Loads of Trust

By Kelsey McFaul    

Tom Walrath, Jr. on the power of trust and doing the right thing in the trucking industry

Tom Walrath prefers to do business on a handshake.

“I’ve seen the reward in my life for trusting people so far outweighs the amount of times I’ve been disappointed. When Walrath says we’re going to do something, we find a way. Sometimes that means we’ve lost on a project, but we’ve got to do the right thing.”

Doing the right thing is a hallmark of T.E. Walrath Trucking, Inc., the company Tom’s father began with a single logging truck in 1968 and that Tom leads today as president and CEO.

“Back then [1987], it was my dad and I, and my mom did the books. It was just two trucks and we worked out of our home. We drove a truck all day and worked on it all night, and my mom would do the paperwork. It was really simple.”

In the intervening years, Walrath has grown to over 80 employees transporting dirt, concrete powder, and other aggregates around the Puget Sound, WA region via truck and marine vessel.

Inevitably, things aren’t as simple as they once were, especially during the economic downturn beginning in 2008.

“It was a really dark time, 2008 to 2010. Business just continued to go down, down, down, and I couldn’t see the end.”

Despite trusting God, Tom still saw himself as the owner of his struggling business, rather than the manager God intended him to be.

“I always felt in my life that I’d surrendered to God, that I was putting God first in my life. I always felt like I was trusting Him. But somehow I think I was clinging on just a little bit to myself and what I thought I could do. There wasn’t a full trust and release on my part.”

But faced with economic insecurity, business failure, and spiritual desperation, Tom moved from theoretical trust to physical surrender.

“On a day in early 2011, I remember very clearly being on my knees praying, ‘God, if I’m not supposed to be in this business…if you want me to do something else, I will. I’ll get rid of all this and I’ll do whatever you want me to do because right now I don’t see how this is going to work.’”

From that moment on, the fate of Walrath Trucking began to turn.

“At that point, God was like, ‘Now I have you where I want you.’ He showed me I really wasn’t in control of all this. And now I really work everyday with the prayer, ‘Lord thank you for the work today. Thank you for the blessing because I don’t make this happen.’”

Fully surrendering his relationship with God, Tom experienced the freedom from responsibility and joy of a steward leader. It’s an exchange that often doesn’t make sense to those who measure success in dollars and cents.

“I’ve seen it so often, that we did everything in a certain instance that produced nothing, and then on another turn we did nothing and the favor was just laid out before us….God’s math, it does not add up to the world.”

When it comes to success, Tom’s much more interested in stewarding relationships–with his clients, employees, vendors, and the community–than maximizing profits.

“Our tagline is ‘Enhancing lives by serving others’ and I think we really live that out as a service company. We’re not trying to figure out the cheapest way to give somebody a service. We want to be competitive, but we’re more interested in doing a great job, doing it right, and doing it for the long haul with a client that has the same value. And when you do that, the money just follows.”

And it’s not just the lives of clients that Tom is aiming to enhance. The deep surrender Tom experienced in 2011 provided new perspective on what it means to steward employees, those who’ve entrusted their livelihood to his leadership.

“It changed me as a leader. When you’re letting long-term people go, you’re in a place as a leader you never wanted to be. So every new hire, for me it’s a painstaking process. I don’t want to make that hire if I don’t think it’s sustainable and makes sense for the long haul.”

The intention, thought, and prayer that go into hiring and other business decisions make Walrath unique in the trucking industry, an environment where jumping on opportunities is a way of life.

“You have to find those people who live out that same desire to to do the right thing for people. If you don’t do that, you won’t fit well here, and you won’t be fulfilled. But we’re very fortunate; we have guys who’ve been with us since my dad was driving, 25 or 27 years. It’s amazing.”

What began as a one-man operation and transformed into a second-generation fleet is now gearing up for its third generation of Walrath leadership. All three of Tom’s children and daughter-in-law have recently become involved, bringing new life and energy to a family legacy.

“In the last year or so, I’ve found my kids just thriving in this organization. They’re loving it and they’re contributing in a big way. They have visions for the future, and they want to make things happen. I don’t know why I’m surprised. It’s just that I’m super pleased.”

Tom’s pleasant surprise is the result of his ability to surrender his relationships and hopes for his children. As a steward leader and father, he sees his children as fellow pilgrims, not resources he owns or controls.

“I’ve always tried to tell my kids that the world is a big place. God designed them in a certain way and they need to follow their heart and find their passions and desires. I really wanted them to explore and see where God wanted them to be.”

And the fruit of his surrender is sweet: “They’ve exceeded my expectations. It just encourages me and re-motivates me to have that next generation get excited.”

Yet even while Tom begins preparing to pass the torch at Walrath Trucking, the principles of stewardship have permeated his personal life as well. He’s the board president at Cascade Christian School, where his children attended, the president of the Washington Trucking Association, and is involved in many other community and nonprofit projects.

“I’m just very aware that somebody went before me and created the opportunity for me to experience great things. It’s important to me to try to give back so that somebody else will benefit.”

As a steward, Tom recognizes that his resources—his time, his talents, and his trucks—are gifts from God, and he constantly surrenders them back to their true owner.

“I’m a big fan of just giving what you have. If you need a building built, I’m not that guy. But if you say, ‘Tom, I need some dirt moved on a field or I need pea gravel for a playground,’ I have means in that area. I can’t be all things to everybody. But just imagine what the world would be like if everybody just shared a bit of their gifts and what they’ve been blessed with?”

Like a business deal made on a handshake, surrender grounded in trust can seem counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. But it really is that simple, Tom says.

“If you do the right thing, it just comes around tenfold. I can’t tell you how many times that I thought I was going to bless somebody. But when it all got said and done, I walked away getting more blessed. It’s God’s math, and it doesn’t add up.”

Kelsey McFaul    

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