Mentoring the masses

Canadian truck driver Doug Ladds.

Me, I want to live with my feet in Dixie And my head in the cool blue North
– Jimmy Buffett, “Nothin’ But a Breeze”

In many ways, Canadian truck driver Doug Ladds is an enigma.

He’s proud to be a Canuck but has never been west of Ontario, while he’s well-traveled in the United States.

He loves to tease friends from warm regions of the United States about their thin blood whenever they are exposed to harsh Canadian winters but is a die-hard “Parrothead” (loyal fan of beach musician Jimmy Buffett).

And his simple-man persona among peers may at first glance obscure his greatest character trait – leadership.

Ladds is anything but simple. He’s a well-spoken mentor and advocate for the trucking industry. He has risen to the top of his profession through his work ethic and unwavering dedication to safety and loyalty to his employer, co-workers and fellow drivers he encounters on highways of both Canada and the United States.

Ladds added to an already impressive portfolio in March when he was named the Truckload Carriers Association’s 2007 Company Equipment Driver of the Year at the Atlantis Resort in Paradise Island, The Bahamas. The award is co-sponsored by Truckers News and Detroit Diesel.

“It was an honor just to be short-listed,” Ladds says of being one of three finalists for the award. “It was overwhelming to win the grand prize. It was a very exciting experience, but it was also humbling.”

The Guelph, Ontario, resident has logged more than 3.6 million accident-free truckload kilometers during his 24-year career.

Ladds, a company driver with MacKinnon Transport since 1994, has been a member of his company’s driver-trainer team for 14 years. He is now the head driver trainer. He is a certified professional driver and past chairman for MacKinnon’s Drivers Association.

Ladds also is the first driver to reach the president level of MacKinnon’s Road Masters Program, an initiative designed to recognize both a driver’s safety-first attitude and general knowledge of the trucking industry.

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Into the public arena
In 2007, Ladds was named to the Road Knights Team by the Ontario Trucking Association for a two-year term. The 10-member team educates the public on how to safely share the road with commercial vehicles, much like the American Trucking Associations’ America’s Road Team.

Organizations like the Road Knights Team have helped Ladds hone his skills as a trucking industry advocate. “I love public speaking,” he says. “It wasn’t something that I thought I would be good at until I was asked to do it. Now I’m very comfortable speaking to the public.”

Evan MacKinnon, president and CEO of MacKinnon Transport, knows the value of having Ladds as driver spokesperson. The company, which has its own numerous safety awards from TCA and other industry organizations, gets a return on its investment in Ladds’ public profile.

“We have many good drivers here with fantastic abilities but who don’t have the personality to tell the industry,” the third-generation owner says. “Doug has a lot of talent with driving all kinds of loads, he has worked in dispatch, in the safety department and served as a driver-trainer for many years.

“Doug is comfortable in front of the cameras and is very good at public speaking. He’s in high demand, and he’s been very positive for our image.”

Ladds effortlessly mixes his vast knowledge of trucking and safety with witty quips to put his audience – whether it be a service organization like the Rotary Club, a high school class or a newbie driver – at ease.

During a ride-along with this reporter from Hamilton to Toronto, Ladds referred to the motorcycle club (Canadian Motorcycle Cruisers) of which he is an officer as an “eating club with a riding disorder.” When asked about the Canadian weather, he called summer “two weeks of bad snowmobiling.”

A teacher at heart
Jokes aside, the 43-year-old is very serious when it comes to his job. He reviews applicants for MacKinnon and makes recommendations to his superiors on whether the person should be hired.

“I have to work with the guy. I want to make sure they are someone I’m comfortable with,” Ladds says. “With new drivers, I also make sure they know what they are getting into.

“I tell them to make sure trucking works with their priorities at home. The realities of the job mean there are times they are going to have to be prepared to miss kids’ birthdays and baseball games. If they don’t have the support at home, the trucking lifestyle is going to make family life more difficult.”

After a driver is hired, teaching them to drive safely becomes his top priority. “My job as a driver-trainer here is to help drivers develop good habits and hone them into professionals,” Ladds says.

Other aspects of MacKinnon’s on-the-road mentoring program include a discussion on retention, company expectations and day-to-day aspects of the job.

“I always give the new drivers my cell phone number in case they have questions once they start driving solo,” Ladds says.

But he says his company’s mentoring program is so thorough when it comes to safety and driving practices, he rarely gets calls from new drivers about big issues.

“I may get a call once or twice a week from a new driver, but it’s usually something simple like a question about filling out company paperwork,” Ladds says.

Another important aspect of his mentoring – and public speaking – is making sure drivers stay informed about the regulations concerning the border between the United States and Canada, an important corridor for MacKinnon’s business.

“The border got really confusing after 9-11,” Ladds says. “There were all kinds of different rules for different commodities. It’s better now, but I get all press releases from trucking organizations to stay on top of regulations. I make sure our drivers know about any changes in regulations that affect crossing the border.”

