An executive dream
<p>John Mann has held a number of executive and managerial positions in businesses ranging from investments to housing manufacturer, but has now resorted to becoming a truck driver due to the economy.</p>
| December 26, 2010 8:00 PM
On the side of his mammoth Cascadia Freightliner truck, John Mann has his opinion of his current status painted in gold: "This was supposed to be our class A motorcoach."
That pretty much says it all.
"That's what I'd always dreamed of. A class A motorcoach. I didn't dream of driving trucks," the 67-year-old said, seated in his Hayden living room on Tuesday. "I'm an executive truck driver now. That's what I am."
It's not that Mann is ungrateful to be making deliveries as a truck driver.
After all, the new job was his salvation when his thriving real estate career caved during the recession and no other opportunities turned up.
But it's a harsh transition to truck driver, Mann said, for someone with a background full of titles like business owner, company vice president and regional manager.
Where he was once sleeping in comfortable hotel rooms on business trips, now he sleeps in a bunk at the back of the truck during his off shift.
Where he once was choosing products to pursue as a stock trader, now he is hauling those materials in the back of his rig coast to coast, through rain and snow and every imaginable condition.
"At 67 I find myself in another entrepreneurial exercise, instead of playing golf," Mann said. "My five handicap is rapidly eroding."
As it has always been for the native Californian, climbing out just takes hard work.
Right now, God awful hard work.
"No matter what I'm doing, whether I love it or I hate it, I'm passionate about it," Mann said.
MANN'S BACKGROUND sounds like a Rockefeller story that never made it to the grand finale.
Business always came easily to him, he said, even if college didn't. After not finishing at the University of Arizona, he worked in his father's insurance company in Los Angeles in the '60s, then worked as a sales rep for an electronics company.
From there, his successes included becoming vice president of operations for an L.A. mortgage company in the late '70s, and then opening his own mortgage company in Las Vegas.
The industry crashed soon after, and he moved on to stock and bond trading in L.A., where he accumulated income quickly, he said.
"It was the beginning of a great run in stocks and bonds," he said.
Eventually moving to Coeur d'Alene and then Hayden with his wife, Debi, in the late '80s, he opened his own embroidery company specializing in jackets for trucking companies.
After several years, the company accumulated 70 employees, with a $1 million payroll.
"We weren't making anything, but we had this big company," he said with a laugh.
He eventually sold his half of the business to his partner and moved on to working for housing companies in 2002, starting with a Kootenai County company, and then transitioning international companies in Canada up through 2007.
With money coming in, retirement seemed on the horizon.
"It was a great time in my life," he said.
And then, the recession.
At that point, no one wanted to buy a $65,000 home, he discovered.
His search for a new job dragged. He sent out 300 resumes across the country, he estimated.
"For a year and a half, I never heard from anybody. I never even got an interview," Mann said, adding that the gap ate into his savings. "Nobody was interested in a 67-year-old executive with no education."
His wife, Debi, pointed out that the trucking and shipping industry seemed to be thriving.
Maybe it could be a last resort, she suggested.
"I considered doing it for weeks," Mann said. "And then I didn't consider it, because I didn't want to do it."
He remembered the lives of the truckers he met selling embroidered jackets. Hard hours, hard conditions.
And yet, somehow noble, he thought.
"There's no such thing as a stupid trucker. There are truckers who don't know how to bathe, or be polite, or who have no social graces whatsoever. But they're not stupid," he said. "Truckers have to know how to do axle measurements. They have to know how many gallons they need to get to the next stop. You can't do this job and be stupid."
He finally chose to go with an old favorite company of his, C.R. England, Inc. After finishing driving school and training at the company's facility in Salt Lake City, he leased a company truck to work as an independent contractor.
After roughly 2 years, his $55,000 to $70,000 salary is hard won.
He ferries loads across the U.S. and sometimes coast to coast, he said, driving for four to six weeks and getting back home for only three to four days in between.
"I have never had responsibility like this before, watching over a 40,000-pound load," Mann said. "It's just as important to get shirts to the Masters Golf Tournament as it is to get french fries to overweight people in North Carolina."
Lugging deliveries for companies like Coca Cola, FedEX, and Coors, he said, he has put in 180,000 miles a year.
He drives 10 hour shifts, he added, switching with a partner so they never stop driving.
"Truckers are only supposed to work 60 hours a week," he noted. "I work a lot of other hours not on the clock, and so does every other truck driver out there."
Throughout his travels, he has seen 30 truck wrecks, two wrecks with fatalities. He has seen union and confederate cemeteries in a Southern town, and eaten pigskin sausages in Louisiana.
Enjoying the adventure, he journals about it all, he said.
"It's when you get off the Interstate that things get unique," he said.
But it's still hard. And not just because he's making considerably less money than he used to, or because of dock workers who seem to be universally rude.
"I miss my wife terribly. I miss my home," Mann said. "When I say goodbye to my wife, I'm never sure when I'll be back."
His 10-day vacation for Christmas is the longest he has been off since he started driving, he added. He can't wait for the visit from his grown children, Alison Mann and Grady Mann.
"I'm wallowing in it," he said. "I come home, and I don't want to leave."
Debi has supported him throughout, though she worries the lack of sleep and poor diet on the road is affecting her husband's health.
"I'm grateful to my husband for doing what he has to do at his age to get us through this," Debi said, adding that they talk on the phone every day. "It's been a lot easier on me, since I'm in my comfort zone and I get to sleep in my bed every night."
Their kids worry, too, she said, knowing the risks their father is facing.
"My son will say, 'I want him off that truck as soon as he can get off it,'" she said.
But her husband has adapted, she said, because that's the kind of man he is.
"He does what he has to do, and he does it very well. He's never been late on any delivery," she said. "He's really professional at it, like he's been at everything he's done in his life."
But remember, Mann is a businessman.
And he sees plenty of potential with the trucking industry.
"I can't be happy just doing a job," he said.
He hopes to start his own trucking company next year, he said. Ideally, he will accrue five new trucks over the next two and a half years.
His company will be a reputable one, he promises. One where he'll treat his drivers like their concierge.
Best of all, Mann said: If all goes well, eventually he'll only have to drive a few weeks a year.
"When you're doing it day in, day out, running 5,000 miles a week, that's just hard work," he said. "If you're only doing it five weeks of the year, then it becomes fun."