Page Trucking is one of the largest low-volume transportation suppliers and does the lion’s share of Novelis’ specialty transportation in Oswego.
By Lou Sorendo
Son, daughter of trucking entrepreneur overcome heavy obstacles to drive family business along road to success.
Resiliency is vital for business owners, particularly during times that test the mettle of the best entrepreneurs.
Dan and Piper Titus, president and CFO-CEO of Page Trucking, respectively, know the value of being resilient after overcoming challenges that could only be viewed as humbling.
The family has endured the untimely death of its patriarch, the founder of a business that has steadily earned respect in Cayuga County and beyond.
The business also managed to rebuild after a devastating fire several years ago that resulted in more heartbreak. And this year, coping with a global pandemic in the form of COVID-19 also proved to be an unprecedented hurdle.
Page is a family owned and operated company with diversity in the transportation industry and the bulk handling of materials.
The parent company is Keith Titus Corporation.
Keith Titus started the trucking business as Keith Titus Corporation by way of a roadside repair business. Originally moving agricultural products, he built the business one relationship at a time.
The company features three transportation subsidiaries: Page Transportation; Page E.T.C., which is its environmental transportation company that specializes in hazardous waste products; and Page M.T.C., which specializes in the transportation of molten liquid metals.
The company also features two additional service entities: Exit 40 Truck and Trailer Services, which is a full-service repair shop for tractors and trailers that is used both internally for Page’s own equipment as well as for outside customers. It includes a parts department that has over-the-counter capability for walk-in customers.
The other entity that falls under the service side is Page Material Management that encompasses the company’s on-site services.
Personnel perform truck-related services but mostly material management support onsite at customers’ locations.
Page has employees that work at sites that include Honda, Chrysler, General Motors, Arconic, Alcoa and Novelis.
Page Material Manager is a wholly owned subsidiary of KTC as well. It manages all of the company’s warehouse facilities.
Loss of patriarch
The company features a close-knit management team, a crew that has been together since the death of company founder Keith Titus in 1999.
Keith died of leukemia at the age of 50.
Dan Titus has been with the company for nearly 17 years, while his vice president of operations has been aboard for more than 20 years.
His sister Piper has been working for the company for nearly 13 years as well.
“It was tough on the family. We’ve been in business in the town of Cato in this county since 1809,” Titus said.
“We lost my dad and grandfather inside of one year,” said Titus, noting Kirby Titus died in 1998.
“It was a bit of a setback for us. We’ve transitioned out of the farming business in large part because there really wasn’t any family members to maintain it and continue it on,” Titus said.
“Having grown up on the farm and around the trucking company that was borne off the farm, Piper and I got exposure to perhaps the most important element of that, which is not necessarily the day-to-day operations, but the true blue-collar nature of the people that comprise these types of organizations,” he said.
“You have to appreciate what’s important to people who truly are proud to call themselves dark blue-collar people,” he said.
Titus said his mom was a school bus driver, and his father grew up on the same family farm that he had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with in his youth.
“Piper and I both had the opportunity to work around the business a little bit as kids growing up,” Titus said.
“You learn what makes people tick, and to make sure you show them respect and loyalty,” he said.
“You want to create a culture where there is respect and loyalty among one another and you have the foundation for something that is truly sustainable,” he said.
A fire leveled the Weedsport facility in December of 2017.
From a shop standpoint, the company lost about 60% of its maintenance facilities and its entire parts facility, which features a 30-year-old inventory of specialty parts for a lot of specialty equipment that it operated.
“We had an operation to maintain, so I think from a priority standpoint, we had to understand the needs of our employees and customers while coming up with a short-term plan to keep all the wheels turning,” Titus said.
Having some contingency planning in place made that an easier process, but the real challenge was what the plan was moving forward and what that design looked like, he added.
“Anytime you have a loss, you have to understand the impact of that loss and begin the planning process,” he said.
Over its 40-plus years, the company had grown from its original location on the family farm in Cato to the Weedsport facility on Trombley Road.
Over the last 25-plus years in Weedsport, growth was accomplished by acquiring neighboring properties one piece at a time, Titus said.
A series of about eight different additions occurred over different growth spurts during that time.
Following the fire, Titus said the challenge became during the planning process to either rebuild with the understanding that another addition would be required during the next growth spurt or to build something that would be more accommodating to what the company’s future plans could look like.
Titus attributed a successful rebound from the setback to the continuity of the organization and the true teamwork culture that exists at the company. “We all looked at it in terms of what we needed to do additionally,” he said.
