Hungry for more, not afraid to fail, and a commitment to advancing the industry. These are all common traits among the most innovative fleet executives we’ve meet in the industry.
They’re the people who introduce new technologies or new methods for doing things, and those who are no stranger to changing things up. Whether through groundbreaking and revolutionary breakthroughs, or by simply implementing something in a new way, truck fleet innovators challenge conventional notions of how things have been done before.
For HDT’s annual Truck Fleet Innovator awards, now in their 16th year, it’s about more than a single innovation. It’s a mindset. These leaders are often early adopters of technology, or frequently work with vendors and suppliers to develop or refine products to better meet their needs. HDT Innovators try new ways to address industry issues, such as safety, sustainability and fuel efficiency.
Each year, we go through industry nominations and our own notes on innovative people we’ve met or read about during the year, and interview likely candidates before narrowing it down to our final winners. This year, we have eight.
The 2022 HDT Truck Fleet Innovators are:
- Jim Fields, chief operating officer, Pitt Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- Brian Fielkow, chief executive officer, Jetco Delivery, Houston, Texas
- Tim Gallagher, vice president of maintenance and facilities, United Petroleum Transports, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Vic La Rosa, chief executive officer, Total Transportation Services, Rancho Dominguez, California
- Monte McLeod, director of autogas, ThompsonGas, Frederick, Maryland
- Fred Staugh, vice president and general manager of CRST Equipment Solutions, CRST, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
- Gregg Troian, president, PGT Trucking, Aliquippa, Pennsylvania
- Keith Wilson, president and chief executive officer, Titan Freight Systems, Portland, Oregon
Below you’ll find a short profile of each of this year’s honorees. We’ve barely scratched the surface of all the innovative things these leaders are doing.
You also can apply to attend Heavy Duty Trucking Exchange in September, where our Innovators will accept their awards and participate in a panel discussion, at www.heavydutytruckingexchange.com.
HDT’s 2022 Truck Fleet Innovators Program is sponsored by East Manufacturing.
Chief Operating Officer, Pitt Ohio
Approaching sustainability from a different direction.
Most fleets that are looking to add battery-electric trucks to their operations start their quest looking at trucks, then figure out the question of how to charge them. Less-than-truckload carrier Pitt Ohio came at it from a different angle and started its sustainability journey by focusing on powering its facilities.
About a decade ago, “out of the blue,” the company that built Pitt’s facility in East Windsor, New Jersey, offered to provide solar panels to generate green electricity for the terminal, taking advantage of a state incentive program.
“We said sure, we’re interested; send us an agreement,” says Jim Fields, chief operating officer. “And we couldn’t believe it. They own the solar panels, they get the tax credits, and we get all the electricity free. [We asked] ‘Where do we sign up?’”
Soon 1,094 solar panels were installed. “From there, we really sat down to think about, how can we really take advantage of this strategy on a much grander scale?”
So Pitt Ohio started working with the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering. “That was where we really started having discussions about the shortfalls and the shortcomings of the grid system, and what’s coming in a few years, to be able to play a longer-term strategy, that would be workable with what is available from the grid — and what’s not going to be available from the grid. So that led us down a different pathway.”
While working with the engineering school and other vendors, Fields and Jim Maug, Pitt Ohio’s director of building maintenance and property management, were walking to a nearby deli when they spotted a contraption blocking the sidewalk.
“It was a wind turbine,” Fields says. That led to a conversation with the turbine maker, Ron Gdovic, founder of WindStax Energy.
“We brought that concept to the people at the Swanson School of Engineering and asked, ‘How can we use wind and solar together to take even greater advantage of generating electric power and utilizing that power to operate our buildings?”
The result was a patented microgrid system that combines solar and wind energy with battery storage. Utility power is available seamlessly as a backup and excess renewable energy is sent to the grid. Wind and solar production, combined with massive energy storage capacity allows the terminal to function autonomously, independent of the grid, essentially indefinitely.
The system produces DC-to-DC power, meaning energy is not lost as part of the conversion process to AC power.
Pitt Ohio puts weather stations in locations it’s considering for these microgrids to help determine the balance of solar panels and wind turbines, because some locations have more wind or more sunny days than others.
