Talk to people working in a trucking fleet long enough, and they’ll tell you all about how they either fell into it or grew up in it. Either way, one thing rings true most of the time: Trucking gets into your soul and you can’t shake it.
Young trucking professionals across the industry are making a name for themselves in the fleets they’ve found themselves in, stepping up into leadership positions early on, and embracing the ever-changing world of trucking to make their companies successful. That’s apparent with this year’s HDT Emerging Leaders.
These up-and-coming leaders are bringing fresh viewpoints, knowledge, and enthusiasm to their companies, whether in sales, safety, operations, IT, or communications.
To qualify for this award, Emerging Leaders must be under 40 years of age as of December and work for a for-hire, private, government, or vocational fleet that operates heavy-duty trucks. HDT editors 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.
Trucking doesn’t start and end with the driver and the fleet manager, so we aim to recognize people making a difference through their leadership at all corners of a fleet. After all, it’s the people behind the company that make trucking possible and profitable.
Meet this year’s eight Emerging Leaders, presented in alphabetical order by last name.
- VP of Sales
- Nussbaum Transportation
Nussbaum Transportation, Hudson, Illinois, takes pride in making sure its partners are reliable and people-centric rather than focused on cheap cost and high flow.
As vice president of sales for Nussbaum, Chris Aranda has the responsibility of vetting those partners to keep the fleets’ network up to Nussbaum standards and operating within its business model. He’s responsible for building relationships with customers, constructing dedicated sales models, and negotiating pay or contract terms. On a daily basis, he’s answering the questions: What do drivers need? What does the system need? What areas of the country does the fleet need to serve? “We want to make sure that the water’s clean, so to speak,” Aranda says. Every decision is important to the company’s growth, from the freight they haul, to making sure drivers get home to see their families, to the driver’s treatment once they bump a dock.
Every morning, Aranda is tasked with receiving driver feedback on their loads and making sure Nussbaum’s partners are working with the fleet effectively. “That’s my quick way of keeping a pulse on what’s entered into our network and what’s the problem child and what’s not,” he says. But he also keeps track of Nussbaum efficiency on a larger scale.
In order to tangibly track efficiency, Nussbaum has heavily invested in managing and analyzing data. Aranda keeps track of trends in data (such as how long a location takes to offload a run) in order to correct possible issues proactively.
“A big part of my role is managing internal relationships,” he says. “Viewing the sales department as a service department. How can we help operations? How can we help accounting? What pain points are out there on the driver side that we can solve? Just as much as I’m building relationships outside, we’re definitely building relationships inside and staying connected.”
Aranda sees the challenges in the industry of retaining drivers and obtaining more trucks during a growth period as an opportunity to unveil new initiatives to have monthly or quarterly business reviews with Nussbaum’s customers.
“We’re taking time this year to plan out next year,” he says. “Every single month, we’re looking at what piece of communication we can pass along that has to do with things we’re doing at Nussbaum that are addressing the challenges we’re facing.” These messages will focus on issues such as driver development, truck maintenance, equipment and more.
Nussbaum gave Aranda his first exposure to trucking after he transitioned out of the agriculture industry in 2013. His first role was a driver manager overseeing 30 drivers. Later he moved into load planning and then later into pricing.
Nurcan “Nunu” Dueman
- Product Manager, Digital Platforms
- Werner Enterprises
Six months into a new career in trucking, and still in her first year in the U.S., Nurcan “Nunu” Dueman has already begun to prove herself to be a motivated and strategic leader, inspiring her team at Omaha, Nebraska-based Werner, to adopt her customer-centric view on product development.
Dueman, Werner’s product manager for digital platforms, has been managing the company’s digital carrier platform, Werner Edge for Carriers. Within six months, she has driven an increase in average monthly revenue. Before she joined the team, the load board averaged 20 loads booked per month. Now, there is an average of 56 loads booked per month, a 280% increase.
“I don’t have a typical transportation and logistics background,” she says. “But I know how to develop digital products, and I know how to create profitable products, and push them into the market and create revenue at the end.”
