EKA Insights Interview: Darrel Wilson

By Arune SIngh

For many people, there’s always a question of how to balance work and family.

But for Darrel Wilson, who founded Wilson Logistics in 1980, there is no question – his business is all about family and family is what drives his business.

Over the past 40 years, Darrel and Wilson Logistics have thrived where others have struggled to survive by adapting to unimaginable technological growth, finding opportunity to refocus his business during the Great Recession and then staying one step ahead of a rapidly changing distribution chain during the worst pandemic in American history.

And through it all, Darrel has remained committed to the core tenants that inspired him to buy his first truck before he was even legally allowed to operate it: innovating where others fear to tread and creating opportunities for everyone who walks the path with him. You’ll be hard pressed to imagine a challenge that Darrel can’t use to better his business and even harder-pressed to find anyone in our industry who doesn’t have a kind word to say about Darrel.

That’s the Darrel Wilson success story.

Today we’re proud to kick off the EKA Insights Interview series with Darrel Wilson and to share his unique insights with you. We’ll be coming to you regularly with new interviews from members of the EKA Solutions family, from our own executives to our friends across the industry.

EKA: You had a very specific plan – drive a truck – but life took you in a very different direction and your business has evolved from there. When you reflect on your journey, what do you think people can learn from your journey and about adapting to change?

Darrel Wilson: Y’know,  I think my journey is really similar to a lot of other people’s journeys, especially at my age during that time. The thing I’m most proud of and that I think people can take the most from is the idea that you just don’t quit. 

This is America. 

There’s an opportunity out there for each of us and if you work hard, you can get it.

This year, a lot of folks have seen their dreams especially challenged during a chaotic time and feel discouraged. What has your experience taught you about enduring these tough times that you could pass on to readers?

If you’re an entrepreneur and always looking for new things, you’re always going to be a bit nervous – you have to be. But you also have to pay attention to what change is and evaluate it  – Is it for the better? Why is it happening? Do I have any choice? If the answer is no to one of those and yes to the others, then you need to consider the opportunity and make the best move you can with in mind.

That leads well into something else I want to discuss – namely that your career is a story of never fearing the new – and your recent deal with Locomation is a perfect symbol of that philosophy. How do you successfully differentiate between opportunities that are exciting because they’re new and those that are exciting because they’re the smart choice? What’s your criteria for evaluating all the constant change around you?

That’s a tough one, it really is – at the end of the day, we try to look at any investment the same in regards to the return and how long it’s going to take. 

Doing that is tough with new technology or product, so we give it our best look and remember that we don’t believe we can be – or even need to be – on the very cutting edge of some things. But when that technology becomes relevant and at a price point that makes sense for us, we need to make sure that we know  enough about the project or technology to really jump in if we think it’s worthwhile.

We’ll watch it and if we never think it’s worthwhile, then we’ll stay away from it. That works…mostly [laughs].

That makes me think about the very ideas of “failure” or “regret” – those are terms that carry a lot of weight and have a feeling of permanence.  You’ve faced a lot of challenges in your career. Do you characterize any of them as “failures”?  Is that a term that’s in your vocabulary?

No, not at all. 

If we do something that doesn’t work or I screwed up and didn’t pay attention, then that’s probably a “failure.”

IfI made a bad decision but I thought that through, thought it was going to work and it just didn’t, then I’ll chalk it up to a lesson about something I shouldn’t do again. And there’s a whole lot of things I can chalk up to that. 

That’s what keeps you going in the right direction after a few years in the business and, well, in life too.

With that in mind, do you find that working through those challenges with that mindset has given you any particular insights that you’ve been able to apply to your life to make you better, even outside of business?

As you go through life, personally and professionally, you see these hurdles arise and you have to meet them. 

After a while you realize you don’t quit, which may be a quality you didn’t realize was taking you through life all that time.

So, as you mature and come along, you recognize “I don’t quit” as a philosophy that’s helping you. Or something like “I’m adaptable to change” as a quality that’s helping you too. 

Our businesses lives aren’t so different from our personal lives in that respect. But we have a different feeling in each and while business is great,  it’s important to remember that it’s our families that come first and we love the most.

I’ve really found that the most successful people I’ve known aren’t always the ones who seem most fearless, but instead the ones who have been knocked down and don’t fear that anymore because they’ve gotten back up every time. They seem to be the ones who succeed the most.

Yeah, I would agree with that and in my career, which I think is similar to many others, you have to define what success is and recognize it doesn’t come very early. That’s something you really have to work for and if you try to measure it too soon, you might disappoint yourself. 

You have to always keep chasing it.

So, for you, is “success” an endpoint or something you keep striving for, never quite achieving it no matter how close you get?

Well, I think you can look back at something and say “that was a success” or “that was a successful year” but once you look back at something that way, that’s kind of really an end, isn’t it? 

We have to keep moving forward because success is about both getting better and doing better.

That’s good advice for both our professional and personal lives, where our family’s happiness is so much of what makes our lives successful. And speaking of the latter, the term “family business” really applies to you – not only are four of your kids in this business, but your approach to training new drivers and caring for them feels more familial than authoritative. What’s the secret to creating that kind of business environment without blurring the lines?

If you do care, it shows – everybody knows and it’s not something you can hide or you can fake.

You mentioned the drivers, so let’s start with that – because it all starts with them. They’re the guys and women on the road making it all happen. It’s why I  haven’t missed getting a load in on time for over 35 years and no one else in-house has either.

Those folks on the road have a really tough job, so we need to make them part of our families and show them that we really care.

On that note, I want to talk about your “Mental Health is just as important as Physical Health” message on social media. We still have a hard time talking about mental health in modern society, much less taking such a firm stance on this matter in the workplace. How did this all come about and what makes it so important to you?

A lot of that came to the forefront during the pandemic because we have so many meetings and interactions just like this – which I’d love to be doing in person. We don’t get to see our drivers face-to-face right now and that weighs on everyone, which we think is important to recognize. We have to pay attention to each other and take care of each other too.

That’s a fantastic core philosophy. So, as we look inwards, planning for a new year with new goals and new ambitions, is there any other advice you can offer from your experience?

Y’know, it’s still hard work – it really is. But hard work alone doesn’t do it. You need a plan and if you don’t have a plan, you better figure one out or you won’t be as successful as you deserve to be and want to be.

As you put that plan together, look around you for the people who influence you, who could be mentors to you and connect with those people. They’ll be happy to help you, I’m sure.

And remember: don’t give up.

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