The 2019 Truck Fleet Innovators winners are trucking’s best and brightest leaders. 
 -  HDT File Image

The 2019 Truck Fleet Innovators winners are trucking’s best and brightest leaders.

HDT File Image

Heavy Duty Trucking has been honoring forward-thinking fleet executives for almost 15 years now with our annual Truck Fleet Innovator Awards. This year's winners are forward-thinkers, all of whom are helping by example to lead trucking by overcoming challenges and leveraging opportunities.

Each year, HDT’s editors sift through nominations received from members of the industry as well as taking time to consider fleet executives they’ve interacted with throughout the year to single out fleet executives who have consistently shown innovation and leadership in one or more areas of truck-fleet management. These are the executives we honor as our Truck Fleet Innovators.

  • Bill Brentar, vice president, maintenance and engineering, UPS, Atlanta, Georgia
  • Don Digby Jr., president, Navajo Express, Denver, Colorado
  • Ryan Hammer, president, Quality Custom Distribution, Irvine, California
  • Gregg Mangione, senior vice president of maintenance, Penske Truck Leasing, Reading, Pennsylvania
  • Joshua Porter, executive vice president, B&B Trucking, Kalamazoo, Michigan
  • Vince Tarantini, president, Carmen Transportation, Toronto, Ontario
  • Dan Wirkkala, president and CEO, Smokey Point Distributing, Arlington, Washington

This year’s honorees are being saluted for management accomplishments in areas ranging from being on the cutting edge of vehicle design and digitizing preventive maintenance procedures to switching up driver pay programs and selecting specs based tightly on the job at hand.

UPS' Brentar: Taking the long view

Bill Brentar, Vice President, Maintenance and Engineering, UPS Altanta, Georgia  -

Bill Brentar, Vice President, Maintenance and Engineering, UPS

Altanta, Georgia

UPS specs very differently than many fleets. It designs its vehicles for long life, yet at the same time pushes the envelope on technology. And its purchasing clout and a commitment to industry leadership mean many fleets are looking to what Bill Brentar, vice president, maintenance and engineering, does.

Brentar joined UPS in 1985 as an automotive technician and worked his way up, taking on his current role in 2010. He’s responsible for engineering, purchasing, and maintaining the UPS Class 8 fleet in North America: over 20,000 tractors, 98,000 trailers, and 17,000 dollies.

“We spec with long-range durability in mind,” Brentar says. UPS runs tractors on a 12- to 15-year lifecycle. “That means we really have to work closely with OEMs that are used to seeing the three- to five-year trade cycle.”

Brentar says the need for longer equipment life as well as greater fuel efficiency gives UPS the “challenge to entice [truck makers] to adopt new technology and bring it to market.”

Case in point: A recent spec change he pushed for is galvanized frame rails. “They’re a longevity play in the face of all the corrosives on the road; we’ve found that e-coating the rails does not last. We did this first on the package-car side of our business. But with tractors, they have to dip a longer frame rail, and that also affects assembly.” The upshot? Three OEMs are galvanizing frame rails as an option.

Another technology it has been pushing is collision mitigation.

“We’re now running the next generation of the Bendix full emergency braking as well as the Freightliner system,” Brentar says. “My personal take is that we should be looking to improve highway safety and making the systems better for everybody, so that they become standard features.”

A lot of people watch what UPS does, and Brentar knows it. “We want what we do to be good for all. For example, a lot of fleets waited for us to get involved with compressed and liquified natural gas trucks before jumping in. And the trailer folks will tell you the same thing. Once we went to air discs brakes, others did, too.

“I do the same thing,” he continues. “At shows, I look at what my competitors are doing. There’s always something you can learn — that’s what’s made us successful. We may pay a little more to be at the forefront, but then we see part of our mission being to help the entire industry. Once we help drive up the adoption rate on something, then [through economy of scale], the savings build for everyone.”

