Coming from the power generation and resources industries seven years ago, Elizabeth Fretheim had a passion for sustainability but not much experience with trucking when she took a job with the U.S. logistics division of Walmart. The country’s third largest private fleet with over 6,000 vehicles and 61,000 trailers, the company had set itself the goal in 2005 of doubling its efficiency within 10 years, and with her background in sustainability, Fretheim was the person hired to spearhead that drive.
“I found the whole trucking industry was far more complex than I originally thought,” says Fretheim. “There’s so much to it, and it’s integral to our economy. We all rely on the trucking industry for the products and supplies and equipment we need. I found it fascinating, challenging and always interesting.”
Logistics also proved to be a natural fit with her passion for sustainability, especially given Walmart’s public commitment for its fleet operations. “It’s about how do we better serve our customers and communities, and how do we save money and make life better at the same time,” Fretheim told Fleet Owner.
While doubling freight efficiency in just 10 years was “a pretty big stretch goal,” the company hit that goal in October 2015, one month ahead of schedule. It took a team effort from the logistics group, merchants, and the company’s equipment suppliers, she acknowledges, and represents one of the major highlights of her trucking career.
Also high on her list of gratifying achievements was development of the Walmart Advanced Vehicle Experience. A concept truck that has made the rounds of public events throughout the country, the futuristic-looking tractor-trailer combination was intended to provide a peek at what trucks might look like well beyond current equipment generations.
A true collaboration with industry equipment suppliers that included among others Peterbilt Motors, Great Dane Trailers, Capstone Turbine, and Roush Engineering, “the idea was to show that a truck doesn’t necessarily have to look like a truck,” says Fretheim.
As impressive as those two milestones are, Fretheim says her proudest achievement at Walmart has been “showing that we can all be part of the sustainability solution, that sustainability can actually align well with business goals and that it’s good for business, community and customers.”
Building on that perspective, Walmart’s logistics division is now turning its attention to transitioning to more sustainable fuels, according to Fretheim. “As well, we’re already one of the safest fleets in the country, but we want to see how technologies that can drive efficiency can also drive further safety gains and how we can integrate those more closely.”
Asked about advice for other women considering careers in trucking, Fretheim says that what was once a more male-dominated industry has really been changing. “There are a lot of women in this business now making fantastic contributions,” she says. “Many women are looking for careers where they can make a difference in the world. After seven years, I can say trucking offers a great opportunity to do that. Plus, it’s far more fascinating and challenging than they might think.”