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Award-winning Reliance setting itself apart through diversity and attractive work culture

(Photo: Shutterstock)

There may be people that have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you. 

— quote from Derek Jeter painted in huge lettering on one of the Reliance walls

Reliance Partners, a full-service insurance agency focused on property and casualty coverage for the transportation industry, has just been named one of two companies in all of Tennessee to make Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces in 2018.

They were also nationally one of only five companies to be named in all of the competitive insurance industry. Reliance has also been recognized by Inc. as a member of the 500 Fastest Growing Privately-Held Companies in 2017.

“Our goal at Reliance is to provide and support a road-map to success for every member of the team,” says senior VP and leader of operations, Laura Ann Howell. “Identifying personal and professional goals on the individual level is what makes our collective success as a company possible.”

FreightWaves visited the Reliance office in downtown Chattanooga this week to speak with COO and president, Chad Eichelberger and Howell and get a sense of what makes the secret sauce so special.

“We have a 50/50 gender split,” says Howell.

“35 percent racial minority,” adds Eichelberger. “Plus, collectively our team speaks 12 languages,” he says, and then rattles them off: “Spanish, Russian, Ukranian, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati, Cantonese, Cambodian, Mandarin, Croatian, and Bosnian.”

 A view of some of the flags representing the wide variety of nationalities in the Reliance Chattanooga headquarters.
A view of some of the flags representing the wide variety of nationalities in the Reliance Chattanooga headquarters.

“And they represent 15 nationalities,” says Howell. “And the average age of our workforce is 27-28.”

Howell, who majored in Spanish at the University of Georgia, also adds that Spanish is a giant piece of their business. “Our website is written in Spanish as well,” she says.

“We want to mirror the industry we’re serving,” says Eichelberger. “We want to market to, and be available to, the people we’re representing.”

“And the higher-level view is that we want to have an awesome work culture,” says Howell. “We’re strongly moving toward growth and diversity, and it sets us apart.”

“That’s right,” says Eichelberger. “We want to mirror the trucking companies we sell to and communicate with them literally in a language they can understand. Insurance is a competitive industry, but we don’t see a lot of diversity in it. This sets our company apart.”

Turns out, it’s good business on at least two counts. Starting from within, strategically, businesses who are trying to grow aggressively, do well to reach out to a diverse work culture. Businesses who care about the quality of their work culture and experience—

collectively and individually—are going to attract the higher-level talent. It’s not just Millennials that value a casual and flexible work culture, either. It’s infectious across the sociological divide, and, in the case of Reliance, it seems to have reached a tipping point.

Importantly, too, from looking outwards towards the demographics of the trucking industry, there is more diversity than meets the eye. The tightening labor shortage is creating opportunities for foreign-born drivers from around the world.

“The trucking industry is searching for people,” says Justin Lowery, who studies the role of immigrants in U.S. trucking at George Mason University. As the current trucker population continues to age, other drivers and immigrants, willing to work long hours, are filling some of the gap.

According to PRI’s the World, nearly 30 percent of foreign-born drivers are now from Asia, the Middle East, the former Soviet republics and Europe. Most of the rest are from Latin America, according to the Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey. That survey also found that the proportion of immigrant drivers varies from state to state, with California at 46 percent, the highest concentration of foreign-born drivers, followed by New Jersey at 40 percent.

“It’s also a lot easier to retain clients when you can earn their trust that way,” Eichelberger says. “Additionally, it’s a hugely fragmented industry. We see trucking companies that may have been taken advantage of simply because they weren’t able to communicate effectively.”

“New Jersey and California are at the top of the minority representation—and we’re actively pursuing customers in these areas,” says Howell. “We’re also actively pursuing people with the necessary skills.”

To emphasize just how diverse the team is, they currently represent 46 of the 48 contiguous states, while 90 percent of the company is comprised of national candidates. Only 10 percent are from their hometown-based, freight hub, Chattanooga.

Reliance Partners is yet another example of the potency and potential of logistics and transportation in the 21st century in Freight Alley.

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