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Trucking, historically, has often been something of a seat-of-the-pants business, with businesses guided by instinct, experience, and hard work. People who had worked in it a long time learned what worked and what didn’t, and passed that knowledge along to younger generations.

But today’s young trucking professionals are taking a more data-driven, consistent process approach to making their companies more successful, and that’s very apparent with this year’s HDT Emerging Leaders.

To qualify for this award, Emerging Leaders must be under 40 years of age and work for a for-hire, private, government, or vocational fleet. The award nomination is open to those employed in any aspect of a fleet’s business, whether management, maintenance, operations, marketing, safety, IT, training, or elsewhere. 

We look for young professionals who are influential, innovative, and successful, who can point to outstanding accomplishments and leadership qualities, and who have a passion for the trucking industry.

This year’s class of Emerging Leaders are showing how data analytics and implementing consistent processes can drive improvement throughout the company. That may mean bringing more visibility into preventive maintenance scheduling in the shop, more real-time insight into how departments are performing compared to goals and budgets, analyzing the profitability of specific routes and customers, developing step-by-step best maintenance practices, creating a workflow for breakdown teams that brings data from many sources into a single easy-to-use app, improving driver safety with real data from how drivers perform on the road, gaining granularity into payroll, or streamlining the recruiting process.

At the same time, they emphasize the importance of people. When implementing more data-driven approaches and automating processes, they say, the people on the front lines using that data to make decisions and using those workflows must be involved. Data must be understandable and actionable to those using it. 

Workflows must truly make the job easier, not more complicated. There’s an emphasis on getting the right people into the right positions, creating better corporate cultures, and on technician and driver recruiting and training. 

When asked about their top challenges for 2021 and beyond, every honoree cited the need to attract new people to their companies and to the industry, especially technicians and drivers – and to keep them happy.

In the following, you’ll meet this year’s five Emerging Leaders, presented in alphabetical order.

Using Data to Create a Comprehensive Maintenance Program

Michael Glover

  • Senior Director
  • Pacific Gas & Electric Company
  • San Francisco, California
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Glover is responsible for operations and strategic planning for PG&E’s 15,500+ fleet assets, from light-duty to Class 8 vehicles and construction equipment. PG&E’s Transportation Services maintains 63 service locations over 70,000 square miles throughout northern and central California.

He joined PG&E in 2008 and has worked his way up through various roles and increased levels of responsibility. In 2016 he was promoted to the director of transportation business operations, and in April was promoted to senior director of transportation services. 

One of Glover’s current focuses is the technician shortage. “We’ve been focusing a lot of time and effort on recruiting,” he says. “We’ve been working on building an internal training program,” because PG&E has a lot of specialized equipment that may challenge even journeymen-level techs.

He’s also updating the fleet’s telematics system and using the information it can provide to drive a more efficient maintenance program, along with driver monitoring and coaching. Asset tracking can save time for technicians trying to track down a piece of equipment, and the diagnostics information can help them more effectively deal with breakdowns. Data on utilization also can help inform maintenance practices and scheduling as well as replacement cycles. 

Asked about his biggest success, Glover said he and his team are expanding data and analytic capabilities to create a comprehensive preventive maintenance program.

“We’ve been really swamped with a lot of data, from the telematics systems, from the vehicles themselves, the fleet management systems, and we’ve really pulled together a lot of that information using business intelligence platforms to start making data more meaningful and actionable.” 

Looking ahead to 2021, Glover said, “We’ve got to double down on the right training, the right tooling, the right diagnostics, to make sure we can be utilizing our resources as efficiently as possible.” In addition, he said, “2021 and 2022 are the gearing up and test years for our ability to scale up on meeting our electrification commitments.” 

PG&E has made commitments to electrify 100% of its light-duty fleet, 10% of its medium-duty fleet and 5% of its heavy-duty fleet by 2030. “There will be a lot of planning and collaboration needed with real estate teams, engineering teams, and partnerships with our OEMs to get a real grip on what the product availability will look like through the end of the decade.”

Improving Processes and Efficiency

T.J. Hunt

  • Senior Director of Operations
  • Navajo Express
  • Denver, Colorado
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Since Hunt started working with Navajo just over a year ago, the company has seen a reduction in deadhead, more miles per truck per week, more revenue per truck per week, an increase in load count, and a reduction in Navajo’s operating ratio and an increase in overall revenue. His attention to details and analytics has drastically improved the company’s network efficiency.

Hunt says he learned a lot about being a detail-oriented carrier in 12 years with what was then CFI. He had moved on and was working at a leasing company when CFI’s former president, Tim Staroba, convinced Hunt to join him at Navajo.

Hunt has focused on implementing processes and breaking down silos in order to get repeatable results. By doing that, he said, his vision is to be able to scale that and grow the company, without losing the things that make it Navajo, such as driver relationships.

The key is data analytics. He used analytics to examine Navajo’s many different divisions, then eliminated some of the pieces that weren’t meeting revenue goals and combined others into more successful divisions. “Being true to who we are as a carrier and not trying to be all things to all customers.”

He has worked to make sure employees are able to get actionable data that matters to them, “not just data on the wall that looks really cool.”

“My big philosophy is, I don’t have to hoard all the info to make me more valuable. My job is to teach my folks everything I know.”

Looking ahead to 2021, Hunt said, “Like most everybody else, all these awesome things are restricted by drivers,” and capacity right now is extremely tight. “I can’t think of a time in my career when it’s been this busy for this long. I have more freight today than I know what to do with.” He says driver retention is well within his wheelhouse from his experience at CFI, but it will take time to apply lessons learned there to a different type of operation. “I’ve just not figured out the combination here yet.”

