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Company drivers versus owner-operators

March 1, 2021
When making the choice to be a company driver or owner-operator, drivers should consider financial liability compared to autonomy and control over the loads they haul.

If anyone has a 360-degree view of being an owner-operator or a company driver, it’s Scott Miller. In just the past few years, he’s not only held both roles, he’s also now a fleet owner who employs drivers as well as continues to haul loads himself. Miller’s company, SM Miller Enterprises based in Dallas provides contracted linehaul freight transfer services to FedEx Ground by covering unassigned routes all over the U.S.

“Most owner-operators want to have more say in their business than they can get working for a trucking company,” Miller said. “It’s not necessarily for more pay. That’s a common misconception. In my case, I became an owner-operator after working as a company driver, because while I wanted autonomy and control over the loads I hauled, I also had very specific equipment requirements and not everybody wanted to meet them.”

Miller explained that while driving as an owner-operator he spent two years researching FedEx Ground opportunities before being awarded a contract and expanding into his own trucking company. He did that in part, he relates, to get out of the driver’s seat daily but also because he knew he could cultivate a fleet by using his experience to find and keep drivers who would help grow the operation.

“I can’t reproduce myself, but I can hire drivers with the right abilities, treat them the way I would want to be treated, and still drive when I choose to haul a load,” Miller stated. “What we’re offering is the best of both worlds  — by providing what owner-operators need and want in a company setting.”

With trucks running steadily and drivers wanting time off, Miller has the opportunity to drive several times per month. “When I’m on the road, I’m a driver,” he said. “That helps me keep me in touch with the headaches drivers face, and they appreciate that.”

Operating like an undercover boss has also led to improvements. For example, Miller related how he used his own experience to talk to a terminal manager about how his dispatch employees were treating SM Miller’s drivers. After that conversation, the manager who hadn’t been made aware of any problems before, worked on the night shift for a month to help resolve the issue.

“The right company is one that respects drivers and gives them the autonomy they earn at the same time,” Miller stated. “While it’s a lot more common to have a company driver who wants to be an owner-operator and not the other way around, it’s possible to have it all when there’s a good partnership in place.”

Cody Bolick is the director of recruiting at Cargo Transporters, Inc, an asset-based truckload carrier with 500 trucks based in Claremont, N.C. “Company drivers wanting to become owner-operators isn’t a new trend,” he said. “They view autonomy as a career goal, but they don’t always look at all the details, so some are successful, but others are not.

“One issue we see regularly is that many drivers don’t look beyond the amount on their paycheck and don’t fully understand how they’re paid,” Bolick continued. “There’s a big difference, for example, between Household Goods (HHG) miles used by many trucking companies and being compensated based on Practical Route miles, which are on average 8% higher and within 1% of actual mileage. Drivers considering going out on their own also need to focus on the financial liability they will have for things like equipment, maintenance, insurance and fuel costs.”

In several ways, Cargo Transporters makes it attractive for drivers to stay with the company. At the beginning of this year the carrier raised driver pay based on Practical Route mileage as well as provides holiday and vacation pay, and the potential to earn a productivity bonus. The company also has a benefits package for drivers that includes a 401(k) with company match, and health, dental, vision, life, and short- and long-term disability insurance. Additionally, its Acres of Diamonds…Focus on Home Program allow drivers to be closer to home when they finish a shift or have downtime in their schedules.

Cargo Transporters also provides late model equipment, with an average tractor age of only two years, and it invests heavily in enhancing driver safety, comfort and convenience. Its tractors, for example, have an extensive number of safety technologies and driver amenities. In addition, at its headquarters location, Cargo Transporters opened a new parking area for drivers, a paved well-lit facility with 259 car, 174 pull through tractor-trailer and 128 tractor spots.

Also in use at Cargo Transporters is the company’s driveCT mobile app, which allows drivers to access information that would normally only be available on in-cab devices. The app provides Load Assignments, Load Information, Messaging Capabilities, Duty Status, Company News, and a Video Library. There are also scanning tools that allow drivers to use smart devices to send copies of a bill of lading faster, and new trailer locating and online (remote) safety training features.

“We work hard to help our drivers have satisfying careers with Cargo Transporters because we know that it takes a team for them and for us to be successful,” Bolick said. “We also realize that trust is the biggest issue for both parties. It all starts with keeping the promises we make to each other from day one.”

About the Author

FleetOwner Staff

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