Leaders of top-notch trucking operations often attribute their success to their people, all those who are behind the wheel, out in the shop, and back in the office performing day in and day out as a well-oiled team. But it’s the leaders within those ranks who ensure everyone is working to their fullest potential to deliver on company goals, day after day.

Leaders inspire others to follow. They lead by example but, above all, they lead by gaining the trust of others, both those who willingly follow them and those who are wise enough to empower them to make things happen.

And while a call to greatness may be answered at any age, leadership that emerges at a young age tends to flourish over a lifetime, enriching businesses smart enough to recognize leadership potential for decades to come.

With that view ahead in mind, we’re proud to introduce here our second annual HDT Emerging Leaders. Each of these fleet management standouts was noticed for on-the-job accomplishments and winning approaches to managing people before reaching the age of 40.

This year’s Emerging Leaders range in age from their early 20s to late 30s and collectively represent a cross-section of trucking operations, including for-hire, private, and lessor fleets. All were nominated by employers, colleagues, or peers, with the final 10 honorees chosen by our editorial staff.

While some of our honorees came to trucking through familial links, others did so through a friend or via college coursework or simply by happenstance. What they all have in common, though, is a love for trucking that’s deeply distilled by their daily work lives. And they all think trucking has a lot to offer other millennial business professionals.

The rookies

Gregory Dills, financial business consultant for Oakley Transport, has the distinction of being our youngest 2017 honoree. His experience in college suggests that more young adults might consider a similar career path if they came to know trucking as he has.

Entering college just a few years ago, he originally had no idea what he would do after graduation. “Then in early coursework, I saw the important role transportation plays. Without it, our country would not function very well.” On the other hand, Dills says, peers his age tend to see trucking only through the lens of the rugged trucker image, which “supersedes any other notion of what trucking is really all about.”

“It would be easier to attract young adults to careers in trucking if everyone could get the word out that this is not a dirty, greasy industry,” says Amanda Schuier, director of marketing and driver recruiting at Waller Truck Co. “Trucking is actually an industry that thrives on technology, but not enough people know that.”

Tawny Rogers, driver recruitment innovation and technology manager for J.B. Hunt Transport Services and one of our youngest honorees, says to attract her fellow millennials, employers should recognize that “they want to be appreciated as well as be paid. The same applies to drivers; they want to be appreciated for performing a job that requires a high level of skill.”

“Trucking is going to be around for a long time,” says Mark Penley, director of safety and employee relations at Old Dominion Freight Line. “That attracts people. And if you take care of your people, pay them well and treat them well, you will have folks at the competition who are on the waiting list to come work for you, as we do.”

Matthew Kositzky, Southern Region operations manager for Modular Transportation, sees trucking changing over the next 10 to 20 years to where it will wear “a completely new face,” thanks to “some of the greatest growth and technological advances, all of which will have started right before our eyes. Those who cannot adapt will not like where they end up. We really need to see trucking as a technological industry, even though being scared of change is a human reaction.”

Geoffrey Fleming, vice president of purchasing for Aim NationalLease, says “showing off the technology we use here helps when we get in front of people we’re recruiting to work on the maintenance side. In leasing, the biggest short-term challenge we face is overcoming the tech shortage as well as attracting the next generation of our leaders.

“I believe that showing millennials the technology in use here is a powerful draw,” he continues. “And the supply chain and logistics programs that are popping up in undergrad and grad programs is helping steer them to trucking, too.”

Finders, keepers

Our honorees seem to regard the driver shortage as not so much a crisis, but as a challenge that can and will be met — and largely through such good old-fashioned tactics as applying common sense and following the golden rule.

“I manage a handful of drivers who are my age or younger and some who have been with us for 35 years,” says Kositzky. “I think trucking needs to look at and talk to kids coming out of high school. A lot of schools do not push the trades, but they need to see the career paths open to them. There has to be a long view approach to solving the driver and tech shortages.”