“Every day we learn something new about this,” Fields says, noting that the equipment and technology is changing rapidly. Each new installation is built on lessons learned from the previous ones.
While the first microgrid went into Pitt-Ohio’s Pittsburgh facility while it was in the midst of construction, the second system was part of the facility design process from the ground up, its Cleveland terminal in Parma, Ohio.
Parma is also where Pitt Ohio is adopting its first electric trucks. While a lot of attention has focused on Class 8, Fields says they’re taking a different direction here, as well. “We’ve taken a smaller-equipment-up approach, because we think it’s more realistic to be able to do that,” he says.
Medium-duty trucks are ahead of Class 8 in terms of development and availability, he says. Pitt Ohio has evaluated its routes and found a number at its Parma facility that are well-suited to 26-foot straight trucks — local runs under 140 miles a day.
“We’re trying to build a model with facilities and with equipment that we can duplicate in other locations,” Fields says. “I don’t think that anybody’s yet figured out how anybody is going to use the grid to be able to charge a high number of [Class 8] equipment. However, we will be able to charge a number of straight trucks on clean energy that’s generated by wind and solar.”
Pitt Ohio’s sustainability efforts provide “a whole host of benefits,” Fields says, “not the least of which is, we have customers who want to align themselves with people who have a sustainable strategy that aligns with their sustainable strategy and goals. We have shown our facilities to people all over the world.”
“We really started having discussions about the shortfalls and the shortcomings of the grid system, and what’s coming in a few years, to be able to play a longer-term strategy.”
CEO, Jetco Delivery
No trade secrets when it comes to safety.
Safety is the cornerstone of all operationally excellent companies, according to Houston-based Jetco Delivery CEO Brian Fielkow, and that’s why he makes it a priority.
“I think sometimes people think safety and productivity compete with each other,” Fielkow says. “When the reality is that you really can’t be productive if you haven’t committed to safety as your core value.”
While he says safety is the right thing to do from a human standpoint, it’s also good business.
“Safe companies can attract better customers,” he says. “I can prove time and again, that customers underwrite on safety and care about safety. We’ve been able to attract quite well.”
Safety has enabled Jetco to de-commoditize and differentiate itself from competitors in a price-driven industry, resulting in an annual growth rate of 20%.
By weaving safety into its client and employee value propositions, Jetco attracts value-aligned clients who are willing partners in a shared safety mission, he says.
More than 99% of Jetco’s business is repeat clients invested in long-term relationships.
In addition, Jetco’s insurance costs are significantly below market, providing it with a competitive advantage.
Fielkow finds success not by carefully guarding of his most successful practices, but by spreading the message across the industry. He’s a regular on industry panels, often quoted in various media outlets, and the recipient of various industry awards. Most recently, Fielkow was named one of nine CEOs Who “Get It” by the National Safety Council, the only recipient of the award in the trucking industry.
Jetco provides intermodal, open deck, heavy haul, dry van, asset-backed freight brokerage, and warehousing services. Privately held, Jetco maintains a fleet of 128 trucks and more than 300 trailers.
Behind it all is Fielkow’s commitment to a culture of safety.
“For us building the culture has just been focused on hiring and training the right people to ensure nonnegotiable value alignment around safety,” Fielkow says. “I don’t care how important or how urgent a load is — we’re just not going to cut corners. We’re not going to push ourselves or our drivers into unsafe situations.”
This commitment led to a company-wide turnover rate of less than 25%.
He says the trick to creating the culture you want is to hire people that regulate their own behavior and share your company’s values. On top of that, fleets also need to have the right processes in place.
“It’s the convergence of the right people and process,” he says. “A culture of continuous improvement.”
Under Fielkow’s leadership, Jetco has maintained a newer fleet and recently purchased its first four RNG trucks.
He also embraces technology. Jetco had electronic logging devices 11 years before the ELD mandate.
“Delete the words, we’ve always done it this way from your vocabulary,” Fielkow says. “You have to challenge yourself. And by the way, you’re not going to get it right every time. That’s perfectly okay.”
Fielkow found trucking through an unlikely avenue.
He began his career practicing corporate law before working for his favorite client, a recycling business at the time. There, he got his first exposure to safety, operations and driver engagement practice.
