Private carrier executives reaffirmed their commitment to enhancing the professional development of their membership at the management and educational conference of the National Private Truck Council last month in Chicago. "One niche that the NPTC has," said president and CEO John McQuaid, "is the Private Fleet Management Institute," the educational and research arm of the organization. "To date, there are more than 300 certified private fleet executives," he said. "There is enormous interest in the program, and we are thinking about refocusing it beyond the traditional private fleet arena."

Gus Pagonis, executive vice president of logistics for Sears Roebuck and Co., told attendees how he had implemented a new focus on logistics for the company to help improve efficiency. For example, he said that prior to making the changes it might have taken 31 days for a dress to go from the factory to a vendor location. Today, however, that process takes place in less than 7 days.

The first thing Pagonis did was to move all logistics functions under one central point of contact. He then established a strategy, which included both short- and long-term initiatives. In discussions with his staff and with third-party providers, Pagonis shared the strategy and his expectations. "Those relationships have to be based on trust and integrity," he said.

To establish such credibility, Pagonis shifted to fact-based management, meaning he had to do a better job of understanding the fully burdened costs of his operation before making decisions. With the framework in place, he then shifted the organization closer to his customer base and vendors. New hires are required to spend time in distribution centers learning the trade before moving into headquarters. All managers spend three to four days a year on the loading dock or in stores to understand how transportation meshes with other parts of the business.

As a result of some of the efficiencies from the Pagonis tenure, transportation has become more efficient, allowing retail outlets to convert backroom space -- previously used to store inventory -- into retail space.

Another benefit of his leaner transportation operation is the reduction of concealed damage. A single appliance packed in a box can be handled up to 80 times before it reaches a consumer. He's cut that down to 26 movements, reducing the amount of concealed damage and the number of disappointed customers.

NPTC attendees who came to the conference expecting to take away lots of information and new ideas should have gone home feeling like they accomplished their goals. The "Learning Sessions," which included 64 presenters from numerous industry disciplines, were almost all filled to capacity.

In a session on Safety and the Workplace, for example, Teryl Woods, national group safety manager for Frito-Lay, credited a stringent selection process with helping the snack food giant achieve a 6-8% driver turnover rate in its "regular" fleet.

"It's a four-week process," Woods said of the screening, interviewing, testing, and reference-checking done for each applicant. "But it helps identify and select the drivers we want driving our message. At Frito-Lay, we see training as an investment, not an expense."

Tony Vercillo, president of International Fleet Management Consultants Inc., offered a number of high-energy sessions on creating logistics and fleet value, benchmarking, and comparing private fleet costs to dedicated contract carriage. Among his recommendations for creating logistics and fleet value:

* Assess the current state

* Benchmark your company against the competition

* Develop what-if scenarios

* Create an aligned strategic plan

* Set goals for improvement

* Properly communicate results

Kit Kloeckl, vice president of refined distribution fuels for Cenex Inc., St. Paul, Minn., was elected chairman for the coming two years. The following vice chairmen were also named: Douglas P. Huth, vp-operations for EOTT Energy Corp., Houston; Tom Benson, director of transportation, Continental Grain Co., Chicago; Garry Horn, manager of motor transportation services, Southern States Co-op., Richmond, Va.; and Greg Mathein, fleet manager, Senco Products, Cincinnati.

Charlie Bumb, vice president of national accounts for Cummins Engine Co., Columbus, Ind., was elected vice chairman of the associate members. Serving as treasurer is Thomas Glascock III, director of transportation and distribution, Burlington Industries, Burlington, N.C.

NPTC pledged its support of the FHWA's "No-Zone" highway safety program at a press event hosted by NPTC president John McQuaid, who was joined by David Longo, marketing manager for FHWA, and Gary Kelly, director of transportation for Domino's Pizza.

NPTC member companies have committed to help the traffic safety campaign by applying No-Zone decals to selected trailers in their fleet. "No Zone" refers to the blind spots surrounding commercial vehicles. The colorful decals are designed to help motorists learn to share the road safely with trucks by making them more aware of these blind spots.

According to Dave Barry, NPTC director of ITS and research programs, NPTC has agreed to recruit 15 NPTC member fleets to participate in No-Zone. Fleets, selected from second-tier cities around the country and from different types of operations, will be eligible for up to $2,000 to help with the cost of adding the No-Zone decals to trailers in their fleets, he notes.

A Domino's Pizza tractor and trailer bearing the decals was on hand during the press conference. The company has made a multimillion-dollar investment in safety and security programs, including No-Zone.

* Four drivers were honored for their safe driving careers by induction into the NPTC/Trailmobile Driver Hall of Fame: Ronald R. Miller of Senco Products, George R. Brown of Best Feeds and Farm Supplies Inc., Harold (LeRoy) Likins of Farmland Industries Inc., and Walter Helmus of Praxair Inc.

* NPTC named Carlos M. Lopez, a 23-year driver for Senco Products Inc., as the first recipient of the Dodi Reagan Humanitarian Award. The award was created to honor NPTC's former director of safety programs, who died in January of 1997. Mr. Lopez was recognized for his volunteer work, particularly for the Door of Hope Church in Los Angeles.