Corporate 100 Special Section
Span Alaska Delivers
By Tasha Anderson

pan Alaska ranked Gold as a Quest for Quality Regional LTL Carrier in 2020; that ranking is based on customer service, on-time performance, value, information technology, and equipment and operations. The Gold ranking reflects Span Alaska’s mission, which is to ensure its customers receive the highest level of service and reliability when shipping their goods to, from, and within Alaska.

And while the pandemic changed a lot of things, it didn’t change that.

“We are very proud to serve the state of Alaska for more than forty years, and we understand our responsibility as a transportation lifeline of food and essential supplies throughout this crisis,” says Span Alaska President Tom Souply.

Span Alaska
Span Alaska truck with worker walking towards
“We have had no disruptions or slowdowns during the COVID pandemic—and that is a testament to our employees who understand this responsibility, who care about what they do every day, taking care of our customers and those communities.”
Early in the pandemic, companies that adapted quickly and efficiently were the same companies that focused on communication at all levels, and Span Alaska was no exception. In addition to ramping up utilization of Zoom and maintaining other, established forums such as newsletters, quarterly updates, and town halls, “We realized we needed a quick way to communicate to our employees if our operations are affected by emergency stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. We implemented an alert system that sends messages by text, email, voicemail—or all three—to any or all employees within two minutes,” Souply says.

Along with such alerts, Souply now participates in virtual meetings throughout the day to maintain lines of communication across the organization. He meets on Zoom daily with the Span Alaska executive team: “There are five people that get on the call each morning, and we review all protocols that are required and mandated by the CDC and by the states to make sure that we’re in line with those protocols.

“We also go through—on every call—talking about any employee who has reported an illness, trying to understand what their symptoms are, and making sure that we manage that appropriately. We err on the side of caution and, in many cases, have had employees stay home, get tested, and then determine what the next steps are. We work with those employees and their families until they’re able to come back.”

The executive team is especially vigilant because the nature of Span Alaska’s work prevents many employees from working remotely; as of yet, containers don’t get loaded and unloaded by robots, and trucks don’t drive themselves. However, as of publication, many Span Alaska office employees are working from home in accordance with various city, state, and federal guidelines. “We’ve got an amazing IT team that has enabled us to get everybody booted up in their home and be effective working from home,” Souply says.

He says Span Alaska is looking forward to having all of its employees back in the office. “Our goal is to continue to be as safe as possible, and we will follow all of the required protocols until the pandemic ends.”

Of course, a focus on safety didn’t start for Span Alaska in the spring of 2020. As Souply puts it: “Our first priority is the safety of our people, from the front desk to the loading dock to the drivers and mechanics.”

Exactly what “safe” means has certainly evolved, and that rather abrupt evolution forced many companies to test their adaptability. “We’ve learned that we can be nimble when we need to be nimble,” Souply says. “And we have become very nimble at changing and adapting to the environment.”

Adjust and Expand
Outside of its safety protocols, Span Alaska is evolving and expanding in several ways that benefit its customers. In 2019, the transportation provider completed its new flagship facility, the Anchorage Service Center. “It’s a state-of-the-art building and was the largest private construction project in Alaska at the time,” Souply says. Centrally located in the commercial section of Anchorage, Souply says it also streamlines and accelerates Span Alaska operations.

And the Anchorage Service Center set the company up for another exciting development: Span Alaska has launched a new service for chilled and frozen commodities. “Now that we’ve built the new Anchorage facility, we have the capacity and infrastructure to enable us to provide cold chain logistics for our customers,” Souply says.

“We have several customers that are moving both ambient freight (meaning it does not need to travel at a specific temperature) and temperature-control freight. They have clamored for this because they want to use a single-source transportation provider. We listened to them.”

Managing a cold chain service isn’t as straightforward as managing ambient commodities: it requires additional infrastructure and temperature-controlled delivery trucks. Span Alaska also programmed its tracking system to identify and mark chill or frozen shipments, which enable constant monitoring throughout the journey.

