Mark G. Gardner, CEO and founder of Avatar Management Services (Avatar), joined Safety FM host Jay Allen, PhD to discuss Mark’s journey to a career in safety, Avatar and AvatarFleet’s unique approaches to making the world a safer place, and Mark’s quest for understanding why people have accidents.
Safety FM is changing the way people look at safety. Mark has dedicated his long and successful career to the same goal. Read the recap of the conversation below.
Why Choose a Career in Safety?
Jay Allen starts the podcast with one important question: why safety? Like everything with Mark G. Gardner, it’s an interesting story. At the age of 32, Mark was running one of the largest freight terminals in the country. Corporate shake-ups led him to a new position as the VP of Safety. Or, from his point of view at the time, a demotion to head of safety.
If you know anything about trucking in the 80’s, you know why this new role felt like a punishment. The industry, at the time, thought very little of safety. Mark’s tune changed when he saw what an opportunity they had with over 16,000 drivers. The company was spending over $38 million a year on losses. They had 1,800 open workers-compensation claims and 350 employees on total temporary disability. Worst of all, they killed 28 people the year before. With a little bit of creativity, they had nowhere to go but up.
Why Do People Have Accidents?
Mark and his team got to work on moving these numbers, and they came to an interesting conclusion. Safety is not about rules, regulations, or compliance. Safety is about behavior. Accidents happen when people make mistakes or when they make a bad choice and choose short-term reward over long-term health and well-being. And, if that’s true, then it should be possible to educate and train people to behave in safer ways. Sure enough, they created successful safety campaigns and began moving the needle. Everything Avatar and Avatar Fleet have done for the transportation industry has been based on this approach to safety.
A New Career Becomes a Lifelong Passion
Mark’s entire perspective of safety had changed. What seemed like a demotion was now an exciting new opportunity. He was reporting directly to the President, receiving accolades, and consistently improving the safety numbers at his company. How did his excitement turn into a life-long passion, though? It goes back to, oddly enough, an accident.
Four or five years after accepting his new position in the safety department, Mark had started the company that would become Avatar. Driving to pay his electric deposit, he came over a hill going 45 miles per hour on a two-lane road with a double yellow line. At the top of the hill he came face to face with a grey Cougar going 80 miles per hour in his lane. He swerved as quickly as he could, but the Cougar clipped his back end, sending him into a head-on collision with a dump truck.
One hour later, EMS managed to cut him out of the car and life-flight him to the hospital. He had broken dozens of broken bones, a crushed lung, and was given a one percent chance to live. Miraculously, he defied the odds, and this got him thinking. He wondered if there was a reason he lived. As he shared on Safety FM, he decided his purpose in life was to make the world a safer place with the years that he had left.
What Has Mark Done to Make the World Safer?
In the years after the accident, Avatar would go on to create custom-branded training solutions for some of the largest transportation companies in the world. They worked with the likes of Laidlaw, American Medical Response, Greyhound Lines, and Baker Hughes. As a result of the safety and defensive driving training that Avatar created for them, each company saw major drops in losses, accidents, and deadly collisions. Mark’s goal of making the world a safer place was coming to fruition.
Avatar was created, in Mark’s words, “to serve the big dogs who could afford custom-branded training.” Mark, however, was not satisfied with this opportunity. He subsequently created five more companies to serve the safety needs of various transportation markets: School Bus Safety Company to serve school bus districts, Taptco for transit and paratransit companies, Public Service Safety for governmental fleets and municipal workers, Avesta for EMS and medical transportation, and, Avatar Fleet for trucking markets. This way, people all over the world would be safer because of Mark, and they wouldn’t even know it.
What Is Mark Doing Now to Make the World Safer?
Many years ago, Mark created LLLC: The Four Principles to Driving Safely. These easy-to-memorize principles teach drivers everything they need to know about avoiding vehicular accidents. Best of all, drivers learn them quicker than any other defensive driving system. Until recently, the only way to teach your drivers these principles was to have Avatar create custom-branded training materials for you. Now, Avatar and Avatar Fleet offer LLLC Instructor and Driver Certification at a subscription based on fleet size. This allows companies both large and small to utilize the world’s simplest and most effective defensive driving system to date.
The day that Mark crested a hill and came face to face with a grey Cougar in his lane changed the course of his life forever. In fact, it changed many lives. Mark’s dedication to making the world a safer place has led to the development of outcome-based training for hundreds of companies, millions of drivers, and countless people sharing the roads with them. Now, with LLLC Certification, he’s determined to share it with even more.