Thinking about top executives at large motor carriers

Phil Madsen | January 31, 2012

I learned today more about the lives and times of two neighbors. Learned by dining with them. I also learned where our carrier ranks among others by quarterly revenue. Learned by reading carrier revenue reports.

Diane and I woke up this morning in our Florida vacation house where we plan to stay until mid-February. Today was the same as most other vacation days we have spent here. New today was dinner out with two neighbors.

One of the neighbors let us borrow her car to drive to Jacksonville last week. To thank her for the favor, we took her and a friend out to dinner. Both are widows who live in this retirement community. They have lived long lives and had interesting stories to share.

• Curiosity motivated me to learn more about large carrier revenue numbers. Diane and I lease our truck to Landstar. Their revenue numbers were discussed at Landstar BCO Appreciation Days last week. I have never paid close attention to such numbers before but lately grew curious about them.

I was not curious before because the numbers were not disclosed by our former carrier. That carrier was a tiny component of a much larger company so its numbers were impossible to dig out of the annual report. It did no good to ask because executives there kept their numbers secret. They did not have to but they did.

Landstar is more open about such things. Knowing now what their quarterly numbers are, I satisfied my curiosity about other companies by reading up on them. This knowledge means little when it comes to finding good loads to haul at good rates. Knowing the numbers does not make one a better truck driver. It’s just an item of curiosity.

A number of large carriers are publicly held. They announce their numbers to shareholders and the public every quarter. In general, the big names you see on big trucks identify big companies whose third-quarter, 2011, revenues range from $100 million to $1 billion and more.

That’s a lot of money. The top executives who run these companies have a lot more to think about than Diane and I do in our business. They go to work thinking about thousands of trucks and hundreds of millions of dollars per quarter. Diane and I go to work thinking about one truck and tens of thousands of dollars per quarter (gross revenue).

Many truckers like to describe their company leaders as “suits,” occupiers of the glass palace, overpaid college boys who have never driven a truck in their lives, penthouse poobahs, golf course gurus, top brass, ivory tower types, big cheeses and other such names that suggest a gap exists between high-ranking company officials and ordinary truck drivers. But when you think about it, a gap really does exist.

Drivers know that if you pulled someone out of the office and put him or her in a truck for a month, things may not go well for that person. So too if the roles were reversed. If you pulled someone out of a truck and put him or her in the executive suites for a month, things may not go well either. Both would probably be eager to return to the jobs that match their preferences and skills.

I’m thinking about the gap — the difference between us and them — because of things that happened at last week’s event. Diane and I had no expectation of doing so but we ended up interacting with three company vice presidents.

First, Diane approached a VP after the open forum in which company executives sat on the stage and took questions from BCO’s. The two had a meaningful discussion about an issue Diane raised. They agreed to continue their conversation via e-mail.

Second, I started a conversation with a VP after one of the breakout sessions. We had a meaningful discussion about an area of the business I brought up. He and I will continue our discussion at a later meeting, after certain information is exchanged via e-mail.

Third, during a break at the event, I went to the restroom while Diane waited for me outside. She next saw me exiting the restroom with yet another VP. We did not have a long conversation with him but did have some feedback to share by e-mail. He asked us to wait a moment while he went to his office to get us a card with his e-mail address on it. It only took a moment because we happened to be on the floor where his office and those of other vice presidents were.

The free access we have to the company building and leaders continues to amaze Diane and me, as does the openness of the people with the titles. It is a 180 degree change from the carrier we were with before. It has me thinking more sympathetically about these people and the work they do.

It’s one thing to read the quarterly report of a large corporation. It’s a different experience altogether to read one when you have met and had meaningful discussions with the people quoted therein, have been able to take your company input straight to the top, and when you take a moment to appreciate the fact that these folks and us operate in different domains; each doing their own thing in their own way to help the company succeed

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