Always one to back her decisions with data and research, Dueman has been quick to integrate web analytics tools into Werner systems to understand the user experience. The tools help her team figure out what areas carriers are struggling with, or features they use the most. While others might focus their product development efforts on beating the competition, Dueman has found the sweet spot in first serving carrier needs and offering premium customer service.
“My goal is to make sure what we build, as a product team, really meets the needs of our customers,” she says. “I call it customer-centric product development: always keeping the customer in the forefront, and then using data to back it up.”
While new to the transportation industry, Dueman brings a vast background in digital content marketing. In Germany, she was the head of a digital signage/marketing department, which she founded from the ground up as a one-woman show, and managed a cross-functional team. Dueman leveraged her knowledge and experience to drive sales initiatives and profitability. She’s spearheaded features such as the ability to book loads at the touch of a button, maintain lane preferences, and save searches for easy access.
“I never thought transportation could be so exciting, but it’s so complicated that it just screams for solutions,” she says. “A lot of people have been in this industry for so many years, that sometimes you need fresh ideas.”
Her nomination describes her as a solution-oriented individual who motivates her team to think forward, think innovatively, and find new ways to challenge the status quo. Since Dueman joined Werner, she has inspired her team to take ownership and helped them to work toward a common goal to build the best platform for their carriers in the market.
“Once you get out of your comfort zone is when you really learn the most,” she says. “I teach [my team] to be curious, not to accept everything we have today.”
- OSHA and Safe Operations Manager
- PGT Trucking
Before taking on the responsibility of overseeing the safety of nearly 300 drivers at PGT Trucking and two sister companies in 2017, Alan Harff was a driver for the Aliquippa, Pennsylvania-based company for two years. Since then, he’s been awarded the company’s Safe Operations Manager of the Year award and the National Safety Council’s Rising Star of Safety Award in recognition for his leadership.
As OSHA and safe operations manager, Harff is assigned to oversee safe operations and hazmat training and compliance at seven of PGT Trucking’s terminals on the East Coast, PGT Hazmat, Southern Pine Trucking’s cryogenic tanker division, and specialized heavy haul terminals in Gary, Indiana, and Wampum, Pennsylvania, and Liedkta Logistics in Trenton, New Jersey.
His role has him traveling to the terminals, doing mock OSHA inspections, reviewing safety data, verifying cargo securement, investigating accidents to determined preventability, and driver coaching. After he worked on redeveloping PGT’s cargo securement manual in 2018, the flatbed carrier’s cargo claims dropped about 70%. In the past two years, the company also implemented Netradyne’s outward-facing dash cam system, which helps Harff coach drivers.
Harff is never one to shy away from growth. Behind the scenes he’s constantly keeping up with his long list of certifications, from his CDL to his crane operator certification. And he’s been a volunteer firefighter for 25 years. (Yes, he started at age 14.)
Perhaps his respect for safety and people comes naturally after spending so much time in public safety (911 dispatcher and steel plant protection officer are also on his resume.) With his background as a driver, he’s able to connect with drivers, citing it as his biggest success.
“Some of these bigger trucking companies, they have no idea their drivers’ names or anything,” he says. “They refer to them as truck numbers. We don’t do that here. I mean, I have drivers that would call me because I haven’t talked to them in a while just to see what’s going on.
“I’m not just the guy sitting behind the desk,” Harff explains. “I actually was behind the wheel and hauled steel coils and all that stuff. So, they value my opinion.”
Like Harff, PGT Trucking is moving forward fast. The company has entered into a multi-year agreement to deploy Locomation autonomous truck technology on PGT routes, as well as announced the intent to lease 100 Nikola Tre heavy-duty fuel cell electric vehicles.
- Director of Operations
- Barnhart Transportation
Jeff Hollenbeck entered the transportation industry in late 2003 when he went to work for a light- and medium-duty towing company. Within 18 months he purchased the company. By 2010, he joined Barnhart Transportation, which was a small company with about 10 trucks on the road.
Today, the North East, Pennsylvania-based company has grown to include multiple locations with 175 tractors on the road. Hollenbeck has grown along with it, rising through the ranks before eventually landing on director of operations.