By 2006, he bought Jetco and in 2019 he sold the company to The GTI Group, a Canadian-based specialized transport company providing integrated logistics and transportation services, including asset-based trucking, freight brokerage, air and ocean services, and warehousing and storage.
Fielkow is currently GTI Group’s executive vice president.
“I don’t care how important or how urgent a load is — we’re just not going to cut corners. We’re not going to push ourselves or our drivers into unsafe situations.”
VP of Maintenance and Facilities, United Petroleum Transports
A calling to improve maintenance and move to the next level.
A few days after Tim Gallagher exited the U.S. Marine Corps after serving for 12 years, he started at United Petroleum Transports as a shop technician in its customer service center in Wichita, Kansas.
Thus began his long career with the bulk transport service company, which services large oil companies, convenience store operators, petroleum marketers, airports, and many others. Working his way up through the ranks landed Gallagher where he is now: UPT’s vice president of maintenance and facilities.
While refined petroleum products represent the largest portion of its business, UPT also hauls complementary products such as asphalt, crude oil, lube oils, and petrochemicals. UPT has operations in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Louisiana, making more than 300,000 deliveries a year throughout the United States and Canada. They have around 700 tankers. Gallagher’s job is to ensure they’re maintained to his standards.
“I feel my calling is: how do I improve on the maintenance side and move us to the next level?” he says. “Updating and coming up with new ideas on maintenance programs to make our fleet safer, more efficient, and running with as much downtime as possible.”
One such concentration he has had is taking a progressive stance on wheel-end inspections and maintenance. His team has invested time and money into figuring out the best practices for maintaining wheel-ends beyond industry standards. He’s invested in shop technician training, upgraded torque wrenches and purchased specialized tools
He implemented Zafety Lug Locks on his tankers, which is a product that essentially functions as handcuffs, he explains. The Lug Locks reduce the risk of wheel loss by securing adjacent wheel nuts together and minimizing their ability to rotate or loosen through vibration.
“It’s about implementing layers of checks and balances, and inspections,” he says. “What can we do to take it one step further? So that we know at the end of the day that we’ve done everything we can do from a preventive and progressive maintenance stance, to make sure that our trucks are running safe, legal, and most efficiently.”
Gallagher is a big proponent of safety, and he’s not afraid to jump on technology that’s not typically found in tanker fleets. One such technology was backup, loading and side view cameras to increase visibility on his tanker fleet.
Gallagher worked with Oklahoma-based provider Drov to lead the implementation of the company’s AirboxOne platform and take it in new directions.
Gallagher has been instrumental in Drov adding many camera sensors to various areas on their tankers. Drov’s solution monitors air pressure and hub temperature, and increases visibility on the tankers. The addition of a rear-view camera assists the driver with backing up and unloading. Side cameras provide visibility for loading and unloading and provide opportunities for education and training.
And still, Gallagher continues to work with the company to push the envelope on what’s possible. He’s working with Drov on an ultrasonic sensor for its tankers to be able to see the gallon amounts in each compartment of a tanker, without having a sensor inside the tank.
This sensor would give the ability for the drivers to check they loaded the correct gallon amounts, and to know they completed the delivery with no mechanical issue.
His advice for others trying to implement new technology? Research and trial everything. “Research that technology and ask the solid questions,” he says. “Then if you trial it, does it hold up to the trial of what it is expected to do? Versus just jumping into it. That will save a lot of time, energy and money.”
Gallagher says his biggest accomplishment in his career has been his ability to take on more responsibilities and challenges and trying to meet those challenges to the best of his ability.
“Being successful is starting from the ground — and being afforded those opportunities — and continuing to push, never being satisfied, and always wanting to learn something every day,” he says. “Striving to be the best at what we do every day. How do we make our company better every day?”
“Being successful is starting from the ground … continuing to push, never being satisfied, and always wanting to learn something every day.”
CEO, Total Transportation Services (TTSI)
Being at the forefront of zero-emissions adoption ‘not for the faint of heart.’
In 2008, as many trucking companies were fighting the controversial new Clean Truck Program at the southern California ports, Vic La Rosa was already trying to green his drayage operations.
Total Transportation Services, founded in the late ‘80s, had really taken off when big-box stores began importing a lot of containerized goods from Asia. The impact of retail on TTSI’s drayage operations has been significant, and today it has operations at nearly every major port in the country.