As UPS works to reduce its carbon footprint, Brentar is continuing to increase the number of alternative-fueled trucks in the over-the-road fleet. He was leader of the team to deploy natural gas in the UPS Class 8 fleet, an effort that began in 2013. Currently, natural gas powers 26% of UPS’ heavy-duty tractors.

When evaluating and moving on alternative power, “You’ve got to do it so it is do-able without relying on grants or other outside funding” to make the cost feasible. “Otherwise, it won’t be affordable enough to be adopted by everyone.”

UPS is also looking at what is coming down the pike, namely Class 8 electric power. “We have 125 Tesla Semi models on order, and we’re also having discussions with Daimler Trucks on the eCascadia tractor.” He contends that “there’s a lot of hype about electric trucks, but the charging infrastructure is the issue.” UPS’ first batch of electric Class 8s on order will be used on routes that fit a profile that allows for charging.

“Electric is not a silver bullet; we see it as a niche product for us,” at least “until battery technology advances to where running them will be a diesel-like experience with coast-to-coast charging.”

Nevertheless, he believes these trucks “will lead us into the next decade, as it’s a platform for telematics and for advanced steer-by-wire and drive-by-wire technologies.”

He cautions that even as UPS works to push envelopes, it must be mindful of its leadership role. “If we try to go, say, 600 to 800 miles with an electric tractor and fail, the industry will say, ‘Electric trucks won’t work.’”

In any event, they won’t be the be-all and end-all at UPS. “We will never be 100% anything here,” Brentar points out. “But there is a good thing about being early. You get involved with the shape, the form, of what is needed right from the start.”

Navajo's Digby: Where more ups the score

Don Digby Jr., President, Navajo Express Denver, Colorado 

Don Digby Jr., President, Navajo Express

Denver, Colorado

Being a third-generation trucker doesn’t mean Don Digby Jr. knows more about hauling freight than anyone else. What he does know? “There’s always a better way of doing things.”

Navajo Express was launched with one truck in 1981 by Digby’s father, Don Digby Sr., who is chairman of the board. Today, the company runs regional and dedicated operations specializing in food distribution via refrigerated and dry van trailers. The fleet of about 900 tractors boasts an average age of 2.5 years, and the company runs 2,500 trailers.

What stands out is the specialized equipment Digby has designed to help specific customers trim their carbon footprint, at the same time lowering the fleet’s operating costs and making it more attractive to drivers.

It starts with baseline fuel-efficiency specs. The newest power units are sleeper-equipped Kenworth T680 tractors fitted with full FlowBelow AeroKits, which have shown a 2% mpg gain. The KWs are powered by Paccar MX-13 engines, programmed for maximum fuel economy and governed at 65 mph, with Eaton 10-speed automated transmissions, which are credited with increasing mpg by 1.75%. Auxiliary power units eliminate idling while ensuring driver comfort.

All new Navajo trailers feature automatic tire inflation, tail fairings, Transtex side skirts, and FlowBelow wheel covers. The fleet is evaluating FlowBelow’s Trailer AeroSlider system.

Equipment specs help the fleet’s over-the-road drivers turn in just north of 8 mpg, says Digby, while those piloting lightweight daycab and 52-inch sleeper tractors running on heavy-haul routes average 7.5 mpg.

In addition, specially spec’ed sets of lightweight tractors and trailers are tailored to carry larger payloads in specific areas where they are allowed. These innovative combos, Digby says, are scoring with demanding customers by allowing for enough increase in weight capacity that fewer trucks can haul the same freight. After all, nothing cuts emissions and fuel use like not running a truck at all.

“The specialized equipment is for heavy hauls that are over the [federal] weight limit,” explains Digby. “They lower the price-per-pound cost for shippers and aid their sustainability goals. And because they operate regionally, our drivers can be home at minimum every other night.”

In 2016, trying to win a lucrative dedicated contract running between Salt Lake City and Denver, he had an outfitter add four linear feet and a third axle to some of his 53-footers. He secured federal and state permits to run the resulting 57-footers in Utah and Colorado.