“Recruiting women is extremely important given the driver shortage,” says J.B. Hunt’s Rogers. “At a recent Women in Trucking conference, I learned that women make up less than 6% of trucking. Women need to be reached and everyone is aware of that. But we need to step outside the box and leverage technology to help us recruit them.

“Drivers don’t like to deal with recruiters face to face, so we’re focusing on how we can talk to drivers in ways they would prefer,” she continues. Rogers says with that thinking in mind, the company is “aiming to make those interactions friendlier.” She says her team has worked to improve communication with drivers and answer their questions quickly, and on their time.

Waller’s Schuier suggests that while she has no one answer on retention, “just listening to drivers more is essential, and from there, building relationships with them. You want to establish a connection.”

Chad Brueck, CRST Expedited’s vice president of customer service and planning, says the driver shortage significantly impacts the company’s operations. One way he has worked to make the company more attractive to the team drivers that are the lifeblood of the operation is a company-wide initiative dubbed Gold Rules. These are designed to “adjust our culture to help retain drivers by having everyone respect them, respond to them and seek to resolve their concerns.”

Nate Bailey, senior logistics and HSSE manager at BP-North American Rail and Truck, says the remarkable thing about the driver shortage is there is just not a huge interest in driving, “yet it is a career that can be long and successful.” With that in mind, he has “a philanthropic goal to launch a vocational program including driver training for those who may not have ‘fit’ well somewhere else and are looking to start over.”

“We really need to get young people interested in trucking,” says Josh Wahlin, director of recruiting for Autumn Transport. “There are open seats, and not just in the cab, but also in the shop and the office. But we have to make it presentable, to get beyond the stereotype of truckers being away from their families and social life for weeks at a time.”

Nate Bailey

  • Senior Logistics and HSSE Manager
  • BP-North American Rail and Truck
  • Chicago, Illinois

Nate Bailey has been at BP for six months, where along with logistics duties, his role includes managing health, safety, security, and environmental policies for the energy giant’s private fleet operation, which fields over 500 trucks. His previous job was with a railroad, and he says the experience he’s gained working in both modes, especially integrating rail moves with truck hauls to most efficiently complete last-mile deliveries, has led him to think increasingly in terms of developing “value chains as opposed to supply chains, so there is less equipment just sitting around.”

Asked how fleets might draw in younger managerial talent, Baily concedes that “transportation is not a very attractive field at first glance. Although we don’t have any real good data on its impact yet, we’re trying something new here. During annual reviews, we’re encouraging employees to ‘cross-pollinate.’ We want them to know they can express interest in working a stint in another function here.

“That gets people interested in how all the pieces work together,” he continues. “That extends from the [energy] trading floor to the truck fleet. Right now, we have three [people from other functions] here with the fleet group who are becoming familiar with all the technology we use.”

Chad Brueck

  • Vice President of Customer Service and Planning
  • CRST Expedited
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa

With CRST Expedited for 15 years, Chad Brueck started as a driver manager right out of college. He has since held roles of increasing responsibility, primarily in various aspects of fleet operations, including his prior post as vice president of operations. A team driver operation, CRST Expedited fields 1,700 Class 8 over-the-road trucks pulling 53-foot trailers.

Along the way, he has led a range of innovative initiatives at CRST, including developing a dedicated fleet aimed at reducing driver turnover and improving service; cutting deadhead miles to record levels, and fuel-saving efforts that led to the operation being named a SmartWay partner carrier. Brueck also spearheaded what he calls “a cultural change” across the company expressly aimed at improving driver retention, known at CRST as the Gold Rules.

The graduate of American Trucking Associations’ inaugural LEAD professional-development program had never considered trucking while in college and only did so when CRST came recruiting on campus. He graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in Management Information Systems. “I was looking to stay in Iowa, where I was born and raised, and wanted to start a career in management with a stable and successful company. CRST is that, and I was given the opportunity here to manage people right from the start.”