Working closely directly with major retail importers, TTSI realized that many of those clients would eventually “take on an environmental twist,” La Rosa says. “We thought it was better to try to get out in front of that curve as soon as possible.”
So around the time the clean truck rules were approved, TTSI was adopting natural gas engines as well as experimenting with early battery-electric and fuel-cell technology.
At the time, he says, regulators had not done a good job of reaching out to the drayage community about the new emissions rules.
“Nobody understood what they were talking about,” La Rosa recalls. “We had never been approached about the pollution that these diesels put out, and the significant impact it has on the community. So when they announced the first clean air program, we started to do our own research. We decided, let’s try to understand what this movement is all about, and how far are the ports and the state and the regulators going to move the goalposts? After quite a bit of research, a lot of interviews with environmental groups, just trying to understand their perspective, we decided that the goalposts would continue to move until we get to zero. So we figured, let’s shoot right now for zero.”
The problem was, zero-emissions technology did not exist at the time.
“But it gave us a heck of an opportunity to start testing and start seeing how these vehicles were going to perform,” he says, and the company has been doing so ever since.
TTSI has been or soon will be evaluating BEV and FCEV trucks from multiple manufacturers.
“What we’ve learned over time is that nobody right now is ready for primetime,” La Rosa says. “There’s a couple of strong candidates out there. But nobody’s ready to take on the whole ball of wax, which includes full-service maintenance, which includes prices for vehicles that are not outrageous.”
If he had to make a decision today, he says, he would set up a fleet of about 60% fuel-cell electric and the balance battery-electric.
“We’re trying to get there, but right now, nobody has the manufacturing slots, nobody has all the parts, to do any mass production,” he says.
In the meantime, he says, “we still continue to make heavy investments in natural gas, because we believe natural gas is going to be the bridge. And it’s ready for primetime right now. I’m getting very, very close to zero [emissions], and I can afford to run it.”
La Rosa believes there’s a longer-term place for natural gas engines, too, especially the latest near-zero-emission versions running on renewables.
“Our feeling is that the whole nation is not going to be able to embrace zero emission at the same time,” he says. “We have to make sure that we’re ready in the areas that are going to be most sensitive, like California, and eventually New Jersey. But in other areas, we’re going to continue to push towards near zero, and natural gas gives us the best alternative to do that.
“So, as we go down this journey, we continue to watch the technology, we continue to watch the repairs and maintenance. And we continue to watch the costs.” So far, TTSI has relied on grants to help pay for its zero-emission evaluation programs.
When asked about lessons learned, La Rosa replies, “patience!”
“I think that the industry is going to go kicking and screaming into the future, but they’ll eventually get there,” he says. “I’m very optimistic that we can achieve these goals. The regulators, the environmental agencies, were more than delighted that we were willing to step up and test this technology. And there is a significant cost to us — because when these trucks are down, I’m losing productivity. So there is a lot of cost in experimenting with these technologies. It’s not for the faint of heart.”
“We decided that the goalposts would continue to move until we get to zero [emissions]. So we figured, let’s shoot right now for zero.”
Director of Autogas, ThompsonGas
Leading the charge on propane autogas.
Monte McLeod has been intertwined in the propane autogas industry since the 2000s. He’s witnessed the development of the fuel, seen fleets embrace it and watched as the trucking industry created conversion systems and newer technologies to work with it.
Public interest in propane autogas is often driven by increasing diesel and gasoline prices, such as in 2008 and now, and McLeod has seen interest ebb and flow through the years. He knows where it works and where it doesn’t.
In 2020, McLeod joined ThompsonGas, a Maryland-based company that provides propane services to more than 230,000 residential and commercial customers nationwide. As director of autogas, McLeod has been tasked with increasing the company’s propane autogas customer base and developing its own propane autogas infrastructure to convert its fleet of refueling bobtails and service vehicles.
Since 2020, ThompsonGas has shifted 50 of its own bobtails (Class 7 trucks) and 75 sales and service vehicles (pickup trucks and Ford Explorers) to propane autogas. The vehicles used 75,000 gallons of propane autogas last year and can be fueled on-site at ThompsonGas properties or off-site.
