Carriers urged to use downtime to prepare for upswing

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The time is perfect for trucking companies to prepare for the next upswing in the market – providing safety training for drivers, servicing and trading equipment, and improving fuel mileage, according to the chairman and CEO of Heartland Express.

Just don’t drop your rates, Mike Gerdin, warned during a panel discussion on hot industry topics at Truckload Carrier Association’s (TCA) annual convention in Orlando, Florida.

The industry has been in a slowdown for the past nine months. But Gerdin stressed these conditions will not last forever, and that companies should press employees to concentrate on areas which can be improved.

Some of his ideas have even emerged through lessons gleaned from merger and acquisition targets.

Men seated on a stage during a TCA discussion.
From left, Dave Jackson, Mike Gerdin, Derek Leathers and Rob Penner during Truckload Carriers Association’s annual convention in Orlando, Florida. (Photo: Leo Barros)

Not all hot topics are positive, though.

“Businesses are also up against draconian restrictions on the emissions front regarding lofty environmental goals,” noted Derek Leathers, president and COO Werner Enterprises.

“We are pro-environment as an industry. If you mandate how we get there, and infrastructure and cost are unbearable, we are setting ourselves up for failure.”

Labor challenges

As for personnel, fleets need to recognize that it takes time to develop people, said Dave Jackson, president and CEO, Swift-Knight Transportation.

While he is not personally a fan of working from home, it’s not business as usual. “You have to adapt,” he said, referring to employees who prefer the model.

As for employees who work behind the wheel, Jackson noted that drivers choose to drive for a brand. The work itself is the same, no matter the size of the fleet. “The deal should be worth the time and effort,” he said.

Leathers also reiterated that a company’s culture really matters. Listening is as important as talking, as is honesty. “You change, too, and you have to be mature to see the advantages that apply to your company,” he said.

Technology tips

As for technology flowing into the market, there are many reasons to be excited. Jackson, for example, sees promise in two “powerful tools” including Apache Kafka, an open-source event streaming platform, and Elasticsearch, an open search and analytics engine.

But Leathers said it’s easy to be overwhelmed by offerings that are “nice to have” rather than “need to have.”

Companies have to be aware that sometimes the people lobbying for technology are not focused on the driver or customer-facing experience.

Rob Penner, president and CEO Bison Transport, who moderated the discussion, said drivers deliver the freight and the focus must be on how to make their lives better.

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Leo Barros is the associate editor of Today’s Trucking. He has been a journalist for more than two decades, holds a CDL and has worked as a longhaul truck driver. Reach him at

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