The setup allows up to 54,000 pounds in payload for an 80,000-pound-GVW 57-footer, compared to 43,000 pounds with a standard size trailer, or up to 8% more capacity. The longer trailer solution is currently legal in about a dozen states. Navajo runs them on dedicated routes in several Western states as well as in Indiana.

With the long-van concept having proved out, Digby developed another special spec, which he calls Navajo’s “super set” of highway doubles: A 48- and 42-foot trailer combination, also pulled by a lightweight tractor, takes the Rocky Mountain doubles allowed in many Western states to a whole new level.

The special setup is rated for 129,000 pounds GVW, compared to a standard Rocky Mountain double (48-foot plus a 28-foot trailer) at 110,000 pounds. “Our 48-plus-42 super set can take 15 trucks a week off the road” compared to a standard combination, he says.

The super sets are run with lightweight tractors that are “shortened up” to keep the rigs within legal lengths. “We take the passenger seat out to give the driver a roomier cab.” Since only certain states allow Rocky Mountain doubles, let alone Navajo’s super sets, “it takes a specially qualified driver for these, so that is a slight disadvantage. On the other hand, we are running them on dedicated runs that give our drivers more home time on a regular basis.”

Digby and his team are constantly brainstorming ways to create more heavy-haul solutions with a focus on efficiency. “Everybody talks about what might work,” he says. “But talking is one thing and doing is not for everybody — it’s hard work.”

QCD's Hammer: Making it a custom job

Ryan Hammer, President, Quality Custom Distribution Irvine, California  -

Ryan Hammer, President, Quality Custom Distribution

Irvine, California

At Quality Custom Distribution, President Ryan Hammer leads the company as it stays on top of shifting trends in foodservice distribution.

“We do all the distribution for our customers, from managing the inventories from their suppliers to be a one-stop shop, right through to delivery to their stores,” Hammer says. He took the reins at QCD in August 2017 after holding various executive positions in distribution at PepsiCo for more than 15 years. His last post there was vice president of PepsiCo Mega Cities - North America, where he led development of the company’s growth strategy for urban markets.

Established in 2006 as a division of Golden State Foods, a leading foodservice provider to restaurants, QCD Distribution offers custom distribution to quick-service restaurants throughout the U.S. The company completes more than 17,000 deliveries a week to more than 5,500 foodservice outlets, operating from 19 distribution centers, and averaging over 20 million miles a year.

The all-reefer hauler fields a range of equipment, including 488 Volvo Class 8 tractors; 82 Class 3-6 Ford and Hino straight trucks, and 495 Utility trailers equipped with Carrier multi-temperature refrigeration units.

Geared to providing high-quality custom distribution at a competitive price, QCD leverages technology such as on-board computers, temperature monitoring, web-based online ordering, and computer-aided routing and inventory tracking.

“Custom” is literally the company’s middle name. That’s reflected in its approach to equipment, ranging from a medium-duty straight truck up to a 53-foot tri-axle tractor-trailer, Hammer points out.

“We’re getting more into using Class B-type straight trucks for close-in deliveries,” he continues. “They’re being piloted in a few markets, in light of the strain put on by the driver shortage. These can be driven without a CDL. You need to do more frequent deliveries, but it helps with finding and keeping drivers.”

Hammer says an observer might think that the dedicated runs made by QCD would make it more palatable to CDL drivers, but the reality is many of the deliveries by necessity are night drops, which aren’t the ideal working conditions. A typical run might see a driver heading out loaded up with 1,000 cases and 10 to 15 stops to make.

“We’ve worked to improve driver scheduling based on delivery fluctuations, which helps limit the number of days they have to work. And we’re working with our customers to improve window times for drivers and to build relationships between drivers and the customers.”

