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Driver Lifestyles

Stress Relief For Expediters

By Bob Colleran
Posted Nov 7th 2001 10:03AM

My career in the expedited freight business began a little over nine years ago driving a "D" unit for an owner. It was my first foray into the world of professional driving and it's become such a way of life for my wife and me that it will be hard to leave it behind when the time comes.

Along the way, we've met some great people in and through this business, been and seen some places that we might never have visited, and for me personally, have learned some life lessons which relate to this business.

By way of background: I've been in the expediting field since 1991. Prior to that, I had worked in different industries at the corporate level until my last position fell victim to the downsizing ax.

I had tired of the games one has to play in middle management, so after looking around for new opportunities, I found an owner/operator seeking a driver for his straight truck.

I had never considered driving professionally before, but with the owner's help, I qualified with his company, and began my career in the expediting business.

After six months with that owner, I purchased the truck I had been driving, and after getting my wife qualified with the company, we began running team.

Since then, we've switched companies a few times, bought and sold a number of trucks, and learned some lessons along the way.

In our business, my wife has always been the more reasonable of the two of us; she's blessed with the ability to usually see both sides of a debate and often, when I was ready to pick up the phone and scream at the company, she was the calming influence.

I used to be quite a hothead in my dealings with the expediting companies to whom I was leased. I felt from day one that the companies were always crossing the line between contractor and employee and I wasn't about to let them try to run my business or tell me how to run my truck(s).

For my first few years in expediting, I had a few run-in's with dispatch, safety, contractor relations and even recruiters. I had many heated discussions with people from those departments during which I would expound at length on my philosophy about the expediting industry and point out to them the many varied ways in which they were wrong.

After listening to some of my phone conversations with company personnel, my wife wondered aloud whether we would ever get another load from that dispatcher, or should we start looking for another company because we were sure to get a termination of lease notice very soon.

I have to admit that I was often caught up in the righteous fervor that one experiences when he KNOWS he is absolutely right. I ran roughshod over some people there at headquarters and I'm somewhat embarassed now to admit that I was the typical "nasty driver" at times.

I also have to admit that I took it to heart sometimes, too and that I was buying Rolaids in the large bottles, gulping them after a particularly heated discussion with some company idiot.

I carried that attitude with me from the first company we were signed with into our second company. It didn't take long after we signed on with Company #2 before I noticed that they were guilty of the same attitudes and policies of Company #1, committing the very offenses that had caused us to leave the first company.

With Company #2 however, I had encounters with a couple of folks from the corporate side; meetings which, luckily for me, happened before my temper had given me a reputation as a "nasty driver" with the new company.

My first encounter was a chance meeting with my recruiter from Company #2 in a truckstop in the Toledo, OH area. My wife and I happened to see him sitting in a restaurant booth with another couple and when he spotted us, he invited us over. It turned out that he was in the process of signing on the husband and wife couple, who after a few minutes, excused themselves and left.

He asked us how things were going and that's when I went into my usual laundry list of complaints. He listened quietly and when I was done, he said that he agreed with me on about half of the problems I had mentioned, and as for the other half, he might not agree, but he could see my point.

He told me that with the expediting industry being the relatively small, niche business that it is, word gets around, and that he had been aware of my problems with Company #1 and that he had been hesitant in signing us on with his company.

He said that the company had no problems with our job performance, as a matter of fact, in the short time we'd been with them, we were one of their top teams. The only problem he saw was my tendency to give the dispatchers and others a hard time, and he told me that's definitely a losing proposition.

He said that this was off the record, but as you have probably noticed by now, I haven't named any companies, so my conscience is clear about revealing any confidences.

He agreed with me that, in many areas, the expediting companies did operate right "on the line" as he put it, regarding the employee/contractor relationship. He said that's the way it had always been with the several companies with whom he had been associated, and it appeared to be that way industry-wide.

He went on to say that it was not based on the companies' desire to be "mean-spirited", but that competition and the demands of time-sensitivity forced the companies to exert control over independent business people by using "punishments" such as forced dispatch, run refusal limits, etc.

He told us that there was a smaller courier/expediting company he knew of that had tried a very liberal approach to dispatching their fleet with no policies to "encourage" the contractors to take the less desirable runs, but that after just a couple weeks of many runs that weren't covered, the company had to revert to stricter methods of fleet management.

