Emergency Preparedness | Mark Szyperski | On Your Mark Transportation

by | Sep 28, 2018

In today’s video, we speak with Mark Szyperski, who is the CEO of On Your Mark Transportation. Mark has some fantastic suggestions for preparing your business to handle an emergency.


DONNA: Mark, it is so good to see you again. We’ve been friends for a long time.

MARK: Yes.

DONNA: And I really love your whole history in the transportation industry because you really grew up in the transportation industry and now you have a great consulting company.

MARK: Yes.

DONNA: That helps transportation companies get better. Right?

MARK: Yes.

DONNA: I think the story of how you learned about customer service because you are excellent at customer service and I’ve seen you do wonderful things with companies there. Tell me a little about, how did you get your experience in customer service?

MARK: Well, I literally grew up on a bus. My dad drove bus for Greyhound Bus lines.

DONNA: Were you born on a bus?

MARK: Almost. Going down Hwy 41. Not quite like that, but… Yes, from the day I was born, my dad had driven for Greyhound bus and I’ve got pictures of where I could barely climb the steps going up. And, the real Santa Claus, I was in Michigan, and we all know the real Santa Claus was in JL Hudson Department Store in Detroit. And so my dad would drive from Bay City to Detroit. To spend time with my dad, I was in the right, front seat of the Greyhound bus and from age five and six, he would say I had to be nice to that lady because, and explained a lot of things of what was going on. He couldn’t step o􀀁 the bus without his hat on. He had to stand at the door. Back in those days, they often had mystery riders, so he really had to watch the customer service angle of it. So I learned about the industry right from that, buses and being around drivers and being around maintenance and it hasn’t changed since the day I was, in the early driver rooms.

DONNA: So you got to know everybody that rode buses regularly, probably with it?

MARK: Yes.

DONNA: That was probably a lot of fun and they got on the bus and there’s this little kid.

MARK: Little munchkin, yes.

DONNA: How fun!

MARK: Yes, my dad would introduce me too. And so yes, I knew the regular riders. I saw dispatch at work. I saw maintenance at work and how drivers and maintenance people interacted and it’s exactly the same today as it was back then.

DONNA: That’s wonderful. It’s a nice thing to say that about any industry, isn’t?

MARK: Yes, it is.

DONNA: It’s the same customer service.

MARK: It really is. And I taught customer service at the college level for 10 years. And so that’s another aspect of it, where I was able to bring in real-life experience into– And I do it today, in my consulting. These are real things that happened. Let me tell you about, having me as an instructor, or as a consultant is kind of like, being with your grandfather.


MARK: Stories for days.

DONNA: You’re not that old Mark. Well, what I want to talk to you about is you have a really neat service that you offer, which is your emergency preparedness.

MARK: Yes.

DONNA: In companies, so in my world, in consulting and in the how do we move change through. Here’s what emergency preparedness means to me. What are we going to do if our employees all walk out the door because they’re mad? Very different than in your world

MARK: That’s true.

DONNA: So talk to me a little bit about your methodology and what you look at, and how you get businesses ready for the what-ifs.

MARK: Well, the first part is getting people to understand, they really need to take a few hours, or something, to specifically spend time doing emergency preparedness. So many people’s, in the back of their mind, going, oh yeah, we got that handled, and so forth. So I go in and one of the first things I ask to do, is on my own, I want to walk through the business and take notes on things. And then I come back and sit down with HR, or the owner of the business, or so forth and we talk about what would happen if. And it’s amazing how many times, I’ll sit down with that person, and say, how would the people in the maintenance department, or how about the people in the back room, how are they going to get out if that door is blocked? And, I, for example, had an owner one time say, “Oh, we’ve got five garage doors back there” And I pointed out that four of them had things in front of them at that time there. And I pointed out that four of them had things in front of them at that time when I walked through. They could not have gone out those four out of 􀀂ve doors and when something happens, like that, the human brain reacts, weird.

DONNA: Its mass exit, right?

