Growing up in the Philippines, Almira Torralba Baker heard her late father, a high-powered bank executive at the time, tell countless stories about the brilliant attorneys who helped him make key business decisions.
“I was a daddy’s girl,” Baker says. “His stories stuck with me.”
Now general counsel at Roadmaster Group, an affiliated group of specialized transportation companies serving the high-security market, Baker leads an initiative to improve the company’s culture. As much as her father’s admiration for attorneys inspired her career choice, she also says she found inspiration in the fifteen years she lived in the Philippines before her family moved to New Jersey.
“Even though we had a nice life, there just weren’t the same opportunities you have here,” she says. “It gave me an appreciation for our justice system, for example, that’s easy for people to take for granted.”
In her current role as general counsel, Baker handles risk management, human resources and corporate governance for Roadmaster.
“Along with the executive team, Almira has led our company to phenomenal growth over the past eight years, increasing sales by over five times in that period,” notes Roadmaster CEO John C. Wilbur, Jr. “She has been instrumental in ensuring that the appropriate structure was in place to facilitate growth and views every decision we make from the perspective of how it will impact our staff and our culture.”
As the company grows, Baker continually works to shift the culture, making it more open and collaborative. “An HR strategy that works for a small company doesn’t necessarily work for a large company,” she notes. “When you have an empowered workforce that feels valued, you have less turnover and you’re able to deal with issues before they become bigger problems.”
The shift began in 2011, when Roadmaster officially formed as a means of merging several large transportation firms. “Before, people at the different companies didn’t necessarily feel they could raise their hand or ask questions,” Baker says. “When we combined the companies, we had to take into account the different culture that each company brought to the table. We spent a lot of time listening to people’s concerns and allowing them to buy into the decisions we were making for the company as a whole.”
Baker, a graduate of Wellesley College and Notre Dame Law School, believes even small shifts in culture can trickle down to every department within an organization. For instance, when the Roadmaster logo evolved to include “the right way,” she noticed a dramatic decrease in the number of complaints filed by former employees against the company.
Nevertheless, Roadmaster’s HR goals involve much grander plans than updating a logo. Just recently, the company instituted a bonus-incentive plan for all support-staff members that makes virtually all full-time employees eligible for a quarterly bonus, based on targets set by the company. This plan fosters an environment wherein all employees are moving in the same direction.
“We believe everyone is contributing to the company’s success, and this has been a huge boost for morale,” she says.
With Baker’s guidance, in 2012, Roadmaster also updated the payment model for the company’s drivers to a guaranteed salary. “Most of the industry pays drivers by the mile, which we didn’t feel aligns with our culture of safety,” Baker explains, noting that Roadmaster’s drivers are 36 percent female, compared to recent reports that the industry average for female drivers is below 7 percent. “We want drivers to feel we value their work. Since we changed the payment structure, many drivers have been able to buy homes because they have a steady, reliable income.”
Baker and her HR team will unveil new compliance software in spring 2019 that includes classes for professional development. “Some managers feel they currently don’t get much support on how to communicate with employees or how to steer employees toward reaching their potential,” Baker says. “This software will hopefully allow us to provide additional support.”
One of her many goals is also to normalize discomfort in the workplace, for she believes this is necessary for growth. “As a manager, you need to understand that giving feedback is a vulnerable situation for both the person receiving the feedback and the person giving it,” Baker says. “As in-house counsel, I’ve entrenched myself in the business. I never want to be a barrier, so I always take time to understand what my colleagues are trying to accomplish and provide advice on how they can reach their goals within legal parameters.”