My father was a trucker, my grandfather was a trucker,” says Leigh Ann Frederick, who bought Michigan-based Northfield Trucking from her father. “That was the tradition. But it’s not that way anymore.”
Although many of HDT’s inaugural Emerging Leaders do indeed have family in the business, they say following one’s parents’ footsteps into the trucking business is not as common as it once was.
“I think it’ll take creative minds and new innovations to get through the changes coming up,” Frederick says.
When you go to trucking industry gatherings, “you see this kind of 15-year gap,” says Dustin Koehl – “the people with the gray hair and the people with the long hair.” Vice president of sales and marketing for Total Transportation of Mississippi, Koehl revitalized a management trainee program a few years ago. He visits classes at the University of Tennessee and other southern schools.
“We tell our story,” he explains. “Trucking’s got an image issue, especially to these supply chain students who think of Coke, Clorox, Amazon and Unilever [for careers]. We tell them you can work for a trucking company and work with all those companies.”
Echoing a common stereotype aimed at much of his generation, Justin Griffith, operations manager for Tennessee-based Conard Transportation, says, “I think a lot of today’s society wants instant gratification and instant money; you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. And I think that scares a lot of people off.”
Even though Michael Polachek with Dutch Maid Logistics grew up around trucking, if you had asked him 20 years ago, “I wouldn’t have told you I’d be working for a trucking company. It’s tough to attract younger people.”
Yet that mix of old and young can deliver great benefit to a company, says Anthony “Tony” Thompson, maintenance and repair manager for Illinois-based Hub Group Trucking. “Just constantly bringing in new and diverse talent, a mix of younger generations and older generations, and let them mix together so they can bounce ideas off each other,” benefits both companies and employees, he says. “That’s kind of how we’re set up here.”
Attracting young talent
When we asked our Emerging Leaders their recommendations for how to attract more young talent into the trucking industry, they talked about office environments, technology, education/outreach and image.
“If you’re hiring good people, everyone wants to see that growth strategy for them individually, and there can only be so many chiefs,” says Wesley Dunn, co-founder of RangeWay Carriers in Pelham, Alabama, “so it’s difficult to retain those really good people you want to keep when they may be second in line. We try to take that over with culture. It’s a family atmosphere. A lot of people who come to work for us don’t want to be in those huge corporate settings, and I think that’s important. We’re a little more laid back, and we give them the opportunity to grow.”
Silicon Valley tech companies have become known for “cool” offices with features like climbing walls and nap nooks. At Conard Logistics in Tennessee, there’s a ping-pong table that is a great stress-reliever, says Operations Manager Justin Griffith.
“Everyone that comes in here speaks of our office,” Griffith says. “We have a ‘command center’ style of office with multiple TVs that display important information on demand. We always try to have fun, and our owners try to instill that as much as possible.”
Kyle Kottke, general manager of Kottke Trucking in Buffalo Lake, Minnesota, puts it this way: “I think those that are more successful with the younger generation are making trucking exciting again.”
Technology infuses excitement
One way to make trucking exciting for the younger generation, a number of our honorees agreed, is with technology.
“The best thing we could do is infuse technology into it,” says Zach Meiborg, president of Illinois-based Meiborg Bros. “There’s a lot of neat stuff out there that makes the job easier for people, but you have to be willing to make a change and try new things.” For instance, he says, the industry could take advantage of the interest among the general public in autonomous vehicles.
Brett Mowers with River Valley Foods in New York agrees that technology can help make transportation and logistics seem a little more glamorous. “The thought of some driverless trucks are a little scary, but it’s also a little exciting to someone like me. I think this industry should grow with the technology available.”
Ross Stewart with Southern States Cooperative believes companies “are going to really have to embrace the newest offerings … to invest in programs, in data and data analytics, to get those skillsets they need moving forward.”
Michael Glover, who heads up planning at Pacific Gas & Electric in California, notes that new technicians coming in want advanced computer-driven diagnostics, training and equipment readily available. “When we don’t have that technology or training available, we see people coming in that are used to that who are looking elsewhere for employment.”
So PG&E has been involved in “a pretty aggressive diagnostics training program” and is acquiring the diagnostics equipment needed. “We’re making a strategic investment in both the employees and the equipment to fast track this.” Similar efforts are being made in adding telematics for driver safety and predictive analysis.
But technology is just one tool to help overcome the stigma of trucking among the general public.
“I think you’ll find there are a lot of younger people who don’t have a problem getting involved on the office — the logistics side — but it’s harder to get them involved on the mechanic, driver, and warehouse side,” says Robert Haag, vice president of operations for Perfect Transportation in Indianapolis. “And I think that’s because of how society sees those jobs. You certainly can pull in a nice paycheck that can support a family, yet a lot of teenagers are driven by society and their parents and pressured to get into a job they may not be comfortable or satisfied with, and I think they get pushed past the opportunities available in the trucking industry.”
