When did you realize you were destined for trucking?
My father used to drive for C.R. England, and as a young kid - 5 or 6 years old - I was always in the truck and driving with dad. So I've just always been around trucking my whole life. It was the direction I was going from day one.
Any lessons you learned in the early days of Swift?
We came up during the years of regulation, when we had to have ICC authority and you had to do it differently or better than the existing carrier to be able to get the authority. With that background, we always ask how do we do it differently and how do we do it better to get the business.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge for trucking companies in 2012?
Government regulations. We're just getting bombarded with various government regulations from CSA to different engine EPA requirements. Our costs are going up dramatically, too. I've never been in an era when costs are as high as they are. That's our number one challenge: what we are going to do from a costing side going forward?
Swift has been experimenting with LNG (liquified natural gas). Where are you now?
We're very excited about it. We have three different test projects that we are working on today. One is the Cummins 8.9-liter that is very underpowered, but we're working some dedicated operations where we don't need a lot of power. We're also testing a Cummins 11.9-liter engine that has some great promise.
We're also involved with a company where we are mixing CNG (compressed natural gas) and diesel - a hybrid that we're getting some excellent results on.
We really believe that natural gas is a thing of the future. There's probably a five-year window to get into it. The manufacturers, like Cummins, are just starting to develop their 11.9-liter engines today. I don't know exactly what their time frame is on their 15-liter - probably a year or two behind. But we really think that this industry over the next five years could be close to 50% natural gas.
How should a carrier treat its drivers?
I've been in this business for 45 years and the number one problem has always been drivers. It's not going to change. For us to solve this, we've got to give them a lot more money. It's still a very difficult job, even though I believe the job itself is getting much better because they aren't required to unload like they used to and the equipment is getting so much better.
The offset of that is that we aren't getting the driver that's the old trucker anymore, it's the opposite of that: It's the new kid that's coming off the street. He wants all these different benefits and he's just not willing to work in the way that the older driver is. The industry has to look at that: number one, we have a different driver we gotta take care of - he has different attitudes and different wants - and number two, we gotta pay him more money.
If you could give one piece of advice to a company that was on the cusp of taking its business to the next level, what would it be?
Watch the numbers. You've got to know where you are on a daily basis as far as revenue and miles. Break everything down.
If you could go on a long-haul with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
Well, my dad died 25 years ago and he and I used to drive together. So if I had to select someone, it would probably be my father. It would just be fun to go trucking with him again.
This article originally appeared in Today's Trucking magazine.