It is a highly driver-centric safety culture that Roehl (pronounced “Rail”) credits with making it an unqualified success story in the eyes of internal and external customers alike.
Punningly dubbed The Roehl Way, its training program is central to how top management interacts with employees. It is informed by the crystalline thought that “driving to protect others requires a set of ethics which puts the people — the people we share the roads with — first,” according to Greg Koepel, vp of workforce development & administration.
“Nothing,” Koepel elaborates, “trumps safety at Roehl. Not a hot load, not a customer request, not even market share. Here, safety is the cornerstone value. That means our view of safety doesn't change due to circumstances at a given moment.”
Koepel says this unyielding emphasis on safety has netted Roehl a truckload of awards, including multiple first-place finishes in ATA's prestigious national safety award program. “All the recognition is appreciated,” he remarks, “but that is not why we do what we do.” Rather, the Roehl view is that safety is its own reward.
It can be argued that safety pays at Roehl. The carrier reports it has been profitable every year — “including this year,” emphasizes Koepel — since its founding in 1962 by Everett Roehl.
The fleet employs over 1,800 drivers, about 7% of whom are owner-operators, and it fields some 1,800 tractors and 4,500 trailers. Roehl operates in all the Lower 48 and Canada and bills itself as highly diversified.
Along with its core commitment to safety, product diversification is another characteristic of its innovative management stance. The fleet consists of 65% van, 16% flatbed, 5% curtainside, 4% reefer and 10% dedicated units. “We initially entered various niches due to the requests of specific customers,” notes Koepel. “We've been at this a long time, and we benefit from taking a flexible approach to the marketplace.”
Roehl's value set also includes being environmentally responsible, and it is very proud to be one of several motor carriers to have received the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay Excellence award for environmental leadership three years in a row. Koepel points out that the carrier was an early adopter of the SmartWay industry-government program, having gotten involved “on the ground floor by taking part in focus groups” that helped shape the fleet aspect of the program.
“We saw the value of SmartWay early on,” Koepel relates. “It's good corporate citizenship to try and lessen your environmental footprint. The simple truth is we are in a business that consumes natural resources — and we want to be as responsible about that as possible.”
But, again, safety is the first and foremost factor at work at Roehl. The program revolves around drivers by putting them front and center. “There are two key components to the Roehl Way,” says Koepel. “First, there's an explanation of our value system and how safety is front and center. Secondly, there's our instruction on safe driving techniques. And it's important to know [that] every employee, not just drivers, goes through the program to ensure they understand the importance of driver safety and will work to uphold it.
“What's more,” he continues, “we recognize as a company that unlike all the other employees, the driver's job has a lifestyle associated with it that requires them to work on the road, away from home. It's all part of what we do to make us — by any metric — the safest large truckload carrier in the nation.”