By DR. JOY MARTINEZ, Staff Writer
Darrel Harris is the first Black president of a major trucking company. Yellow is the fifth largest transportation company in the country and the second largest “less than truckload” (LTL) company in the nation. After working his way through trucking and shipping over 25 years, Harris speaks with a confidence and passion that is balanced with his humility and desire to serve.
Yellow, based in Kansas, has 30,000 employees, operates in all 50 states as well as Canada and Mexico and has 200,000 customers ranging from Walmart and Target to small businesses. The company’s leader refers to himself as “a servant for our employees with a platform and opportunity to make a difference in underserved communities.”
Over the last 18 months, many companies have promised their solidarity and pledged resources to diversity and inclusion. Few have decided to take their efforts literally to the street. Harris says of Yellow’s new messaging, “we’re going to take the message to these communities. We’re going to offer people the opportunity to get them into the trucking business, to help them learn the industry. In certain cases we’ll train them to become truck drivers. If they seek other opportunities and leadership, we’ll offer those mentorship and development opportunities, very similar to what I was provided with early on in my career, so that we can help people grow and develop. And this is something that we’re taking very seriously, something that we’re working very diligently on, and we look forward to learning from our efforts, building on the program as we go forward.”
This is something that we’re taking very seriously, something that we’re working very diligently on, and we look forward to learning from our efforts, building on the program as we go forward.
In a 2017 survey, it was estimated that more than 90 percent of truck drivers were male, and two-thirds of them white. In the midst of a national supply chain crisis, neither women nor non-White workers are flocking to fill the gap. Harris believes there are many industry executives that want to “figure out how to bring more diversity into their organization. He explains, “I think where the efforts have been lost in the past is we don’t put enough into educating and communicating specific goals that align not only with the company’s objectives, but also with folks that are working to get into the business from underserved communities.
Harris is speaking from experience. He says, “my first job in this industry was working as a part-time dock worker at $10.50 cents an hour. I try to tell people that may not realize it, that when I got that job, I was one of the highest paid people in my family.”
He spotted an open door and his strong work ethic kicked in. “I realized that there was a tremendous amount of opportunity for upward mobility. I was interested in growing as a leader. Although that wasn’t on my radar when I first went to work the dock at $10.50 an hour, the industry has a way of sucking you in. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity to grow for those that are willing to do the work.”
Darrel Harris certainly put in the work. In addition to moving across the country nine times, he shares, “I had to do a lot of things early on that don’t fit the profile of my job today. I had to come in and work the dock in unfavorable weather conditions, starting out in Kansas city where it gets very hot in the summer and it gets very cold in the winter. But you’re going to have to meet people at the 50. You have to do the job, work hard, show up on time and be willing to humble yourself and learn things and do things that maybe don’t seem very appealing initially at the time.”
It’s not only the right thing to do, but the successful businesses going forward are going to be the companies that take diversity initiatives seriously and are active in it.
Yellow’s “Drive for Diversity” initiative is not just another marketing ploy or effort to appease a company’s fear of missing out on the trend. Harris states he has an “obligation” to create change and it’s not just because diversity offers a competitive advantage. Harris insists, “when you find yourself in a situation like we’re in, that has been prompted by this national pandemic where we just can’t get enough help, there’s a great opportunity that allows us to improve our efforts around diversity, bring new perspectives and new people into the business that weren’t previously considering it. It’s not only the right thing to do, but the successful businesses going forward, whether they’re in trucking or not, are going to be the companies that take diversity initiatives seriously and are active in it.”
It’s easy to hear the clear desire Harris has to stimulate the growth and profitability of the company, to open doors to people who have been traditionally excluded from the industry, and to offer life-changing careers to people who typically have not considered trucking. But the newly minted President offered up another critical reason for the Yellow’s Drive for Diversity initiative. He stated, “it is important for our employee base and our strategic initiatives to mirror the communities that we serve. And you can only do that if you reach out and find the talent that is out there in these areas to drive this company to the next level.”
That’s how Darrel Harris and Yellow are driving toward progress – right through the center of the city.
Click here to learn more about Yellow and their opportunities.