To make a name for yourself in the big wide world of trucking, leaders need the perfect combination of resilience, innovation, business-savvy and passion.
More and more professionals are hitting their stride in the fleet management field, stepping up into leadership positions early, learning the ins and outs of the old, and welcoming in the new to make their companies successful. And they don’t want to leave anyone behind. That’s apparent with the 2022 HDT Emerging Leaders.
These up-and-coming leaders are the next generation, bringing knowledge and enthusiasm to their positions. Whether leading from the maintenance bay or from the C-Suite, this cohort of leaders has one thing in common: optimism. They see trucking has a vast pool of opportunity, and they all have an energy about them that screams, “We’re just getting started.”
To qualify for this award, Emerging Leaders must be under 40 years of age as of October 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 in all corners of a fleet. After all, it’s the people behind the company that make trucking possible and profitable.
This year, HDT received a record number of applicants.
Meet this year’s 10 Emerging Leaders, presented in alphabetical order by surname.
- Director of Operations
- GreenPath Logistics
GreenPath Logistics is a young company (founded in 2020 as a subsidiary of NGV Global Group) with a fleet of about 200 medium- and heavy-duty trucks that operate exclusively on alternative fuels.
Matt Brewer, the company’s director of operations, oversees the truck fleet and educates customers about the benefits of alternative fuel technologies from natural gas to hybrid and fully electric heavy-duty trucks.
Brewer started his career in trucking at Werner Enterprises and served stints at Stevens Transport; a now defunct specialized bulk carrier; and Vista Proppants and Logistics. He has been on the operation side of things for more than 12 years, in everything from dispatching to billing to general management. Always maintaining a high level of leadership.
But for him, this role is a little bit different because he has the opportunity to do “some great things for the earth.” In this role, it’s his first foray into overseeing alternative fuel vehicles. And he’s all in.
“Matt has optimized GPL’s operations by 20%, ensuring that our trucks are operating at max efficiency with the right loads and the right routes,” GPL Chief Operating Officer Dmitri Tisnoi says. “He has also made a significant impact on GPL’s bottom line, growing our pipeline of new business by [more than] $1 million per month.”
Brewer says his first year in this role is a “massive” accomplishment, and the proudest in his recent career.
“We’re doing something completely different than other trucking companies here, and to get people to buy into running alternative fuels or operate electrically — from your drivers to your employees to customers — it can be kind of a scary thing at first,” Brewer says of getting people who are used to running on diesel on board with alternative fuels. “Communicating with all these [people] in training ... we’ve done a very, very good job of retaining employees here.”
Tisnoi says he believes the “hard work of ‘green transportation’ deployment, optimization and sales [Brewer] is doing today will become a new standard for the heavy-duty trucking of tomorrow.”
- Engineering Team Leader
Many fleets, big and small, are making efforts to reduce their carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. Battery-electric trucks are a large part of that conversation, and the industry is starting from ground zero. Behind those deployment initiatives are people who aren’t afraid to get started, and who thrive on innovation.
Jeremy Hock is that person for Schneider’s battery-electric truck deployment project, which is a part of the carrier’s larger plans to reduce their emissions.
Since 2020, Hock has led the Schneider team through the deployment of 62 Class 8 battery-electric trucks in the company’s Southern California intermodal operations. The effort would position Schneider as one of the largest battery-electric truck fleets in North America, and Hock says they’re just getting started.
Gladstein, Neandross & Associates’ Senior Vice President of Programs and GNA Partner Joe Annotti called Hock’s leadership “critical” in securing project participation and commitments, as well as funding.
With a background in biomedical electronics and 12 years of operational experience with Schneider, Hock jumped at the opportunity to become the point person for the company’s “quickly advancing” zero-emission asset technology efforts. Everything from the technology, the trucks, the charging hardware and software selection, all comes under his ownership.
“Success in the deployment of the zero-emission assets is an overwhelming accomplishment,” Hock says. “It’s a significant opportunity throughout the country to minimize our impact on the globe.”
For Hock, taking on this role, and establishing himself as a lead on this important part of the business, all comes down to being willing to think outside of the box to advance the industry. It also helps that Schneider created an environment where there were opportunities to develop, and a clear vision for the future.
