How Viola Erb helped build The Erb Group of Companies
An unsung hero some may say. Our late-founder’s life-long partner, Viola Erb, helped lay the strong foundations for how The Erb Group of Companies conducts itself through family-based values and played an integral role in business growth. If you didn’t know, the story goes…
After several years working in various trucking jobs, Vernon wanted his own dump truck. Vernon knew that he had Viola’s support, as they had talked about his dream of one day having a small fleet of trucks and running his own business. With Viola’s blessing, Vernon began looking for a new opportunity to turn his dream into reality. In June of 1959, the young couple sold their 1957 Chevy, bought an older, less expensive 1954 Chevy instead and used the remaining balance for a down payment on a used three-year-old 1956 S 180 dump truck.
After one week on the job with his new truck, Vernon realized it was not what he was anticipating. Unbeknownst
to Viola, Vernon took the dump truck back. Having only been married for six months at the time, Viola said: “I just cannot believe this!” She then reminded him that his father had assured her before they were married that the Erb’ were not quitters; to the contrary, they were strong-minded, hard-working people who completed whatever they set out to do. Viola told Vernon that she felt strongly about his ability to do the work and affirmed her husband that she would do the bookkeeping for him, which she ended up doing for 37 years until retiring.
In our Cool Moves anniversary book, Vernon shared, “That was probably the first time that she was quite stern with me and really rebuked me for what I did. She was really disappointed in me.” Had Viola not insisted back then, Vernon wonders where Erb Transport would be today. “I thank the Lord for that day. If that would not have occurred, I am sure there would not have been an Erb Transport,”
Another Cool Move slogan
Viola Erb had a habit of always looking at logos and slogans when travelling on the road. Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, she and Vernon were driving together, and she asked him: “Why don’t we have one?” Considering that the company specialized in hauling refrigerated goods, Viola thought that “Another Cool Move” would be the perfect slogan for Erb. Nothing happened for about two years.
Eventually, Vernon decided to take the idea and get the decals done. One day, the local membership chapter of MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Associates), to which Vernon and Viola belonged, was touring the New Hamburg terminal. Standing outside the building, Vernon, who was accompanied by Viola, was telling the group some of the history of Erb Transport when a tractor-trailer came driving out of the shop. To Viola’s great surprise, the trailer had the “Another Cool Move” slogan on it. Unbeknownst to Viola, Vernon had planned for this to happen. Since 1997, the slogan has been put on every single trailer since.
We reached out to a few of our past and present employees, asking them to share their fond memories of their time at The Erb Group while working with Viola. Gail Musselman, a Payroll Supervisor, recalled, “One of the reasons that I applied to work at their company (way back in 1978) was that I had heard that they operated their company based on Christian principles – integrity and respect for their employees.”
She continues, “It was Viola who hired me to answer the phone and then she asked me to take over payroll responsibilities from her in January of 1980. I am grateful to her for giving me that opportunity as I worked in payroll until I retired from the position of Payroll Supervisor in 2018.
Many individuals note, Viola was a strong businesswoman with an eye for detail and numbers. Balancing to the penny was Viola’s standard. Dave Dietrich, current VP of People and Culture, said, “Mrs. Erb was a very hard-working person who still cares about all of our team members. She honours and appreciates people’s loyalty, contributions and efforts for the company.”
Irene Holdbrook, our current VP of Finance, recalls “She was the complement to Mr. Erb. He was busy moving product, and she was busy running the admin and back-office operations, ensuring the continuity of the business.”
Floyd Gerber was hired as a driver in May 1968 and had the unbelievable good fortune to grow with the company until 2008, when he retired as VP of Human Resources. Today he is still involved with The Erb Group as a member of the Board of Directors. He recalls, “It wasn’t until much later in life that I began to realize the workload that Viola was able to manage. How she could do the freight billing, payroll, accounts receivable and payable, answer phone calls and take care of three young children all at the same time is amazing. Many sacrifices were made by both Vernon and Viola to allow the fledgling company to grow and prosper.
He continued, “Vernon often referred to the time when his first truck was not working out as well as he hoped, and he was ready to give up. Viola encouraged him to carry on and not give up. As a result, with a renewed effort, Erb Transport flourished.”
It’s safe to say, regardless of how or when you interacted with Viola Erb, she made a lasting impact. These days, Viola is surrounded by her wonderful family and friends. She may not be as physically involved with The Erb Group of Companies as much as she used to, but her heart and the foundation she built will always be rooted in the business for years to come.
Have you been positively impacted by Viola Erb? Please share your story in the comments below.