Posts Tagged ‘haul act’

Father’s Day

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In 1998, I changed careers. I left the practice of law after many years and started a career in trucking. I was trained and experienced to “think like a lawyer.” It took a couple of years to temper that and learn to also think like a leader and businessman. Lawyers generally do not understand business. You see lawyers think differently than the rest of us. One can only acquire the ability to “think like a lawyer” by surviving three brutal years of law school and a tortuous bar examination. Practicing law develops this trait further.

Attorneys don’t think like normal people. We are risk adverse. We know that preventing a problem is much less expensive than the salvage job of fixing one. We can get paid by seeing an issue and then charging you to fix it. Rookie lawyers learn to document the file with “CYA” letters. We know how to spot an issue while conceiving the arguments we will make. We have a “thousand yard stare” and can anticipate events and what adversaries will argue. As a plaintiff’s attorney (yes, I admit it) I had the luxury of 20/20 hindsight in zealously representing an injured client. The ability to inflame a jury makes the verdict higher. I understand that if a bad accident occurs, God forbid, that regardless of fault I will be vilified before a jury in the barrister’s attempt to collect a lucrative contingency fee. The nicest thing about it is that people actually see value in your opinion. After all, clients need help and are paying you for it. In the sixteen century, Shakespeare noted, “O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees.”

I grew up on a farm in Roosterville, Missouri outside of Liberty, in a much different world. Being the oldest of eight, my mother was much too preoccupied to pay much attention to what I was doing. Cars didn’t have seatbelts, much less head rests, and airbags. Car seats were unheard of. In the summer my brothers and I would escape the heat of the unconditioned farmhouse. The computers and video games which occupy most young men’s lives didn’t exist. There were no cell phones. We found adventure on the farm, exploring, fishing, shooting squirrels with 22’s and ice skating on farm ponds in the winter. At first we skipped over dusty farm roads. When we learned to ride bicycles our explorations expanded to 10 mile radius on 65 mile per hour farm roads without shoulders. At the ripe old age of ten, I learned to drive a small farm tractor and one of our joys was piling a brother on each fender and driving it to the general store to select prizes from the candy rack. When we learned to ride horses, our territory of adventure expanded even further. The only protection from risk was a little luck and a female collie named Kip who followed and mothered us wherever our adventures led. When thirsty we drank out of a pond or spring in the hillside. During school we walked to a bus stop lean to. Kip always followed. If it was raining we wore boots, raincoats and hats. In the winter we were bundled up.

Today I live in a nice subdivision on a cul-de-sac. As we get older routines set in. One of mine is that every morning I drive to the local Starbucks and get coffee for my wife and myself. During school, I have a hard time getting back to my garage, as the entrance to my street contains a traffic jam of helicopter moms, waiting in their SUVs’ with their children for the bus. For most of them the journey to the bus stop is four blocks or less. Now a tone deaf urban President proposes to ban farm kids from working on the farm before they’re sixteen. Many truckers’ children spend their summers inside an air conditioned house playing video games or listening to their iPods. Mom tries to intervene but she is often alone. Dad is on the road.

Yes, a much different world. Business is not so simple. Life in general and business in particular (trucking, certainly) is full of risks. The only way to eliminate risks is to park all the trucks. But then, there would be no jobs and no business. So you learn to weigh and manage risks. It’s not easy. Listen to today’s political rhetoric. Everything bad that happens to someone is someone else’s fault. As a society we have forgotten that sometimes bad things happen in lives which are no one’s fault; and sometimes, it’s your own damn fault. But societal attitudes demand a remedy. Everyone is a victim.

It is against this backdrop that business leaders have to make tough decisions. If you seat a driver with a record of alcohol or drugs, plaintiffs’ lawyers will crucify you. If you don’t, the EEOC will come after you for discriminating against the disabled. The EEOC bows their back if you perform criminal background checks; have a medical examination done before making a “condition job offer,” or discriminate against people who are overweight through a sleep apnea program. All the while, plaintiffs’ lawyers are scanning the internet for accidents involving trucks, soliciting the injured and trying to find one technicality for any flaw in your hiring process.

Last summer a driver approached me with a question. “Mr. Tom,” he asked in his southern style, “Why don’t you allow drivers to take their kids with them in the summer when they are out of school?” The issue was in play. We examined it exhaustively. Our age cut off for our rider policy was 16. He wanted to take his fifth grader. What if the driver has a wreck and his son or daughter is hurt? What could be more horrible than an injured child? Will the child be a distraction? What are the car seat laws in all of the states we run? Some have an age limit for car seats and some are based on the child’s weight. How do we know they will strap the child in? “But, Mr. Tom, I love my son. His mom needs a break. He is out of school in the summer. I’d never do anything to put him in danger. I don’t get to spend much time with him and he needs a male role model in his life. I miss him. He is so excited.” How would the lawyer respond? How would the businessman respond? How would a caring person reply?

What is the right thing to do? If you agree to the proposal you are taking a risk. If you refuse, you eliminate this particular one risk. The law doesn’t reward you for doing the right thing.  It punishes you for bad decisions.

