A family affair

From the December 2019 print edition

Quite possibly, the transportation business has worked its way into Adam Pernasilici’s DNA. Or at least, he wonders whether his attraction to the industry is “somewhat genetic.” The business has been a family affair for the last three generations — Pernasilici’s grandfather was a truckdriver in Italy before immigrating to Canada. His father, Angelo Pernasilici, who is founder and CEO of Windsor-based Laser Transport, worked as a terminal manager at a dock operation before starting the business. As a child, the senior Pernasilici would hang around in front of a local grocery store, offering to help people transport their groceries home in a wagon for tips. The younger Pernasilici also caught the bug and has worked his way up to vice-president of the family business.

At the same time, the company itself has grown. Laser Transport started as a one-truck, two-employee operation in May 1985. Angelo drove the truck himself while his wife, Suzanne, helped with the backend work.

“I always knew that I wanted to be involved in the family business,” says Pernasilici, now 35. “I was never pressured, but there was something magnetic about it. I was always intrigued. I have always loved how dynamic our industry is. At any given time, there are so many moving parts that need to be aligned in order for us to be successful.”

Pernasilici grew up in Windsor where he played competitive sports. He left his hometown to attend school and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners baseball team as a high school player. Ultimately, he decided to focus on his education, but still played intercollegiate baseball at the NCAA division one level. He attended Coastal Carolina University and Marist College in South Carolina and New York, studying finance before returning to Windsor and the family business.

“I was probably a pretty good player locally and an OK player at the college level, but I don’t think the prospects of ever turning professional were a significant reality for me,” he says. “It was a great dream and I chased it hard and I really, really enjoyed playing. It’s something that I wouldn’t trade. But ultimately, I think I made the best decision. I got a great education out of it and made some life-long friends. I always kind of knew that I was going to come home and do this.”

Pernasilici, CCLP, CITP, has now been involved in the family business for just under 20 years. At the beginning he would help around the terminal and his first few days involved cleaning up skids in the yard along with grounds maintenance. From there, he moved into the company’s service department and eventually into operations. He held several roles in that department, including intermodal, dry van and eventually into flatbed operations.

While agreeing that his son was never pushed to join the family business, his father Angelo notes that Adam took an early interest in the field. “I have to believe that osmosis played a role in the initial draw,” says Angelo. “From an early age, Adam showed interest and took on all of the opportunities and challenges that were thrown his way.”

Overall, pride and a desire to move the business and industry forward are what motivates his son, Angelo says. A team player, Adam is passionate about improving the experience of drivers and their quality of life, his father notes. He is also resilient and works to tackle challenges head on. “On many occasions, I have seen him come out on the positive end of a difficult task due to his persistence,” he says. “When many people would have lost motivation, he continues to gather steam.”

Making the leap
It was during a turbulent period that Pernasilici made the jump from operations to a role in executive administration within the company. In 2012, his father was in the process of not only buying out his business partner but also battling kidney failure at the same time. Luckily, despite the bumpy period, the outcome was positive. The takeover was successful, the senior Pernasilici received a kidney transplant from his wife, Suzanne, and their son became VP of operations.

Angelo had the transplant on July 4, 2012 and since then Laser Transport has adorned all their trailers with the “beadonor.ca” logo to raise awareness of the benefits of organ donation.

These days, the company runs lean at about 100 employees, and the junior Pernasilici has oversight of several areas, among them P&L, safety, recruiting, hiring and compliance. His former, more hands-on role he now refers to as ‘the weeds.’

“Moving out of the weeds for me was pretty challenging,” he says. “I loved operations, I loved sales, I liked being in the thick of things. The transition to strategy and strategic management is something I didn’t have much experience in.”

Pernasilici praises the team he works with, noting that many of the employees have stuck with the company over the past 20 years. The average tenure at Laser Transport is just under nine years, a statistic that includes drivers and owner-operators.

“We’ve worked very hard and are very proud of the strategy that we’ve put in place to create long-term, meaningful employment in an industry with turnover ratios that typically exceed 80 per cent,” Pernasilici says.

A typical day for Pernasilici starts with a walk around the company to chat briefly with employees from each division. Conversations highlight what’s happening, what’s running smoothly, and what challenges employees have encountered. The company’s philosophy, Pernasilici says, has always been to hire skilled people for operational roles rather than clerical positions. The goal is to minimize menial tasks like data entry so employees can focus on areas where their skills are most useful.

While Pernasilici doesn’t have a fixed schedule, he is able to maintain his passion for the industry and looks forward to each day. Getting tidbits of information about potential new clients from the operations group as well as sitting down with his father to debrief are the two highlights of each day.

“He’s a wealth of knowledge,” he says about his dad. “The fact that I can walk across the office and sit down and discuss new business and have the opportunity to hear about how that may have come up in the past, what went right, what went wrong, that’s invaluable to me.”

His son has a deep appreciation for family life, Angelo says, and that focus has transferred to his role at Laser Transport. When Adam took over recruiting and hiring, he insisted on meeting each driver and simplifying the hiring decision with two questions: does the applicant show the professionalism needed to maintain the company’s image? And, is this someone that my family would enjoy associating with?