Hollenbeck oversees two terminal locations in North East, Pennsylvania, and Charleston, South Carolina, plus various divisions at Barnhart Transportation and Lake Shore Logistics. On a daily basis he works with terminal managers, department leads, and project managers to ensure there are no missed opportunities on any potential projects. He also spearheaded the implementation of a transportation management system to standardize processes throughout the company.
“Being a leader is something I take very personal, as well as take pride in,” Hollenbeck says. “I feel nothing has been handed to me; I earned it. Respect is something you can lose quicker than you’ve ever received. Every day I come to work with the mindset that I need to earn and hold that respect. They look to me for direction, for answers. I have to work twice as hard for them.”
He says he’s never threatened by anybody that wants his job, taking pride in showing up-and-coming leaders what has worked for him and engaging people to work in the industry.
Hollenbeck serves on the Project Supply Chain Management Advisory Board at Penn State-Behrend, and sees it as an opportunity to introduce trucking as an important part of the supply chain, since so much of the program is geared towards warehousing, procurement, and analytics.
“Over the last couple years, we have really noticed a shortfall of anyone coming from the supply chain into the transportation sector, so we’re able to identify those great recruiting opportunities [through the connection with the university],” he says. “Our piece of the supply chain really touches 80% of the supply chain. In one way shape or form, trucking touches everything.”
Hollenbeck is also involved in the company’s non-profit Barnhart Gives, which helps children with health-related challenges through quarterly charitable events.
- VP of Transportation Services
- Iron Woman Construction and Environmental Services
What started as a part-time job assisting a company owner with compliance tasks while attending school to become a nurse turned into an 18-year career in transportation that Maggie Nichols has embraced whole-heartedly.
She’s worked in just about every department there is at Iron Woman Construction and Environmental Services in Centennial, Colorado, from accounting to human resources to shop management. Now, she oversees the trucking division of the $100 billion, 300-employee construction firm. The fleet consists of 30 mostly Class 8 trucks and 70 independent contractors.
“Her work ethic, unique human approach, and intimate understanding of the industry quickly set her apart and fast-tracked her growth,” said Susie Lanners, Iron Woman’s marketing specialist, in the nomination. “Compassion and caring turn a manager into a leader, and a company from profitable to thriving. Maggie’s commitment to the company permeates everything she does as a leader.”
Like the rest of the industry, Iron Woman has been challenged with recruiting drivers.
“I’ve been in HR and trucking for 18 years at this company, and I have never seen anything like what has happened over the last nine months,” Nichols says of the driver situation.
But in true Nichols fashion, she’s taking it upon herself to get creative and find a solution. Her main focus the last three months? Creating the drivers she needs by dedicating the time and effort to develop a way for people with no experience to find their way into the industry.
Iron Woman recently signed on with Colorado state as the first company to partner on a driver apprenticeship program. Together with a driving school, Iron Woman will train drivers for one year while the apprentice attends a three-week CDL program.
“We’ll be partnering up that new employee with one of our lead trainers for two months,” she says. “They’ll be one-on-one for the first month, then they’ll start driving on their own the second month.” From there, they’ll continue the mentorship until they’re ready to head to jobsites paired with a lead driver.
Combined with in-house and school training, it’ll be a year-long program with weekly reports on the driver.
But her recruitment efforts don’t stop there, Nichols also volunteers with Denver Public Schools, aiming to promote trucking as a career at the high school level and through early college programs.
- Communications Manager
- Contract Freighters Inc.
If the past couple years have proven anything, it’s that internal fleet communication is an integral part of keeping drivers safe, informed and efficient.
At Contract Freighters Inc., Joplin, Missouri, Leah Parrott is a communications department of one. Solo, she carries the significant responsibility of running internal communications across a company of 5,000 associates. Her day-to-day tasks are different every day, but her goal is always the same: unifying audiences.
“From senior management, the executive boardroom to the frontline, professional drivers, as well as independent contractors, there’s a lot of audiences to consider and to unify, to ensure that what the company needs communicated to audiences actually is communicated,” Parrott says.