Ladds, who is a second-generation driver, was taught to drive a truck by his father.

“I learned by a pull on the ear,” he says, laughing. “When I did something wrong, my father would give me a tug on the ear.”

Even with his “old-school” orientation in trucking, one would be wrong to assume Ladds advocates learning from a family member or acquaintance today. “Back in the day, it may have been OK to learn this way,” he says. “But old-learning doesn’t work in today’s environment. A driver needs a credited truck driving school and a good mentoring program.”

While CDL mills have been greatly reduced, Ladds says, there are still truck-driving schools that are not spending enough time on basic skills.

“Some focus too much on how to fill out a log book,” he says. “I think schools have to put more emphasis on driving skills like backing. We can teach trainees how to legally do logs. There are still truck driving schools teaching how to get their license and not how to go trucking.”

One more for the team
While his ever-growing list of awards is accompanied by good-natured ribbing from fellow drivers, his company sees every accolade Ladds receives as a team effort. “Whenever Doug receives an award, we promote it as a company-wide award,” Evan MacKinnon says. “We believe everyone contributed to Doug’s success.”

Ladds’ philosophy is that his recognitions are simply proof that he is serving his employer and his profession to the best of his ability.

“When I received the TCA award, I had a lot of industry leaders congratulating me, and that was nice and exciting,” Ladds says. “But I look at it like this: if MacKinnon gets more work because of my recognition, then I’ve done my job.”

Ladds’ success is rooted in the foundation provided by late parents. “My father and mother instilled a strong work ethic in me,” he says. “Everything I do, I try to give 110 percent.”

He also points to his wife, Barbara; his four children: Melissa, Jessica, Rebecca and step-daughter Sara; and his younger brother Darrin, also a truck driver, as sources of inspiration.

And with so many awards, what about Lady Luck? Ladds would rather rely on the tangibles in life. “While luck is nice, luck will wear out,” he says. “You have to be good at what you do, and you’ve got to be safe.

Down the road
Today, Ladds seems content with his life. He preps loads for other drivers, which allows him more time for mentoring, public speaking, spending time with family and his numerous hobbies.

His foray into the public arena whetted his appetite for expanding his role as an ambassador for trucking.

“I have a real passion for the industry,” Ladds says. “I’m still learning, but I believe the more I know, the more doors will open for me.”

He sees trucking changing greatly over the next few years, especially when it comes to the trucking industry’s relationship with the environment. “I can see myself still doing public speaking in something like ‘enviro-trucking.’ Whatever I do it will have something to do with trucking. I invite all challenges in my life.”

The Finalists
Second-place winner John Pipes has worked for Con-way Truckload of Joplin, Mo., since 1988 and has logged more than 2.9 million accident-free truckload miles. He is a past winner of the Missouri Motor Carriers Association’s Roland Clark Award, a second-place winner of the Missouri Truck Driving Championships and a recipient of at least 11 safety awards from his company.

Pipes is a certified driving instructor. “One of my proudest accomplishments is that the students I trained are now approaching 2 million miles and have students of their own. I have grand-students,” he jokes.

Pipes completed basic firefighter and auto rescue classes to be better equipped to help stranded motorists. He’s a former volunteer for the Route 66 Senior Center, helping to pack and deliver meals for the needy.

“Not one to ask for favors, John quietly and humbly demonstrates and exemplifies the company’s principles, culture and values,” says Randy Cornell, vice president of safety for Con-way Truckload. “He has successfully adapted to new technology in the industry and maintains a ‘down-home’ work ethic, making a name for himself throughout the company as one of the best of the best.”

Pipes will receive an all-expenses-paid trip for two to the Grand Ole Opry; a trip for two to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game, including overnight accommodations, dinner and breakfast at The Cincinnatian and $500 for travel expenses; $2,500 cash; and $3,000 in truckstop gift cards.

Third-place winner Steven French has been a driver with Anderson Trucking Service of St. Cloud, Minn., since 1995. He has logged more than 1.2 million accident-free truckload miles.

“He is authorized to haul loads up to 12-feet wide, 14-feet 3-inches high and 85-inches long, which makes his safety record even more impressive,” says Scott Anderson, ATS safety director.

French is a member of Highway Watch and an amateur photographer, with three of his photos printed on ATS company calendars.

While on the road, French takes great pride in stopping to help stranded motorists, particularly when he is traveling the Alcan Highway back and forth to Alaska. Over the years, he has taken a stranded and freezing driver to the nearest truckstop after hearing a faint cry of “Help!” on the CB radio, brought a mother and son to a safe haven after witnessing them crash into a guard rail, and flagged the driver of a small moving van to pull over because flames were coming out of the back of his vehicle.

“I’m the guy you call in a pinch