Jeffrey Chulack, fleet maintenance manager for Talon Logistics, the transportation arm of regional grocery store chain Giant Eagle, was named top graduate of the National Private Truck Council's Certified Transportation Professional (CTP) course for 2007. The fact that he had not planned on a career in transportation gave the award even more meaning.
After graduating with a degree in industrial management from LaRoche College in 1979, Chulack worked as an admissions counselor for his alma mater. His next job — and first in the grocery industry — was with the Kroger Co., followed by a job in distribution at Super Valu.
In 1987, Chulack joined Giant Eagle, where is worked in the warehousing division before moving to Talon Logistics in 1989. “Logistics really tested my planning skills, because back then we created load plans and transportation routes by hand; we didn't have software to rely on,” he says.
All that changed about 1990, however, when Talon adopted Manugisitcs' routing software package, which Chulack and his colleagues painstakingly tested against their manual processes.
Over the next several years, he held positions as transportation supervisor, assistant transportation manager and operations manager before taking on two very different assignments. In 2002, Chulack became a project manager, charged with installing onboard computers on the company's tractor-trailer fleet. In 2005 he was appointed fleet maintenance manager.
“I'm not a computer guy or a ‘gear head’ by any stretch of the imagination. I'm really an operations guy at heart,” he notes. “But I really like challenges; I like to learn new and different skills.”
Giant Eagle, ranked 32 on the Forbes list of largest private corporations, operates 227 supermarkets, in addition to more than 120 fuel and convenience stores throughout western Pennsylvania, Ohio, north-central West Virginia and Maryland. To keep them well stocked, the company relies on Talon's fleet of 105 Volvo VN tractors and 300 trailers.
Chulack is in charge of keeping all this equipment up and running, with 20 maintenance technicians at two locations — the primary maintenance hub in Pittsburgh and a satellite facility in Harmony, PA. “We do all the maintenance, unless it's major warranty work,” he says.
For Chulack, taking the CTP course offered a chance to broaden his knowledge base so he could perform his job better. “The one big advantage to the CTP is that it rounds you out,” Chulack explains. “For example, part of my job is spec'ing new tractors and trailers, but we leave purchasing them completely in the hands of our finance department. After taking the CTP course, however, I understand that side of the business much better; I can speak their lingo now.
“When I was transportation manager, I let that CTP opportunity pass me by, so when the chance came around again I made sure to take it,” he says. “It's another way to test yourself, to see if you measure up to your peers.”
Chulack remembers vividly that “you could've heard a pin drop during the exam.” He'd written a lot of case studies, so he knew that part of the test well, but the multiple-choice part of the test was tough. “I am pretty amazed I got the top score.”
Chulack cites his wide experience in the transportation/logistics field and his willingness to regularly hit the books for his performance on the exam. “I picked up a lot of the stuff I needed to know by osmosis over time in my career -- learning it the hard way, by experience,” he says. “I also studied two to three hours a week for this test.”
When asked what he would do differently to prepare, Chulack said he would write out all the practice case studies by hand. “It's a very different environment when you write them up on a computer, cutting and pasting and moving things around, compared to when you take the test with pencil and paper,” Chulack says. “Writing more of the practice case studies by hand would be the biggest change — helps you organize your thoughts better for the actual testing process.”