Drivers are also a focus when it comes to spec’ing QCD equipment. “All drivers appreciate that we take care of our equipment,” Hammer notes. “That also helps us attract and retain quality drivers.” A lot of attention is paid to trailer specs, especially in terms of driver safety and productivity. “Trailers are equipped with a side or rear liftgate and a side or back ramp, all depending on what’s being offloaded. We also fit the trailers with lights for when they are in the loading zone.” The fleet’s hybrid diesel-electric Carrier reefer units run on electric standby power during deliveries, which Hammer says cuts fuel use, emissions, and noise.

One of the biggest innovations at QCD is operational. “Our Transportation Command Center is a 24/7 route-management center staffed by eight persons,” Hammer explains. “They monitor the fleet across our network to ensure all necessary compliance, including when storm-related problems have to be dealt with.”

He calls the command center “a center of excellence, all in one place to benefit all our distribution centers. We use it to track our KPIs [key performance indicators] and compliance with driver hours of service and safety performance — from speeding to cell-phone use behind the wheel.” The SmartDrive video-based program is used to coach drivers to operate more safely. In addition, QCS uses safety scorecards not only for individual drivers but also for its distribution centers.

Looking out a bit, Hammer says, he’s “looking at the electric space more and more. Electric trucks may help us better serve our urban markets while also reducing our carbon footprint as well as potentially fuel and maintenance costs.”

Penske's Mangione: Music to their ears

Gregg Mangione, Senior Vice President of Maintenance, Penske Truck Leasing Reading, Pennsylvania  -

Gregg Mangione, Senior Vice President of Maintenance, Penske Truck Leasing

Reading, Pennsylvania

Old sayings aside, talk is seldom cheap. And in the hands of Penske Truck Leasing, it’s proving quite valuable. When the provider of full-service leasing and contract maintenance decided to push harder for a paperless shop, it went full digital — all the way to voice-directing technicians carrying out preventive maintenance inspections.

“Between buying a truck and selling it off, maintenance is the largest continuous part of our business,” says Gregg Mangione, senior vice president of maintenance. “Of course, maintenance is also a big part of customer service.”

Mangione, a 28-year Penske veteran, started on the rental side of the business. He held several district management positions until being named director of quality in 2004 and then vice president of maintenance services in 2006. In 2016, he was promoted to his current role, in which he oversees the maintenance of some 220,000 power units and 80,000 trailers.

“Maintenance became a passion as my career developed,” he says, “and I’ve developed an interest in technology, too.” In recent years, Mangione has been deploying more analytics to improve the maintenance operation. “A few years back, we started to craft a new technology vision. We wanted to leverage data to make PMs more dynamic, with the techs having all the information they need at the point of repair to work smarter and faster.”

Mangione led the launch of Penske’s fully digital and voice-directed truck fleet preventive maintenance process in 2016. Spending a week on-site at Penske’s various locations, it took 18 months to get it fully rolled out. By March of 2018 it was in place system-wide, and by that May, the 1-millionth voice-directed preventive maintenance inspection had been completed.

He credits his staff with translating the vision into action, noting that Tony Popple, senior director of maintenance vision, and David Kost, director of field systems, were instrumental in developing the new PM process and rolling it out.

“We’re very fortunate to have a very strong IT group in-house that enables Penske to build what’s needed for customers,” Mangione says. “Then we worked with outside partners to put the complete system together.”

At the heart of the system is Penske’s proprietary PM process, which Mangione says is “dynamic,” as it allows tailoring inspections to the specific vehicle, its age, specifications, and technologies in use now and in the future. Integrated with that are a high-speed indoor/outdoor gigabit Wi-Fi network, Bluetooth headsets and ruggedized tablets for techs, and a customized version of Honeywell’s Voice Maintenance & Inspection solution.

“When a technician signs on, the system sends down his work plan and gives hands-free voice prompts over the headset to complete a PM inspection,” he explains. In addition, techs speak the information that needs to be recorded and it is digitally captured. Because everything techs need is at the point of repair, including tablets instead of them having to walk to a shop computer, they are more productive and make fewer errors. “So, we cut down on paperwork while improving accuracy,” says Mangione.

