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October 5, 2016

Truckload Carrier On-Time Performance


Many years ago, I was privileged to view the ‘war room’ at Joplin, Missouri-based Contract Freighters (CFI). It was a huge space, overlooked by a gallery and inspired, said then President Glenn Brown, by an old World War 2 movie that showed commanding officers peering down at maps of the world as young ladies – likely WRENs – pushed models of fleets of ships and squadrons of aircraft around in response to information coming in over their bulky headphones.

Brown’s vision was to have this open plan office with information displayed on huge monitors around the room and everybody in the loop, just like that old WW2 war room.

The most dominating display was a red neon sign showing the number 97.7. Brown said that was CFI’s on-time delivery performance. On-time meant the truck could be there two hours early. Not more. And never late. “And it’s not good enough,” he said.

That was probably 20 years ago that and Bruce Stockton was the maintenance director. He did the industry’s best job of keeping CFI’s all-Kenworth fleet on the ready line every day. It was an outstanding example of a team, led by a visionary leader with great people working together to achieve an outstanding performance.

But truck reliability has moved on a pace, and shipper and receiver expectations – and industry performance – has moved on too. Heartland Express has been awarded “Carrier of the Year” by FedEx Express for a 99.96% on-time performance.

“Achieving year-over-year improvement on near perfect levels, on our largest number of annual shipments with FedEx Express, is only possible through the hard work and safety of our professional drivers matched with effective collaboration between FedEx Express and our committed support teams,” said Heartland CEO Michael Gerdin. “We are extremely proud to be the FedEx Express Core Carrier of the Year for six consecutive years; this is truly an honor that speaks to the core values of Heartland Express.”

Michael Gerdin is the son of company founder Russ Gerdin who died in 2011. I was also privileged to have known him and on one occasion spent a week traveling Europe with Freightliner and a group of trucking executives that included Russ.

He oversaw the growth of Heartland Express from a company with four employees and 16 trucks in 1978 to one of the top truckload carriers in the United States. The company’s revenue had grown from $21.6 million in 1986, when it went public, to $736.3 million in 2015.

The son of a truck driver, Russ Gerdin had more than a dozen years of experience working for his father’s company and then owning or co-owning several other companies. He bought Scott’s Transportation in 1978 and renamed it Heartland Express.

Back to CFI
CFI was founded in 1951 with one tractor and two trailers. Its first year revenue was just $12,000. The company was acquired by Con-way Express in 2007 for $750 million and Glenn Brown retired to his ranch to raise prize-winning cattle. He’s now back in trucking as a director at Swift, the nation’s biggest truckload carrier. Bruce Stockton has fetched up as VP maintenance at XPO Logistics – a company that is going places and is well worth watching.

CFI is now operated as Con-way Truckload.

Heartland is still the industry’s top performer. And according to its 2015 earnings statement, it had a truly outstanding operating ratio of 84.2%.



You Can Start Me Up

Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones
Freightliner Appreciation Event, October 3, 2016  

How much do you appreciate customers? 

If you’re Freightliner, it’s enough to put on a private party with no less than Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones as the entertainment.

It was the buzz at the early evening reception for the dinner, held at the American Trucking Associations’ annual convention in Las Vegas this week. Once a member of the Stones was spotted by an avid Rolling Stone fan, the cat was out of the band…make that bag. But nobody would believe it: How could a small group of truck fleet owners and managers possibly be at a private party with the legendary Rolling Stones.

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Yet in his really hilarious intro to the headline feature of the evening, Daimler Trucks North America President Martin Daum announced the “band” would be the Rolling Stones. There was a rush to the crush to be center stage at this intimate concert with one of the world’s legendary bands.

And it was standing room only the rest of the evening.

It was intimate: There was a center runway and Jagger was the incredibly high-energy on-stage entertainer, not just singing the lines that everybody knows but strutting the stuff as well. It was magic.

Last year, it was Paul McCartney and by sheer luck I had found a corner where I could get up close and view the action without having to fight everyone else for a clear view. It was incredible again this year. The level of energy Mick Jagger puts into a performance is legendary. But you have to see it. And, of course, hear it.

It was a Rolling Stones night to remember, a customer-appreciation party that none but the market leader could do. I make no apologies for making that remark. Daimler and Freightliner set the seal on their dominance of the truck business with the ultimate thank-you party for their customers.