In the vast expanse of the United States, where commerce stretches from coast to coast and heartland to metropolis, a silent but mighty force keeps the nation’s economic engine humming. The American trucking industry, often operating behind the scenes, is the unsung hero of modern commerce. Anil Saini, CEO and owner of intermodal drayage companies Saini Express Inc. and Pooja Trucking, knows how trucks are the connective tissue binding together the diverse tapestry of American industries and regions.
Trucks carry everything from the fresh produce we find in our local grocery stores to the gadgets and goods that stock our favorite online retailers. Yet, despite its ubiquity, the trucking industry’s contributions often go unnoticed, taken for granted by consumers who are unaware of the intricate logistics and massive workforce required to ensure goods reach their final destination.
Intermodal drayage, a critical subset of the trucking industry, plays a pivotal role in this grand logistical orchestra. It facilitates the seamless transfer of cargo containers between different modes of transportation, such as ships, trains, and trucks, making the supply chain more efficient and cost-effective.
Anil’s journey into this industry was one of chance. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Delhi University in India before owning a successful restaurant for over ten years. After his business flourished, Anil decided to immigrate to the United States and pursue a Master of Business Administration degree. Through hard work and dedication, he attended the Fox School of Business and graduated from Temple University.
At the time, Anil’s brother worked in the trucking industry, operating Saini Express Inc. With his brother’s encouragement, Anil joined forces to help grow the business.
“I was in the restaurant business back in 1998, and I did it for 11 years. Then I moved onto trucking because my brother was in trucking.”
Anil had been loosely tied to the company, helping finance it, but undertaking a more active role was an unplanned opportunity. “In order to secure finances, I had to step in.”
It was a chance he stumbled upon, he says, because of his personal situation. While his initial intentions were not to join this particular sector, he felt enthusiastic about the prospect.
“So, it was a situation where life takes you on a certain path. You just have to flow with the waves sometimes. Sometimes, you plan for something, and you end up somewhere else.”
Soon, his brother wanted to explore a career in information technology and was looking to get out of the trucking business. “He asked me whether or not I would take over, and I wanted to learn from him. So, I jumped in.”
He took ownership of Saini Express Inc. before starting Pooja Trucking in 2010. His companies, being intermodal drayage operations, use rail networks to complete long hauls and serve an area within a 200-mile radius of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
In the beginning, while taking over the family’s existing company and starting a brand new one, the situation was daunting due to the global recession. “The 2007 recession was not easy. It was a struggle at that time, but we got through it.”
However, the thought of acquiring a company did not frighten him.
“I treated it like I would any other job. I worked every day, and I worked through any issues that arose.”
Ever the visionary, Anil decided to avoid taking out large loans to fund the business.
“The biggest thing is securing our finances. We basically financed ourselves and have stayed that way all the way until now.”
One of the benefits of intermodal drayage is that it keeps trucks off the road while allowing retailers to transport as many goods as possible. Some of these trains can carry 200 large shipping containers.
“The tractor-trailer does the shorter part of the journey, and then the trailer is put on a train. So, the train takes the trailer from one end to another end of the country, and then we use another tractor truck to deliver to the destination. It saves the planet and is much more economical for the customer.”
Traditional modes of goods transportation are not as forgiving on the environment.
“One train carrying 200 containers versus 200 trucks carrying one load is a big difference.”
The war between Russia and Ukraine has disrupted shipping schedules and routes. However, Anil claims that many retailers are capitalizing on the situation.
“Third-party people are trying to take advantage of it. Everybody is saying the costs for shipping are rising, but the costs are not rising. We all know it. We see it every day. Our freight cost went down to less than half. Anything in 2021 and 2020 that cost $100 to ship a product now costs $40 to ship that product.”
According to Anil, some retailers are still charging consumers for the previous shipping prices and then pocketing the profits. He says, in reality, manufacturing costs are falling due to low shipping costs. As a result of the unrest, more trucking firms than at any time in the previous decade went out of business.
Rubbing salt in the wound, the pandemic has also severely impacted the trucking sector. The effects were felt within Anil’s own firm.
“It took a lot of employees away from companies, so a lot of companies were short on people. Anybody who had preexisting debt was not able to survive. Our challenge was manpower. We were working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We didn’t shut down, and we were delivering extra hours just to get everything done. We were hauling only toilet paper around for two years.”
