Although Susan Alt joined Volvo Group North America operations right out of school and has stayed there for 28 years, her career has been anything but single track. To date, she’s already held management positions in engineering, product planning, marketing, global logistics, business development, and public affairs, not to mention earning and maintaining a Class A CDL.
With a degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech and an MBA from Wake Forest, Alt was hired during a campus recruiting drive. “I wasn’t looking for a job in trucking, I was looking for a job in Greensboro [NC],” Alt says, recalling her first days with what was then called Volvo White.
The truck manufacturer soon morphed into the joint venture Volvo GM Heavy Truck before taking on its current Volvo Group North America structure, and with those changes, Alt got to experience many sides of the trucking industry. Her first job as a sales engineer had her working in information technology to develop an online truck specs tool. From there, she took on business intelligence for the newly acquired Arrow Used Truck Sales before moving back to Volvo Trucks to head marketing efforts.
“Those were excellent building blocks,” Alt says. “I got to know our dealers and customers well.”
Alt then took on management of global logistics for the North American OE. “We were buying freight for the company from customers who were buying our trucks,” she says. “We became their customers. That was extremely helpful in my understanding of our customers and their businesses.”
After five years of running Volvo Logistics, Alt came back to the truck organization, helping reorganize the structure to more closely integrate Mack Trucks, streamline the company’s supply chain, and rethink its manufacturing processes. “It wasn’t what I’d call fun work, but it was important because we took care of underlying issues,” she says.
Along the way, Alt also earned her CDL while pregnant. Although she’s never hauled a revenue load, she did occasionally pick up her kids from school or camp in the latest Volvo tractor (which she reports was a big hit) and still manages to find time to drive several hundred miles a year to maintain her license.
Heading up public affairs today, she is now heavily involved in regulatory and legislative issues on both federal and state levels. “Right now, I’m spending a lot of time to make sure regulators understand our positions on greenhouse gas and fuel economy standards,” Alt explains. She also acts as the company’s liaison with major industry organizations like the Truckload Carriers Assn. and American Trucking Assns.
Asked what she’s most proud of in such a varied career, Alt points to “networking and making friends and of my relationships in the industry, which is a relationship business. And you know, women are good at relationships.”
Her advice on succeeding in a trucking industry career follows a similar line of reasoning and is the same for men as it is for women: “Don’t be afraid to ask why or for help, and always be willing to lend a helping hand.”