But what will this young man do growing up without his father? Watch television, cruise the internet, and listen to the bad influences in music? How will he learn to be a man? What other hardships can we reap on a family with an absentee parent? How do you balance the risks? Our drivers are seasoned, experienced professionals. Not a day goes by that some parent is hanging in their blind spots, talking on the cell phone with children crying in back. They navigate around SUV’s that pull in front of them suddenly and then put on brakes. And, yet, our drivers are amazingly safe.

I remembered my favorite times with my father; when he took me to his office on the upper floor of his downtown Kansas City skyscraper to look down on the American Royal parade; or when he took me with him on business to Washington, D.C. We spent a couple extra days seeing all the sites. I remember the nights before, staying awake with excitement and dreaming of new adventures. I remember being on an airplane for the first time. I was special because I had time alone with him. I recall the amazement of different worlds seemingly far from the farm.

I thought about our passenger policy. The child would certainly learn a lot about trucks and safety. He would hold his head high if bullies taunt him saying “Your dad is just a truck driver.” He would gain quality time with his father. He would learn about the industry and what his father does for a living. He will go home with lifetime memories. Surely, these folks who drive with their children at home can spend a couple weeks with a member of their family on the road. We are so risk adverse that in many ways the industry has already dehumanized a tough job of a truck driver. Driving a truck over the road carries with it for many the occupational hazard of divorce. Many truck drivers are not around to lend that guiding hand to their children. The spouse at home assumes the duties of two parents. We modified our policy.

I forgot about this dilemma until last week. I was working in my office when an independent contractor, Lee, knocked on my door to introduce me to his son, Jake. A few hours later, another contractor, Pat, introduced me to his son, Luke. The young men were smiling from ear to ear as their proud fathers looked on with pride. Pat and Luke were both wearing the same shoes with shoe laces the color of ACT orange.

Later that day, I had a look on Facebook and noticed the boys sending messages home to mom about their adventure. I saw Luke working with his dad in a trailer and learning how to be a man. Lastly, I saw the happy expressions in front of a plate of fries and a Freddy’s hot dog. I have lived their adventures vicariously. Is it a risk to allow this, or is it a risk to forbid it? Perhaps, we should learn more than being a good businessman. Perhaps…we should learn to be fellow human beings.


Customer Service = Miles

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“Customer service is not a department, it’s everyone’s job.”

American Central Transport has a long history of being recognized by its customers as its top service carrier. It is important that we continue and improve this long held tradition. One of our Core Values is that of Accountability, which means “doing what you say you are going to do.” If we can’t do something, we say so.

Why is this important?  We all get paid by the mile, both drivers and the company. ACT doesn’t produce any miles at all. The customer does. The customer gives us miles and we give them to our drivers. If a customer is not satisfied, the customer can very easily and quickly give those miles to another carrier. Result… we all lose miles.

If you are not accountable for delivering on time service or meeting other customer requirements, you are not only hurting ACT, but all other drivers and yourself because you are jeopardizing everyone’s miles. We can’t allow that. If an associate doesn’t hold themselves to our core value of accountability and if after counseling, they don’t improve, we just have to say that it is a bad fit. We owe that to ourselves and our other good drivers to take care of our customers.

American Central Transport

Customer service affects pay. We are paid by the mile, and so are our drivers. If we want more money per mile or raises, then we have to raise our rates which we charge our customers. Once we do this and are confident they will hold, then we can raise our associates. If you raise pay, but don’t get more from your customers or more productivity, then you will make less and less money until you are losing money. Nobody benefits from this. When our salespeople go to a customer to keep or to raise our rates, our service is a critical part of the conversation. Carriers with poor service simply can’t charge as much, and, as a result, can’t pay their drivers as much. We all have a direct and vested interest in making sure the customer is happy. What makes the customer happy? Whatever that customer demands, so long as it is legal. There are many carriers and brokers who will take our miles away if they can.

Our belief, for as long as I have been here, is that if you want the customer service, you must hire the best drivers in the industry. To do this you have to pay the highest rates. If you are paying the highest rates, which we have always done, it is more than fair to expect excellence in all we do. Associates who don’t share our core values or care about service not only hurt the company, but hurt us all.

What is good customer service? It is doing what you say you’re going to do. It is about caring, planning, communicating and being proactive. This is tied closely to another core value of ours, Integrity…doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching.

Happy Miles! -Tom

“Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game.” ~ Tony Allesandra

The Highway Angel (A Halloween Tale)

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The highway patrol car put on its lights and pulled over to the side off Interstate 44 near Tulsa.  A fall cold front was tearing through Eastern Oklahoma.  The patrolmen were dispatched to a turn in the highway that was notorious for bad wrecks.  The wind was blowing hard and the windshield wipers were working furiously.  As Sergeant Shenahan was setting up the speed gun, the new officer, Baker, looked out the window at the rain swept median.  He saw five roadside memorials, of different ages, sizes and states of care, but the one that drew his attention was the smallest, a little white cross.  Hanging on the top was a small hoop, wrapped in gold glitter that looked like a halo.  On the ground near the cross was a small soaked, faded Teddy Bear, which had a curious, happy smile.

