Wes Mollno is an inspired leader who impacts the specialized transportation sector on a variety of fronts. D.Ann Shiffler reports.
Wes Mollno is a “big picture” kind of person, which is a good thing, because he deals in a lot of big stuff. His company, WCS Permits and Pilot Cars, makes the way for huge payloads to travel down the road or across the country. An authority in the specialized transportation sector, WCS provides oversize load permits, trip and fuel permits, superload permits, route surveying, pilot car dispatching, consulting and safety equipment to clients throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Wes Mollno, President/Owner, WCS Permits and Pilot Cars
WCS Permits and Pilot Cars is one of those “started in a back bedroom” success stories. In 1998, Mollno and his brother-in-law Steve Osborn teamed up to offer pilot car and permitting services in Southern California.
Osborn had recently retired from the Marine Corps and Mollno was looking for a business opportunity that would allow his wife to work part-time to be able to spend more time with their kiddos.
“The early goals were simple,” said Mollno. “I could not have imagined the support we would get from the industry or the amazing people that would eventually join our team.”
Mollno had a background in the permit business, working for his Dad’s company that offered permitting in California. The younger Mollno had the vision to expand the company’s services and essentially “go national.”
“I decided to go down my own path which led to the start of WCS,” he said, admitting that he had always had a fascination for oversized loads and the realm of specialized transportation. “I always admired my dad and the industry he was in when I was growing up. I always looked for oversize loads when I was a kid and it seemed like they always left an impression.”
I have met Mollno at various tradeshows and heard him speak at SC&RA events. He is bright, thoughtful and engaged, always thinking about how to move the transportation industry forward and make things better.
What keeps you engaged in the realm of specialized transportation?
I have always loved puzzles and problem solving. The orchestrating of the routes for oversize loads and superloads in particular is like piecing together a puzzle and requires advanced problem-solving skills. Every load is different, and I enjoy routing as well as teaching, so staying engaged has never been a problem.
As the business has grown, I have found that much of my inspiration comes from my co-workers. My management team consists of unique people with a great passion for what they do and what they bring to the team. I need that, and our company needs that as it allows us to keep finding ways to be better at what we do. I enjoy the whole process of learning new aspects of business. We are a democracy. Listening to department heads share their ideas, cultivating those ideas and ultimately shaping our future as a team keeps us all passionate.
What are the biggest challenges for your business in terms of the Covid-19 crisis?
With our current business model, we had no problems moving to home-based as all our computer programs and company procedures were designed with remote working in mind. It took us only three days to completely convert all of our departments to working remotely. The stress of where our industry was going was a challenge early on as we worried about funding for lost revenue.
The biggest concern was how we were going to make sure we kept everyone on the payroll. We’re a family and we had to find a way to make it work, which we did. One of our biggest advantages going into this crisis was being a 100 percent debt-free company. When you go into a crisis and you don’t have debt, it makes it easier to make decisions. Another big challenge was understanding government’s day-to-day changes and who was available to help us. It seemed like we had a new set of rules to decipher every day. From a permitting perspective, permit turnaround times, government procedures, who was at work, new Covid-19 permits, were just a few of the day-to-day fluctuations. From a management standpoint, we are still trying to iron out the “new normal.” We will more than likely continue to see changes throughout the months to come.
What are the biggest challenges for your sector of the industry?
The biggest challenge is the lack of regulation in the pilot car industry. Trucking companies and services like WCS are left to self-regulate the industry. There are various levels of piloting and a chase car does not equal a surveyor. The skill sets are completely different. Many states have no regulations and those that do, do not differentiate between chase cars, lead cars, high poles and surveyors. The pilot car industry’s rule set needs to be completely overhauled.
Harmonization amongst government agencies has taken some great leaps forward thanks to the SC&RA and people like Steven Todd. Having said that, there are still challenges, and we must continue to work for more streamlined rules and procedures with both state and local government agencies.
As a company that offers services across the U.S., how do you keep up with all the changing rules and regulations?
We have an amazing staff, and with effective communication and teamwork, we stay in constant communication with states on changing rules and regulations. We also published and maintain an online oversize permit manual, OversizeLoadAssistant.com that is updated daily and used by all of our staff, as well as subscribing trucking companies nationwide.
Application of technology has been a hallmark of WCS Permits and Pilot Cars, and the company has become a thought leader in the permitting and pilot car space. How has this strategy helped the company succeed?
We work hard to develop tools that make it easier for our customers to do business. When you do something that makes a job easier for someone, they’re going to tell their friends about it. At tradeshows, you’re also able to demonstrate how your apps and programs work, which gives a leg up over people who haven’t invested in these kinds of tools. We develop every tool – from our apps to our online permit calculator – with ease of use in mind so we can help people to have knowledge at their fingertips and get better at what they do with less effort. Knowledge is power.
What is your take on the advent of pilot car certification?
It is the single most necessary thing in our business right now. There needs to be certification on a federal level, and there should be a licensing process and an insurance minimum that people have to carry. There should be a minimum of three levels of licensing. Chase/lead cars, high poles and surveyors should be the basic levels of licensing. There have been many state harmonization advancements over the last 10 years, and I believe it is time to shift some focus to the pilot industry which has had very little attention paid to it in the last 20 years.
WCS sells signs, decals, safety clothing and other equipment pertinent to the heavy hauler. What is the reception to this area of the business?
It has been great. A large percentage of our customer base purchases equipment from us, and we sell and ship products throughout North America every day. We stock all the equipment we sell, and all signage is made in-house. We are a manufacturer, so we can offer material like freeway grade reflective vinyl, high-quality aluminum and custom-made products at a wholesale price to the industry.
Is it the goal for WCS to be a one-stop shop for the specialized transportation sector?
We have been working at it since 1998, and we believe we are a one-stop shop. We offer core services to our industry, but our products and service offerings go well beyond. In addition to our permitting tools like the Oversize Load Assistant, permit calculator and permit portal, we also have dedicated superload and pilot car departments, and as mentioned, we offer online equipment sales.
What is your business philosophy?
Hire quality people who bring value to the business and work family. Seek out people that fit the model, see the vision and believe in the company. Follow up with putting the proper tools and technology at their fingertips. These
core values may seem basic, but I believe they need to be at the core of any business looking to achieve long term success. I also believe in a debt-free business model. Being a debt-free business allows you to take advantage of opportunity when it’s in front of you without risking your future.
What is your advice for achieving a work/life balance? What do you do to unwind?
It is important to have a balance of good work ethic, a release from that such as exercise or a personal hobby and most importantly make time for family. To unwind from work, I enjoy spending time with my wife and kids and love being outdoors in Big Bear, at the beach or pursuing one of my many hobbies. Work hard, play hard, but find time to relax and reflect.