“Taking away written and keying chores makes their job easier while improving PM quality,” he continues. “Technicians have taken to the voice-directed approach very well. They easily gave up their clipboards and pads to wear a headset and have a tablet right at hand to access information.” They can access Penske’s own searchable database for repair information as well as nearly 500 how-to videos made in the company’s in-house studios.

“The voice-activated system allows us to implement a change very quickly. We can also easily remove or add steps to a process.”

He says the upshot of all this is that “there’s a tremendous amount of data coming of vehicles that can be tapped. We can even determine the maximum number of PMs that can happen at a time, which means we can make sure we have enough tools.”

Summing up the voice-directed approach, Mangione calls it “a better tool for our technicians that above all provides more uptime to customers — which is more uptime for us, too. And it’s bringing us closer to having trucks not come back except for PM inspections.”

B&B's Porter: The race is to the smart

Joshua Porter, Executive Vice President, B&B Trucking Kalamazoo, Michigan  -

Joshua Porter, Executive Vice President, B&B Trucking

Kalamazoo, Michigan

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall stay the delivery of the U.S. mail, thanks largely to trucks operated by postal haulers like B&B Trucking. Part of the third generation of management at the family-owned carrier, Executive Vice President Joshua Porter is charged with improving B&B’s operations, including increasing equipment utilization and significantly reducing turnover.

He has a CDL so he can run routes, which he says makes it easier to “communicate with employees throughout the organization in a manner in which various roles can relate with one another. That helps ensure contributions are fully realized among all team members.”

Porter says the carrier also appreciates that technology can help it meet customer demands for on-time delivery. That includes real-time routing capabilities, 24/7 dispatching, and electronic logging devices in every truck.

B&B Trucking primarily provides local, regional, and long-haul transportation by contract to the U.S. Postal Service. “My grandfather, Robert Keller, founded the company in 1969 to move mail to and from Chicago and Detroit. We still maintain that lane and now have about 35 separate postal contracts. Our service area has expanded to cover east of the Mississippi. We run as far south as Miami and west to Dallas.”

The fleet of 212 Volvo tractors and 228 trailers are spec’ed with mpg in mind. Fuel-efficiency boosters include automated manual transmissions, low-rolling-resistance tires, anti-idling devices, synthetic lubricants, automatic tire inflation systems on tractors, adaptive loading axles on tractors and trailers, full tractor aerodynamic packages, aerodynamic skirting on trailers, and trailer-tire pressure inflation systems. The fleet includes some compressed-natural-gas units as well.

Its Kalamazoo, Michigan, headquarters houses a 24-hour shop. Built in 2000, it boasts a staff of 30, a 12-bay garage, enclosed automatic truck wash, and mobile service trucks. The 20,600-square-foot facility has a parts department, and the whole operation works through a paperless system driven by laptops and shop computers. If problems crop up on the road, B&B has arrangements with outside providers to repair trucks needing service along its routes.

Porter credits B&B’s shop with delivering seven years of life for its trucks. “We trade them out after at least a million miles. All the work is done in-house, and with synthetic lubes, no overhauls are needed to run that far.”

B&B was way ahead of the electronic logging device mandate, having used real-time electronic logs since 2004. “It’s been a blessing for us. Our GPS-based system gives us real-time visibility of our drivers, and that has been a key to our expanding quickly and efficiently.” He says once a run is completed, the data is downloaded to B&B’s back office software so it can be used for maintenance, dispatching, billing, and payroll.

