Fleet Management

Commentary: Why Innovation's More Important Than Ever

May 2017, TruckingInfo.com - Editorial

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor-in-Chief - Also by this author

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Deborah Lockridge
Deborah Lockridge

When we started our HDT Truck Fleet Innovators program in 2006, the inaugural group was a veritable who’s who of companies that were founded or came into their own after the deregulation of 1980: CFI’s Glenn Brown, Heartland’s Russ Gerdin, Crete Carrier’s Duane Acklie, Swift’s Jerry Moyes, Schneider National’s Don Schneider, New Century Transportation’s Harry Muhlschlegel, and U.S. Xpress’ Max Fuller and Pat Quinn.

As I once again sat in U.S. Xpress headquarters in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last month interviewing the offspring of Fuller and Quinn, the new leaders of the company, I couldn’t help but reflect on the changes we’ve seen. Gerdin, Acklie, Quinn and Schneider have all passed away. New Century went out of business, and CFI has been sold three times in the intervening years. Moyes recently stepped down at Swift, which now has joined forces with Knight (a later Truck Fleet Innovator, by the way) to form a mega-carrier. Schneider National (now just Schneider) has gone public.

And Max Fuller is still executive chairman at U.S. Xpress, but his son Eric Fuller is now CEO, and Pat Quinn’s daughter, Lisa Quinn Pate (an attorney like her late father), is president and chief administrative officer. Max has stepped back to let Eric and Lisa run the day-to-day operations of the company.

Eric and Lisa, of course, are not Max and Pat. And in what looks to be a wise move, they’ve gone through a five-year transition period of reinventing the management team in a way they believe will better fit the company and the industry as they are today — and prepare for what they will be in the future.

The two are just as innovative in their way as their fathers. This year, HR.com named the company’s Xpress Elite program the top corporate leadership program in its Leadership Excellence and Development (LEAD) awards. The two-year program beat out organizations such as Amazon, Dell, FedEx and even NASA. It rotates candidates for top management roles, including many recruited from other industries, through each part of the company, with mentoring and coaching and feedback along the way.

“We want the best people for the job in that seat,” Lisa explains. “That may be internal, or that may be external.”

So what’s Max doing now? He’s still there to mentor Eric and Lisa, of course. He’s still driving a push toward the latest equipment, working with Senior VP of Maintenance Gerry Mead (another HDT Truck Fleet Innovator) to spec things like air disc brakes, the latest collision mitigation systems, or even the simple step of using brake and turn signals at the top back of trailers instead of the required marker lights.

And one management role Max says U.S. Xpress hasn’t been able to fill yet is one that he doesn’t have a title for, but it’s basically a futurist — someone to try to stay on top of all the new technology emerging that will affect trucking, from autonomous trucks and “Uber for trucking” apps to alternative powertrains (like the Nikola hydrogen-electric prototype unveiled with much fanfare last fall emblazoned with the U.S. Xpress logo).

It’s an important job because never have we seen so many potentially paradigm-changing developments coming at the industry so quickly. If you rolled up the advent of the Interstate Highway System and the diesel engine together with deregulation, you might come close.

But not every fleet can have its own futurist, its own Max Fuller. That’s why this month we’ve launched a new department, called Future Fleet. Senior Editor Jack Roberts will spearhead this effort, with contributions from the entire HDT editorial team. He’ll not only keep you informed on the latest news on the trucking technology front, from advanced driver assist systems to artificial intelligence and big data, but also will try to provide insight on what’s most likely to affect your operations – and how you can not only prepare for it, but take advantage of it to benefit your business. 

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