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Core values steer Trinity Logistics from local operation to global stage

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Trinity Logistics President Jeff Banning purchased the company from his parents in 1991. His

Trinity Logistics President Jeff Banning purchased the company from his parents in 1991. His “servant leadership” model means leaders put their team’s needs first. Since 2010, the company has tripled in size. // Photos by Brian Harvath

by Christi Milligan

The words “integrity” and “legacy” may not be traditional key performance indicators, but, at Trinity Logistics, they’re the bellwether of a thriving operation.

Besides, the third-party logistics (3PL) company headquartered in Seaford has plenty of metrics that point to its success: tripled growth since 2010; 36 percent of its executive positions held by females; and $400 million in annual sales.

It’s a long way from the single building and three-employee operation started by Jeff Banning’s parents in 1979, but it’s exactly where Banning hoped he could take it when he purchased the company in 1991. 

By 2020, he hopes to further expand.

“It’s amazing what people are capable of in the right environment, what they can do and what they can accomplish,” said Banning, who dove into business principles authored by Dale Carnegie and Jim Collins to offset his inexperience when he took the helm. The result is an uncomplicated approach that puts his team first, and has borne a workplace culture defined by servant leadership, hard work and opportunities for growth.

“This really goes back to a couple of things,” said Banning, a soft-spoken CEO and president whose three siblings also work at the company. “We’re intentional “¦ and we’re relentless about recruiting the right team.”

That team includes three female vice presidents and more than 50 percent of the company’s first and mid-level management positions held by women.

As one of the top 20 logistics companies in the nation, Trinity employs 175 team members in Delaware and another 125 at its regional operations offices in Texas, Minnesota, Missouri and Iowa.

Independent contractors round out 85 agent offices across the nation.

The company coordinates shipping, warehousing, and logistics consulting for more than 6,000 customers. In 2005, they founded the Trinity Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has generated nearly half a million dollars for organizations nationwide.

“My purpose is that money is not a driver,” said Banning. “What drives me as an individual is to watch others grow and watch them succeed and leave a legacy.”

It’s a culture that’s palpable, according to company employees, who said visitors to their headquarters are always surprised. First, that the space is a revamped bowling alley, complete with intact lane.  Second, there are no trucks. As a 3 PL broker, the team manages the logistics, including warehousing, software management, and freight negotiation.

But according to Corporate Ambassador Gina Banning, most customers are simply taken by the way Trinity makes them feel.

“When you walk through the doors of our business you feel that culture,” said Banning. “To us it’s commonplace, but when customers are leaving, we want them to think, “˜those are the nicest people I’ve ever met.'”

The Residential Service Center at the Seaford headquarters serves as command central for logistics specialists and account mangers, who work in teams to oversee the freight to carrier matchmaking process, finding capacity for thousands of freight orders among the company’s 34,000 contract carriers.

It’s a networking and logistics process that counts on the specialist’s keen knowledge of carrier lanes – who is traveling from A to B – and then how to return that carrier with a backhaul.

“Every time a driver brings an empty truck back, they’re losing money,” explained Director of corporate services Lauren Vanaman, who said really effective logistics specialists learn quickly to build relationships with good carriers and in Trinity fashion, meeting the needs of both carriers and customers.

The nuances of finding capacity for customers are layered. Approximately 2,500 contracted trucks go on the road every day for Trinity, serving more than 6,000 customers across the nation.

Sea Watch International, a processor of clam products, has contracted with Trinity for more than 20 years, using Trinity to move more than two million pounds of products to food-service distributors across the country.

“They’ll just do anything for you,” said Traffic Manager Sally Kisch, who added that Sea Watch likes to partner with local companies. “There’s really not much we wouldn’t do for each other.”

But according to Kisch, Trinity’s customer service has a more traditional and personal touch.

“In this day and age, where everybody wants to do things via email, they call.”

“Growth has not changed that,” according to Vanaman. “Our biggest asset is our people, and Jeff is passionate about that.”

The team tripled it’s growth as part of a five-year vision that ended in 2015.  And the company’s agent offices, headed up by Banning’s brother Billy, have grown 44 percent in the last three years, moving 500 loads per day and contributing 55 percent of the total revenue for Trinity.

Sarah Ruffcorn landed at Trinity fresh from college in Iowa, where a professor who consulted for the company suggested she apply. One of three female senior vice presidents at Trinity, she has worked in virtually every department during her 13-year career, volunteering for a number of projects and responsibilities and putting in extra hours. 

“My role is as a leader and a coach so that other people can have the experiences I’ve had,” said Ruffcorn, now senior vice president of strategic development. “I think it’s so unique because we try really, really hard to create a culture where people can take initiative, continue to have that foundation and reach our goals as we grow.”

But ironically, while Ruffcorn’s rise to a to a top-rung position at the company may put her squarely in charge of a number of crucial departments, true Trinity culture demands that she put herself at the bottom, pushing team members’ needs to the top.

“It’s not about my success,” said Ruffcorn.

For Jeff Banning, the approach is not complicated, but rather taps into the most basic needs of individuals.

Jeff Banning

Jeff Banning

“It ties into our greatest needs as human beings.  We all want to be somebody, we all want to be appreciated,” said Banning. “Secondly, we want to be part of something bigger than we are. So you involve your people – involve them in other areas of organization to get them to feel this is a part of them.

“When we are growing as individuals, when we push, we feel better about ourselves.”

“I would not be here if I did not continue to have opportunities,” said Ruffcorn, who’s heard of other companies with a very different climate. “People tell me all the time that this is unlike any place they’ve ever worked.”

The company is moving toward its 2020 goals, which include doubling the company in five years, and reaching $1 billion in annual revenue, according to Banning.  To do it, he said he’s hoping to build a bigger team that will embrace and then replicate the culture.

“We don’t compromise these values for a dollar,” said Vanaman. “If we lose business because we don’t bend on our culture and our values, then so be it. But, by staying true to that, we’ve been blessed.”

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