MARK: Yes. Yes. And folks, all of a sudden, can’t think straight. I actually had a situation where a person got hurt, in the shop and this, of course, was way before cell phones. And they wanted to make a 9-1-1 call. The receptionists couldn’t remember what the 9-1-1 number was. She was panicked and she went into a freeze.


MARK: And at the time, ownership didn’t want to have other telephones. They had just internal phones in the back because they didn’t want employees making, outgoing phone calls So the only way to reach 9-1-1, was through the front office and she froze up, couldn’t remember what emergency number.

DONNA: Oh my gosh!

MARK: Because, when your in that kind of a stress, your brain does funny things.

DONNA: So, what is one of the worst things? I know, in my business, I’ll go in and I see all kinds of situations. Sometimes, I go, We can make this work, but is it going to take a while, and other times, yeah this is a piece of cake. Don’t worry about it. It will be 􀀂ne. When do you have those in your business?

MARK: Well, we had a company-wide meeting in the boardroom, and I said, “Okay, right now. If there was a tornado, right now, where are you going to go to? Or, if this was a disgruntled ex-employee, or not even an ex-employee, but a boyfriend, girlfriend of an ex-employee, and they come in with a gun, where are you going to go, right now, somebody tell me? And, a couple of them, “Oh we already know. We’re going to go to the IT room where the computers are. It’s in the center of the building and it’s all good to go. And I said, “Well, that’s good.” and I said, “So, all of you knew that?” and somebody was sitting there really quiet. and I went, “You have something on your mind.” and she said, “Yeah, we took the door o􀀁 the IT room about a year ago because the computers were getting too hot and we had a problem so we just took the door o􀀁 that room and everybody went, “Oh my.” So as much as all these people would’ve run to that room and it would’ve been wide-open to– whether it would’ve been glass, or anything that could’ve been– So we were able to sit down and say, “The women’s bathroom is also in the middle of the room and it has a lock on the door.” And so it’s those kinds of things you just really have to sit and think and talk amongst each other.

DONNA: So, if I was looking at three things that I would want to say, am I prepared in my business? I would want to look at, do I have a place to exit?


DONNA: Do I have a place to go where it’s safe internally?


DONNA: In case of a shooter, god forbid, or in case of a tornado. Anything else?

MARK: A place outside for everybody to get together.

DONNA: So that, if everybody’s scatters

MARK: The building is filling with smoke, everybody runs outside, and all of a sudden, there are three people on the other side of the building. The rest of the company is on the east side and the 􀀂re department shows up and they’re going, “I think those three people are still in there!” And they’re looking for three people that are on the other side of the building. So, if everybody knows that this telephone pole, this 􀀂re hydrant, this someplace, outside, away from the building, that’s where we have to be. And you do a head count. That’s very important after.

DONNA: Do you have people put this kind of information in their employee handbook? If I get new employees, how do I know what to tell them, unless I bring you back in?

MARK: Well, and that’s what I do. I train the trainer, I train HR about, this not only has to be done now, and I show them how to do it, the things to cover, and the things to look for. Part of what I do then is explain that you need to do this about every six months. A brief walk-through, make sure that, in your training for the new hire, that as there being onboarded, they also know– here’s a little pamphlet of what to do or not to do in an emergency. Just keep it in your top drawer, and look at it once in a while. So you know what to do.

DONNA: That’s great. Because in so many cases, again, I’m not thinking anymore because the emergency’s in front of me.

MARK: Yes.

DONNA: So it’s, get yourself muscle trained to do that. Excellent.

MARK: One other thing I really like to point out to business owners and HR folks is to be aware of who the– might be a grumpy employee. Who sometimes–

DONNA: Grumpy employees?

MARK: Well you know– once in a while there are employees that don’t necessarily say the nicest things. And you might wanna have a little bit of a monitor on your social media, what’s going on, what’s being said about your business. Because it’s in events like these, when a disaster strikes, that the worst can come out. There was company that a client of mine– They had a bus accident, and the driver ended up not being at fault, nor the company, but the moment that hit Facebook, other drivers were like, “oh yeah, they do this all the time, I was expecting something like that to happen” And all of the sudden, all the little bumps and bruises were right out there in the whole world saying, “I knew that was gonna happen someday.” And it really never was the company’s or the driver’s fault.