Jarit Cornelius, vice president of asset maintenance and compliance at Tennessee-based Sharp Transport, believes the Trucking Moves America Forward campaign being promoted by several trucking industry organizations will help in the long run.
While many of our Emerging Leaders come from trucking backgrounds, one who does not is John Michell at Daseke.
“It really is about perception,” he says. “If you think about what’s coming down the pike, the people who are going to be successful in this business are the people who embrace technology; the people who can not only capture the data but can also do something with it. I think the combination of those two should attract lots of people.
“There are lots of impending regulations that are going to change the landscape, and that creates opportunity. I think for someone that’s beginning their career, it represents massive opportunity out there. Someone who’s willing to put their nose down and work hard can go pretty far in this industry.”
Vice President of Asset Maintenance and Compliance
Cornelius joined Sharp Transport as director of maintenance five years ago after working at Ryder and a Kenworth dealership, and has added to his responsibilities with work in safety, recruiting and retention, and asset management.
“I’ve always been of the mindset that if I feel like I can add value, then I want to be a part of it,” he says.
Active in the ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council, he has moved Sharp to a full vehicle maintenance reporting system to help analyze costs.
“It was never my objective to work in this industry; I kind of came across it by accident. I can’t imaging doing the same thing every day. I like learning new things, I like achieving successes that benefit the company.”
He’s very involved in evaluating new technology. Sharp runs about 120 trucks and 150 dry van trailers, and Cornelius says while many smaller carriers are skeptical of investing in new vs. used equipment or moving to electronic logs and aerodynamics, “we’ve proven that you can do that and still be successful.”
Managing Member and Founder
Dunn and his partner, Jud White, started RangeWay Carriers from their homes more than four years ago. They started out specializing in military transport, branched out to full-service brokerage, then started buying trucks. Today, they own 11 trucks and 45 trailers and use another 18 owner-operators. Moving to an asset-based operation was difficult, Dunn admits, because of all the regulations and requirements put on new entrants into the business, as well as skyrocketing insurance costs.
“Operations and sales are my strong suit, and my passion as a problem solver finding a solution,” Dunn says, adding, “We leaned on really good drivers that were smart guys who really cared who took a shot with us.”
“It was Wesley’s knowledge and understanding of customer priorities that really led to our success,” White says, “Wesley is always looking for transportation solutions that get the job done.”
Leigh Ann Frederick
President and Owner
Northfield Trucking Co.
Frederick bought Northfield from her father two years after it opened, when she was just 24 years old. “I was young and ready to change the world,” she says. Since then, she’s worked hard to expand the fleet and diversify the business. It’s grown from about 10 trucks in 2004 to 70 today.
“I had a lot to learn, but I also had a lot of creative ideas I knew could make a difference,” she says, emphasizing that “you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with.”
Today, the company offers over the road, regional, dedicated automotive freight, and local pickup and delivery.
“We’re not cookie cutter. We think outside the box to find creative solutions.”
Under Frederick, the company opened a full-fledged maintenance/repair shop, including the ability to do body work and its own paint booth. Frederick says she invests in technology, whether it’s back office software or safety technology that allows the fleet to identify drivers who need more training need a checkup.
Director of Planning, Performance and Strategy
Pacific Gas & Electric
San Francisco, California
Glover, who has been with the utility a little more than eight years, was previously employed at a software company working on financial software. His education is in finance, so he started out in PG&E’s finance department. He was doing the books for the transportation services department and transitioned into this position about three years ago. Today, he says, his primary responsibilities involve “everything behind the scenes that’s not turning wrenches.”
He’s in charge of developing the strategy for the entire fleet department, managing fuel procurement, back office functions such as registration and warranty processing, parts and inventory management, and overseeing technician training. PG&E is a leader in electric and hybrid drivetrain adoption for work trucks, and Glover’s team works with the engineering group on developing break-even analyses for deploying fleet electrification.
“I think in California the predominant fuels in the future are going to be largely electric- and hydrogen-based, and it’s what are we going to do for the larger Class 5, 6 and 7 vehicles to think differently about how those vehicles will be propelled by alternative fuels.”
Glover is involved in a company effort to figure out how to standardize some of their vehicles to simplify operation for both users and technicians. Another effort is implementing telematics across the fleet.
La Vergne, Tennessee
The operations manager for a family-owned trucking company of about 40 trucks, Griffith works on safety and day-to-day operations.
