Heavy Duty Trucking has named its Truck Fleet Innovators for 2013. These four industry leaders will be honored and featured in a panel discussion during the Fleet Forum educational event next Wednesday, March 20, in Louisville, Ky.:

Kevin Burch, President, Jet Express, Dayton, Ohio: Burch went to work at age 19 with the same company his dad worked for, regional LTL Blue Arrow. Within two years he was terminal manager. Over the next 12 years he built his reputation and got an offer to work for a small truckload carrier in the automotive business. Within a couple of years he was president. That was 24 years ago. By 2009-2010, his stature in the industry was such that he was chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association. Jet keeps turnover under 40% by offering schedules that provide home time and a management style that honors drivers' preferences, and he has been involved in several panel discussions on driver recruiting and retention. He's also a vocal advocate for trucking image, including reaching out to communities and the media.

Joe Cowan, President, Cowan Systems LLC, Baltimore, Md.: Cowan Systems was founded in 1994 by Joe Cowan as a new operating entity, but it has origins dating back over 80 years -- in 1924 his father established a regional LTL, W.T. Cowan Inc. Cowan Systems is a truckload carrier operating primarily east of the Mississippi that specializes in dedicated operations, especially in the beverage industry. It has developed a lightweight tractor and trailer spec that is standard across its entire 1,600-plus-tractor fleet allowing it to handle 50,000 pounds of payload instead of the typical 44,000. With dedicated and short-haul truckload operations making up the bulk of its business, most of its drivers are home every weekend or sleep in a bed every night. The company says its ability to hire and retain the best drivers is one of the keys to its success.

Trent Dye, Director, Paramount Freight Systems, Jeffersonville, Ohio: Dye came from a law enforcement background and got his start in trucking as a dispatcher, working his way up the ladder at several trucking companies, including Schneider National, until he came to Paramount in 2008 when it was founded as the owner-operator division of R+L Truckload. Under Dye's direction, Paramount has been honored three years in a row in the Truckload Carriers Associations' "Best Fleets to Drive For" program as a top fleet for owner-operators. The company uses social media, relationship-focused onboarding, an unusual mentoring program, relationship education for its fleet managers, and business-management classes for its independent contractors to help it maintain a turnover rate of less than 30%.

Robert E. Low, President and Founder, Prime Inc., Springfield, Mo.: This year's Truckload Carriers Association chairman, Low got his start in trucking driving his own dump truck in college in 1970. He doubled the size of his fleet every year from 1973 until 1979, but within two years was in bankruptcy court. During the three and a half years in Chapter 11, the company developed many of the business practices that have helped it grow into one of the nation's largest truckload fleets, which today boasts more than 4,000 trucks. One of those practices was its independent contractor business model, where the company leases trucks to its owner-operator drivers. Low credits the company's ongoing driver training program, outstanding driver amenities, attention to wellness, and a culture that values drivers among the reasons for its turnover percentage in the low 50s.

MATS Fleet Forum, held at the Kentucky Expo Center March 20 in conjunction with the Mid-America Trucking Show, is a conference for fleet executives and Heavy Duty/Commercial Vehicle industry VIPs. The forum will combine the resources and expertise of trucking's two major publications (Fleet Owner and Heavy Duty Trucking) and the largest trade show, to provide an in-depth look at the future of equipment and trucking.

HDT Equipment Editor Jim Park will moderate a panel session with HDT's 2013 Truck Fleet Innovators on "Managing Your Fleet in the Real World." It will discuss driver strategies, how new technology is playing a role, how they’re retaining “the best and the brightest” drivers and more.

In addition to the Innovators panel, the Fleet Forum will feature:

  • Past the Cliff: Factors That Will Drive the Next Phase of the Cycle, a presentatoin by Kenny Vieth, president and senior analyst with ACT Research
  • The Blue Fleet: A panel of truck manufacturers and early-adopter fleets discuss the pros and cons of switching to natural gas, exploring fueling options, maintenance changes and total cost of ownership.

The event runs from noon to 6 p.m. and includes lunch. For more information: http://www.truckingshow.com/fleet-forum.