It’s not unusual for long-haul drivers to travel through all 48 lower states. It’s another thing when an OTR driver is described as a “world traveler.”
That was one of the descriptors for 2017 Owner-Operator of the Year finalist Phil Keith during the Truckload Carriers Association’s closing banquet at its recent annual meeting in Kissimmee, Florida. Minutes later he was announced as winner, and the recipient of the honor’s $25,000 cash prize, made possible by sponsors Cummins and Love’s Travel Stops.
Addressing a few hundred fleet executives, Keith cited the millions of accident-free miles driven by him and owner-operator award finalists Kevin Kocmich and Bryan Smith. “There’s only 24,000 miles around the equator,” he said. “So keeping that in mind, we’ve been in orbit for a long time.”
The global orbit for Keith has been a zigzag one, beginning long before he learned to drive a truck. He beats most truckers in the range of places he’s been as well as modes of transportation he routinely uses. He and his team-driver wife, Eva, enjoy sailing in the Gulf of Mexico, close to their home, and taking long motorcycle trips.
Keith, who turns 60 this month, was born in France. He later lived in Spain, then moved to the United States. He grew up mostly in Freeport, Illinois, though his family relocated frequently. Much later, he returned to Europe for a long vacation, but his biggest international road trip came via service with the U.S. Marines from 1975 to 1983. That included a four-year stint in the Philippines, but he also was stationed in Hawaii, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Okinawa.
Keith offers these tips for success as an owner-operator:
If you want to make more money, have fewer expenses, change your oil on time, and get better fuel mileage. “Get air in your tires,” he says. “Keep your truck greased.” He says he’s “constantly looking for something that’s breaking.”
Maintain a strong escrow account. “You’ve got to be prepared for a month’s downtime at least,” he says. “You better have at least $10,000 in the bank.”
“I don’t count miles, I count dollars,” says Keith, who’s always worked on a percentage of revenue. “Giving up a percentage to WEL for their logistics support is so important.” He enjoys not having to worry about competing with bigger fleets, chasing down unpaid invoices or getting discounts on tires and fuel.
Let four-wheelers have their way if they’re being aggressive. “I’m not going to fight you. I tell younger drivers you have to avoid situations where you have to use your brakes to get out of it.”