“You have to have the eagerness to want to learn and be able to identify the opportunities for which you feel you can continue to develop yourself,” Hock says. “From a company perspective, you need to continue to stay with the times, continue to put a large focus on your technology advancement, and have an emphasis on wanting to go green — because it’s the right thing to do.”
- Maintenance and Safety Manager
- Sioux Trucking
“I grew up in the business,” says Jared Jackson. “My father started Sioux Trucking over 30 years ago and I’ve been around it and trucking my whole life. Since officially joining the fleet eight years ago, I’ve gotten to learn all aspects of it. It’s a lot of moving parts — even for me, coming from being a mechanic.”
Sioux Trucking is among the first carriers contracted to be a transportation service provider to FedEx Ground and operates under their authority.
“It’s a long and very symbiotic relationship,” Jackson notes. Sioux operates five company tractors driven by 10 team drivers. “Each of our trucks runs long haul; 275,000 miles a year, all dedicated runs.”
Prior to coming back to Sioux, Jackson earned his stripes as a technician and received a Bachelor of Science degree from Utah’s Weber State University. Now an executive with the carrier for eight years, his current role is heading up maintenance and safety.
“Safety’s role in a fleet is changing exponentially,” he says.
Jackson is becoming known beyond Sioux for his innovative and wide-ranging focus on improving safety for the fleet’s drivers, other truckers, and the motoring public. A key part of his approach is to “drive home as many safety messages as possible to our drivers,” including holding safety conference calls. He develops presentations given to FedEx Ground’s monthly safety meetings and is open to sharing ideas with other FedEx Ground transportation service providers. He is also pursuing NATMI certification and contributes to the American Trucking Association’s Safety Committee, which his father serves on.
Jackson has instituted a company-wide policy to hold meetings to “dissect any and all safety infractions.” He says the goal is to figure out how to correct behaviors to prevent future occurrences.
“We ask, ‘What could we have done better or different to prevent this incident?’ Then we take immediate action to correct any deficiencies in our program.”
To say the least, Jackson leads from the front. Another example: Thanks to the fleet’s weekly detailed inspections of trucks and his interactions with a DOT safety officer, he found out that bunk-net safety equipment is not a regular part of California DOT safety inspection requirements.
To help ensure Sioux’s bunk-safety nets were up to their task, Jackson began having them inspected in-house and encouraged Ryder, their tractor lessor, to also perform such inspections routinely on the fleet’s current and all replacement vehicles. Along with recommending that other FedEx Ground TSPs do the same, Jackson has gone a step further. He’s begun lobbying to mandate safety inspections of bunk nets by California so that “all drivers can be assured this critical safety equipment is in working order.” He says he wants “to have safety-net restraints fall under the same inspection rules as seat belts.”
- Executive Vice President
- Inter-Metro Freight
Like many of those that find themselves in trucking, it wasn’t always the career path Brain Kohn had envisioned for himself. But when he was first introduced to New Jersey-based Inter-Metro Freight in 2009 and given an opportunity to try his hand at order entry and dispatching, he went all in on building a foundation that would quickly lead him to the executive level.
Learning the business from the ground up eventually lead him to managing operations, and now, he’s executive vice president. Inter-Metro specializes in ocean container drayage, serving the ports of New York and New Jersey. The company has seven operations around the country.
But his fast success isn’t what sets Kohn above the rest. What makes Kohn a successful leader is his commitment to fostering a culture of respect and collaboration.
“You don’t just move into a position of authority and expect your team to do what you say because you’re a manager or a supervisor,” he says. “You need to earn that respect and lead by example. Show them that you’re in it with them, and that you’re going to do whatever it takes for them to be successful — for the team to be successful.”
He adheres to an open-door policy, and says he tries to instill the mindset that no one is above or below anyone else. His philosophy is that the team should be willing to help each other and take on responsibilities as they comes.
“I’m most proud of building a tight-knit, strong company culture where people feel recognized and rewarded when they come to work,” Kohn says. “I’ve always said that’s what motivates me most: coming to work and figuring out what we can do, not only to make customers happy, but to make our team happy, as well. When we have a motivated, energetic team that collaborates and works together well, it gives the company the best opportunity to be successful.”
