The 2016 Truck Fleet Innovators

Meet some of trucking’s best and brightest leaders.

March 2016, - Cover Story

by Deborah Lockridge and David Cullen

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In this article, you’ll meet four outstanding examples of forward-thinking leaders in the trucking business, as we introduce the 2016 HDT Truck Fleet Innovators.

Each year, Heavy Duty Trucking’s editors sift through nominations from the industry, consider the fleet executives they have come into contact with throughout the year, and from there single out three to six fleet executives who have consistently shown innovation and leadership in one or more areas of the trucking business.

This year’s honorees, from fleets both large and small, are leading the way in areas such as driver recruiting and retention, pushing the envelope on fuel efficiency, using data analysis to drive out waste in equipment and maintenance, and more:

  • Joyce Brenny, president and CEO, Brenny Transport and Brenny Specialized, St. Cloud, Minn.
  • Randy McGregor, fleet manager, Transway Inc., Holland, Mich.
  • Gerald “Gerry” Mead, senior VP of maintenance, U.S. Xpress, Chattanooga, Tenn.
  • John Sliter, president and COO, V3 Transportation, Brunswick, Ohio

The four 2016 Truck Fleet Innovators will be honored during the MATS Fleet Forum immediately preceding the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., on March 30. Following an awards ceremony, they will participate in a panel discussion, moderated by HDT Equipment Editor Jim Park, to share more about their accomplishments and goals and discuss industry issues.

In the driver’s seat

Joyce Brenny, president and CEO Brenny Transportation/Brenny Specialized. St. Cloud, Minn.
Joyce Brenny, president and CEO Brenny Transportation/Brenny Specialized. St. Cloud, Minn.

Joyce Brenny is not one to take the easy way out— not when she can find the smarter way to go. Now coming up on 30 years in the driver’s seat of her own business, she got her career in gear right out of high school by climbing into the driver’s seat of a rig owned by a local Minnesota fleet.

Brenny drove over the road for four years before taking an office job with a larger carrier. Over the next 12 years, she learned trucking from the inside out, working for several carriers in administrative, dispatching, billing and sales posts, eventually being named general manager of her last employer. Six years after taking on that positon, in 1996, she launched her first eponymous company, which started out as a brokerage and has grown into a global third party logistics and warehousing provider. A year later, she opened up asset-based Brenny Specialized, which hauls van, flat and oversize loads in 49 states and Canada,

Brenny Specialized now runs 50 company tractors and 100 trailers. It boasts 10% driver turnover rate (or, as Brenny describes it, “90% driver retention”). That enviable figure results in great measure from her contention that drivers are the backbone of trucking — not to mention, that the road to success can be paved with good intentions.

As Brenny explains it, both she and her husband, Todd Brenny, the company’s CFO and a former truck driver as well, spent years in trucking gaining valuable experience but “rarely under positive circumstances.”  She launched her own operation to show that “delivering ‘grand champion’ customer service in an honest and ethical manner can lead to success.” Brenny says her business has grown because of a “superior respect for customers’ needs as well as by honoring the hard work and dedication of our team members.”

Whether working with veteran drivers or those under age 21, Joyce Brenny strives to succeed by respecting them first and foremost.
Whether working with veteran drivers or those under age 21, Joyce Brenny strives to succeed by respecting them first and foremost.

Indeed, Brenny’s drivers are never more than a click away from knowing how highly they’re regarded by their employer. On the company’s website, each driver is listed by name and date of hire with a link to a photo of each.

Looking back to her days behind the wheel, Brenny knows that drivers who feel appreciated and respected by their employer tend to perform more safely and efficiently and are more likely to stay on. “Trucking has a retention problem due to drivers being treated not like people but like machines,” she says. “There’s no easy way to keep drivers. You have to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work with the drivers. You have to take the time to get to know them, to mentor and retrain them along the way.”

Brenny says “money may get them in the door, but it does not keep them. Building relationships with a purpose to serve others does. That’s why I stand as a voice for the truck driver in everything we do.”