But times change and with it, technology. “Our back-office setup was ahead of its time in 2000, but now we’re evaluating new systems,” he says. Porter also determined that the fleet was “not getting data for driver scoring without us working on it.” That determination led 18 months ago to adding the SmartDrive video-based safety system to obtain information for coaching drivers on safe-driving habits. “Feedback from drivers is key” to earning their trust and commitment, he adds. “We also want to give them feedback on how they perform on their routes.” B&B employs more than 360 full-time drivers, and turnover is less than the industry average. “The average age of our drivers is 52, and they are respected and seasoned employees,” says Porter. “All our runs are daily or just one night out, and that helps us attract and keep drivers. It really helps — it even allows us to appeal to retirees.”

Another reason electronic logs are so important at B&B is that the drivers love them. “Drivers here have been paid hourly since 1969,” Porter explains. To help keep track of those hours, the fleet began using onboard recorders back in the mid-‘90s. “Our drivers are so used to that, they get upset if the system goes down and they have to log by paper.”

Porter says hourly driver pay has been a draw for B&B for 50 years. “Offering it is a huge benefit for us in terms of driver satisfaction,” he says. “It also benefits us because when you’re paid by the hour, there is no reason to speed.”

Carmen's Tarantini: What you see is what you can build on

Vince Tarantini, President, Carmen Transportation Toronto, Ontario 

Vince Tarantini, President, Carmen Transportation

Toronto, Ontario

When Carmen Transportation launched in 1985, it was a single-customer, dedicated hauler. But the lessons learned have helped it grow into a wide-ranging Canadian and cross-border trucking operation.

President Vince Tarantini says the family-owned company started out with “a very demanding customer, a large furniture manufacturer that had us delivering and installing office furniture” for large corporate clients. “Each delivery was a huge project, and we implemented processes to be on time and to maintain profitability while excelling at that service.

“Since then, we’ve adapted that approach to all the products we now haul, which are typically commodities ranging from paper to toothpaste,” he continues. “And we still do work for the same customer we started with. If you provide quality service, you build lasting relationships with customers.”

Carmen now runs nearly 100 tractors and over 250 trailers and offers a broad portfolio of services, including local truckload cartage in Southern Ontario; truckload service in Ontario, Quebec, and over the border to select states; dedicated service, and North American freight logistics management.

“As our company has evolved, we’ve created the processes necessary to run a more professional and efficient trucking operation,” Tarantini says. “We owe it to our customers and ourselves to get it right the first time.”

For example, Carmen has been “well ahead of the curve” in writing more fuel-efficient tractor specs, including automated transmissions, anti-idling devices, and trailer side skirts. It also uses aerodynamic trailer boat tails on its long-haul cross-border equipment. Tarantini says Carmen’s fuel-sipping specs have shrunk the fleet’s carbon footprint significantly and offer fuel savings of over 12%.

“It’s important to keep our fleet up to date,” he continues. “We were early adopters of e-logs to ensure hours of service are properly enforced and our drivers are properly rested behind the wheel. We maintain real-time communication with in-cab technology and GPS positioning.”

Tarantini kept Carmen’s drivers in mind when rolling out electronic logs. He also saw quickly the operational advantages of going off paper logs. “I started to investigate e-logs about 10 years ago. My early days were spent as a driver, so I wanted to know how using the devices would affect both customers and drivers.

“We started to put them in nine years ago and have been U.S.-compliant for eight years, and now Canada will have its own ELD rule [expected to take effect by end of 2019],” Tarantini continues. “There was skepticism from our drivers, but not resistance. They know I’m a realist and not going to implement technology that doesn’t serve us or them.” He says the successful rollout “ultimately came down to planning, planning, planning. By the time I introduced it company-wide, it had been tested for six months.”

On top of keeping the fleet compliant and its drivers rested, Tarantini says electronic logging devices are a boon to operations. “The e-log data increase visibility into freight moves for our office staff. That helps them make better decisions for our business. By seeing the actual hours of service available, they could see that some of our customers had to be cut because they would not fit [with their overall plan]. For example, we gave up some reefer freight in favor of hauling produce.”