“This young man defies the stereotype put on these young people,” says his father, who’s part owner of the business and has been in trucking for 40 years. “He is running a 40-truck fleet, head-hauling and backhauling all units, helping to tie in maintenance and compliance. In fact, he heads up a young group of people, all under 30, that will take this company forward.”
When he was young, Griffith says, he wanted to be a physical therapist, “but the older I got, the more aware I became of how important trucking was to our country.” So, he got a degree in transportation and has been with Conard for nearly seven years, working his way up.
“I’d like to continue to be here as long as they’ll have me,” he says.
Kivi Bros. Trucking
This open deck carrier will “take on any project that comes our way,” says Kivi. He and his two brothers are following in the family footsteps. Their grandfather was in trucking and their father and uncle started this company in 1995.
“I’ve never had a different job,” he says, noting he started washing trucks around age 12 and worked his way up through various jobs, including driving a truck. Today, he coordinates outbound logistics, while his younger brother handles the heavy haul division and his older brother is in charge of purchasing and equipment.
When asked what the brothers might do differently from their parents, he says, “a little more as far as risk taking, really going for a little more stressful work.” For instance, the company took on a job of 41 consecutive loads that had to be moved in sequence from New Jersey to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as part of the new Vikings stadium.
Since 2014, the company has grown by around 25 trucks to nearly 90 power units.
Vice President, Sales and Marketing
Total Transportation of MS
Koehl has been with Total nearly 10 years, moving to the Mississippi headquarters a little over a year ago from the Loudon, Tennessee, terminal as part of a succession plan. There he oversees sales, customer service, pricing and reporting, as well as a new dedicated division, and helping manage the logistics division.
Very involved with the American Trucking Associations and a graduate of ATA’s LEAD program for young trucking leaders, Koehl describes himself as having “a heart for the trucking industry.”
Dealing with the recession, he says. “we had to really do things differently, and that started with our customer base.” Realizing that people have to eat, he spent time in the grocery store aisles studying the brands, and worked to diversify the company’s customer base. “At one point we were 40% broker freight; now we’re less than 2%,” he says. “That really started with the food and beverage industries, and now we work with 50 of the Fortune 500 companies,” including retail and e-commerce along with food and beverage.
The company has nearly doubled in size from the 400 trucks it had when he came on board. Slip seating and increases in team operations improved productivity, from an average of 13.2 shipments per truck per month to 15.
Vice President of Operations
This ATA LEAD graduate has a key leadership role in a small family-run trucking company. He’s active in ATA, including chairman of its automated truck task force and vice chair of the policy committee. He’s also involved in the Indiana Motor Truck Association and the Truckload Carriers Association.
Perfect Transportation is the private fleet arm of Perfect Pallets, which supplies reusable plastic pallets used in the newspaper industry, with about 40 trucks and 55 trailers. Haag handles the operations side, dealing with the day-to-day business of the trucking side, logistics, inventory, etc. His father is the owner, and his sister handles the legal side of the business.
“One of the biggest concerns for us is finding drivers,” he says. “Sometimes it’s not finding people to apply, but finding the qualified candidates who fit your safety culture and your insurance providers requirements. It’s trying to find those drivers you know are not going to be with you for two weeks and leave.”
Buffalo Lake, Minnesota
With a fleet of 160 trucks and growing, as general manager, Kottke does a little bit of everything — operations, accounting, safety, maintenance, and recruiting. Kottke Trucking is a third-generation business hauling mostly refrigerated freight. After the Great Recession hit the company hard, he turned to data analytics to analyze lanes and rates and make adjustments to improve profitability.
A past chairman of the Minnesota Trucking Association, he is active in the industry. Driver relations are a big focus. “I think we’re all working on making sure we treat them with respect, and I think that was a good first step,” he says.
“I find myself telling the trucking story everywhere I go. There’s a perception sometimes that it’s a slow, stale environment, and I find myself correcting that. You find yourself often correcting that perception and educating the general public on how much technology we’ve already seen and what’s on the horizon.”
Director of Finance
Don Daseke, president and CEO of Daseke Inc., says Michell, a member of the ATA LEAD class, “brings an analytical and creative problem-solving approach that has added tremendous value to our organization.”
Daseke is a large open-deck company that has grown rapidly in recent years from acquisitions as well as organic growth. It’s grown from about $30 million in 2008 in revenue to about $650 million today. Michell evaluates potential acquisitions and handles the financing. Beyond that, he says, his small office “wears a lot of hats,” helping out with everything from marketing to operations.
Michell joined Daseke about three years ago. “I actually like to say I’m a reformed banker,” he says, noting that he finds trucking “absolutely fascinating.” In banking, he says, he “had the pleasure of seeing many different industries and meeting many different successful pepole, which I believe often gives me some unique insights into the business.”