Kohn views trucking as a big puzzle, and he values input from his team to get that puzzle figured out.
“As a manager, it’s important that you’re responding to your people, even if it’s not an idea that we’re going to move forward with,” Kohn emphasized. “It’s important to recognize the idea, give consideration to it, and then make your decision from there.”
Kohn says heavy-duty trucking fleets looking to attract new talent and emerging leaders to the industry should invest the time to explain how integral trucking is to the supply chain, the economy and everyday lives.
“At the end of the day everyone wants to feel like they are a value in what they’re doing and making a difference... making an impact,” he says.
- Director of Driver Hiring
- EverGreen Industries
Stephen Lusk joined flatbed carrier EverGreen Industries shortly after graduating from Mississippi State University with a marketing degree, with a concentration in supply chain management.
“I came in through an apprenticeship program and, in early 2019, was assigned to a then one-man safety and recruiting department that was largely paper-based,” Lusk says. “After six weeks of on-the-job training, it was clear to me we were behind the times.
“Now, I handle nearly all steps of the onboarding process, from the first phone call with a prospect to shaking the new driver’s hand before he hits the road while also regularly contributing to EverGreen’s safety program,” he continues.
Founded in 1991, EverGreen credits much of its success to how it “empowers the heart” of the business, its drivers. Lusk notes that EverGreen ran some 70 power units when he came onboard and is looking to field more than 100 tractors by the end of this year.
With that rate of growth, the carriers’ driver recruitment and onboarding process had to be up to the task. To handle the upsurge, Lusk transitioned the recruiting department “away from a basic webform application to adopt the Tenstreet ATS system. That’s fundamentally changed how we identify, engage, and hire professional drivers.”
While he focuses on driver recruiting and another team member oversees safety, Lusk sees the two disciplines as dovetailed.
“Right from the first phone call with a new applicant, we’re evaluating them on their safety record and approach to safety,” he says. “Our three-day orientation program includes safety training as well as the opportunity to interact with all our departments to help them get to know the company.”
He adds: “I guide each driver candidate all the way through. It’s a personal approach. They have my cell number as well as the company president’s number.”
As for what appeals to him about EverGreen, Lusk says what helped draw him in were the “direct access to company leaders—that’s invaluable for a young professional—and that you’re given a lot of license to innovate and pursue fresh management ideas. I see the company as being like a startup — but one with a long successful history.”
Lusk suggests that any carrier that wants to attract and retain younger professionals should emphasize how their corporate culture fits these career-seekers and show there is “a clear path to move up in the company.” Another tip is to recognize where you are and what you may have to do to make your location a destination appealing to prospects under 40.
“There are tons of trucking companies, but most of them are based in small towns and rural areas,” he says. “So, do what you can to help younger employees get established in your area.”
- Manager of Parts and Purchasing
- A. Duie Pyle
Greg Mellon has been with Pennsylvania-based less-than-truckload carrier A. Duie Pyle for 15 years. He oversees the fleet maintenance’s centralized parts, purchasing and distribution operation which services the fleet of over 5,000 pieces of equipment throughout the Northeast. The warehouse feeds 25 A. Duie Pyle maintenance shops its parts, tooling and lubricants.
Throughout his time at A. Duie Pyle, he’s assumed a variety responsibilities for maintaining and improving different functions within the Fleet Maintenance department. Part of his job is to also oversee the warranty department, fleet maintenance software, oil sampling program, core management, tire program, fluid program and the administration team (licensing, registrations, permits, etc.).
About eight years ago, Mellon also led the implementation of the fleet’s maintenance software, AssetWorks FleetFocus, and headed training efforts. Now, he’s the lead power user for the software.
Throughout his time in management, Mellon has hired and developed a team of people to help accomplish the fleet’s expectations. The fleet’s good reputation and strong relationships in the industry also helped A. Duie Pyle navigate the COVID-19 pandemic-induced supply chain constraints on parts and components.
“There was short term pain (and still is), but we’ve done quite well supporting the operation,” he says. “We aim to keep the fleet running and technicians equipped, but [the maintenance leadership team] is navigating numerous challenges behind the scenes every single day.”
