Bob Hansen's first experience with a computer was a TRS 80 his small fleet bought to keep track of maintenance records. Bet the Truckload Carriers Assn. chairman never dreamed back then he'd be speaking to more than 300 attendees at the annual user's conference of the largest software company serving the trucking industry.

But that's exactly where Hansen was yesterday, as the keynote speaker at Tom McLeod Software's 10th Annual Users Conference in Birmingham, Ala. He offered a picture from his own 35 years of experience of how far trucking has come. Hansen was an owner-operator during the '60s and experienced the construction of the Interstate system. He recalled driving a cabover where the engine got so hot under the driver that you couldn't drive across the desert during the day, but had to wait until nighttime. He talked about running his small fleet from a phone booth while trying to run the company at the same time. He reminisced about the first hand-held calculator he owned, which cost several hundred dollars.
One of the most interesting, and pertinent, recollections was the training his office people were receiving on the first real computer system his company bought. The girls in the office were so frustrated by the training, they were in tears. Hansen offered to let the trainer drive a big truck. The trainer was ecstatic - until Hansen got him in the seat of the cab and started rattling off instructions as rapidly as the computer rep had been giving them to the office staff.
Training was the entire point of the McLeod conference, which was moved this year to the larger Birmingham Civic Center facilities to accommodate the growth, which included more than 40 exhibitors.
Despite concerns about the high price of fuel, rising interest rates, low used-truck values and other problems, President Tom McLeod told attendees, "Manufacturers and consumers are going to continue to want their goods hauled by truck, and trucking companies will continue to haul freight up and down the highways until they learn how to beam stuff over the Internet."
The key to surviving in today's tough trucking business, he said, is managing your company well. "That's something you can control," he said, unlike fuel costs and other external factors. "That's what this conference is for. We want our customers to be the mast managed companies in the country."
To that end, McLeod's Users Conference, which continues today, offered training sessions on specific McLeod software as well as sessions on industry issues such as driver recruitment/retention, drug testing regulations, transportation brokerage, strategic planning and fuel buying.
In addition to training, both McLeod and Hansen emphasized the importance of joining trucking associations - not only TCA, but also the American Trucking Associations and state trucking associations - as another tool to help them manage their businesses well.
While McLeod has traditionally been a product used by larger fleets, the company is doing a lot to meet the needs of smaller users, as well. This year it introduced Imaging Lite for smaller companies interested in document imaging. By the end of the year, the company plans to offer a version of its LoadMaster software via the Internet, aimed at fleets of 20 trucks and under that have a hard time cost-justifying a stand-alone computer system.
Next week the company will move into new headquarters in Birmingham, a much larger facility that will get the company all into one building, rather than scattered among three as it is now. The 60,000-square-foot building will offer more space for customer training and room to grow.
Next year's user's conference will be held Sept. 25-28. For more information, visit