Trucking company owner asks peers to ‘pay it forward’

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At the Truckload Carriers Association’s recent Refrigerated Division Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., carrier owners and upper-level management, as well as industry suppliers, were issued an unusual challenge: Randomly provide some employees with $100 each and ask them to use the money at their discretion for charitable purposes.

The challenge stemmed from longtime TCA member John Christner, president and chief executive officer of John Christner Trucking Inc. of Sapulpa, Okla., who has already been implementing a “Pay It Forward” program within his own company for the past two years. Christner said he got the idea from another company and from a book and movie of the same title. The idea of “Pay It Forward” centers on doing a favor for another person – without any expectation of being paid back and with the hope that the recipient will, in turn, help someone else in need.

“The results [of this program] have been amazing, even phenomenal,” he told the division. “This is about giving someone in your work force the power to do something for mankind.”

Christner recounted numerous stories about how the $100 “seed money” has helped others. His employees have given warm clothes to the homeless, purchased groceries and gasoline for low-income families, and even contacted vendors for matching grants to make their hundred dollars stretch much further. He told one particularly heartwarming story in which someone used the seed money to set up a dental appointment for a man who had very bad teeth. During the visit, the dentist discovered that the man had oral cancer. “Because of this one random act of kindness, the cancer was discovered early enough to save his life, and that’s a priceless achievement,” Christner said.

Immediately after the session ended, 55 people approached Christner to sign up for the program. Christner gave each one the first $100 to get them started. He also provided basic instructions, asking each person to begin by selecting a variety of employees, such as mechanics, accountants, dispatchers and drivers. He suggested that each company present its chosen employees with the money about three weeks prior to the December holidays. Then in January, companies should conduct a meeting during which each participant discloses how the money was spent and how it influenced lives.

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TCA Chairman Gary Salisbury, who is focusing on industry image as his primary theme this year, believes that Christner’s challenge not only will help the needy, but also will do wonders to boost the reputation of the trucking industry with the general public. “The power of an image campaign doesn’t lie solely in multimillion dollar ad campaigns,” Salisbury said. “It’s also at the grass-roots level. Imagine the impact of what John Christner is asking us to do. When a recipient of the $100 asks who gave this to him, and our people respond, ‘This is courtesy of the trucking industry,’ that person is going to tell the story over and over again to all his friends and family. These people will continue to tell others. I can think of no more effective way to bring about change.”

When the Refrigerated Division meets again next July, participants will share stories of how the money was spent. There are sure to be many examples of how the program positively impacted those who happened to cross paths with a program participant from the trucking industry. “Expect a lot of tears and a lot of laughter,” said Christner. “As one of my mechanics once told me, ‘It’s not easy giving away $100.’ But we in the trucking industry have never been deterred by hard work. And the results are certain to be worth every dime.”