I told him that I could understand the companies' position, but from my perspective, I could only afford so much sympathy for their plight, and couldn't justify taking those no-pay runs or suffer those mega-mile deadheads.

We left that meeting on a friendly basis, but the things the recruiter had told me had left me with a feeling of frustration. I was aware that the companies had their own set of needs to be met, but I couldn't run for free could I?

It was several weeks later that we happened to be at the office of company #2, and we paid a visit to one of the few dispatchers with whom we had developed a rapport. She was a veteran employee of the company and had, at one time, been married to an expediting owner/operator who owned a small fleet.

She had helped manage that fleet before working on the company side of things, so she had experience working with drivers and more sympathy for the contractor than most dispatchers have.

It was a slow day when we visited, so we had a chance to talk. She already knew my thoughts and feelings about the companies and their policies and she understood exactly my frustrations with this business.

She said both she and her ex-husband had had many confrontations of their own with the companies with whom they had been leased; at one point, even pulling three trucks from one company and leasing them elsewhere.

She told us how her ex was something of a rebel(like me, I suppose)and that he had actually developed an ulcer over some of the issues that arose between him and the companies. She said she wasn't far behind him in her disdain for the way the companies dealt with them, but that she had an awakening in store when she and her husband separated and she wound up working in expediting dispatch!

In our little talk that day, she related a few stories of loads lost because she couldn't get trucks to cover them, stories of drivers getting lost, stories of drivers taking naps while under load and waking up hours later, etc. She talked of how certain owners and drivers flat out lied to her and about the way that some drivers talked to her made her feel like dirt(her words.)

I guess I wasn't showing much sympathy or something, because she then reminded me that dispatchers and agents also catch grief from above, too; their supervisors are always on them to get the loads covered one way or another, to get their required paperwork done and to train new personnel, just to name some of their duties.

She said that she still gave the drivers the benefit of the doubt when it came to conflicts between them and the company, but that she had developed an appreciation for some of the problems that the companies experience.

Let me say at this point that I don't think she was trying to sell me a bill of goods and try to lead me into being a "good driver," one who would accept any load they offered without question. I believe that she was just stating that she was now able to see the other side's point of view, and because of her background of being an owner/operator, I had no reason to doubt her sincerity.

Our dispatcher friend went on to say that if she were once again to return to owning and running some trucks, she would operate her business a little differently. Her feeling now is that she views the company/contractor relationship as a partnership; not always a very friendly partnership, but one in which both parties are working towards the same goal, cover the load and move on to the next.

She also told us that, even with computer dispatching and some company restrictions, dispatchers(believe it or not), are still human and remember when a driver does them a favor by taking a bad load. She says that she and other veteran dispatchers try to repay that favor when possible, maybe not immediately, but somewhere down the road.

I can't say that I came away from that visit with a brand-new attitude about the business and the company. It was more over a period of time, thinking about some of the things that the recruiter and our dispatcher friend had said, that I began to ease up a little in my dealings with company personnel.

My wife commented on the change one day when I took a load that a couple of months before would have had me screaming on the phone. She mentioned that I hadn't been taking the Rolaids for some time and that I seemed a little calmer now.

I guess she was right, I don't get as upset as easily now, and I don't agonize over every load the way I did just a short while ago. I take a longer view of this business now, and I've been advising the drivers in our other trucks to be a little more patient overall, too.

I suppose that I've come to the realization that the companies aren't really going to change their way of doing business and that modifying my method of dealing with them was the only way to continue in this business that's gotten into my blood.

I've also bounced these ideas off of other veteran owner/operators, and their story is pretty much the same as mine. After checking their figures from when they were a lot more "selective" about the loads they accepted, and putting that against their "new" way of doing business, (taking almost every load offered), they found no substantial difference in the revenue. Just lower blood pressure.

I'm not saying that an owner/operator has to "roll over" for a company and accept every load or policy without question, it's just that I've found life to be a lot easier and less stressful now that I've taken a look at the other side and eased up in my dealings with the company.

My wife and I are now signed with Company #3 because of the package they offered and things have been going very well indeed. We left Company #2 on good terms with the invitation to return whenever we want, so I guess the new, mellower me was a good change after all.

Shortly after this article was posted, Bob and his wife found it necessary to leave expediting due to a medical condition.  The couple hopes to return to this business someday.


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