"I honestly do believe that anyone who is operating in the trucking industry is at a crossroads -- in fact, you're facing an entire series of crossroads, each one a decision point sending you in directions that will ultimately determine your success or failure, profitability or loss, growth or stagnation," Graves said as part of his "State of the Industry" address.
As last year's conference, Graves noted, he spoke of visualizing the state of the industry as "the road ahead," looking smooth and inviting in the distance, but when viewed up close, actually filled with regulatory and policy "cracks and potholes."
A year later, he said, we have resolved some of those "crack and pothole" issues, but at the same time, some new ones have developed.
"All the while, you've individually and collectively moved on down the road," Graves said, "A road that this year seems to be bringing us to some significant crossroads."
There will be multiple paths forward on policies of federal and state government, he said. "Some will be cluttered with overregulation and bureaucratic burdens, while others will provide smooth sailing through partnerships, communication and cooperation."
"You'll be making many decisions about what technologies to embrace, knowing that as rapidly as new technology is being developed and made available, you will simple be unable to afford all of it -- or to deploy it in an orderly manner even if you could afford it."
Graves asked the audience to consider what decisions they would make about recruiting and retaining drivers, and how great an effect it would have if a competitor ofered to pay drivers substantially more -- or started paying drivers by the hour. "If someone starts that trend, are you going to be forced to follow suit?"
Then there's fuel, usually the industry's number two expense.
"For as long as trucks have rolled, diesel fuel and gasoline have provide the power," he said. "But that may be changing. What role do natural gas and hybrids play in your fleet's future? What if a competitor embraces a fuel or power alternative that pays off, and you don't?"
Some of these decisions, Graves said, would be obvious, while other choices will be incredible difficult. "In fact, some will be so obfuscated by conflicting influences that you'll be forced to simply roll the dice."
From a big-picture standpoint, Graves said, "the long-term macro outlook for trucking has never been better," noting that "both the essentiality of the industry and the demand for freight movement by truck -- a growing demand for freight movement by truck -- is unquestioned."
However, the near-term micro view continues to be very challenging, Graves said.
"It's almost as if we're playing an industry game of 'Survivor,' trying to figure out who gets voted off the island and who has the skills, the smarts, the resources to win," he said.
"More than likely, those unwilling to embrace the change that confronts us will not survive."