Anil says that his company was able to weather the pandemic because he managed it in such a way that it avoided borrowing and debts.
“My goal is to not spend what we don’t have. In other words, I don’t want to go to the bank and get our work financed. I anticipate and plan for the 10-year plan instead. That’s how I work.”
To him, not having any debt is a source of comfort and a huge relief. As a result, he worries less.
“The company has no debt, and we have no debt, so it’s just operation cost. We have a fleet of 60. So, we buy 200 tires or 300 tires to bring the cost down. We have full-service shops to take care of the truck maintenance, and we buy our own diesel.”
Along with responsible financing, a successful company demands a competent leader. Anil believes a good manager is organized and understanding.
“Being a good leader means to stay on top of things. Good service is the most important quality. Stay focused.”
He says he treats his own employees as if they are family.
“I treat my employees like family. If they work hard, I take care of them, and they take care of their work. I make sure I’m flexible with their needs. Some people need time-outs. Some people are single mothers; they need time with their kids or have appointments. I don’t contact them at late hours. If they must take time off for their kids, I help them. Whenever they need help with finances, we help them.”
He claims that without them, running the company would be impossible. He believes this approach is what separates his trucking company from the competition.
“It’s the service. We are always there for customers. We are one call away. Whatever they need, we get it done. Our rates are competitive. We stay on top of service. We are on time. It’s all very important.”
In 2021, the Better Business Bureau in his area recognized him as the top business and awarded him two Best Intermodal Awards for his efforts that year and the following.
Those years were some of the company’s most trying times, so receiving recognition for outstanding management and performance was a huge accomplishment.
As a devout Hindu, Anil also credits his faith for his perseverance and tenacity. To honor his religion, he built and continues to build temples in the United States and India.
“So far, I’ve built six. I finance and build them. One I helped construct in Atlanta, GA and others back home in India where they really need help. I go and help smaller places where people don’t spend money and where they need temples.”
He tries to weave his faith into his daily habits while continuing to run his businesses.
“I pray every day. I give some part of my personal earnings to my temples. I invest in them. It is something that makes me feel happier. I ask, ‘Give me enough so I can help others.’ I can do good for myself, my family and those around me.”
Aside from that, he also assists in the construction of churches.
“I help anybody who needs help in the community. We go and give them what they need.”
He says, in total, he has dedicated 12 to 15 years to constructing these religious havens, with each taking almost two and a half years to finish.
“Most of them require special architecture, stonework, and glasswork. And then there are hurdles to overcome with physical location and changes to existing structures.”
Because of his hectic schedule, Anil is especially mindful of taking care of himself. He keeps busy with his many interests and loves to spend time with his loved ones.
“I work, work, work every day. But other than that, I like swimming. I like horse riding. I like skiing. I like riding down on ATVs and going through the woods. I have two kids. We can even ski down diamond slopes now. We can ski down any hills.”
His charitable work is woven into the fabric of his daily life as well, helping fulfill him and enrich his life in other ways.
“I do go out and serve our community whenever they need help. I sponsor three to four events here for non-profits. If I give back to people, it makes me feel good. It brings me peace.”
Looking back, Anil says he would not do anything differently.
“You can go back and learn from your mistakes. They’re always there. There’s always room for improvement there, but I will thank God for where we are right now. We are in a safe place. I do not regret it.”
For anyone starting a business, he has two bits of practical advice. The first is to try and avoid the debt trap—something he learned from his father, who was in the Indian Air Force. His father saved money to finance the necessities and advised him to be cautious about borrowing anything from financial institutions. He learned this discipline from being in the military.
The second is to have realistic expectations about how much of your own time and energy starting a business will require.
“You will have to pick between your family and your business. You cannot be in both places. So basically, my wife, Pooja Saini, and my two kids also had to sacrifice. She adjusted her life. If you’re willing to work and sacrifice for your dreams, the sky is the limit.”
Anil continues to operate his business, build temples, and help those who have less. He looks forward to the future.
“I always wanted to help people. My father was that way too. If I have a choice between sleeping and helping people, I will help people.”
Moumita Basuroychowdhury is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest. After earning an economics degree at Cornell University, she moved to NYC to pursue her MFA in creative writing. She enjoys reporting on science, business and culture news. You can reach her at email@example.com.