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Breaking Glass

Q&A with Cheryl Biron on what it takes to grow, sustain one's success being a woman in business

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Cheryl Biron heads One Horn Transportation, a Wayne-based transportation brokerage company.
Cheryl Biron heads One Horn Transportation, a Wayne-based transportation brokerage company. - ()

Wayne-based One Horn Transportation, a trucking and logistics services company, was named one of the 50 Fastest Growing Women-Owned Companies for the fourth consecutive year by The Women Presidents' Organization in May.

Founded in 2005 by Fortune 500 executives turned entrepreneurs, One Horn has leveraged technology to continue to grow its revenue by increasing its operational efficiency, resulting in an increase of $4 million in four years.

Now, President Cheryl Biron and her husband Louis, a computer engineer, recently launched a new company, Stratebo Technologies, to offer One Horn’s proprietary software and back office expertise directly to manufacturers, distributors and warehouses through the new Corporate Agent Program, so they can streamline the shipment of their own goods.

NJBIZ asked Biron for her perspective on what it takes to grow and sustain one’s success in business.

NJBIZ: If there were a mantra that you believe has contributed to the overall success and growth of your company, what would it be?

Cheryl Biron: “Constant reinvention.” One Horn regularly does strategic planning sessions to identify what is working and what not.

Back in 2007, right before the Great Recession, we saw our business slowing down. We had a trucking company operating about 15 tractors and 80 trailers, mainly servicing the construction industry. We also had a freight brokerage so we could subcontract the loads we didn’t want to do on our own trucks (mainly because of distance) to outside trucking companies. 

The housing market started to slow down, our steel customers did not have new projects and margins we made on business from other customers started to decline. We decided to sell off all our tractors and trailers to focus on the brokerage business, because instead of being upfront, we only incurred trucking costs when we had work. 

So we reinvented One Horn as a freight brokerage. I did sales, marketing and finance, and my husband/business partner Louis Biron ran the operational side and wrote our proprietary software package, Stratebo. This enabled us to survive and thrive during the Great Recession. 

Then in 2010, we attended an event that inspired us to reinvent One Horn as an agent-based freight brokerage where we hire freight agents who come with a book of business. The agents do sales and dispatch, they have the customer relationships and we run the back office using Stratebo. 

Now, with the market for recruiting freight agents being tight, we are offering Stratebo and Virtual Back Office services to companies who can then use internal staff to broker freight. We call them “corporate agents”. They basically do what our freight agents do, but only for their company’s freight. They can create a profit center for their organization by brokering inbound freight as well. 

This is not a complete reinvention like we did in the past, as our existing agents are our bread and butter. We are still committed to our existing agents, so if ever there is a potential conflict, they automatically get the customer and we would not pursue them. But our agents are located all over the country, so this has not been an issue.

NJBIZ: Where do you derive the inspiration to keep your company so innovative?

CB: I am constantly exposing myself to new ideas by reading business books, The Harvard Business Review, and attending seminars like those held by EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization) and the Wharton Club of N.J. Instead of just saying, “Wow, that was interesting,” I look to see what I can apply to my business to keep innovating.

It was at a Wharton Club of N.J. event where Solange Perret presented on the topic “Innovate Now” that we decided to reinvent One Horn from a traditional freight brokerage to an agent-based freight brokerage.

By the time we were in the car on the way back from the event, we started to plan our new business model which has enabled us to grow tenfold in the past several years. If I didn’t constantly expose myself to new ideas and be open to adopting them, One Horn would not have experienced the rate of growth we have over the past several years.

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NJBIZ: What would you say are the top five things that successful women-owned companies always do well?

CB:

  1. Manage people in a personalized way that elicits strong performances;
  2. Stay close to financials to ensure profitability;
  3. Adapt to new situations in the business environment to keep their companies secure;
  4. Create positive, nurturing work environments;
  5. And identify opportunities to collaborate with other companies for mutual benefit.

NJBIZ: What are some mistakes that women-owned companies often make when trying to grow their business and how can they be prevented?

