If you want to understand anything about American life, you have to start with our unshakable belief in the individual. Our insistence that each life has the right to be considered unique has shaped our government, our history, our culture and just about every perspective we have. By extension, then, it's no surprise that almost every fleet believes its business is quite different than any other trucking operation.
As someone who grew up in trucking and who has been deeply involved in the industry in one way or another for her entire life, Lana Batts has come to believe that the common assumption that each fleet is unique could be a real impediment to future success. A former industry lobbyist and now investment consultant, not to mention the daughter of a fleet owner, Batts has some strong ideas about what it will take to negotiate that future, and one is that you can't afford to hold on to that outmoded presumption of uniqueness.
“Doing things a little differently doesn't make your operation unique,” she says. Insisting that it does will only lead you to making some expensive mistakes.
It leads you to “automating a dumb process” because that's the way you've always done it. It blinds you to the valuable lessons learned by others because they can't possibly have any relevance to you. It burdens you with unnecessary capital investment because you insist on unique solutions to what in reality are common problems. And above all, it robs you of the agility needed to prosper in changing times because it blinds you to new approaches and ideas.
And if indeed there really is some aspect of your operation that is truly unique, that is one that no one else shares, she believes you might do well to ask yourself why. Does it serve a profitable goal, or is it just something that simply falls under the category of “what we've always done”? In other words, insisting on the uniqueness of your operation may satisfy some sense of individuality, but it can also be an impediment to building a better fleet.
Batts also has a straightforward opinion on another common barrier faced by most fleets - the driver shortage. It won't be solved, she says, until managers like you believe it's a viable career option for your children.
That means bringing salaries back to pre-deregulation levels, which would be $75,000 to $80,000 in today's dollars, increasing time home by restructuring operations to take better advantage of intermodal or regional distribution models, and generally improving the driver's lifestyle and image. In short, the industry will have enough drivers when driving a truck becomes a good job again. Oh, and learning to speak Spanish would be a good idea, according to Batts.
She also has interesting ideas on everything from the likelihood of toll roads to the need for switching from mileage-based rates to ones based on activities performed for shippers. In the end though, Batts' message to trucking's managers is that they have to be “agile” to thrive in the face of the future's uncertainties.
“It's the only way you'll be able to see the next big change when it comes, to embrace that change,” she says.
Good advice from one of trucking's true individual thinkers.