She says internal communications is just as important as marketing when it comes to making a business successful.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Parrott was instrumental in distilling information, keeping ahead of the news, and making sure CFI’s driver network was left assured and informed.
“I think with the trucking industry the way it is, and it being incredibly competitive when it comes to recruiting drivers, the biggest thing that we can do is retain the current ones that we have, make sure they know we value them, and to remain as transparent and honest as possible,” Parrott says. “The best way we can do that is to communicate well.”
In just a year, Parrott has developed a network of liaisons throughout the company and created a process to manage that network.
“Leah is a force to be reckoned with, using her natural leadership, polished approach and good humor to win over any audience,” said CFI Senior Marketing Manager Katlin Owens in her nomination. “She runs communication cascades reaching all the way out to the frontline utilizing the typical email, intranet, SharePoint and internal channels, as well as harnessed the ability to drive individual conversations to support the massive change and management challenges facing the organization today.”
- Safety Manager
- Nationwide Rail Services
If there was ever a disconnect between management and drivers at Nationwide Rail Services, John Peterson was able to bridge the gap.
The truck-driver-turned-safety manager leverages his 17 years of driver experience to effectively oversee driver training and safety policy at the intermodal operation. NRS, Burr Ridge, Illinois, has even been recognized by the Illinois Trucking Association and American Trucking Associations for its safety efforts.
Peterson collects driver data from inward- and outward-facing cameras, equipped on all 37 trucks in the fleet, to help pinpoint problem areas and address them quickly. Every safety goal he’s set based on the data the fleet collects, he’s been able to meet.
“We were averaging over 167 failed-to-stops in a three-month period,” Peterson offers as an example. “And I can tell you now that we float around 20 failed-to-stops in a three-month period.”
Peterson has also taken on the responsibility of being a recruiter for the company — a role, he says, he always leads with transparency.
“I find a very common thread amongst recruiters,” Peterson says. “They very much so feel like used car salesman, they’re trying to sell you something that they know is flawed. The way I tend to approach it is, ‘Look, I’ve been doing this for 17 years, I’ve been here for seven. This is the longest I’ve stayed with any company.’
“I lay everything out. I don’t hide nothing. It’s not that I don’t sugarcoat it. I’m just very blunt, I let them know, and I think that’s why we get better candidates is because of that.”
He leads his team based on three promises: (1) I’m going to be as transparent as possible, (2) I’m going to give you every tool that I can to make sure you make it home, and (3) I’m never going to ask anything of you that I’m not asking of myself.
- Terminal Manager and Dispatcher
- REV Hoopes Trucking
“Pure energy in constant motion,” is how REV Hoopes Trucking Human Resources Supervisor Larry Watson describes Morgan Viard.
As terminal manager of REV Hoopes’ location in Woodland, Pennsylvania, as well as dispatcher, Viard is the go-to person, “putting out fires all day long.” REV Hoopes Trucking’s various branches haul renewable natural gas, liquid natural gas, compressed natural gas.
“One minute she is arranging for truck repairs in Wisconsin, the next she is the managing dispatcher for bunkering (LNG fueling) a cargo ship on Lake Ontario,” Watson says.
Now in her eighth year at the company, Viard has worked her way up quickly, eager to take on more responsibility as the REV LNG division grew from a handful of employees to nearly 50.
“Within the first two years, I went from dispatching a few trucks to dispatching a lot of trucks, plus managing the Woodland office,” she says.
She’s seen the company add locations in Wisconsin, Florida, and branch out into Canada. And she’s stuck with it through it all, becoming more and more integrated with the business development team.
“The way our company is going, we’re going to continue to grow,” she says. “Which means I am going to have to step more into a physical dispatch manager position, where I might not be dispatching my drivers any longer, where I might be managing all the dispatchers we’re going to have across the country.”
Viard is also involved with the interview and orientation processes for new drivers, vetting them to make sure they’re the right fit for the fast-paced company and industry. She prides herself in having built a relationship of mutual respect with the drivers.
“I work with my guys to make sure that if they do need the time off that I can get it for them,” she says. “I will go to bat for them all the time.”
“They’re not just a steering wheel to drive down the road.”
This article first appeared in the December 2021 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.