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John J. Carney says there could be far worse preparations for a risk manager than a stint in law enforcement.
"Law enforcement, if anything else, prepares you to operate under stress, and oftentimes the trucking business can be very stressful. Things can happen very quickly," says Mr. Carney.
The 59-year-old Mr. Carney retired from the New Jersey State Police in 1990.
During his 29 years with the State Police, Mr. Carney rose from a uniformed trooper to lieutenant colonel in charge of all areas of investigation and stood third in the organization's chain of command.
Along the way, he earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Glassboro State College-now Rowan College of New Jersey-in Glassboro, N.J. He later earned the Associate in Risk Management designation from the Insurance Institute of America.
Mr. Carney found definite similarities between the State Police and National Freight Industries Inc. when he joined the Vineland, N.J.-based holding company as director of safety/security in 1990.
He continues to see them as vp-risk management, a position he has held since May 1991.
"The State Police and National Freight have similar styles of managing their organizations. They have centralized management," with functions carried out in the field, he said.
"When someone walked in my door when I handled all the plainclothes detectives in this state, they would invariably come through the door and say, 'We have a problem.' That's usually the way my conversations start here," he said.
In both fields, the selection process is among the most important tasks of an executive, he said. For example, less than one-half of 1% of the people who joined the N.J. State Police left, he said.
Although the turnover rate among truckers is much higher, the aim remains to "put best possible person in" at the beginning, he said.
"A driver of that truck and a trooper operate pretty much the same. You give them the keys to the car and they're gone. Your communication is now electronic," he said.
One difference he found in leaving law enforcement for the private sector was the degree of structure governing operations. "I come from a highly structured environment. There's a standard operating procedure for everything," he said.
He found himself in an unstructured environment, which Mr. Carney saw as a key reason for the safety problems NFI was suffering. There were no SOPs.
He moved to change that quickly.
"You can't tell them they did it wrong if you never told them how to do it right. Every time we see the need for an operating procedure, we write it," Mr. Carney said.
"There are people and system problems. I learned how to separate the two. I learned early on that if something goes wrong, if someone ends up dead or hurt, don't attack the individual," but instead attack the system to correct the situation that led to the accident, he said.
"You don't accomplish anything as 'I', but you can accomplish an awful lot collectively," said Mr. Carney.
"If one person succeeds, we all succeed. If one fails, we all fail," he said.
Mr. Carney and his wife, Margaret, live in Merchantville, N.J. They have one daughter, Colleen, who recently married.
Mr. Carney is an avid hunter, having gone after grizzly bears in Alaska, black bears in Maine and elk in Colorado.
He is also an avid reader, with a particular fondness for the writing of John Grisham and Tom Clancy.