"The best stories are never written -- they are re-written." --Paul Page
That bit of journalistic philosophy, shared by one of my former bosses nearly 10 year ago now, still shapes how I approach my craft today -- the emphasis being that your first draft almost always needs to be re-worked a few times. You find you need more information, or another quote, to more fully flesh a story out. And, just like Thomas Jefferson pondering over the 'Declaration of Independence' late into the night, you find there's always a better way to say or explain something once you've scrawled it down and crossed it out a few times.
I also get a good reminder as to how this philosophy works in the real world (as opposed to the written one) every time I get to visit with truckload carrier Celadon Group based in Indianapolis, IN -- by phone and in person. I've also had the great pleasure to sit down with Steve Russell, Celadon's chairman and CEO, a couple of times as well now and his constant willingness to revisit the business of trucking, always on the hunt for ways to improve the operation, illustrates how fleets will need to manage themselves now and in the future.
For example, after getting a conditional DOT safety rating in 2000, Celadon totally overhauled its driver corps, from recruiting to ongoing training. Sure, you say, they had to do it or face going out of business. But to then bounce back and win the American Trucking Association's top fleet safety award in 2004 and 2005? That's hard -- and something like that only occurs when you really focus on the details of the business, dedicating yourself to making big changes and making them stick.
Russell has also tried out different approaches to the truck driver's job itself. For a while, the carrier tested 'lifestyle fleet' jobs that allowed a driver to work a set number of weeks on and off so they could really maximize family time. This approach met with limited success in terms of recruiting new drivers, so Celadon switched gears and started buying smaller carriers with solid driver corps to beef up its ranks.
Information plays a critical role in how the company stays ahead in the fast-paced business of freight, says Celadon's COO Tom Glaser. "He who has information makes better decisions," he told me once. "It's not only the speed of the information flow [that's important], but getting it in front of the people who make key decisions day by day, hour by hour, even minute by minute. In this business, it is easy to be reactive; but it's intelligent to be proactive. That's why getting better information more quickly helps us make better, more proactive decisions for customers and drivers alike."
Putting all of the technology in place to first capture and then analyze all this information doesn't come easy, nor does it come without constant upgrades, but Russell stayed on it because he knew how valuable that information would be down the road.
And of course, there's Steve himself -- a larger than life character in trucking. When I sat down with him for the first time, he immediately started interviewing ME, about my background and likes and dislikes, before we got around to him. We ate lunch in the driver lounge and chatted with drivers, new hires and old hands alike, with Steve getting feedback on what worked and didn't work and where changes might need to be made.
It's that willingness to 're-write' how a carrier approaches complex issues, to edit itself in the face of new information and new circumstances, that will make trucking flexible enough to handle all the challenges ahead. That's what kept Celadon in the game and should do the same for other carriers as well.