“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
— Alan Watts, British philosopher
At Transport America’s headquarters, located along Highway 13 in Eagan, Minn., it’s just another typical day. Employees arriving early for the day shift; employees working dispatch overnight leaving for home. While the lobby is quiet, you feel the energy of this place awaken as everyone gets into their rhythm and focuses on the day’s work.
While the focus of the day is moving loads, solving problems as they arise, such as dealing with a bad storm moving across Iowa, and making sure the company’s drivers are safe and where they need to be, you can feel a momentum among the people. Transport America isn’t a company that stands still.
If you’ve been involved in the trucking industry for any length of time, then you know that it is continuously changing. New technology, more regulation, traffic congestion, and an increased emphasis on driver professionalism are just a few of the many factors that are reframing the industry.
“We’ve re-committed ourselves to being a different kind of trucking company,” says Keith Klein, president for Transport America. “You can let change happen to you, or you can be a game changer. In my mind, there’s only one option: Transport America is, and will be, the trucking company that is changing trucking.”
Over the past 16 years that Klein has contributed to the growth and leadership of Transport America, the trucking industry has experienced a number of important structural changes. While walking the halls at Transport America, Klein rattles them off:
- Trucking deregulation in the 1980s increased competition among a bunch of small trucking companies, which paved the road for trucking companies to get larger and further removed from their drivers.
- More driver regulations over the past 15 years have dramatically changed the driver experience in terms of safety, record keeping, tractor and trailer maintenance, and much more. Some of these changes have placed a large burden on the drivers themselves in terms of their personal conduct and behavior.
- Traffic congestion continues to be an issue. Better road and traffic technology continues to be developed to move freight more swiftly and safely.
- New technology, from more advanced real-time, in-cab telecommunications to better made trucks (less road noise, more creature comforts, anti-rollover technology, collision prevention features), to advances in software and IT systems (logistics technology, payment technology) have made trucking safer, more efficient, and more productive.
Recently, Klein and the Transport America leadership team met to discuss these and other changes that are shaping the trucking industry. They began to compile a list some of the changes that Transport America has made to make the trucking industry better.
“By the end of the day, we collectively built a list of more than 80 changes that we’ve made over the past 15 years that have made Transport America and the trucking industry better,” noted Katie Talcott, vice president of operations. “When we put it on paper, it made us realize that our mission to be a leading driver of change throughout the trucking industry is very real.”
Earlier changes included Transport America’s “Pull Over” policy, which puts the decision to pull over in the event of bad roads, fatigue or sickness squarely in the hands of its drivers. Other significant changes included the introduction of its $ure Pay system, which enhances the accuracy and efficiency of paying drivers, and the implementation of collision prevention software technology.
“But what we’re most proud of is creating a new type of trucking company,” says Klein, “based on a family-oriented culture in which we manage for excellence. Unfortunately, a lot of trucking companies still manage their operations and drivers through fear and intimidation. We’ve learned that if you put the focus on fleet leaders and drivers working together to solve problems through better communications, you create a new, positive, entrepreneurial culture.”
“It’s been a big paradigm shift for us,” Klein added. “By focusing on our drivers and doing everything we can to help them be successful, we in turn, are serving our customers better. Our customers see our drivers more than anyone else at our company. Our drivers are Transport America’s ambassadors.”
Embracing that mindset has meant that Transport America has had to make some hard choices over the years. From investing heavily in training and education for its drivers and fleet leaders, to letting fleet leaders go who were having a difficult time in treating Transport America drivers with a greater degree of respect and trust, represent just a couple of those big decisions that have come to separate Transport America from its competitors.
But, no matter what challenge arises, Transport America remains steadfast in its vision and values. It’s that level of clarity that’s essential to tackling the numerous challenges facing the trucking industry in the years ahead, from a change in regulations that may allow 18-, 19- and 20-year olds to drive over-the-road trucks across state lines to driverless trucks, which are being tested by Freightliner in Nevada.
“I want to see a culture of problem solving and innovation,” Klein says. “We want everyone in our company – including our drivers – involved in change. I view dollars spent to better help our drivers share their ideas with our company as a wise investment in bringing better solutions to our customers.”
To obtain more driver input, Transport America has instituted a number of programs, from a Driver’s Council, with rotating positions that allow for drivers to visit the company’s headquarters in Minnesota to better understand how the company operates, to an open-door policy that allows for changes to be shared through the company’s fleet leader system.
“We have a five-year vision and plan for Transport America,” Klein adds. “We are going to be very intentional about our drive to make the trucking industry better, starting with ourselves. We’ve set the expectation that we will not allow change to just happen to us, but instead, we will embrace change and go the extra mile to make the changes we feel are not only necessary, but critical.”
So, that’s what the typical, day-to-day normal is at Transport America: making meaningful changes to move the trucking industry forward to a better place. Everyone is invited to participate.