Trucks at Work

In the nick of time

"Here's to the teachers in the crowded schools. Here's to the workers in the fields. Here's to the preachers of the sacred words. Here's to the drivers at the wheel. Here's to you." --The Call

Time-critical expedited freight is a tough niche to serve -- right from the get go, you know it can't be late. It's the call of last resort and it takes a special kind of driver to deal with that kind of pressure day in and day out. Yet that's the beat FedEx Custom Critical has to walk every day and interestingly enough it relies on owner-operators using beefed up medium-duty trucks to manage it. Recently, the company rolled out the red carpet for its 2007 Four Star Award winners -- an award that recognizes the top 50 independent contractors who exemplify the company‘s dedication to superior customer service and safe driving.

I talked to Scott McCahan, senior manager of safety, contractor relations and recruiting for FedEx Custom Critical, about the kinds of drivers that make up his company's "top echelon" -- the ones to whom this award (now in its eighth year) is geared to recognize. The criteria for winning it are by no means easy: they include accident-free driving, on-time service, availability and load acceptance.

"We used to make annual awards based solely on safety records, but we quickly realized so much more goes into serving this niche successfully," he told me. "Safety is a big part of it, but so is being consistently on-time and other factors. It really requires an entrepreneurial spirit to make it work."

McCahan added that it isn't easy at all, either -- there's a lot more expectation on the part of the customer and every shipment is different, so there are always new wrinkles to handle. But the payoff is pretty big, too, and not just in terms of money. "When we get the call, shippers have reached a point of desperation in many ways," he said. "So when our drivers show up with their cargo, there's a great sense of relief on the shipper's part and an even bigger sense of accomplishement on the driver's side. It's a great feeling for them."