The more time you spend with people in the trucking business, the more you realize trucking is a people business. One thing often repeated by those making a living in trucking is that the industry is not about moving freight or, more generally put, using trucks as tools. Nope. Rather, what they say time and again is that trucking is about people.
Customers are top of mind, yes, but so are the drivers, technicians, dispatchers, and so many others behind the scenes who make sure trucks roll safely and efficiently so that goods get delivered and all the other work done by trucks get accomplished.
But it’s the leaders in every fleet who, day in and day out, keep everyone focused and moving forward to accomplish a myriad of missions that can change rapidly, day by day if not hour by hour.
Leaders inspire others to follow. They lead by example. 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.
While a call to greatness may be answered at any age, leadership that emerges early often flourishes as the years go by. And that can only enrich, for decades to come, any business smart enough to recognize the leadership potential of its younger employees.
With those thoughts in mind, we’re proud to introduce you to our third annual HDT Emerging Leaders honorees. Each of these fleet management standouts is being honored here for on-the-job accomplishments and winning approaches to managing others before reaching the age of 40.
This year’s Emerging Leaders collectively represent a cross-section of trucking operations, including for-hire, private, and government fleets, running over-the-road, drayage, and vocational equipment. All were nominated by employers, colleagues, or peers, with the winning honorees chosen by our editorial staff.
Some of our 2018 Emerging Leaders came to trucking through familial links, others through word of mouth. Several are military veterans. Others represent the second or third generations of their families in this industry. And they range in age from 28 to 39. What they all have in common is a commitment to excellence in their chosen careers in fleet management.
Of people and technology
Stephen Causey, manager of Fleet Systems for Plains All American Pipeline, started his trucking career as a mechanic and says the ongoing “pickup in the use of technology” by truck operations is a key driver of his career. “With technology and trucking merging more and more,” he says, “it’s exciting to see what we can leverage to solve problems and work more efficiently. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve safety, productivity, and customer service. Working my way up from a truck mechanic to managing the technology used in a fleet of over 500 trucks has given me a unique understanding of our business and the needs of the industry.”
Recognizing the need to keep up with technology, Sean McKenna, president of intermodal drayage hauler Manchester Motor Freight, recently replaced the carrier’s homegrown computer system as well as making the fleet compliant with the electronic logging device mandate. He points out that having ELDs will help with finding and keeping drivers, because “now there is no way around clocking detention time, so drivers will see those fees on top of the higher rates we’re paying.”
Eight years after launching his career as a technician, Long Thien “Teddy” Lai, assistant vehicle and equipment superintendent for Fairfax County, Virginia, moved up to shop supervision, where he feels he can especially “make a difference by coaching other techs.”
Lai says the biggest difference in being a manager is learning to deal with others in different age groups, from those younger than him to those nearing retirement. He notes that it’s “getting hard to find qualified diesel techs, so we’re going to the high schools to find interns so we can show them what we do” before their career plans are set.
Vaughn Hayes, vice president of operations for Team Drive-Away Inc., says drive-away service holds a lot of appeal for owner-operators. “Relationships are important and that’s why we work to stay current with what owner-operators want. And there’s no forced dispatch here, so our dispatchers have to act as ‘salesmen’ in terms of helping [contractors] understand which loads will work best for them.”
Chase Adkins, corporate vice president of Sharp Transport, is a third-generation leader of the family-owned fleet who, after a couple years on the job, spent a few years outside trucking to gain sales experience before returning to the fold. That stint away informed how he approaches his current job.
“I take a more operational view of sales,” is how he puts it. “What we’re willing to do for a customer has to be feasible. That means being cognizant of the length of haul and the impact on the driver — will he be pressured on time?”
And while he jokes that maintenance is “the cost no one wants to pay,” having previously managed the shop operation, Adkins says paying proper attention will “cut down downtime, and that also helps us with driver retention.” As for keeping up with tech, he says “even though I’m a millennial who grew up with computers, that doesn’t mean our drivers will want to use it. We always consider how tech will affect everyone in the company — it has to be worthwhile for all who will use it.”
A relationship business
Matt Madaris, president of Guide Transportation Partners, took what he learned at a family-owned business to launch a franchise-based carrier operation, because, as he explains, “when someone works for themselves, they are more successful than when they work for others.” While Madaris concedes that “technology is rapidly changing, and that grabs the attention of the younger generation,” he says that “ultimately trucking is a relationship business.”
When David Perry was was younger, he walked into a shop rebuilding a diesel engine and found it fascinating. That was the beginning of his career arc, and today he’s corporate technical trainer for Transervice Companies. Working as a tech, shop foreman, tech school instructor or currently as a well-traveled trainer, Perry says that, more than anything, he “loves helping other people get better at what they do.”
Jarrod Carson, manager of fuel and card services for USA Truck, joined the carrier 14 years ago, straight out of high school. He says he knew by word of mouth that it was a good place to work, “where you could make a living and a career; get the opportunity to live the American dream.” Carson contends success is also up to the individual: “Some strive to be better every day and they work hard to do that.”