“Adam’s strategy, along with our platform, has helped create industry leading levels of retention and safety performance,” the senior Pernasilici says.

After his children are in bed, the younger Pernasilici spends most evenings in front of the computer reading about the industry. Keeping up to date with what’s going on provides a base from which to form decisions, he says. He also writes the occasional article for industry publications.

Pernasilici, who completed his CITT-Certified Logistics Professional (CCLP) designation from CITT in 2017, notes that the reason he undertook the designation was that he realized the overwhelming competitive forces in the industry, compelling him to arm himself with as much knowledge and skill as possible. Trucking, specifically, has low barriers to entry and he could see competition popping up everywhere, especially in Windsor. The city is an ideal location for trucking and logistics, especially given its proximity to the US.

“I asked myself, ‘what can these companies not do? What are they not able to do?’ For a lot of them, they’re struggling with start-up issues, they’re struggling with retention. They’re struggling with driver turnover,” he says. “I thought, ‘I need to start expanding my knowledge base. We need to start widening the service gap. We have to propel ourselves so much further above our competition that it’s
not a difficult decision of who to go with.’”

Pernasilici describes himself as a challenge seeker, a characteristic that comes in handy in an industry like transportation. But he’s also clearly proud of the culture that Laser Transport has built over the years. “Drivers are at the centre of everything we do,” he says. “We’ve created a model that allows them to be home more. We have industry-leading levels of safety and retention. We’re accommodating, (we support) things that allow them to get to their kids’ little league games, recitals and graduations. Being a part of that is part of what gets me up in the morning.”

Mentorship award
By far the proudest moment of his career came in October when CITT recognized him as a Mentor of the Year at the organization’s annual conference in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Pernasilici says. The award goes to a CCLP designation holder who shows “dedication to nurturing the professional growth and career development of a mentee and junior colleagues.” Jane Ayn Lyndon, CCLP, sales manager at Mactrans Logistics, was also recognized with the award.

“I’ve always felt that I’d been afforded monumental opportunity in my life from many mentors,” Pernasilici says. “This award was recognition that I’ve taken my experience and used it for the advancement of our industry, and I’m very proud of that.”

An area in which Pernasilici acts as a mentor is in his role as an instructor at Windsor’s St. Clair College, where he’s taught since May. Last semester he taught transportation and trade while this semester he’s teaching leadership for global managers, a new course. The position came about after CITT asked him last spring to participate in a roundtable for moren than 100 people at the University of Windsor. The discussion focused on the future of supply chain, trends in the industry and essential skills for those looking to enter the field. The event went “incredibly well,” Pernasilici says, with students surrounding him after the discussion, peppering him with questions: ‘What can I do in supply chain? How do I break in? How do I know if I am on the right path?’

“For lack of a better term, that was really cool. I really, really enjoyed it,” he says. “The event got some press and I ended up getting an offer to teach transportation and trade at the local college.”

Teaching has completely altered the trajectory of his career, Pernasilici says. He focuses a significant amount of time on students’ futures and how they can break into the supply chain job market. They alone are in charge of their professional development, he tells them, and it’s an area they must focus on. “If it’s not a formalized education then you need to expand your knowledge base,” he says. “I encourage them to read something every day.”

While Pernasilici hasn’t yet mapped out his next professional step, his goal is to keep moving forward. His family’s lineage in the industry is a high bar to live up to, he says. But he’s committed to the challenge, noting that he wants his children to see the effort he’s putting in, just as he saw his parents’ effort and they
saw the struggles that their parents endured.

Now is also an interesting time to be based in Windsor, Pernasilici notes. The Gordie Howe International Bridge connecting Windsor and Detroit, for example, will be a major catalyst for the region. The Windsor-Essex Development Commission, the Institute for Border Logistics and Security, the Windsor Transportation Club, the Port Authority of Windsor and others are working to develop talent, attract business, create mobility and infrastructure and are advocating for industry. “It’s a very, very exciting time to be in Windsor and I’d like to leave my stamp on that,” Pernasilici says. “The CITT award got some great visibility and I think that with great visibility comes some great responsibility. I’ve begun using my social media platforms to advocate for positive advancement in our industry. That’s also something that I’d like to move forward with.”

Along with his dedication to supply chain, Pernasilici finds time for cooking, golf and spending time outdoors. He’s very family focused and says he has “two incredible parents and a fantastic sister,” as well as an “incredibly supportive wife,” Laura. His son, Luca, is two-and-a-half and his daughter Lyla just turned five.

Pernasilici’s advice for supply chain professionals is similar to the guidance that he gives his students: everyone is in complete control of their professional development. It’s easy to get bogged down by the grind of a job or position, he says, but it’s still possible to take charge of one’s education regardless of employment situation.

“Being well-rounded and well-read allows you to contribute when the opportunity arises,” he says. “I think that’s very important. I encourage everyone to seek out knowledge, gain credibility, step out of your comfort zone once in a while and don’t ever close yourself off to opportunity. Our industry is extremely challenging, it’s fast paced, it’s fast changing. You have to be ready for the quick changes that come about and be able to mitigate and accommodate and get back on track.”