Perry Mandera is the CEO of The Custom Companies, Inc, a full service transportation company headquartered in Northlake Illinois and founded by Mandera in 1986. The Custom Companies uses a complete range of transportation options along with a personalized, hands-on approach to meet the shipping needs of its customers.
Perry Mandera has been recognized for a variety of awards over the course of his career, including being named one of the “Top 100 American Transportation Executives of the Millennium” by the Illinois Transportation Association. Before founding The Custom Companies, he served in the Marines as a motor pool driver. A volunteer to the US Military, his service introduced him to the world of transportation through his responsibilities safely shuttling troops and supplies across a variety of geography. After his time in the Armed Forces, Perry served as the Republican Ward Committeeman for the 26th ward in Chicago. At the time of his term, 1984 – 1988, he was the youngest person to hold the office.
Through the creation of Custom Cares Charities, Perry Mandera supports a variety of philanthropic efforts. With many of his charitable pursuits focused on making a difference in the lives of children, the charity has worked to provide material donations, transportation, and financial support to children and families from the greater Chicago community who are in need of help. Another focus of Perry’s philanthropy has been the donation of transportation services to relief efforts in the wake of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and California Wild Fires.
Who are some of your biggest influences in life?
I get a lot of value from listening to motivational speakers. People that focus on helping others reach their fullest potential. Two that come to mind are Anthony Robbins and Joel Osteen. There’s a lot to be gained from positive, intentional thinking. Sometimes we surprise ourselves when we see what we’re capable of.
What’s something everyone should do more often?
Show gratitude! Please, thank you, compliments. They’re incredibly important. You’re only as good as the people around you and you don’t get good people around you without showing gratitude.
What’s one thing a CEO can do to make their team more productive?
Strive for perfection. It seems counterintuitive since it takes extra time to do things right, but we’ve found that employees end up spending almost 30% of their time fixing their coworkers’ mistakes when people are being careless. Doing it right the first time takes a bit more time up front but saves a ton of time on the backend.
What’s your working relationship like with your management team?
I’m lucky to have some great folks at the company that have been with me for decades. Those are the people I’ll go to when I need to test an idea or solve a problem. We’ll just sit down and hash it out until we come to the right solution. My managers and employees are an invaluable resource.
Which parts of your daily routine most contribute to your success?
Relationships and communication are important, so I always try to make my meals productive by eating with someone. Sometimes that’s an employee, sometimes that’s a vendor. We’ll cover work topics like status updates as well as expectations and the like. I also entertain clients about four times a week. This can be a show, sporting event, you name it. It helps build trust.
I also use technology to help with communication as well. You wouldn’t believe how many minutes a month I spend on my phone. In any given day I write about 300 emails, just for business. Again, communication is the key.
What’s the next big thing in the transportation industry?
Technology. That’s a broad statement but things change so fast these days that new ideas can come from practically anywhere. Technology has changed the way the industry works. Makes it so every day is different, which is one of the things that keeps me excited about work every day.
What’s your favorite technology that your company uses these days?
We actually create a lot of our software in-house. What’s great about that is we have total control over how it’s built, which allows us to tailor our technological capability toward our customers’ needs.
What’s your advice for young business owners who are just starting out?
Don’t be impulsive. The more you listen, the more you learn. It’s easy to think you know everything when you’re just starting out, I’ve been there. But if you take a step back and really listen to experience before you take an action, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches.
What’s your attitude towards risk in business?
Risk is a necessary part of business, like any part of life, but it’s important to focus on strategic risks. If you’re taking risks without considering the consequences, you’re destined to fail. But if you’re being too conservative, you’ll never grow. You have to find the balance.
Any notable failures from your business life you can share with us?
Failure’s a part of doing business, so I’ve had my share. The important thing, again, is to learn and grow from the experience. A failure that stands out is a particularly bad investment we made in a company that promised a lot more than it could deliver. We learned a lot from the experience, like the value of fully evaluated an option before you dive in. But we still retained a lot of benefits from the deal, even after it went south. The important thing is to take whatever positives you can and move on.
What’s something small you like to spend money on?
I like to buy dinner for veterans when I see them in a restaurant. It’s a good way to show we appreciate their service. It’s a small thing, but it makes their day. Anytime you can do that for someone, it’s a win.
You served in the Marines, can you share some memories from that time?
I did a lot of work transporting troops and supplies. I thought that was really interesting because you’re constantly meeting people from so many different parts of life. You build a lot of close relationships, experience a wide range of emotions too. The camaraderie of serving in the military is hard to find elsewhere. You’re all in it together. Those guys are really special to me.
Do you have a good book recommendation for us?
Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. It’s about learning the life lessons of a man who’s passing away with cancer. It’s really touching and gives you a larger perspective on what’s important in life. It’s always good to stop and see the bigger picture when you can.
Can you tell us a bit about your charitable work?
That’s a big one for me. I really prioritize helping people in need. I figure God’s given me an opportunity to help people, so it’s important for me to do so. I really try to do what I can for people from all walks of life, but I especially focus my efforts on children. Sometimes that means financial efforts, sometimes it’s service donations. Kids can be in situations where they need help paying for school or clothing. Maybe their family needs assistance. All of that’s important to help out with where you can.
I also run a program around the holidays where we ask our employees to highlight people that they’ve identified as in need of help. That way we can bring a little holiday joy to their lives. The holidays can be a stressful time of year, I like to take away some of that stress if possible.