Philip Keith is one of three finalists for the 2017 Owner-Operator of the Year award, produced by the Truckload Carriers Association and Overdrive. The winner, who will receive a $25,000 cash prize, will be announced in late March at TCA’s annual convention in Orlando, Florida. The other two finalists are Bryan Smith and Kevin Kocmich.
Owner-operator Philip Keith enjoys trucking and working for WEL Companies, his working home since 1987. He also enjoys the life outside of trucking that his career has afforded him.
When Keith and Eva, his wife and team driving partner, are at their Gulf Coast home in Long Beach, Mississippi, they usually can be found riding Keith’s motorcycle or on their sailboat with friends. The couple stays on the road 21 to 24 days a month, taking off the rest.
“We’ve done so many dedicated runs over the years and tried so many different ways to see what worked best for our lifestyle,” Keith says. “We used to be home every week with a 5,000-mile dedicated run, but there’s too much stress to get home every weekend. The best balance we found for us is to get out and work hard for three weeks and take a week off so we can enjoy our house, our toys and our grandkids.”
During his career with WEL, Keith has worked as a driver, dispatcher, terminal manager and customer service manager. He says he always was a driver first, though nondriving jobs taught him financial management that helps him as an owner-operator.
Likewise, “Being a driver helped me in the office with having the driver’s perspective. I was able to take my experience in customer service from the office out onto the road to help build relationships with customers.”
Since Keith began his trucking career in 1983, he has amassed more than 5 million accident-free miles. He says the key to staying out of trouble on the road has been not allowing himself to get in a position where he has to use his brakes to get out of it.
“Accidents happen, and you usually don’t see it coming, but I just look out for potential problems and try to get away from it,” he says. Another key has been avoiding major cities’ rush hours, which he admits is easier as a team.
Typical runs for Keith include hauling bananas from Mississippi to Wisconsin, then hauling cheese east or west, then bringing other freight back to Wisconsin.
Keith and Eva plan to pay cash for their next truck in about a year. Their current truck, a 2017 Peterbilt 579 bought in September 2016 for $181,000, replaced a nearly 10-year-old Peterbilt 386 that had more than 2 million miles. On their next truck, the couple plans to add a custom sleeper with a shower.