Ask any of this year's Truck Fleet Innovators, and they'll tell you that hiring the right people is critical to building a trucking powerhouse. A case in point is SAV Transportation Group, the Minneapolis area company that's still relatively small but steadily growing.

One of its key hires last year was the veteran owner-operator team of Gerald and Helen Beebe. The coupe and their dog Bandit average over 20,000 loaded miles a month, hauling mostly air freight and beer to and from both coasts. SAV lines up the loads; the team splits the driving.

They are solid citizens, devoted grandparents and efficient truck operators. Gerald has driven for 30 years; Helen joined him nearly four years ago after earning her CDL. Their 2007 Freightliner Classic has an auxiliary power unit that burns a pint of fuel an hour, saving more than seven gallons in each 10-hour period compared to idling the main diesel.

The APU powers the sleeper cab's microwave, TV, fridge, coffeemaker and laptop, as well as lighting, heating and cooling. Thus, they seldom spend time at truckstops, other than to buy fuel.

The Beebes liked SAV's benefits and its fun-loving we-are-family persona, but shortly after they signed on they ran into communications problems with dispatch. They informed management.

"We wrote how we felt," says Gerald. "It's a good company with a lot of good things going, but there was a problemdispatch wasn't turning the freight."

Management listened and acted swiftly with a survey of its owner-operators that bore out the Beebes' contentions. Dispatch was quickly overhauled, with different people put in place. Result: "I'd recommend this company to anybody," says Gerald.

But there was more. The Beebes' letter set the wheels in motion for a company-wide streamlining of all operations. And it put the spotlight on another key SAV person: Joe Thomas.

Thomas is director of safety and recruiting, responsible for driver interface and equipment operations. Management knew it had a good man here, but the survey proved just how good: While 80% of the drivers surveyed were critical of dispatch, fully 100% endorsed Thomas with comments like "the best in the industry."

SAV prides itself on low turnover among its owner-operators, and the survey produced insight into that. Its summary of results says: "Joe Thomas is a highly positive element and an indispensable asset to SAV. If nothing is done [with dispatch] and SAV loses Joewe could most likely expect an increased rate of defection among our driver network."

Thomas' own take on that: "Drivers all just want to be treated equalI treat them decently and they respond. We wouldn't have jobs without our drivers."

When you come right down to it, innovation in business is still about the right people in the right places.

E-mail Doug Condra at, or write P.O. Box W, Newport Beach, CA 92658.