Zachary “Zach” Meiborg
After graduating with a degree in economics in 2008, Meiborg joined the company his father started with a single truck in 1981. Today, the fleet has grown to 100 trucks, primarily dry van. Earlier this year, Zach took on the title of president as his father semi-retired.
“The core reason for growth has been customer service,” he says. “Find good customers, treat them right, and service them as if you never want anyone to move in on them.”
Meiborg integrated all the GPS information from five different telematics providers (Two different tractor telematics providers, two trailer tracking systems and information from Xtralease for lease trailers) into one open portal. “This has been huge for us,” he says, allowing visibility into all the equipment via one simple-to-use portal — not only location, but also hours of service, weather, routing and more.
It’s all about “opening your eyes to realize the problem in front of you and then work the problem,” Meiborg says. “Probably one of the best things we do as a company is we don’t give up easily when we encounter a problem.”
River Valley Foods
Syracuse, New York
Mowers says he is “always searching for new ways to solve old problems,” such as driver retention, routing, safety and efficiency.
He’s been with the specialty and frozen food distributor for 12 years, having started right out of college. River Valley distributes groceries to chains such as Walmart and Wegman’s as well as small retail grocery accounts. Mowers handles not only all outbound routing and driver management, but also is editor of the company newsletter, and is on the food safety team preparing for new federal food safety regulations.
Mowers has been there long enough that his department largely hums along without him, so he’s stepped in to get involved with projects such as rewriting the company handbook and running a company store that allows employees to buy food items during the holidays.
While Mowers says his driver turnover rate is pretty low, nevertheless he sees the impact of the aging driver workforce and thinks about how to address it. One thing he’s thinking about doing is spec’ing trucks with more high-tech creature comforts, such as satellite radios, Bluetooth and automated transmissions.
Southern States Cooperative
Southern States Fleet Manager Thurman Register praises Stewart’s development of an in-house, easy-to-use dashboard program to track key performance indicators and utilization. The co-op has several divisions, selling everything from chicken feed and garden supplies to bulk trailer loads of fertilizer and delivering gasoline, diesel and other fuels. It has about 2,500 vehicles, everything from cars to medium- and heavy-duty trucks to agricultural equipment.
“Through the use of this utilization tool we can turn data into action and make real time fleet decisions that impact the bottom line,” he says. In addition, Stewart has implemented a fuel card program.
Stewart has been with the co-op for less than two years. “Most recently we’ve been working with telematics data,” he says. “We have a business intelligence team, pulling in a lot of the telematics data and creating a dashboard to dig into idle time and things like that.”
Stewart was working in the semiconductor manufacturing industry in 2009 when the company he was working for shut its doors. The job at Southern States looked like a good fit. “I’ve always had an interest in trucking and this was my opening to do it.”
Dutch Maid Logistics
Polachek grew up around trucks, since his dad was a diesel mechanic. He has been with Dutch Maid Logistics for less than two years and recently took on the operations manager role, moving up from a dispatching position.
Safety Director Stewart Myers praises Polachek’s “attitude, ambition, and his ability to work with drivers” and calls him “a wonderful addition” to the management team.
Dutch Maid is a refrigerated carrier running about 115 tractors, primarily east of the Mississippi River. It started off as a small private carrier for the agriculture end of the business but branched out and today offers truckload, spotting/shuttle services, and logistics.
Polachek says his expanded role actually allows him more time to talk to drivers, away from the dispatch role of “fires burning all day long.”
The company currently is transitioning to e-logs. The transition has not been easy for some of the “old school” drivers, he says, but “it’s forcing people to get better at time management, which in turn hopefully makes people safer.”
Anthony “Tony” Thompson
Maintenance and Repair Manager
Hub Group Trucking
Oak Brook, Illinois
Cory Beard, senior director of fleet maintenance, says Thompson has “fast tracked up the ladder” at Hub Group Trucking. After being a heavy equipment mechanic in the military, Thompson got into maintenance. He came to Hub Group from a position as shop manager at another trucking company, starting out as a regional maintenance manager in August 2015.
Less than a year later, he moved up to oversee all three regions. In his new position, which he describes as more analytical, Thompson helps align labor rates and parts pricing. He has established uniform operating procedures for the company’s preventive maintenance program, including using driver vehicle inspection reports as a real maintenance tool and not just another thing to tick off on the regulatory to-do list, and has been setting up vendors and aligning them with the terminals.
“I’ve always loved being a mechanic,” he says. “I’m constantly coming up with different creative ideas, solutions, to streamline the maintenance procedures and processes.”