Gregory Dills

  • Financial Business Analyst
  • Oakley Transport
  • Lake Wales, Florida

College coursework that intrigued him about logistics led Gregory Dills to take on an unpaid internship at the 500-plus-truck food-grade carrier that serves the NAFTA and Caribbean markets. “For about three months in 2015, I was able to shadow key operational employees for about 10 to 15 hours a week to get an idea of the nuts and bolts of what they do.”

Next, he was given the opportunity to “dig in and determine why Oakley’s toll cost was rising. It’s increasingly important for trucking and logistics companies to be able to make data-driven decisions,” Dills says. That project was so well received that in February of 2016 he proposed to the company that he work full time during his junior year of college, which Oakley accepted.

“I kept up my full course load and graduated this April with a BS in Technology with a concentration in Materials and Supply Chain Management,” Dills says. That may be an academic mouthful, but it fairly shouts out how far he has travelled — and speedily — so far.

Geoffrey Fleming

  • Vice President of Purchasing
  • Aim NationaLease
  • Columbus, Ohio

After graduating from Boston College with a degree in Finance, Geoffrey Fleming went to work on Wall Street for a few years before deciding to give the family business a try. That was about a dozen years ago, and he has stayed with Aim, one of the largest of the NationalLease affiliate companies, where he is now responsible for purchasing for the 11,000-vehicle strong fleet fielded by the full-service truck leasing and rental outfit. He also holds an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

“What’s interesting to me is that viewed from outside, trucking is not a sexy industry,” Fleming says. “But in the full-service leasing business, we get to work with so many different industries with our fleet. I’ve learned about industries I did not even know existed. And there is the rocket science aspect of trucking, too. The advances in technology seen in trucking has engaged me as well. Even the advances made in just the past 10 years.”

Fleming says he is very intrigued by the future of predictive maintenance. “I want to understand how best to access telematics data and then leverage it so we can predict maintenance failures. That will greatly help us reduce costs.”

Matthew Kositzky

  • Southern Region Operations Manager
  • Modular Transportation
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan

Matthew Kositzky joined the over-the-road and dedicated carrier about a year ago. That was after a successful three-year run on the brokerage side that he began straight out of college.

“As a broker, I became aware of logistics and the role of trucking and drivers. So, I dove deeper, getting to understand specialized commodities and DOT regs.” Kositzky says that despite not have any hands-on fleet experience, Modular “took a risk on a young gun, and that spoke volumes to me.”

He’s enjoying the challenge of handling the operations of its southern terminal, including managing a fleet of over 85 trucks and their drivers as well as five dispatchers and a maintenance team out of Columbus, Mississippi. “This is an industry that never stops changing. I get bored relatively quickly, so it’s a good fit,” he explains. Kositzky sees “each and every problem as a learning experience that we grow from.” He sees his job as “ensuring the growth of my company, my teams, and myself every day.”

Mark Penley

  • Director of Safety and Employee Relations
  • Old Dominion Freight Line
  • Thomasville, North Carolina

“I started on the dock at Old Dominion in ’98,” says Mark Penley. “I was on the dock and in the shop until age 21, when I became a city and then a long-haul driver here. Then while in college, my long-term goal was to transition into human resources.” He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 2005 with a degree in HR and was awarded an MBA by UNC in 2012. Over the past 19 years, he’s worked stints as a dock worker, mechanic, field services supervisor, direct sales representative, operations supervisor, and corporate fuel manager, before being named to his current management post in 2012.

In 2013, Penley created the LTL carrier’s SHIELD program (Safety, Hazards, Injuries, Employees, Leading the Defense) to strengthen the company’s dedication to and training in safety. He says the aim of the program is to establish and sustain a safe working environment where injuries do not occur. This job-specific safety training program is used across the country at Old Dominion service centers.

He also launched another innovative safety initiative, Old Dominion’s Forklift Rodeo. This employee competition for forklift operators challenges them to earn the highest score via completing multiple courses and tests. “You can’t duplicate anyone’s workplace culture,” he advises. “The trick is to be totally engaged” with your operation and its employees.

