Head start on the new millennium

Sure it's still summer, but why wait until January?No one's thinking about January in the middle of a glorious summer, so I thought this might be my chance to do a new millennium piece well ahead of the pack. After all, everyone who writes a column is bound by the rules of the fraternity to make solemn note of this momentous calendar event by offering a fond glance back at the old days and a rosy

Sure it's still summer, but why wait until January?

No one's thinking about January in the middle of a glorious summer, so I thought this might be my chance to do a new millennium piece well ahead of the pack. After all, everyone who writes a column is bound by the rules of the fraternity to make solemn note of this momentous calendar event by offering a fond glance back at the old days and a rosy forecast for the new age ahead. If I've got to do it, I might as well get you before you reach the screaming stage every time millennium or Y2K is mentioned.

Looking back is the easy part. Memory is a great editor, removing all the routine, daily stuff and leaving behind only the most vivid experiences and lessons. And as everyone knows, all hindsight is perfect.

I came into the trucking industry just as it entered the uncharted waters of deregulation. Everyone had an opinion on what the future held now that this insulated, slow-moving community had been pushed into the chaos of the free-market. Rather than focusing on just how wrong most of those predictions were, let's just say they taught me how hard it is to predict the future no matter how well you understand the past.

If with that perfect hindsight I had to draw one lesson for the upheaval caused by deregulation, it would be that people in trucking shine when they're faced with major setbacks. Certainly, it led to the failure of many well-respected LTL carriers and brought wrenching changes to private fleet operations. However, it also opened the industry to the entrepreneurial energy of the truckload carriers, to new technologies, to new business partnerships, and to levels of productivity and service that are the envy of the world.

Today, truckload fleets continue to aggressively refine their services, and the surviving LTL carriers have reshaped themselves into profitable, customer-pleasing businesses that match that responsiveness and aggression. Ignoring the repeated predictions of extinction, private fleets have also flourished by uncovering and exploiting the core values they bring to their businesses.

Talking about achievement in the face of adversity, we should also take notice of trucking's suppliers. The advent of stiff emissions requirements for heavy trucks was supposed to destroy fuel economy and equipment reliability while driving both acquisition and operating costs to unsupportable heights. Instead, truck, engine, and component manufacturers responded with trucks that reach once unimaginable levels of durability and reliability, yet are also easier to drive, more comfortable both on the road and in the truckstop, and far safer. And, impossible as it may seem in retrospect, all this was accomplished without raising the cost of the equipment.

As for the new millennium, history shows that the track record for informed prediction isn't much better than the corner fortune-teller's offerings. Still the rules require a balancing look forward, and since this kind of column only comes along once every 1,000 years, I guess I should at least make an attempt.

I'll go out on a limb here and predict that the introduction of new information technology is going to accelerate in all types of fleet operations, changing both how you conduct business and the services your customers will want. When you wade through the hype, the last few years have given us an inkling of what the Internet can do. Now we're about to find out just how pervasive it will become in business and personal life.

My second prediction is even safer. The people in trucking will adapt to whatever comes along and find ways to create success out of even the most difficult challenges. That seems to be the one thing that doesn't change with the date on the calendar.

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