For him, the most rewarding part about his position is to provide the same mentorship that is/was critical to his development, to others. There is no formal education that will prepare you for a career in fleet maintenance, he says.
“Success is a combination of good mentorship, hard work and opportunity,” he says. “Whether in fleet maintenance or operations, those that do the best in our industry are those that reap the rewards of compounding years of mentorship, hard work and opportunity. Every day is an opportunity to learn in our ever-evolving industry.”
Mellon works with and has been mentored by A. Duie Pyle’s Vice President of Maintenance Dan Carrano, one of HDT’s 2021 Truck Fleet Innovators.
- Regional Manager for Mexico & Temperature-Controlled Units
- Werner Enterprises
Rita Runge leads Werner Enterprises’ customer service efforts for the temperature-control and Mexico divisions from Werner’s home base in Omaha, Nebraska.
Her team of four U.S.-based customer service representatives manage freight movements, including some dry van. She also helps support a larger team in Mexico. Any challenges between pickup and delivery are troubleshooted by these teams. Runge oversees the solutions for roadside breakdowns, accidents, and any of the many things that can interrupt trucking operations.
“This industry is always giving me muscles,” she says. “I learn something new every week.” But when she’s challenged and learning, that’s when she really shines. Perhaps that’s why the customer service team is the perfect outlet for her leadership.
Her philosophy is to always go above and beyond in taking care of customers.
“At the end of the day, the truck itself can be replaced, but the customer service and the relationship you build with your customer cannot,” she says. While the trucking industry, and it’s technology and equipment, is always changing, there’s one thing that is constant: customer service, she adds.
In the past couple years, Runge says her team’s customer service efforts at Werner have been recognized by some of its largest customers.
“I think that sometimes we get kind of caught up in the day-to-day,” she says. ”So, I’m just making sure that [we’re] going that extra mile because it gets noticed. Customers recognize that. I feel as a manager, it’s something that I tried to work on — this recognition. The negative side of things kind of stands out and lingers. So, making sure the hard work that you put in, the time and effort, it will get noticed.”
Runge has been with Werner for 10 years. She began her career in billing and later transitioned to customer service before taking over her supervisory role.
- Director of Human Resources and Safety
- Nussbaum Transportation
Rick Schmidt joined the nationwide truckload carrier Nussbaum Transportation about six years ago as a driver recruiter. He continually moved up the ranks until being named to his present position as director of human resources and safety about two years back.
“In handling safety, I want to make sure we recognize where everyone is coming from,” he says. “If we can do that, we can determine how we can help our drivers be as safe as possible.”
As he sees it, “safety may be black and white, but not so individuals, who have their own concerns and stresses” that can affect their driving performance.
Schmidt manages Nussbaum’s signature computerized scoreboard system that assesses data points so the fleet can better coach and motivate drivers to be both safer and more fuel-efficient.
Recently, the carrier rolled out a voluntary driver-development program called Certified Red, named after the bold paintjob on its equipment.
“Certified Red not only takes in the drivers’ safety performance, but also their professional development and continuing education by way of ‘job-shadowing’ in our operations and maintenance departments,” explains Schmidt. “Drivers enrolled also receive hands-on education via video and phone calls.” Like with the scorecard, Certified Red drivers receive pay incentives and other recognition.
The program fosters pride in the drivers who complete all the elements of it who are actually “Certified Red,” which should help them run safer and see their pay continue to rise, according to Schmidt.
Currently, 250 of the fleet’s 465 company drivers are enrolled in Certified Red and 114 so far have completed the certification process, Schmidt reports. While company-wide driver turnover stands at 43%, the drivers who have gone all the way through Certified Red have a turnover rate of just 23%.
What led Schmidt to trucking and why does he like fleet management?
“I have uncles and such who are farmers with CDLs, but as a professional, I’m the first one in trucking,” he says. “I have an HR background and a good friend suggested that I apply here. What we do at Nussbaum fits with my goal to positively impact people’s lives. And it’s a place where one can grow and develop in any type of position, not just in management.”
In looking for new leaders to come onboard, Nussbaum embraces the internship approach.