Carmen is using other technology, too, to help it be engaged in “a bigger part of the logistics chain.” For example, satellite tracking of trailers allows everything from “notifying shippers of trailers just sitting to sending them automated notifications on order status. And it’s a value-added service that’s done without needing human intervention. What you want to do is truly manage [every service order], not just get lost in administrative tasks.”

He advises that when working with customers, “some of it comes down to educating them” on load planning and visibility. “While we shouldn’t be the last to know [about issues], we also want to make sure we don’t pass problems onto our customers.

“You want to share visibility,” Tarantini adds. “Somebody somewhere knows something, so you want to pass that information along to benefit everyone.”

Smokey Point's Wirkkala: Smoothing the road to success

Dan Wirkkala, President and CEO, Smokey Point Distributing Arlington, Washington 

Dan Wirkkala, President and CEO, Smokey Point Distributing

Arlington, Washington

Dan Wirkkala traces his ideas on driver retention back to when he started working at Smokey Point Distributing in 1979 at age 19, shortly after his friend Matt Berry started the company.

Berry died as the result of a welding accident less than a year later, but before he died, Wirkkala made a commitment to his friend “to do what I could to carry on the business.” A few months later, he shook hands with John Berry, Matt’s brother, on a partnership deal that for the next 23 years guided the carrier he today heads as president and CEO.

“Over the years, I eventually held virtually every position in the organization,” he says. Along the way, he helped Smokey Point grow into a fleet of some 300 tractors and 600 flatbed, open-deck and specialized trailers, including retractable curtain-sided units to protect cargo from the weather.

Operating out of nine terminals across the country, the company specializes in hauling high-value and one-of-a-kind parts, assemblies, and machinery, with a primary focus on serving the aerospace industry. Smokey Point holds the distinction of being the first carrier to join the Daseke family of companies back in 2008.

Because he recognized early on that drivers are critical to the carrier’s success and learned what they are up against while “working in the trenches,” Wirkkala strives to give drivers the best working conditions possible, with a focus on them being able “to enjoy a balanced life.

“I’m an operational CEO,” he says. “That means I stay connected with what we need to do to conform to the needs of our 400 drivers. We pay by the mile, and maybe more than some others. But we realized the issue was about more than the pay rate. For example, we know that trucks are status symbols. So we outfit our trucks more like owner-operators would and let our drivers pick the color and that of our logo to coordinate with it, and we put their names on their trucks. Making drivers feel connected is part of our culture.”

Building further on that theme, Smokey Point developed a new opt-in guaranteed salary program designed to smooth out the highs and lows of mileage pay for drivers. “The annual salary for drivers, which we launched a year ago, has really stabilized turnover caused by financial concerns. We credit it with taking us from 17% [turnover] in 2017 down to 6% in 2018, and so far this year, no driver has quit us over financial reasons.”

Under the new program, a first-year driver starts with a guaranteed salary of $65,000 per year and is eligible for an annual increase of $1,188 per year on the anniversary of joining the program. Up to 11 years of tenure allows the driver to reach an annual salary of $78,532. The program also allows drivers to cash out their paid time off if they choose.

Drivers are also eligible for additional mileage-based accessorial pay for things like oversize/overweight loads, hauling hazmat, etc. “Accessorial pay provides our drivers an opportunity to earn more for transporting loads that may require additional challenges compared to legal loads,” Wirkkala says.

The topper is an annual bonus reward for additional productivity. “We think this can help contribute to changing the mindset away from job-hopping,” he explains. “Our guaranteed salary program pays them for doing a certain number of miles each month. By contrast, their annual bonus is a ‘bucket’ of mileage they drove over the miles required to be in the salary program.”

Every mile that goes into the bonus bucket is multiplied by their tenured mileage and can be viewed on driver dashboards. “Their dashboard allows them to watch their money grow and see the current value of their bucket, as well as the projected amount expected to earn at their annual anniversary date,” Wirkkala says.

Wirkalla says the salary with bonus solution is typical of how Smokey Point “tries to focus on those things we can control” to improve the operation, both for the company and its employees.

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.

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