The Hub Trucker with an MBA
Transforming Lives: Moving Beyond

Trucker with an MBA

By: Jim Little, MBA

I’m a second-generation trucker, having entered the industry full time after high school.  My parents ran the Winnipeg branch of an interprovincial carrier, so I was exposed to the people-side of the business at a young age.  While I didn’t mind driving truck or freight handling, there was always a yearning to pursue a higher education and purpose.  After some time as a class 1 driver trainer, I moved my young family west and began a career in operations with Mullen Trucking in Aldersyde, Alta., first as a dispatcher and eventually growing into a middle manager role.

Beginning my educational journey

Jim stands in front of a semi-truck and flat-deck trailer with an antique firetruck on it
Jim Little hauling an antique firetruck from Alberta to Montana in 1995

I learned a lot at Mullen and was part of the first group to graduate from their Business Management Certificate program in 1995. It provided a good platform to build on for further education that I hoped would position me for a general manager role, perhaps one day as a business unit leader within Mullen Transportation’s growing company portfolio.

My mentor Bob Baldwin, an accountant by trade, became our quality program expert at Mullen Trucking, and I worked closely with him on operational improvements. I heard about the novel online learning environment at Athabasca University (AU) and pursued the Online Graduate Diploma in Management (doubles as Master of Business Administration (MBA) Phase 1). Because of my management experience, I could apply for program admission without an undergraduate degree. My boss, Murray Mullen, endorsed the application with the caveat that I needed the flexibility to step back if the program conflicted too much with my work. To the contrary, the fact that I could relate much of the course material to my job actually enhanced it.

MBA intake of 1999

Program structure overview with marks and writing all over it by Jim Little
Little's original program structure

I was thrilled to be accepted into the program for the fall 1999 intake. AU MBA alumnus Tom Stirr, who had worked in heavy truck sales, reached out to me given our common industry and was very helpful as mentor in the early going. I’m a visual guy, so printed off the program structure (see left) and kept it displayed in my study area, updating it after each milestone to track progress.

I was fortunate to be awarded a couple of academic scholarships as I worked through the program, staying in lockstep with my cohort for the first two phases. I decided to give myself more time for Phase 3 after being promoted to head office as vice president of quality and training in 2001 (replacing my retiring mentor), as I had new work responsibilities to learn with oversight of human resources and safety for our business units.

MBA and beyond

Registrar and Jim Little in covocation gowns in 2003
Little (right) convocating in 2003

I finished my applied project on “Total Quality Safety Management” (supervised by Dr. Anshuman Khare) around the time many from my cohort were graduating in 2002. That fall, my employer Mullen Transportation acquired two rival fluid hauling businesses based out of Lloydminster, Alta. I completed my final MBA course, “The Human Side of Mergers and Acquisitions,” facilitated by Carol MacKinnon and Dr. Deborah Hurst in December 2002, and the last assignment on merging the safety culture between these two companies. Ironically, my next promotion two years later was president of Heavy Crude Hauling Partnership with the initial task of completing their integration.

My wife, children and father attended the AU convocation ceremony with me in June 2003. While earning my MBA degree was a proud moment, having done so begged the question, “What is next?” Shakespeare wrote, “Things won are done; joy’s soul lies in the doing.” So it should be no surprise that I enrolled in three AU Leadership and Management Development courses in subsequent years as part of my continuous learning journey.

Retirement

My wife Tammy and I retired from our 30+ year transportation careers in 2016, resurrecting our family company, Little Diamond Enterprises, to perform consulting work. I became immersed in a family research project, culminating in the 2019 self-publication of a biography book on the grandfather I never knew, Searching For Connection – The C. E. Little Story. With three young grandchildren of our own, it’s important that they know about their heritage, plus their ancestors’ involvement in the Great War.

The development of the people I worked with was of high importance to me and still is. I’ve helped mentor four colleagues who have undertaken the AU GDM/MBA program, the first who is now the president of his company and the last one is still in the program. As an AU alumnus, I keep in touch with my network and encourage lifelong learning. The higher purpose I’ve discovered for myself is similar to Stephen Covey’s The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, which is a sequel to his widely influential book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Covey says, “Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.”

Published:
  • April 9, 2020
Guest Blog from:
Jim Little, MBA