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Livestock hauler Bruce Janzen keeps his city and his trucking business running smoothly

By on May 1, 2012

Only one small town has a mayor who’s logged more than 3 million miles driving  a truck. Elbing, Kan., population 230, is unique, and so is its truck-driving mayor, Bruce Janzen.

Does your trucking business experience transfer to managing the town?
Janzen: Yes; what looks like the best financial move may not be the smartest. Sometimes buying for long-term value is more important. Cost of ownership per year might be cheaper getting the newer item. Reinvesting in new technology might be better than fixing the old. Yet at times the opposite is true. Having faith in your ability to make proper choices is required.

How did you get into trucking?
Janzen: Growing up on a farm, I often drove the grain truck during harvest. After two years of college, I decided to do volunteer work with our church’s world-wide relief organization. I joined Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and spent two winters traveling the eastern half of the USA, canning beef to be donated to overseas food programs administered through MCC. I stayed on another two years to drive their semi-truck and work in their Lancaster County, Pa., warehouse. I guess the bug was firmly planted in me during this time — I realized I really enjoyed driving a truck.

When did you get your hauling authority and become a motor carrier?
Janzen: I came back to Kansas in 1982 intending to work our fourth-generation farm with my dad. However, the bug to drive just wouldn’t leave. I purchased a used truck and leased it to a Wichita carrier. That lasted six months, due to deregulation and the oversupply of trucks. I leased onto another local carrier and I did much better. I was planning to get married and decided to get out of the truck again and hire a driver. My wife’s father told her, “You can take the man out of the truck, but you can’t take the truck out of the man.” Those were prophetic words. I soon built my fleet to three trucks and in 1987, a local cattle hauler retired. We negotiated a deal and I was in the cattle-hauling business.

What is your biggest challenge operating your trucking business?
Janzen: Today, farmers are marketing commodities through various channels. Many have purchased semi-trucks and now compete directly with me. Most livestock travel at least 200 miles for processing. Grain is traded internationally; weather in China or Brazil can impact local grain prices. A meat contamination case in Japan will change prices here. All of these factors impact this community. My income is directly related to the economy of my neighbors. Remaining economically profitable as a local community, state, nation and world community are all important to my individual success.

What lessons have you learned running a truck that help in managing your town?
Janzen: People are the most valuable resource to any business or community. To show respect and give them credit is the right thing to do. We can build others up or tear them down. The choice is mine.

Government regulations are ever-increasing for both entities. Keeping accurate records is essential. For example, we must check our water system daily for purity; pay our bills as a city and can’t pass a negative budget. We’re trying to keep costs reasonable but we’ll raise prices as needed to cover expenses.

When you can’t do something yourself, then delegate. We have a great city clerk who manages daily operations. We work together for the common good, to get the job done and no one demands credit for their actions. I’ve plowed sidewalks and driveways after major storms and made a small tractor available to other families.

How does building consensus with the city council correlate with doing the same thing in trucking with drivers and shippers?
Janzen: Having the ability to negotiate and find common ground is helpful to both. Build on your strengths and strengthen the weaknesses. Realize compromise is good for both parties, yet don’t give up core values. Find value in providing a good service at a fair price. Realize you’re providing a service in both cases and the customer can go elsewhere.

Managing a trucking company, family and city is difficult. Any secret to your success?
Janzen: First, I’m a man of Christian faith. I believe Jesus demonstrated the best way to live our lives. How I conduct my life should reflect the faith I have.  Faith is also very personal and mutual respect for all faiths is important.

Plus, I’ve been married to the best woman in the world for almost 28 years. Jeannine has put up with me and my desire to truck all these years. We’re committed and have mutual respect for each other. She’s been there for me when times are tough and in good times also.

I love my two children, Alison and Eric, dearly and want what’s best for them.

I’ve built my business so I can be home as much as possible. I must keep my priorities in line so I can take care of all the responsibilities I have being a father, husband, business owner, and elected official.

Mutual respect and integrity are the  two things that I want driving my life: as an elected official, as a trucker and as a family man.

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