To further improve efficiency, the dual temperature-controlled delivery trucks carry chilled or frozen shipments or a combination of the two. “We load both types and monitor temperatures in each zone,” Souply says.

“The chain of custody is critical when you’re dealing with food, medicine, and other perishable products, and that means that from the time we receive freight at our loading facility near the Port of Tacoma, we monitor its temperature to ensure it’s maintained in the correct cold zone,” he explains. Span Alaska documents the freight’s temperature when it’s received, as it travels, and all the way to delivery at the customer’s facility.

The Anchorage Service Center was purpose-built to improve customer experience, streamline freight handling, and enable faster delivery of cargo to its final destination.

Span Alaska

a look inside Anchorage Service Center with workers and products
The Anchorage Service Center was purpose-built to improve customer experience, streamline freight handling, and enable faster delivery of cargo to its final destination.

Span Alaska

“It’s critical the ‘chain of custody’ of this freight is secure and documented… so we have provided additional training to our employees,” he adds. Employees were trained on various protocols, including the importance of keeping food-grade freight at temperature and how to stow it safely as it’s transported.
Employees and Community
A cold chain service—or any logistics service—is impossible without all employees working to ensure freight is moved safely and efficiently; and it highlights how critical every employee is to Span Alaska’s operations, a fact that certainly doesn’t escape the attention of the company’s executive team.

“Recognition is a big part of the [parent company] Matson and Span Alaska corporate culture,” Souply says. “The highest employee honor is the Presidential Award, which is given to just a few employees each year for their exceptional service.” In addition to employee of the year and employee of the month awards that recognize stellar achievements, Span Alaska has a program called Span Bucks, which gives employees monetary rewards for exceptional work that can be used in the company store.

And the company also facilitates employees recognizing and honoring each other. “This includes an online program in which employees give points to other employees to be redeemed for gifts. And if an employee wants to quickly recognize another employee, we have the Mahalo Award, which means ‘thank you’ in Hawaiian. It’s a $25 gift card that is given without the need for manager approval,” Souply explains.

Enabling employees to support each other fits within Souply’s vision of leadership. “I view all 200-plus employees as leaders,” he says. ”We do not micromanage; it’s my role to help provide our team with the resources, tools, and technology that will allow them to meet our customer’s expectations and company goals.

Despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented, Span Alaska had no slow downs or disruptions during the pandemic.

Span Alaska

Span Alaska truck on highway with skyline in the background
Despite the challenges COVID-19 has presented, Span Alaska had no slow downs or disruptions during the pandemic.

Span Alaska

“It’s all about empowerment,” he continues. “We believe our managers should have the autonomy to lead their operations. They, in turn, give employees the freedom to do their jobs, meet internal expectations, and fulfill customer needs.”

This is part of a larger company culture that Souply says is inclusive, fosters camaraderie, and respects diversity. “The direction to the leadership team is simple—promote a work environment that motivates each employee always to bring his or her highest effort.”

And that culture expands beyond Span Alaska. “Our culture was a perfect match for Matson when we were acquired in 2016. Matson, based in Hawaii, fosters a culture of Ohana—the Hawaiian word for family. Not just within the organization, but in the communities we serve,” Souply says.

Through the pandemic, Matson and Span Alaska committed $500,000 in cash and aid to food banks located where the companies operate. And in November, Matson announced a $5 million donation extending through 2023 to food banks in Alaska, Hawaii, and Guam to continue supporting those communities as the effects of the pandemic linger.

Souply says, “Since our start in 1978, Span Alaska has been blessed with great customers and very loyal employees. We work hard each day to earn our customers’ trust and find ways to grow our loyalty with our employees.

“It’s a complex operation to coordinate thousands of shipments a week that are moving by ocean and truck that can deliver to virtually any address in Alaska, whether in Anchorage or the most remote communities, like Utqiaġvik. Our team of experts welcomes this challenge every day.”