Finding drivers, of course, is a key challenge for many of these leaders. Collins White, president of logistics for Alabama Motor Express, says, “The old way of just filling seats is over. Now, it has to be a two-way street. We really vet drivers on the front end, before hiring them, so we can save a lot on the back end with lower recruiting costs. But along with that comes higher pay for our drivers.”
As for why anyone might go into trucking, White answers that, for him, “Trucking is the backbone of this country. It’s an important part of the economy. It’s a tough business, but it’s challenging. What I love is there’s something new every day and I get to work with people every day, everyone from our customers to our drivers.”
● Corporate Vice President
● Sharp Transport
● Ethridge, Tennessee
After college, Chase Adkins joined the truckload carrier founded by his grandfather. Starting out as a shop tech, he moved up to maintenance director and implemented new tire maintenance and safety practices for the over-the-road fleet. After spending a few years away in the insurance field to gain sales experience, he returned in 2015 to handle sales and marketing and took up his present position four months ago.
“I’ve been here 13 of the last 16 years and have done everything from changing tires to driving a truck,” he says. Most recently, Adkins has been working to establish a new flatbed operation, including gooseneck units for over-dimension loads. “Flatbed rates were strong enough to get us into a different niche and as well into areas of the country we were not in yet.” While the total fleet currently numbers about 120 tractors, including 17 piloted by owner-operators, he says the goal is to grow flatbed to 50 trucks in the next few years.
He’s also reviewing the use of information technology across the entire fleet. “We’re using an outdated TMS [transportation management system], and when we update it, there will be more opportunity to use apps.” One under review is a driver app that will put all apps in one place. “We’ve already started using cloud-based spreadsheets that our customers can access to see available trucks,” he adds. “Everyone has visibility on it.”
● Manager of Fuel and Card Services
● USA Truck
● Van Buren, Arkansas
“I started here as a parts clerk after graduating high school,” says Jarrod Carson. Less than a year later, he started moving up the ladder, becoming a regional maintenance supervisor within six years, then the fuel program analyst before being named to his current position last year. “Fuel is our number-one operating expense, so we try to manage it from the purchasing of it to using less of it,” he says. “That’s why we train and coach drivers on good safe habits and provide fuel cards for purchasing within our network.
“My team and I review data and reach out to drivers who need help with mpg performance to review any issues and coach them up to help gain positive results,” Carson continues. At the same time, he says, “USA Truck wants to recognize driver excellence and show appreciation for what they contribute to the company. Our two current bonuses are tied to compliance with our fuel network program and to reducing truck idling.”
He applauds USA Truck’s leadership for being “big on wanting people to have successful careers here,” noting that the carrier provides internal training geared to professional development “so employees will be able to do more tomorrow than they can today.”
● Manager of Fleet Systems
● Plains All American Pipeline
● Houston, Texas
Coming out of the Marine Corps with the rank of corporal in 2008 after a four-year hitch that included two overseas deployments, Stephen Causey landed a position as a truck mechanic with the pipeline operator. Three years later, he moved up to managing regional installations and maintenance of telematics systems for the fleet of more than 500 vocational trucks. In early 2015, he was named to his current position, which makes him responsible for both the daily and long-term strategic management of software, hardware, and other technology required to handle crude oil logistics, and fleet management, including telematics and ELDs.
He says he typically has quite a few projects going on at the same time, and characterizes what he does as “the bridge between operations and IT. We’ve done some proprietary solutions, including building our own mobile-dispensing app that allows for printing a bill of sale right in the cab. In general, we’re charged with managing the business systems needed for asset management.”
Causey adds that “coming here has worked out really well for me, and now with the technology and truck worlds merging more and more, it’s exciting to see what we may be able to leverage to improve things.”
● Vice President of Operations
● Team Drive-Away
● Shawnee, Kansas
Responsible for the company’s owner-operator recruiting, dispatching, and safety operations, Vaughn Hayes says “drive-away service is a niche that many truckers don’t realize is out there.” The customer’s equipment — whether that’s a single Class 8, “decked” tractors, or fire trucks — is the freight and Team Drive-Away provides the logistics, including pickup and delivery, using one of its 450 independent contractors as the driver. He says the appeal to drivers is simple: “They can make owner-operator-level wages without the expense of having to own or lease a truck.”
After about six years of moving up the operational ladder in fleets in the oil and gas sector, Hayes joined the drive-away firm in June 2017 and since then has helped sustain company growth of greater than 30% year over year. He has implemented new programs, including rolling out an ELD app.
“Despite drive-away being exempt from electronic logs,” he says, “we made the internal decision to keep our drivers up to date electronically so they can get more days. We also have the logs audited monthly, as that will reveal any compliance issues.” Also new is in an internal structure for CSA compliance that fines operators for points assessed but also rewards them with a bonus for clean inspections. The upshot: “Over the last six months, we have improved our CSA scores on HOS and Vehicle Maintenance, both of which had previously hit our [allowable] threshold.”
