These trucking leaders are taking the lead on innovation. - HDT Illustration

These trucking leaders are taking the lead on innovation.

HDT Illustration

“The word innovation is intimidating,” said James Adams, CEO and Founder of Revolution Trucking. When you say innovation, he said, people think about things like autonomous vehicles or inventing the iPhone.

“It’s not that. It’s micro innovation. It’s small. You can innovate a hundred times a day and not call it innovation.”

But those little things add up.

Adams was speaking as part of a panel discussion featuring the 2023 HDT Truck Fleet Innovators at Heavy Duty Trucking Exchange in Scottsdale, Arizona, outside of Phoenix. The panel was asked to share advice on how other fleets can think outside the box, overcome inertia, and get people on board with change.

“Keep it in bite-size chunks,” Adams advised.

Garth Pitzel, who worked to turn Canada’s Bison Transport into one of the safest fleets in North America, said “part of innovation is to figure out how you can apply [ideas gleaned from other fleets] to your business.”

What one company does might not work for another fleet, he said, “but look at how this concept CAN fit into your business.”

Brent Hickman, senior manager of equipment maintenance and sales, Pilot Company, said, “Sometimes you have to crawl before you run. Sometimes you’ve just got to rip the band-aid off.”

The Innovators stressed that it’s hard to innovate if you don’t have people with the right attitude.

At Revolution, Adams said, before applicants even interview, they’re sent a document asking them to sign that they will live by the company’s core values.

“If you don’t want to, don’t waste our time,” he said.

Never Say 'Can't'

When Andrew Winkler came on board as general manager at Chief Carriers, he soon realized he had to work to change the corporate culture. “There were a lot of silos and we had to figure out how to break those down.

“We went through a time where we changed a lot of leadership,” he said. “Some didn’t see the need for change.”

Part of what’s needed is people who’ve banned “can’t” from their vocabulary.

“I’ve had people say it’s impossible,” said Adams regarding Revolution’s 99-percent-plus on-time pickup and delivery record. How does he do it? Marrying process, people, and technology to make sure his team has all the information needed to make those on-time deliveries.

When you need to get approval for an idea, Hickman said he makes sure he knows the answer to every possible question he can anticipate. “If I can’t answer all the questions I know I’m going to get with confidence, I put it on pause. Ultimately, when you do go to present something or push it, you’ll get more buy-in because you’re not coming at it with a wing and a prayer.”

Include Driver Buy-in As Part of Innovation

Thurman Register, senior fleet manager for Ferguson Enterprises, agreed. And he’s found that driver buy-in helps.

“Everyone on my fleet team has to spend time in the field working side by side with drivers,” he said. “The person 6 feet from the work is going to give you the best feedback. Once you have buy-in at the driver level, it’s easier to push up into the company.”

Brad Bayne also talked about driver buy-in, in this case with the transition to electric trucks at Duncan and Son Lines/4 Gen Logistics, where he’s VP of strategic initiatives.

“We want drivers to feel treated well and made a point to get them involved very early,” he said, giving them opportunities to experience different brands and provide feedback. “I now have drivers asking me, when are we going to get to drive them?”

The point is, don’t think you have to be Steve Jobs or Richard Branson to reap the benefits of more innovative thinking,

“We don’t invent anything,” said Register. “We just find a better way to build a mousetrap. We didn’t invent it, but we found a better way to apply it to our industry.”

Related: HDT Series: NACFE's Electric Fleet Leaders

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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