The goal is to eventually switch over the whole fleet of about 500 vehicles.
“If we want to further develop as an accepted alternative fuel, we need to use it ourselves,” McLeod says. “We’re noticing the same benefits our customers are so far: Saving money on our fuel costs and meeting our internal sustainability goals.”
In order to get everyone on board like he was to embrace the switch, McLeod focused his efforts on internal education. He worked with everyone from top leadership executives to sales people in the field.
Last year, McLeod was instrumental in the creation of a new division, Thompson AutoGas, for marketing, education and sales direction purposes.
“You can’t just change your fleet,” he says. “You’ve got to educate, you’ve got to build infrastructure, you’ve got to find grant funding wherever you can. And we’ve been very fortunate to be able to do that. Propane is not the sexy fuel right now. It’s electric. So, we’ve got to make our space. We’ve got to make our place in the market.”
McLeod says it has been a challenge in the industry to eventually get to a place where most people agree: there’s isn’t one silver bullet when it comes to alternative fueling. One solution might work better for a certain segment, and another solution might work better for another.
“It doesn’t have to be exclusive,” he says.
So how does McLeod’s innovative spirit thrive?
“There are a lot of jobs where you can come in and continue to do something that somebody else was doing,” he explains. “But to have an opportunity in a company the size of ThompsonGas to come in and create something … with all the support that I’ve gotten, it has been something I’m really proud of. We’ve been able to get some grant money and develop a customer base and do some stuff internally and create a brand in a year and a half. We’ve got a long way to go. But it’s been a lot of fun.”
McLeod says his biggest advice for fleets looking to improve innovation is to not be afraid to fail, because, ultimately, you will fail. But you’ll learn from that.
“Find really good partners,” he adds. “Find other people who think the same way that you do and really believe in what you’re doing. There are plenty of people that’ll tell you why it won’t work, so find some people who agree with you that it will, and work through it together and figure it out. It’s fun, because you get to create, you get to be innovative, you get to do something new that hasn’t been done. And you don’t really have to scratch your head a lot and say, ‘why aren’t we doing it this way?’ Because it’s not being done anyway.”
“There are plenty of people that’ll tell you why it won’t work, so find some people who agree with you that it will, and work through it together.”
VP and General Manager, CRST Equipment Solutions
Making the most of the win-win scenarios.
What started as a high school hobby working under the hood of trucks has led Fred Staugh to a 37-year career in the transportation industry.
Now, he’s a subject matter expert in his field, and a respected leader and colleague. He’s been with CRST, one of the largest privately held transportation companies in the country, since 2014.
Under his guidance as vice president and general manager of equipment solutions, CRST moved the fleet from an older cab design to the latest and greatest, adding electric auxiliary power units and state-of-the-art collision mitigations systems.
In his current role, Staugh is responsible for all the equipment purchasing, fleet maintenance operations, fuel purchasing, and facilities for CRST. And when he makes decisions, he looks for solutions that are a “trifecta,” or a “win all the way around” from a safety perspective, from a driver comfort perspective, and an economic, or fuel consumption, perspective.
“You have to maintain the truck, you have to build a comfortable truck, and you have to build an efficient truck,” he says. And through his career, he’s learned that all those aspects are equally important.
To that end, Staugh has helped CRST stay on the forefront of safety testing, partnering with higher education institutions and conducting internal surveys to find solutions to reduce driver fatigue through testing new and novel seats and mattress designs, and developing a new cab-mounted handle to increase drivers’ use of three points of contact and eliminate the risks of falls.
“We’re in the process of refining an additional handle if you will, or more a point-of-contact-apparatus that would give the driver more connection to the truck as they climb in and out of the truck,” he says. “It sounds fairly simple but there’s way too many injuries in the industry.”
On the trailer side, CRST has made great strides to increase longevity in their equipment by using the longest lasting components and coatings, such as galvanized or stainless steel to try to keep corrosion down. CRST is presently taking delivery of the first of 290 East platforms, and Staugh plans to make them last, and “survive without a lot of undue maintenance.”
The fleet also uses telematics and geofencing to automate some maintenance processes. Staugh maximizes freight capacity by using lightweight aluminum components. And he works directly with tire manufactures to produce low-rolling-resistance tires to increase fuel economy.