“This must really be dead man’s curve,” he remarked.  Sergeant Shenahan looked over at the young trainee, and said, “This is a place of many tragedies and many stories.”  “Is that a halo?” Baker asked.  The old sergeant smiled and said, “Have you heard of the Highway Angel?”  “They talked about that in training on Halloween, but I just thought that was a ghost story,” he responded.  “Well, my young friend, it is true.  You see, Highway Angel was the call handle of an old trucker.  He ran a bright yellow W-9 Kenworth with the words, ‘Highway Angel’ on the side topped by a halo.  We found his rig over there below the bridge 5 years ago.  Apparently, he came around the curve in heavy traffic in a storm, very much like this one.  He had a fatal heart attack while driving, but rather than crash into traffic, he was able to steer his rig off the road into that creek before he died.”

The terror she felt had never been greater…not even close.  She had hugged Katy as she packed her off to first grade just 8 hours ago.  As she waited for her to walk home from school that afternoon, the fear grew as the minutes passed.  After 45 minutes, she had called the police.  It was only 6 blocks to school and a nice neighborhood.  She knew that these things happened, but never dreamed it would happen to her Katy.  The police interviewed the children who were walking home from school with her and discovered that a white male, about age 35, with long hair and a beard had pulled up in an old red van, grabbed Katy, threw her in, and speed off towards the interstate.  She cried hysterically as she looked out the window into the storm from the police station waiting room.

John was 15 miles from his delivery destination in Tulsa with 30 minutes until his appointment time.  He had picked up his load in Atlanta two days ago, and figured he would have plenty of time to deliver.  However, the load started with the customer taking 6 hours to load his trailer.  Now John was into the crescendo of Atlanta rush hour traffic that put him 2 more hours behind.  He knew he would be driving hard from here on. He notified his dispatcher that when he accepted the load, he had plenty of time until delivery, but now it was going to be tight.  His dispatcher responded, “Just keep us updated.”

48 hours later, his tired eyes were straining to see through the rain as he moved down the interstate at a slow 50 mph.  From years of driving he knew that he had to be alert and careful…dead man’s curve was only ten miles up the road.  “Yes, it’s going to be tight,” he thought to himself.  Suddenly, he was passed by a red Ford van, doing 80 through the driving rain.  “Fool,” he thought, “as if we didn’t have enough problems out on the road.”  Then John heard a beep on his Quailcom.  He looked down and saw this message.

An AMBER alert 7961 has been received from NCMEC.

DATE –    Oct 30 11:18:04

TEXT –    AMBR ALRT:Tulsa OK VEH:99 Dk red Ford Econoline van TAG:TX BZ9L220 CHILD:8YOB/F 4’1 85 Bro/Blk SUSP:35YO W/M 6’1 250 Hair: Long Dark Beard CALL 7133083600

He shifted gears into the big hole and hit the accelerator.  “Yes, 911, I spotted your suspect, 10 miles west of Tulsa, driving about 80 and headed into dead man’s curve.”  “Stand By,” said the 911 dispatcher as she put the alert out.  Police cars from throughout the area were now speeding through the storm to dead man’s curve.

As John’s rig gained speed, he realized that it was going to be impossible to catch up with the red van.  Things were getting dangerous as the rain hit the windshield and he approached dead man’s curve.  Suddenly, he noticed the brake lights of the red van. It was swerving back and forth trying to get around another tractor-trailer that was blocking its way.  He couldn’t believe it.  The other rig was slowing the van down.

Officer Baker was just about to doze off when he heard Sergeant Shenahan’s gruff voice, “Look alive, we have a kidnapper in a red Ford van headed this way fast with an 8 year old girl as hostage.”  He looked out and saw a big yellow W-9 heading toward them, with a red van behind, desperately trying to pass.

Katy screamed in the back of the van as she hugged her Teddy bear.  She was tossed back and forth as the van shifted.  “Shut up,” said the man, “or this will go much worse for you.”  She bit her lip until it bled and hugged Teddy harder.  To her surprise, Katy felt someone hold her hand gently and put an arm around her.  This was not the mean man who grabbed her and hit her.  This was an older man with a kind smile.  “Don’t worry, Katy,” he said.  This was a nice man.  “Where did he come from?” Katy wondered.

Up ahead, John saw police lights stab their red swords through the rain.  He slowed down and kept his eye on the van.  As the van approach the curve he saw it losing control, careening sideways down the interstate.  The van went into the ditch, flipped and tumbled down toward the creek.  The other rig pulled over to the side of the road.  John pulled over, looked through the rain and exhaust and saw a yellow, W-9 Kenworth, which had a logo, “Highway Angel” on its doors with what looked like a halo.

Officer Shenahan and Baker drew their side arms and ran out of the car and down to the now burning red van sitting on its back.  “Not good,” said Baker, as he looked through the windows of the wreck.  But when he looked up, the Sergeant was smiling and pointing under the bridge.  There was Katy, dry as a bone, wrapped in a blanket and clutching her Teddy bear.  When he turned around towards the highway, there was only one rig parked by the side of the road.  The yellow KW was nowhere to be seen.


Copy write 2010, Tom Kretsinger, Jr.

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