Long Thien “Teddy” Lai
● Assistant Vehicle and Equipment Superintendent
● Fairfax County Government
● Fairfax, Virginia
Teddy Lai is responsible for the daily care of more than 1,300 pieces of equipment in the county fleet, ranging from fire trucks to dump trucks and tractor-trailers. He came to maintenance in a roundabout way. “I really enjoyed shop class. After high school, I gave college a try for a semester and then joined the Marines. My father was with the county and after leaving the service in 2002, I applied to the fleet and started in a trained helper position. Then my supervisors saw my potential and I applied to move up to technician.” By 2010 he was a shop supervisor. He took on his current job in 2016.
Lai says he could see himself “making a difference as a supervisor by being able to coach other techs.” Clearly, he sees his role as more about managing people than running a shop. “You have to know your employees. I talk to them every day. Six supervisors report to me and there are 70 employees under them. I definitely enjoy the job of managing people. I see the positive results on a daily basis, including happy customers.” He is also continuing to serve his country. He joined the National Guard in 2008, in which he also serves as a maintenance leader.
● Guide Transportation Partners
● Charlotte, North Carolina
After helping grow his family’s port/rail drayage firm to over 200 trucks, which then successfully sold, Matt Madaris launched Guide in January 2017 as an agency-based intermodal carrier that provides local and long-haul drayage as well as truckload service. He reports growing his new operation from zero to 100 trucks in just 18 months, despite the severe driver shortage.
“We’re working six markets now; Savannah, Atlanta, Charleston, Norfolk, Cincinnati, and Columbus. We’ll be opening in Dallas shortly and then in Omaha and Kansas City in the near future.” Madaris says the young company is “not struggling to grow, because our business model is franchising. We have the DOT number and we handle all the back-office functions for our agents. But it’s each individual agent, the man or woman at each [Guide] terminal, who is running their own operation. They also build relationships with their drivers, as they stand to make money together.”
While the agent model is not unique, he says, “what is unique is what we bring to the table. We make sure the agent is not out there like an ‘island.’ Rather, they work with us in a collaborative way to operate not just a terminal, but their own business.”
● Manchester Motor Freight
● Manchester, New Hampshire
Sean McKenna’s grandfather launched the family fleet as a port hauler more than 40 years ago, and his father later built it up. “We’re out of the port business now due to the congestion,” he points out. “Now we focus on rail intermodal drayage, primarily in the six New England states, using a mix of company drivers and owner-operators. Next month, we’ll be opening an office in Salt Lake City for serving the Union Pacific intermodal terminal there.”
He notes that he got familiar with western opportunities while earning an MBA at the University of Utah, as well as through a three-year stint working for England Logistics on the intermodal side. Coming back to Manchester in 2015, one of his first tasks was to upgrade the computer system that was built internally back in 2000. He switched it with drayage-oriented software.
He allows that a “much more intensive search process” took place to implement ELDs last year. “There were so many companies coming in, it was hard to keep track of their demos. We ended up going with a new entrant because truck technology tends to be way behind the curve and we saw this as an opportunity to move ahead with a new platform.”
● Corporate Technical Trainer
● Transervice Companies
● Magnolia, Texas
David Perry reentered civilian life in 2012 after five years in the U.S. Army, in which he deployed to Afghanistan, attained the rank of sergeant, and ultimately served as a vehicle maintenance shop manager. After that, he held diesel tech and shop foreman jobs with two fleets, including Transervice, which promoted him to his current position earlier this year. Along the way, he has become an ASE Master Certified Technician, worked as a diesel tech instructor and technical team leader for Universal Technical Institute, and served as a TMC Super Tech judge.
In his new role at Transervice, a provider of dedicated contract carriage, full-service leasing, and contract maintenance, Perry is already credited by management with having a “significant impact on a number of operations,” including expanding techs’ knowledge of electrical and emission systems. He says his current job is a great role, as he gets to travel and be more hands-on with techs throughout the Transervice operation. “All the techs have me as a resource, and I go where I’m needed. That might be to teach the techs at a shop with a particular problem how to fix it or prevent it. Other times, I’m sent out to help run a location and teach the techs on the floor.”
● President of Logistics
● Alabama Motor Express
● Dothan, Alabama
Collins White’s father founded Alabama Motor Express 30 years ago. He joined the family business after college, in 2010, initially working in dispatch. Soon after, he set out to enhance the carrier’s brokerage business. Before long, he’d grown it from just himself to 30 employees and has recorded several years of double-digit growth.
The brokerage is an adjunct to the main event, the fleet’s own 220-truck dry van fleet. “Back in 2010, about 25% of our business was brokerage hauls,” he explains. “The thinking was maybe we could supplement that and cover more of our customers under the AMX umbrella. We discussed it for six months before starting by looking for opportunities with existing customers. The growth since then has been from building off the AMX brand.”
White also has implemented a pre-employment behavior analysis system to better screen new drivers. The idea is to focus on hiring only those applicants most likely to be safe and productive — and to stay. Six months after implementation, turnover had dropped from near 100% to about 70%. White does some quick math and points out that since it costs $2,000 to recruit a new hire, having to bring on just 50 fewer drivers a year will net the carrier $100,000 in savings. “And we’re getting better quality drivers for the long haul by focusing on them on the front end.”