Staugh also embraces the next generation of technologies. CRST has placed an order for five Freightliner battery-electric day cab trucks that will run local delivery routes in the greater Los Angeles area. The fleet is now in the process of working with utility providers and setting up the electric charging terminals.
What makes Staugh so innovative is he looks at the success of his fleet not in single projects, but as an aggregate of all the small practices that he knows makes a difference.
“It’s a fairly sophisticated world out there, and there’s a lot of smart people in the transportation industry,” he explains. “I don’t think there’s one silver bullet that you can point to and say that’s the best. I think it’s the aggregate stack up have a lot of small things that end up being something pretty good.”
He says the first step is having a program of initiatives around entire consumption fuel consumption. For CRST, that includes efforts to have low rolling resistance, get more trucks back, and longevity of equipment. All that adds up to an efficiency pickup both from a fuel standpoint and total cost of ownership standpoint on the tractor, he says.
“[Innovation] is certainly worth it,” Staugh says. “If you can come up with win-win scenarios, whether it be in trucks back or driver comfort items, then you are really going to be moving forward in a positive fashion,” he adds.
It’s no surprise that Staugh started working on trucks at 19 years old at Builder’s Transport, and by 25 he was regional director of over 10 shops. He also served four years in the United States Air Force followed by stints as maintenance manager at Triple Crown Services, VP of maintenance for FFE Transportation, and VP of maintenance for J.B. Hunt.
His career has always progressed quickly, and there’s no sign of him slowing down.
“If you can come up with win-win scenarios … then you are going to be moving forward in a positive fashion.”
President, PGT Trucking
Creating and investing in partnerships early.
Over the last 40 years, PGT Trucking has grown into a state-of-the art flatbed transportation company, servicing the steel, building materials, machinery, oil and gas, raw materials, aluminum, and automotive industries in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The fleet employs more than 1,030 drivers, mechanics, agents and support staff, and operates in excess of 1,000 power units and over 1,500 trailers nationwide.
“Part of our success has been PGT’s ability to adapt and prosper in this ever-changing transportation industry,” said company President Gregg Troian, who joined PGT in 1986. “In the last four decades, this sector has seen major changes to its regulations, economic highs and lows, and more recently, the addition of technology. And while many other trucking companies were not able to profit and grow, PGT has stood strong, rooted in our fundamental cornerstones of personal customer relationships, employee development, safety and profitability.”
Starting out as a dispatcher has led Troian to a 36-year-career with PGT. He’s speared-headed partnerships with big names in innovation, like autonomous trucking company Locomation and battery-electric and fuel-cell-electric vehicle manufacturer Nikola.
Taking advantage of being in the Pittsburgh area, where there are a lot of technology startups due to Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, Troian has been able to seek out partnerships in the early stages of development.
From those relationships, PGT Trucking was able to enter a multi-year agreement with Locomation to deploy autonomous truck technology for use on PGT’s routes.
During the eight-year agreement, PGT Trucking will deploy 1,000 Autonomous Relay Convoy (ARC) systems on over 30 separate ARC segments. ARC enables one driver to pilot a lead truck equipped with technology augmentation while a follower truck operates in tandem through Locomation’s fully autonomous system. This allows the follower driver to log off and rest while the truck is in motion.
“This is our attempt, along with Locomation, to find ways to take advantage of autonomous vehicles and address the driver situation,” Troian says. “We just don’t have enough drivers, and we still need to move products. Our customer, regardless of whether we can find drivers or anybody can find drivers, we still need to get products to market.”
Troian also intends to lease 100 Nikola Tre fuel-cell-electric vehicles. Deliveries of the trucks to PGT are anticipated to begin in 2023 when production commences at Nikola’s Coolidge, Arizona, manufacturing facility.
Under Troian’s leadership, PGT has also invested in two technical schools near its corporate office and near its main maintenance and operations center, in an attempt to help address the technician shortage in the industry.
“One of the things we noticed, and especially in the Pittsburgh area, is technical schools just seem to fall second and third in line after either four-year colleges or junior colleges,” he says. “And it’s a shame because we feel very strongly that not everybody should go to college, and there are great opportunities to get into the workforce with talent and training a lot sooner than later.”
