From Big Soda to Big Joe

From Big Soda to Big Joe

By Don Baker

Assistant Service Manager

Folks will ask me how I came to leave my warm home State of Virginia and the security as a Fleet Lead with the World’s biggest soft drink maker for the cold of Chicago and the Assistant Service Manager position at Big Joe.  The short answer is it just felt right. 

To put it in perspective, I’ll give you a bit of my personal history.  I started out in the Fleet Diesel Industry as a Tech 3 Diesel technician performing routine maintenance to major repairs on buses in my hometown for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA).  I have a VA State Inspection License, MAC refrigerant certification, Air Brake certification, and Class A CDL with Passenger Bus Endorsement.  I worked there for over ten years and loved it, before moving on a better opportunity with Pepsi.

I was with the Pepsi Corporation for a number of years, starting out on the second shift as a tractor and trailer mechanic in Newport News, VA eventually moving up to Fleet Lead in Richmond, VA.  It felt comfortable, there was room to grow in a large company.  I joined a group tasked with turning the fleet of route tractors and trailers around in Newport News. It was operable but needed TLC, I’m proud to say we brought it up to be the A team. Any tractor or trailer we signed off on could be nit-picked by the DOT and pass without a flag.  When I moved up to the day shift, I was putting out fires all day long, primarily with trailers, but if anything went down, I was on it.  I also began working on LPG forklifts from Toyota and Komatsu plus electric walkie stackers and pallet jacks from Crown and Yale. After a year I was approached to take on the Fleet Lead position in Richmond, VA. 

This is when I was introduced to Big Joe. 

On my first day at Richmond, there were a lot of pieces of equipment sitting in my service bays.  I do not like that.  I want my service bays to be completely clean from end to end.  So, I put the team to work setting the fleet right.  There were stackers from Crown and jacks from Yale and Big Joe just sitting because maintenance needed to be done.  In the field, downtime can exceed the cost of the repair and no one buys a truck for it to sit.  We had a lot of work to do and it took a lot of time and a lot of service calls to the manufacturers.  One thing really stood out with the Big Joes.  After years of working on Crowns and Yales, I was intrigued by the simplicity and user-friendliness of the Big Joe EZ30.

With Big Joe, the time to troubleshoot is reduced because the trucks are not complex, but they perform as well as other the more complex brands.  After about three weeks, I have to say that I fell in love with them. The trucks would perform beyond expectations.  In the event of an error or fault, the simplicity of the trucks made troubleshooting seem effortless. When you ran into an issue that was troublesome, the Big Joe Service team was always there for you 24/7.  I felt they cared about you.  It was phenomenal support compared to the competitors – yes, they had support, they would send a technician out to service the equipment, but they would always send a big bill too.  Big Joe would walk you through the repair, you got free training, I never felt alone – always got top-notch support.  Bob Onopa was my go-to guy in parts.  I’d give him a brief description of my problem, and 3 days later the right part would arrive.  He’s always spot on! 

Once we got the fleet in order and settled down into a more standard maintenance and repair cycle, I took a little time to get to know the 32 EZ30s in my care.  I love the design; they are unique in the industry.  All the other brands are pretty uniform, Big Joe thinks outside the box, they listen to their customers.

Working at Pepsi was rewarding, it gave me a big step in my career path – a real career building block, but I kept thinking that I wanted to be a part of something special.  I felt the Big Joe company was going places and I wanted to be a part of it, something about it just felt right.

I wanted to be a part of something special.

A while later, I was fortunate enough to go to a Pepsi Fleet Summit, which kind of a private trade show where all the Pepsi vendors show off their latest and greatest to the regional managers and franchise owners.  This is where I met Bill Ferris, Sr. Manager Aftermarket Support at Big Joe.  After his training class, I walked up to Bill and said “I really like the way you run things, how can I be a part of it?” We talked after the Summit and he arranged a flight up to Chicago for an interview.  The timing wasn’t right for a number of reasons, theirs and mine, so I caught my flight home and thought at least I gave it a shot.

About six months later, Bill Ferris called to ask about my batteries – I knew it was a ruse – my fleet was humming and I had no battery issues.  I asked what’s going on and he said, “We have a job opening and I thought of you.” He had kept my resume and contact info on file in case the situations changed, and when a job opened up at the Lombard, IL main office, he recommended me to the Big Joe team.  An interview with Engineering Director Matt Wavrek was scheduled and I flew up again.  An offer was made for me to join Big Joe as the Assistant Service Manager, which is kind of what I was expecting, but I was still taken aback.  I talked it over with my wife and we were ready for a change.  Our second child had just been born, she wanted to be a stay at home mom and the new job would allow us to do it.  I came on board on April 1, 2018 (no fooling) and my wife joined me a bit later once we had sold our house.  We found a nice place in the suburbs and we really like it up here.

I’m excited and filled with personal satisfaction when I talk to someone over the phone and help them get their truck up and running.  I think back to my days at Pepsi and hope that I’m putting out that same positive message that I got from all the guys, Bill, Bob, Steve Liss and the recently retired and beloved Mary Jo Tuohy.

When I go out to conduct training at the dealerships, the techs love the fact that the trouble-shooting is so easy, too.  They really love the Joeys – everything about them is annual maintenance, not major repairs. I find that their experiences with Big Joe are very similar to what mine were.  You might think that because I was at the mega-sized Pepsi that we were getting special treatment, but no, it is really that way across the board and that lets me know I made the right choice. I have loved and enjoyed every minute, I look forward to coming into work, I love being a part of this team.  We have the best people – the atmosphere is great.  The way we all work together five days a week, some of us even get together on weekends.  Big Joe feels like family to me.

PS:  The summers in Chicago aren’t all that different from Virginia … the winters do take some getting used to!