Logistically Speaking: An ordinary day in the life of an extraordinary trucker

Sept. 12, 2005
John Duncan probably isnt a typical truck driver, but it would be great news for shippers if he was. Fearing that Id been a desk jockey too long, last

John Duncan probably isn’t a typical truck driver, but it would be great news for shippers if he was.

Fearing that I’d been a desk jockey too long, last month I took up Roadway Express (www.roadway.com) on their offer to let me spend a day riding with one of their drivers. I was hoping to get a better feel for what the supply chain is like these days at its most basic level – the loading docks and the trucks. What I wasn’t expecting, though, was to also get a better sense of how one seemingly small link in the supply chain can leave a lasting and profound impact on every touchpoint he comes in contact with.

The day began at Roadway’s Copley facility, outside of Akron, one of 30 regional service centers. According to Greg Kelly, director, regional operations, roughly 4 million pounds of freight go into and out of the Copley facility’s 210 doors every day.

After the facility tour, I met John Duncan, a 28-year Roadway veteran with 20 years on the road. As a city driver for a major less-than-truckload carrier, Duncan has one of the best routes a truck driver can have. He works a regular day-time shift, is home every night, doesn’t have to worry about Hours of Service regulations, and knows virtually every LTL customer within a 50-mile radius.

Though Duncan spends most of his workday behind the wheel of a 48-foot rig, he is well aware of his own role within the supply chain of the industrial manufacturers he calls on. “My job isn’t just about the truck any more,” he states matter-of-factly. In many cases, he’s the only person from his company that any of his customers will ever see in person, so in a very real sense he represents the face of Roadway. And not only does is he on a first-name basis with virtually every warehouse manager and dock worker we saw that day, but he also knows many of the names of their family members as well.

In a typical day, Duncan might make 20 pickups and deliveries. Since business was a bit slow that mid-summer’s day, we made several unscheduled stops, or what Duncan refers to as sales calls. Though most LTL decisions are made by the consignee ahead of time, Duncan has found that by regularly stopping in and reminding companies that Roadway services their area, it greatly enhances his chances of getting more business from them.

In talking to some of the warehouse people at the manufacturers, it became obvious that Duncan was far more customer service-oriented than some of the other truckers who pulled into their docks. “Some of the drivers out there are dumber than dirt,” one warehouse manager confided to me.

And yet, I saw evidence that there are some logistics managers who might be a few quarts low in the IQ department themselves. I can’t divulge the shipper’s identity, but I watched in awe as a warehouse manager ran back and forth between his office and the dock, ordering his forklift driver to load several pallets on a truck, and then – astonishingly – to unload them, since the shipper on the other end of the phone couldn’t make up his mind how he wanted to ship the loads, or which carrier to use. That certainly qualifies as a “worst practice” if I ever saw one. Duncan told me later it wasn’t the first time he’d see that happen, either.

When it comes to John Duncan, you can forget about all of those trucker cliches Hollywood has created. Duncan’s cabin didn’t have a radio (Roadway policy), but he says if he had a radio he’d probably listen to classical music. He gets his assignments while on the road through a Qualcomm wireless device, that also logs every call he makes and the mileage of every stop off. If he needs to talk to somebody directly, he uses his own cell phone. And most of the miles he logs are on state highways, not the interstates.

Although Duncan seems to know most of the regular drivers from other carriers that service the Wadsworth-Seville-Lodi area, he says he’s only in competition with himself. A fervent reader of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Successful People, Duncan’s goal is “to do my job better tomorrow than I did today.”

Unfortunately for Roadway as well as its local clientele, John Duncan plans to retire sometime next year. When he finally parks his rig for the last time, I have no doubt that he’ll be able to look himself in the mirror and say he’s proud of the job he did, and proud of how he represented himself and his company. Let’s hope each of us can say the same thing about ourselves.

Dave Blanchard, editor-in-chief, [email protected]

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