Jon Russell | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jon Russell

Background:  

Celadon Logistics is a division of Indianapolis-based Celadon Group, one of North America’s largest transportation and logistics companies.

The Mistake:

In the early part of my career I left banking and transitioned into the transportation industry. I joined a startup within Celadon called TruckersB2B. In the first couple years, we struggled to make a profit and determine our growth strategy. We also had difficulties hiring and placing the right people in the right job.

I was a fairly young manager at the time, and I felt that I had to be the expert on every topic and be capable of doing everything.

My job became overwhelming, as I felt I needed to work all the time, since I was involved in all aspects of the business. Even worse, it prevented me from developing future leaders, which is truly how companies can thrive going forward.

What I began to realize was that being the eyes and ears on every aspect of a business is not only an unrealistic expectation, but it’s also not the most efficient way to accomplish your tasks.

Around that time, someone I respected told me: “The smartest person in the room knows what they don’t know.” I realized I was making a mistake by not allowing the team around me to do more.

I felt that I had to be the expert on every topic and be capable of doing everything.

The Lesson:

If you know what you don’t know, you’ll be a much more effective leader. I needed to be better at developing the people around me, to allow them to utilize their expertise and then rely on them. If you hire the right people, it will allow you to move further ahead in your own career and then bring better advice into your own decision-making.

Shortly afterward, I started passing additional work on to other team members. This helped accelerate the development of our business. It allowed us to start growing in different ways and reach new markets, because if one person is trying to make every decision, there’s a lot of room for risk. It’s OK for bad decisions to be made, but if you’re not listening to the experts in the room, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.

The business quickly turned profitable and ended up being a great business for Celadon. When we sold it a couple years ago, the enterprise valuation was over $100 million, resulting in a nice win for Celadon.

At Celadon Logistics, we do our best to put the right people in the right jobs to leverage their expertise. Hopefully our success is a testament to something I learned earlier in my career. It’s so important to surround yourself with the right co-workers, and then build the right team.

Celadon Logistics is on Twitter at @CeladonTrucking.

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