Ryan Richards

  • Chief Operating Officer
  • JRayl Transport
  • Akron, Ohio

Ryan Richards came to the asset-based logistics company, which was founded in 1987 by Tim Rayl and Jim St. John, by way of his best friend, Tim’s son Jeremy Rayl. “We grew up together,” Richards says of Rayl, who passed away earlier this year at age 39. Jeremy Rayl had taken on the role of CEO of the family-owned firm 12 years ago and he recruited Richards to come aboard about eight years ago.

Since joining Rayl, Richards has helped manage the firm’s 10-year stretch of double-digit revenue growth. “We’ve been averaging 17% growth per year and we’re up to 350 trucks.” Some of that performance is credited by the company to Richards leading JRayl to enter more market segments, which enabled it to weather the trucking downturn brought on by the Great Recession. He was also involved in transitioning the fleet to electronic logs almost six years ago.

“As COO working closely with Jeremy’s father,” says Richards, “I now have a broader spectrum of duties.” He says he feels well prepared for the challenges ahead because he had the advantage of “starting on the leadership team at 32 with the rest of the team mainly in their 30s. None of us were being talked down to by someone older.”

Tawny Rogers

  • Driver Recruitment Innovation and Technology Manager
  • J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc.
  • Lowell, Arkansass

Starting in J.B. Hunt’s driver recruitment department in 2012 as an hourly career placement specialist, less than five years later Tawny Rogers is solidly on the management track at one of the nation’s foremost for-hire trucking operations.

Along the way, Rogers also served a short stint as an intermodal fleet manager to learn that part of the business. “In my current role,” she says, “I work closely with business analysts, programmers, and customer service agents on the development of new recruiting technologies to help increase J.B. Hunt’s ability to hire high-caliber drivers in fulfilling careers.”

Active in Women in Trucking, she says that “like most women employed in this industry, I just fell into it. I started here at age 21.” She, of course, has learned by doing, but she is also grateful that “J.B. Hunt has paid for my college education.” In keeping with her career path, Rogers has just earned a Bachelors in Human Resource and Workforce Development from the University of Arkansas.

Amanda Schuier

  • Director of Marketing and Driver Recruiting
  • Waller Truck Co.
  • Excelsior Springs, Missouri

After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Creighton University, Amanda Schuier had no intention of going into trucking right out of college, although her grandfather did own a truck dealership. But after a year and a half in public relations, she took on a marketing post at a truck dealer in 2006. She later moved on to be a regional OEM parts sales manager and a third-party driver recruiter before being hired in late 2015 by one of her parts customers, Waller Truck Co.

At the family-owned dry van truckload carrier, which fields about 200 trucks, Schuier handles marketing and oversees the recruitment team. Since joining the fleet, she says one of her “underlying passions has become getting women and younger persons involved in trucking because it offers good, stable careers — if you can get past the misperceptions.”

Toward that end, she began working on TMC Super Tech competitions at the state level and developing the TMC of Tomorrow professional leadership program for those under age 40 launched by ATA’s Technology & Maintenance Council. In addition, she currently serves as chair of the Missouri Trucking Association’s Technology and Maintenance Council.

Josh Wahlin

  • Director of Recruiting
  • Autumn Transport
  • Woodbury, Minnesota

Joining the family-owned agricultural hauler after graduating in 2011 from the University of Wisconsin with a BS in Business Administration, Josh Wahlin says that “while in college, I would have laughed if someone had said I would be working for a trucking company.”

He came to Autumn after meeting the carrier’s founders, who were on campus to recruit dispatchers and recruiters. “We made a connection and I was hired as a recruiter. We’re a 100% owner-operator fleet that works with local truck dealers to offer those coming in without a truck a lease/purchase plan that we finance. But the biggest focus is on bringing a sense of family to both employees and contractors out on the road.”

Wahlin says he strives to keep in mind that “an owner-operator doesn’t have the benefits of a company driver but is responsible for a lot more on the line. Every driver wants to be  respected and appreciated so it helps if we can make it personal with them — and that separates us from others out there.”

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

View Bio