almost any over anybody else or to be honestly at least on my side that is that is so good now let's talk a little bit about your company uh what talk about the culture of the company yeah so i mean clean harbors is largest environmental services company in north america um you know we've been around since 1980 on thursday we actually had our 42nd birthday this company started off with three guys in a pickup truck and a hose well in up in norwell mass area in that cape cod area um they started getting uh there was a boat off of cape cod in early 80s um that had got kind of got stranded and stuck and they ended up actually emptying out the oil out of the ship okay using all the hoses that they can gather in the northeast okay and then it's just this company has progressed over the years now you're the largest company they've acquired 52 companies over the last uh what 42 years um our latest partner to join us was a hydrocam pse i mean they handle anything right so you're used oil like you go to autozone and you dump your oil in there that's our boxes it's going into uh you know the nascar you know obviously you see our name the safety clean name on on all the cars out there in nascar uh you know you got a company that all of a sudden they have a spill a boiler breaks over and you got all this contaminant out on the ground you know we have remediation teams that can go out and they can fix those items um i mean household uh events for for the community yeah we get rid of paint for for uh like you got 20 gallons of paint in your house we have certain days of the week of the month or the year that you can drop that paint off at no charge to you you know we handle that for the community um you know our our job is is to keep you know everything environmentally safe so that is so good and your your footprint is all over the country everywhere yeah everywhere and a lot of times people don't know the clean harbors name they they know the names of of our subsidiary of our different companies that we've gone through over the years yeah that's that's interesting it's a little bit like i did some consulting work for service master and most people don't know like terminex and molly mates and all of those are underneath the umbrella of service master talk a little bit about new drivers what would you tell if you had a hundred new drivers they're brand new they're young what would you tell them what would be like three or four tips or hacks or come on you need to know this as you get started what would you tell them first thing is is get ready for it it's not going to be easy the first six months um it's the difficult part is not necessarily driving the truck it's getting used to the lifestyle right adapting to that type of lifestyle which is one of the reasons veterans are so easily transitioned into talk real quickly about like what like what sleep or eating or not not so much the eating you're not so much to sleep but you know being away from home right knowing how to disconnect yourself when you need to and reconnect with your family when you need to at the right times uh you know that way you avoid your distractions and uh and everything else so i mean but as far as a driver you know the first six months are always going to be tough for them number one you know they might have made the wrong the wrong decision on which company to start off with right right there's some friends and that can sour them right and then they don't want to come back into the industry you know oh i drove i drove for this company here for four months and it was the worst thing ever but that company might have been the worst thing ever for you the industry is not there's places in the industry i mean if you think about career progression typical guy will start you know with a mega fleet you know some type of student program they end up running team and then from there they move over to a dedicated fleet and then within that but still for a carrier and then from there they might go to a smaller fleet 100 truck or less and then eventually they end up making it to the private fleet and then that's kind of your retirement at your walmarts and your clean harbor right right of the world interesting now let me ask you this question it's personal what do you do when you're not doing this riding my motorcycle and dealing with uh vets okay both that's the best thing that is you know talk real quickly about what vets are facing today i mean i mean i read the data on suicides and other it's serious it's it is tough um i will say there's there's a lot more programs today than there ever was um you know with the vfw i deal with a lot of vietnam vets that we all talk through and we've got one of our drivers here today that's i don't know if you got to see it over at the uh have you had a chance to go to the veterans and truck and display i will i haven't so there's 16 trucks on display there from different companies one of our drivers is there he was a vietnam vet he was in from 70 to 79. um we me and him have had multiple you know conversations we had the same difficulties same challenges no different from vietnam to the gulf war to essentially your 9 11 era you know veteran it's we've all had the same challenges and those challenges are you know the battle never really ended right you know yes you got out the time's done you know all right great you got your dd-24 didn't think you're out but that battle really never ends okay um the one good thing i would say and there still needs to be more of it is is getting other veterans in touch with the others and letting them know you're not the only one there are others out there just like you right right and it's us talking to each other and understanding right if i could see a veteran and we can be talking you know right in front of each other and we kind of can pick up on our each other's signs right are you in distress or are you right and you'll know it when you see it and you know it when you see it you know gonzo i i knew this when i heard your name that this was gonna be colorful informative and inspiring it really it really has been i've enjoyed this so much and you know what it's not a big deal but we got a little gift for you you've got more caps than you know what to do with no doubt this is our take on uh a patriotic back there and then it's got the life of the mile logo on the front so we want you to have that as a gift i appreciate that for being on here and um i'm very tell us real quickly you're going to start a podcast or you have already so we are looking at starting a kind of a social media kind of foreground really a lot of what you guys done yeah a source of information for drivers um and not just for outside drivers but for our internal ones and just really make it a place to just for us to be able to communicate with each other great but yeah we're looking at some hopefully sometime this year uh the pit stop obviously we're related with you know nascar side really kind of makes sense we'll just see where that goes love what you guys have done with life by the mile great it's we know we're going to invite you to come back and uh and i still think there's a uh gonzo and butch or butchenganzo flow at some point so let's get a hold of all that too we'll see where that goes all right thanks so much all right thank you so much have a great day you too

i appreciate that appreciate it get back over to the booth thanks for watching this episode you know life by the mile delivered by freightworks is one of the newest largest and fastest growing podcasts actually produced by a trucking company now we want you to like and share this episode if you'd like to see more episodes click here and make sure that you subscribe to the channel by clicking here we'll see you there


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