He said employees went to work in a third of the space to try to accommodate the same sized fleet.
“They worked out in the elements and truly made the additional sacrifice to allow us to continue to function,” he added.
Titus said that approach wasn’t just a key to the rebound from the blaze; it’s been the key to success for a business that has flourished for four decades.
“We are a service-based business providing the services of transportation and material management, and that service is provided by people,” Titus said.
While highly specialized equipment is involved, it mostly requires operators, oversight and management personnel.
“The attitude of that personnel and the atmosphere that creates is more relative to the success of this business than any piece of equipment we have,” he added.
The decision was made to construct a “forever facility” representative of a corporate campus.
“We are proud to provide a world-class service, so our facilities and the environment that our people work in need to be commensurate with that,” Titus said. “The only way to achieve that was to take a long approach. What we have rebuilt is more than what we’ve ever had and will accommodate our growth for many years to come.
The new two-story building that was constructed features about 18,000 square feet for office and administrative space. It provides a viewing of the shop facility and shop administrative offices, which is another 35,000 square feet.
“With the growth of the company over the last 20 years in particular, we’ve been cramped for space more times than not,” he said.
The company’s fleet consists of about 1,000 pieces of equipment spread out over about a dozen terminals across North America.
A major phase of construction involved rebuilding the company’s original office facility into its training and driver comfort center.
“To be honest, we truly didn’t have that space before,” Titus said.
“Being able to have a space for our drivers when they are here for orientation, ongoing training or for maintenance repairs in a state-of-the-art type of place that they can call their own was really important to Piper and I,” he said.
At the same time, the training component of the organization from a safety as well as continual improvement standpoint was equally important.
“We didn’t have facilities that were commensurate with the organization’s mission, which is to be truly best in class in safety and to provide a training regimen that allows us to develop our own labor pool,” Titus added.
Piper was instrumental in developing a qualified, state-approved curriculum to train heavy-duty repair technicians, construction operators as well as truck drivers.
“That was really important to our long-term plan. If we are truly going to be sustainable over the long term, we need to generate and help feed our own labor demands,” Titus said. “To be able to do that internally with the training that is specific to the specialized work we do was very important.”
Page is one of if not the largest low-volume transportation suppliers sand does the lion’s share of Novelis’ specialty transportation in Oswego.
Novelis is the world leader in rolled aluminum products and recycling, and the largest global producer of automotive and beverage can sheet.
“It’s a truly symbiotic relationship,” said Titus, noting that his company and Novelis have grown on parallel paths.
Novelis’ leap from producing can sheet and specialty materials to becoming the world’s leading supplier of aluminum sheet to the automotive industry go hand-in-hand with what Page has experienced, Titus noted.
Novelis’ products are featured in more than 225 different models on the road today.
Titus designed the trailer that allows Novelis to complete the largest closed-loop recycling model in the world. Novelis manufactures aluminum coil stock that goes to Ford Motor Co., and the trailer in turn goes from the delivery of the coil over to the receiving of the scrap, which is then transported back to Novelis.
Page Material Management has two facilities both within a few miles of the Novelis plant. One of those buildings is the former Distribution Centers-Americas facility on county Route 1A in Oswego.
Page has about 50 workers at the Oswego facilities.
At its headquarters in Weedsport, Page employs between 80 to 100 on-site workers.
Also, when including drivers and owner-operators, the total employment count nears 600 depending on driver counts at any one given time.
As president, Titus is responsible for all management and oversight of the operations of all entities, both from a fundamental operations perspective as well as from a net profitability and sustainability standpoint.
“None of that would happen without my business partner Piper Titus. Her and I work hand-in-hand to meld operations with accounting and systematic functions that allow us to provide services,” he said.
“I find that I spend most of my time in the data and the processes that drive the quality of the data,” Piper said. “I then use that information to inform leadership for opportunities for improvement.”
She also spends a significant amount of time with employees looking at their workflows and how they can improve their departments.
“Supporting employee processes and improving profitability are very gratifying,” she said.
Page Trucking, Inc. is a Women’s Business Enterprise National Council-certified women-owned business.
Only 36% of all businesses are women-owned, and they account for 12% of all sales and 15 percent of employment.
“I don’t necessarily see a lot of opportunity to mentor ownership but I actively try to mentor leadership as a woman in any business environment,” she said.
Piper noted she recognizes talented, ambitious women in the organization that may not specifically have leadership or business training.
“I try to both model and direct them to resources to empower them in their own understanding of where they can grow as leaders in my organization,” she said.