As part of the investment, PGT has a role in helping develop the training curriculum. PGT also offers students of those school the opportunity to take a job at one of the area shops.
So how does Troian keep up his culture of innovation? Besides seeking out partnerships and maintaining relationships in the industry, he’s also physically created an open office environment. The office concept allows staff to intermingle and the silos of each department to naturally break down.
More than that, he aims to keep every department involved and informed in new programs and initiatives. PGT even has an innovation committee for just this purpose, and its members can include more than just executive level leadership.
"We feel very strongly that … there are great opportunities to get into the workforce with talent and training a lot sooner than later.”
President and CEO, Titan Freight Systems
Seamless, automated, simplified. It’s that easy.
In 2020, Portland, Oregon-based carrier Titan Freight Systems took a major step to reduce its fleet emissions by making the switch to Neste MY Renewable Diesel, allowing Titan to achieve its sustainability goals almost overnight.
Now, 94% of the fuel used by Titan’s fleet is renewable diesel, and the partnership has kept 1,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year since 2020.
While Titan got into it for emissions reduction, the fleet also saw big savings in the maintenance department. One and a half cent per mile savings in exhaust systems maintenance, to be exact, and fluid usage was reduced by 78%.
Behind it all is second-generation fleet businessman, Keith Wilson.
Before he joined his father’s small, 10-truck transportation company, Wilson was selling spots on primetime television. Now, he runs a successful less than truckload business that prides itself on running efficiently. With — get this — no dispatchers, and no customer service department taking orders.
“It’s a rare phone call that we receive, a rare ring in our office, because we’ve really been able to automate all those customer service functions,” he explains. “If a phone rings, we really look at it as a lost opportunity where a customer could have received that information online, or perhaps we were late. So, we really focus on a core value, which is quality, service and safety.”
In last two decades, Wilson says that business model has been able to mature into something sustainable and community focused. Titan runs about 45 trucks and 120 trailers.
Wilson is a big proponent of making things simple. For example, the industry as a whole uses freight classifications, but Wilson finds that to be a “arcane, 120-year-old railway-system-built” classification system that has no bearings on today. So? He simply got rid of them.
He follows a model similar to UPS and FedEx.
“We just want to know what’s the weight of the order and what’s its dimensions, and then our rate kicks in,” he says. “It’s really quite simple.”
What’s more is he found inefficiencies in the order entry system for customers, and dropped the two-minute procedure to 12 seconds. What once required a customer to write out a bill of lading, call a dispatcher to regurgitate that information, and then the dispatcher would call up the driver, and then the driver would bring the bill of lading… now includes the most basic pieces of information.
“As soon as that customer clicks ‘ship,’ it goes to our transportation management system and it finds the closest truck — we have routes assigned to zip codes,” he explains. “We wanted to auto dispatch the driver. We did not want our dispatchers involved in the process at all.”
That change allows dispatch supervisors to do four times the work of a normal dispatcher because they only now assist drivers in what’s necessary, rather than regurgitating information over and over.
“We don’t want any information lost,” he says. “And we trust the shipper to enter the data. We trust that they’re doing their job correctly, which they are, they’re the experts.”
At the end of the day, Wilson says he never wants the dispatcher to have the most information.
“If we can provide [our customers] the best information, the most up-to-date information, there’s no reason that they should have to call us, which makes their day so much simpler, efficient, and easy,” he says.
The company recently completed installation of its first six Level 2 charging stations and broke ground on six direct current fast charging units. Wilson says Titan be one of the first private carriers in Oregon to have heavy-duty vehicle charging infrastructure.
Titan expects to receive the first unit of its six-unit electric truck order from Freightliner in the fourth quarter of the year. Titan orders both Freightliner eCascadias and eM2s for its electric fleet.
“Here’s the thing that I’ve learned over time: Every time I invest in something that is focused on an environmental benefit — and I may be nervous initially — almost uniformly turns out to be a competitive advantage and lower costs than I ever would have imagined,” Wilson says. “It’s exciting because the more I look at the details, it seems like these environmental changes we are making and these products that we’re putting forward are all better than what they are replacing. Significantly better.”
“Every time I invest in something that is focused on an environmental benefit ... it almost uniformly turns out to be a competitive advantage.”
This article was first published in the May 2022 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.