“When we get interns in, we show them the tech, for IT and data management, and financial,” Schmidt says. “And we invest in training, which is why Nussbaum is taking part in the FMCSA younger-driver pilot program for 18- to 21-year-old CDL holders.”
- CEO and Founder
- Angie’s Transportation
Angie Twardawa is the mastermind behind Angie’s Transportation, which has grown from a small operation with just a few trucks and dedicated drivers, to a multi-million dollar operation in St. Louis specializing in refrigerated transport.
Twardawa founded Angie’s in 2012 with her brother Rafael as director of operations. And under her ownership, the carrier has grown by millions in annual gross revenue each year, and there’s no trend that growth will slow down. Last year, the company grossed nearly $16 million, and this year earnings are projected to match or exceed that number.
Currently, she’s in the process of building an approximately 16,000-square-foot headquarters in St. Louis. The plan includes both office and warehousing space with cross-dock capabilities. The facility will house dispatching, training, 24-hour access to driver amenities and a maintenance bay.
Twardawa grew up in the world of trucking. Her father was an over-the-road truck driver in the ‘90s, and later started his own trucking company, TWA Express, in the early 2000s. Before founding her own company, Twardawa was well-versed in all areas of the operation, having spent her summers helping out at the company in various departments from dispatching to safety to accounting.
Her experience also gave her an appreciation for the drivers that make her business successful. Currently, the 60-truck fleet employs between 50 and 60 drivers.
She believes in keeping her business running on well-maintained equipment spec’ed for driver comfort, including with automatic tire inflation systems and auxiliary power units. All of her trucks are no older than a few years, and are only kept for five years before she fully specs them out of her fleet.
In 2017, Angie’s Transportation’s leased office and warehouse space burnt to the ground in one of the worst fires in the history of the city. Twardawa was able to keep business on track and in operation while she worked day and night out of her home to rebuild her company records. Her proven resiliency and business-savvy show there’s nothing that can stop this emerging leader.
- Director of Maintenance and Purchasing
- Walpole Inc.
Some people fall into trucking, and others grow up in it.
As a fourth-generation “trucker” Ryan Walpole has spent his entire life caring deeply about trucking and wanting to see the industry succeed. But more than that, he wants people outside of the world of trucking to understand and care about it too.
When he’s at work he’s the director of maintenance and purchasing for family-owned and -operated Walpole Inc., and when he’s not at work he’s proudly representing the industry.
He is a graduate of the American Trucking Associations’ LEAD class — a program designed to develop the next generation of trucking leadership, sits on the Martin County Metropolitan Planning Organization, and is actively involved in the Florida Trucking Association. He’s a board member, the founding member of the association’s 2.0 Leadership class — which supports emerging leaders in the industry, and serves as FTA’s vice president to the ATA.
Congratulations to LEAD ATA graduate Ryan Walpole for being named a @HDTrucking 2022 Emerging Leader! Ryan is a LEAD ATA graduate from 2018 - 2019, and Director of Maintenance and Purchasing at @WalpoleInc. Job well done Ryan! https://t.co/aQ5YpinCla pic.twitter.com/611VsYzYCG— LEAD ATA (@LEAD_ATA) September 29, 2022
While he grew up in a 70-year-old, legacy (mainly dry bulk pneumatic tanker) trucking operation, Walpole says trucking has always been his choice.
“One of the things that my grandfather did for me was he sat me down and told me, ‘you know, just because we have a family transportation company does not mean you need to be involved. I’ve got a lot of friends in a lot of different places. I can make some phone calls if you want to go be anything you want,’” Walpole recalls.
Walpole worked his way throughout the operation, doing everything from cleaning trucks to helping out in the safety department to working with accounts payable.
When it comes to his mission, and his advice for other companies looking to foster young leaders, he says to find people who are passionate and invest in them.
“For the longest time transportation hasn’t been given acknowledgement that transportation needs,” he says. “I think it’s the key for the industry, which I feel does a very poor job at promoting ourselves. These past couple of years, it’s gotten better.” But, he thinks there’s more to be done, and that’s why he’s so involved.
Walpole has also led the implementation of inward and outward facing cameras across the fleet’s 300 power units.
These profiles were featured in the October 2022 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.