CB: I have seen some women-owned companies hold on to long-time employees who are no longer right for their growing organizations. We have a great sense of loyalty, so if someone starts out with us, we feel we owe loyalty back to that person, which is great. Sometimes, though, that person is no longer happy in their original role and the organization has outgrown their skill set. By identifying the issue sooner rather than later, perhaps the person can be retrained to do a different role or gently helped to move on to a role with which they are more comfortable in another organization. 

Along the same vein, women seem to take longer to fire toxic employees. These are employees who are negative and actively disengaged, so they drag down the energy level of the entire office by spreading their negativity and not performing in their roles. Once the company finally lets a toxic employee go, everyone else is happy and the performance of the organization improves. 

Often times, the toxic employee knows the organization is not right for them and is waiting for the employer to put them out of their misery by letting them go. But they don’t quit because they are not pro-active enough to make their lives better themselves. Perhaps by acting sooner to figure out if the business relationship is at all salvageable and if not, making a plan to ease the person on to another role somewhere else will help the whole organization.

NJBIZ: What is One Horn Transportation doing to foster women’s growth in the industry?

CB: Our Freight Agent model truly lends itself to accommodating the flexible schedules women with families at home desire. One Horn’s freight agents run their own businesses on their own schedules from home offices. Our agents have the freedom to do what they want, when they want and they reap the benefits of the business they build. Our general manager is also a woman and we have developed her professionally from being a freight agent to managing our agents. As an employee, we give her the flexibility she needs as she works from a home office.

I am often contacted by women in the industry who read my blog or my articles in a trade publication to ask for advice and I like to help them succeed in what is often referred to as a male-dominated industry. I believe women should pull one another along and help one another advance. When I first entered the working world, this was not the case.  I now think women are more willing to help one another.

NJBIZ: Where is your industry headed in New Jersey and how is One Horn adjusting?

CB: Although we are based in New Jersey, our freight agents are located all around the country. There has been a consolidation of freight brokerages, which has made it increasingly difficult to find talented freight agents. One Horn is adjusting by following our “constant reinvention” mantra in creating the Corporate Agent program.

NJBIZ: How do you continue to inspire and motivate your team?

CB: I try to exude positivity in my interactions with my team. Many managers do not offer feedback (unless it is negative) until the time of the annual review. During my weekly “huddles” (expression from Verne Harnish’s book, Mastering the Rockefeller Habits) with our general manager, I enjoy fostering the personal connection since we each work from our home offices. I express genuine appreciation for the good work she does and I try to help her when she is experiencing challenges. 

On a weekly basis, I look at how our agents are performing versus their own personal bests and when I see them doing really well, I reach out with a call or an email to congratulate them. If they are doing worse than usual, I reach out to see if something is wrong and they need help versus chastising them for poor numbers. 

Everyone is human with their own working style. Some of our agents don’t need an “atta boy/girl”, but others really appreciate it and I love recognizing success or helping people who have potential believe in themselves so they achieve success. 

I also foster a team-oriented environment versus the typical cutthroat corporate atmosphere. We have agents who share ideas and actually support each other on specific clients, when they have never physically met. Our agents spontaneously refer to us as the “One Horn Family.” I love that sense of camaraderie!

We also have an annual Freight Agent Retreat where we meet in a mutually convenient location to review company news, share best practices, and get to know one another on a more personal level. Everyone who attends our retreats loves them and comes back inspired by what they have learned from one another. 

NJBIZ: How do you recommit yourself to your work year after year?

CB: Like Simon Sinek wrote, I Start with Why. I left corporate America and became an entrepreneur to have the freedom to live the kind of life I wanted. Although I am a Generation X’er, I think I am a millennial at heart, since quality of life and growth are more important to me than advancing up the corporate ladder.

Ten years ago in the corporate world, there was no flexibility to work from home while having what I call a successful “MBA career”. My kids were 4 and 7, and as I looked up the ladder, I just saw more travel and hours in the office versus being able to see my kids grow up and attend their activities and events.

In 2004, I read The Millionaire Next Door and left corporate to take the entrepreneurial plunge the next year. This was definitely the right decision for me, because it enabled me to have a great career while having a great family life — free to do what I want when I want. With that vision in mind, when things become routine or mundane, I remember my “why” and plough through. 

As an entrepreneur, I also have the luxury of reshaping my role in the company, too, so I can do what I find most interesting.

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Lean-in feminism: Intersectionality in the workplace

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