Backing up Brenny’s words is a long list of benefits for company drivers, including monthly cell-phone allowance; quarterly safety and fuel bonuses; profit sharing; health, dental, disability and life insurance coverage; 401k with 2% company match; vacation pay; holiday pay (even if on the road); $100 tobacco-free bonus and $100 a year “longevity bonus.” And they are assured they will be assigned “no cookie cutter fleet trucks.”

And the 10 owner-operators leased to the fleet are dialed into the quarterly safety bonus and $25 versions of the tobacco-free and longevity bonuses. They are also offered short-term disability and promised 75% of gross and 100% fuel surcharge, among other perks. All drivers are told they will be home on weekends “90+%” of the time; that 70% of outbound freight will be preloaded (at no charge); settlements are weekly, and that there is an open-door policy as “Brenny wants to hear what our drivers have to say.”

Of course, pay matters, too. Brenny reports that in 2015, the average company driver made 50 cents per mile with benefits and bonuses. The company tells drivers that “Big cpm means nothing without miles” and points out that “Brenny drivers average 2,500 to 3,000 miles a week… ‘We don’t go there’ is not in our vocabulary… It’s the reason why our drivers make the most money in the industry.” Company drivers also get flatbed tarp, stop and pad-wrap (per stop) pay as well as hourly detention pay after the first hour. They also receive extra pay for loaded Canadian crossings, New York City runs and over-dimensional hauls.

According to CEO Brenny, the average company driver made 50 cents per mile with benefits and bonuses last year. They also receive extra pay for loaded Canadian crossings, New York City runs and over-dimensional hauls.
According to CEO Brenny, the average company driver made 50 cents per mile with benefits and bonuses last year. They also receive extra pay for loaded Canadian crossings, New York City runs and over-dimensional hauls.

Looking ahead to who’ll be driving the company’s trucks in the future, Brenny  has developed and launched a progressive training/mentoring program for 18- to 20-year olds designed to “graduate” them as interstate truck drivers at age 21. She says that, thanks to the fleet’s incredibly low churn rate and exceptional safety record, her insurance carrier was receptive to the idea. Of the fleet’s 50 drivers, two also serve as mentors to the younger drivers. And 10 of Brenny’s current drivers came onboard through the young-driver program, which has been formally under way for about five years. “It’s about finding the right person and spending time with them. Our training is graduated and mentor-oriented. It works because we have enough local work for younger drivers” while they learn their profession.

The strategy rests on hiring young drivers who hold a commercial learner’s permit and deploying what Brenny terms the “skill theory of development.” It also reflects what today’s young adults uniquely expect in the workplace. “We’ve embraced the Millennials here,” she says. “They want to be trained and rewarded but also to have their boundaries respected — that’s their safety net. Our training is very detailed so they develop the confidence they need to perform fully. We don’t just drop them into the ‘real world’ of trucking.”

Each under-21 driver goes through 17 weeks of classroom training on everything from safety matters to the company’s culture. Then each is paired with a driver-mentor for intrastate runs in Minnesota. “After they start driving, within three to six months they’re running on their own while checking in daily with their mentor and recapping with the weekly,” says Brenny. Once they turn 21, they get in an interstate truck with a mentor for roughly four weeks. After that first month, they get assigned their own truck and are paired with another truck on the same routes in the same region for another month or two, based on the mentor’s report on their progress. “So, by the time they’re 21 and a half, they’ve been successfully eased into the business of driving long haul.”

Brenny notes that she’s been working through her board position with the Minnesota Trucking Association and vice chairmanship of their Younger Driver Project “to bring our under-21 research to where it is now being accepted by the American Transportation Research Institute.”


  1. 1. Jack Underwood [ March 16, 2016 @ 08:35AM ]

    Deborah and David,
    Thank you for sharing your research on these industry leaders in innovation. More forward thinking by key people in the world of trucking will continue to move the industry and thus the U.S. economy forward. Keep up the great work!
    Jack Underwood

  2. 2. William [ August 23, 2017 @ 07:06AM ]

    Gerry cut the maintenance department in half and quadrupled the driver call time. Great job!


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