DONNA: But that never occurred in social media right? That never got there. Right, okay.

MARK: So you need to have a handle so that you can be right on top of that, and say, “not in this case” and “no, we have a great safety program” and be on top of it. You also don’t wanna slam the door in front of the media. We talked about that too. What to do in case there is truly something, or the media shows up on the front door. Who’s the one who’s actually gonna talk to them? Because you ought to have one person be the spokesperson. And a second person who’s set up to be a backup in case that person’s not there that particular day.

DONNA: So, I think this is great information, and I mean– Even if we don’t bring you in, we at least have some, do these things, make sure people are– Make sure people are made aware on a regular basis, make sure new employees know what to do.

MARK: Yes.

DONNA: So I appreciate– Those are great tips for any business.

MARK: Thank you.

DONNA: So I also promised you, that you could pick my brain about anything you wanted. Which– I’m ready Mark. I’m ready.

MARK: Okay. How do you handle the situation where you have a new CEO who doesn’t know the industry, and has to learn very quickly, and is a little bit of aversion to change, because, oh, you know, this industry’s just like every other industry? Yet you know some of the industries are different. And there are little quirks. And so how do you get to that person and say, “you are a CEO but you still really need to listen.” Take some outside advice.

DONNA: So, that’s a really great question, and it’s got several parts to it. First of all, when you hire a CEO, someone is hiring them. – That’s true. – You need to look for a CEO that is gonna listen. And is gonna ask the question, right? Cause if you got somebody who says, “I was this in a bakery,

MARK: Yes.

DONNA: And now I’m in transportation. Well, that’s a little bit different. So some of the questions in the very beginning that might even call some people for you, are, tell me how you’re gonna get to know our industry. And what does that 30, 60, 90 day plan look like for you? From several perspectives. One of which is understanding what our industry is. Think another piece– Because I don’t– There’s a lot of companies who have no problem with bringing somebody else in from a different industry altogether, which I think is good. Because they have such a fresh set of eyes, and they don’t say, “well this is the way we always did it in this industry.

MARK: Right.

DONNA: So there’s really, really value to that. But you still have to make sure the person, if you are bringing in someone from another industry, you get the sense that they will listen to people. And then you can set them up, and you can say, “this is what we’re gonna do, you told us in thirty days you wanted to do these things. We’re gonna put you with these experts.” So you help guide that whole process, rather than having that new CEO, in addition to all their other responsibilities, try to figure out, you am I supposed to be talking to?

MARK: Right.

DONNA: You know, that’s really hard.

MARK: That’s– yes.

DONNA: Another thing that we do, is we use a tool called the forte assessment, and it’s really about communicating for productivity. And when you’re looking at, how am I talking to you, and am I leading you, and you understanding what I’m supposed to– what I’m trying to get across to you. If you’re understanding, it’s gonna show up in there. Because goals are being met. If you’re not understanding, I’m gonna see that what I’m trying to tell you, or lead to, and what is happening is two different things, I have to change my approach, not you.

MARK: Yes.

DONNA: So that’s another thing we do with new CEOs or new– any leaders and any team. And it makes a huge difference, cause just like that they understand each other much more quickly, and much better, and you adapt to every environment that you’re in. This shows that adapting, and how you’re moving back and forth. So when we’re doing coaching with anybody, we’ll give that to them every 30 days. So that you want, how am I working in the environment, and how am I being perceived? You want those to be exactly the same.

MARK: Okay.

DONNA: And that’s the goal.

MARK: Okay.

DONNA: So that’s probably two of the biggest things that I would say, with a new CEO and especially when you’re looking for somebody from outside the industry. That help?

MARK: Yes. Thank you.

DONNA: So thanks Mark, it was great to see you. I really appreciate all your information, and as always, we’ll get together and have lunch, and you can pick my brain all you want.

TAGS: corporate leadership, customer service, employee management, executive leadership, human resources, leadership training, nashville business, nashville business leadership, organizational change, project management



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