Focusing on Consistency to Drive Uptime

Charles Lloyd

  • Maintenance Manager
  • Paul Transportation
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
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Lloyd grew up accompanying his father on his truck parts routes, then worked at the same company rebuilding transmissions and differentials to help put himself through college to earn a management degree. 

He worked for Cummins for more than four years in the warranty department. “We processed all the catastrophic engine failures and major claims, and that gave me a lot of technical knowledge.” He then worked for Rush Truck Centers for more than seven years. He brings valuable insights from those experiences to his new role as a fleet maintenance professional. 

Director of Maintenance Bruce Stockton recruited him, Lloyd said, “to bring a different way of thinking. I’ve managed technicians for eight years; you have a different sense of urgency when you’re running a dealership shop, and he wanted me to bring that to the table, improving throughput so we can minimize downtime and keep trucks out of the dealership.”

That said, however, “it’s good for me to realize how it works in the dealership isn’t necessarily how it works here. Your paradigm should always be shifting, you should always be looking for new ways to do things, better ways to keep your employees happy, better ways to keep your equipment up and running for cheaper. We found a happy medium amongst each other to where I’m comfortable with how hard they’re working, and they’re comfortable with the intensity that I bring.”

Lloyd also brings a lot of technical knowledge to the table. He’s been doing a lot of one-on-one coaching, “getting my hands dirty, saying, ‘Here are some shortcuts to do it faster.’ There are days my dress pants are all dirty by the time I get back to my office.”

He’s looking to create more consistent processes in the company’s maintenance program and also fostering a more proactive approach. “Helping people see that what they do matters and that they can cut costs – they can be an element of change of an element of waste.”

Looking to 2021, Lloyd said he’s working to build a stronger team even in a time of uncertainty. “There’s a lot of things that are out of our control, but let’s focus on what’s within our control.” For instance, improving technicians’ interactions with drivers. “That’s one thing I pushed a lot at the dealership – the driver matters. Let’s make them feel like we want them and need them.”

Keeping the Human Element in Digital Transformation

Tristan Nolan

  • Product Owner
  • Werner Enterprises
  • Omaha, Nebraska
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Nolan brought his fleet-maintenance experience to the company’s rollout this year of the Werner Edge, an innovative technology solution featuring modern tablets for drivers and a more efficient, easy-to-use workflow for drivers and other personnel. Key performance indicators for driver dwell time have been cut in half, training time to proficiency in the app have been cut by more than 60%, and solutions for vendor optimization and DOT maintenance inspections are being launched under his leadership.

Although his father was a trucking mechanic, Nolan started his career in the payments and insurance industry. He switched gears and joined Werner in 2014, where he has had roles in maintenance, training, and safety. This year he moved to IT to help with Werner’s “digital transformation,” where he acts as a liaison between the IT team and the people using the products. 

“Part of my responsibility is to develop strategy, vision – what’s next, what are we going to build, how does it bring value, is it viable in the organization?” Nolan explained.

One of his efforts has been the breakdown management app that’s part of Werner Edge. “A lot of folks have been handling breakdowns the same way for many, many years,” he said. Werner wanted to make the process faster and easier for both drivers and breakdown agents.

“A lot of information is needed to make those decisions,” he said. “And it’s in a lot of different places. So one goal is to consolidate and aggregate that information into a single workflow.”

Nolan is now on four product teams working on similar improvements for other parts of the business. “I’m supporting our maintenance, our equipment, our safety, and our driver applications to try to work with the business units and determine what’s next and then execute that on a tactical level.

“Really, the challenge is recognizing the human element,” he said. “We can’t leave our drivers behind, we can’t leave our office associates behind, as we develop kind of these rapid change models.” Nolan likes to get people who have been in these jobs the longest involved as part of the development process. 

Looking ahead, Nolan said he’d like to bring the benefits of connecting systems and companies and using process automation to make things more efficient for others in the industry. 

Building a Foundation for Growth

David Rager

  • CEO
  • Store and Haul Inc.
  • Van Wert, Ohio
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Rager’s father started the company with his brothers, a grain storage and hauling business that was an outgrowth of their farming operations. Although Rager grew up around trucking, he took a different path, getting a degree in computer science, a minor in math, and an associate’s degree in business. 

His career took him to software development for Navistar, a defense contractor, and a bank. From those experiences, he brought a great deal of process improvement and automation experience with him when he took over from his father as CEO in 2018 at only 36 years old.

Some of what he’s led the bulk food hauling and storage company to accomplish in 2020 include updating and upgrading telematics (including in-cab cameras), changing driver pay structure, and revamping the recruiting department. 

“My dad and his brothers had been able to take the business pretty far, but they were struggling a lot around how to grow more,” he said. “They very much viewed it like, ‘If we grow more, then we have to work more, and we don’t want to work more with where we’re at.’”

So his goal, he explained, was to put in a foundation that would allow for growth, telling his father, “you’re sort of like a 5,000-square-foot home with a 1,000-square-foot foundation under it, because you don’t have a structure to support the size of business that you are.”

Some of the keys to that foundation involved revamping the safety program and building a culture of safety, shifting some people around and letting some people go, modernizing accounting and reporting practices, diversifying the customer base, building out the IT infrastructure, rebranding with a new website, and changing driver pay from per-load to a tiered mileage system that made pay more consistent. 

It was all part of changing the company culture to one that is focusing on growth. “A lot of it was instilling a culture that we’re making changes,” Rager said, “and we want to make it a place that’s exciting and fun.”

His biggest challenge for 2021 is growth. At the time of our interview in November, the company had about 43 trucks, “and growing as fast as we can.” Now that he’s built a foundation, the biggest obstacle is the driver shortage.

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