TCA’s winning contractor is considered a model owner-operator at O&S Trucking.
Should you call Jerry Johnson, don’t be surprised if someone says you reached the wrong number.
Then again, don’t believe everything you hear.
“If he gets a call on his cell phone, he likes to hand it to somebody else, and they tell them they got the wrong number,” says Darrell Hand, a company driver at O&S Trucking, where Johnson is leased as an owner-operator. “They get them going pretty good before they tell them who they are.”
That sense of humor is one of the well-known traits of Johnson, who last month was named the Truckload Carriers Association 2004 Independent Contractor of the Year. The contest is sponsored by TCA, International Truck and Engine Corp. and Overdrive. Johnson wins a new International 9900ix and other prizes.
Pranks aside, Johnson says honesty has guided him to success in his 19-year career as an owner-operator. “If you go in some place and you’ve got an irate customer, be honest and nice with him, and it makes the atmosphere better,” he says.
“Integrity is doing the right thing when nobody watches,” says O&S Safety Director Mike Tettamble. “Every day he’s doing the right thing and making decisions, and nobody’s looking over his shoulder.”
Others at O&S are looking at Johnson, though – and for good cause. Johnson, 59, not only represents the company at meetings, but counsels other drivers through times of crisis, says President Jim O’Neal. During driver orientation, Johnson speaks to new drivers and offers his ongoing advice. “When a driver hears the name Jerry Johnson, I want them to say, ‘That’s the big dog,’” Tettamble says.
“When meeting new drivers, I try to provide honest guidance and advice, and I like to think my words may have contributed to other success stories on the road,” Johnson says.
Johnson’s performance backs up his reputation. During his more than 40-year career, he has driven more than 4 million miles with a 100 percent on-time rate, no cargo claims, no moving violations and no chargeable accidents.
Those four decades behind the wheel began when he was 18. “I started hauling cattle with a friend of mine’s daddy’s truck,” says Johnson, who soon became a company driver. He spent his first two years as an owner-operator leased to Zenith Television, then joined O&S 17 years ago. He delivers general dry van freight to 48 states with a 1994 Volvo 660.
Trucking isn’t Johnson’s only business affiliation. He has an arrangment with his wife, Patty, who runs a hay and cattle operation on their 237-acre spread in West Plains, Mo. “She doesn’t drive my truck, and I don’t feed her cattle,” he says.
Buying a home and working a farm have been made financially possible by trucking, he says. Trucking has also helped the Johnsons put their two sons through school and help the sons start a used car business.
“I give all the credit to God for my success,” Johnson says.
God seemed to leave him with at least one flaw, though. “Don’t ever ask him how far something is,” jokes O&S owner-operator Dale Price, who has known Johnson since 1987.