Perception is Believing

August 1, 2011

A new sheriff is in town and he wants to make you, the truck driver, look better to our politicians and the general public.  Why in the world would the new sheriff want to take on the responsibility of cleaning up the image of truckers?  Because he is a trucker and knows that to move the general public and our politicians to stop taking from trucking and give something back so we can haul the freight and keep this country open for freedom and democracy.

The new sheriff is non-other than Gary Salisbury, President and CEO of Fikes Truck Line, Inc. of Hope, Arkansas and now Chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA).  Gary took the Chairmanship at the TCA Annual Meeting in San Diego, California on March 16, 2011.  His stated desire is to “Focus on our image as it relates to the public perception, continue to stay on top of issues such as HOS, Independent Contractors, and CSA. We will continue to work closely with the  American Trucking Association for the benefit of all truckers”.  His efforts are to improve the public perception of a truck driver, since that will be the fastest and most effective way to help the regulators and enforcement understand that truckers are people too, good people.

Why Gary and why now?  Gary is the perfect person to represent trucking because of his respected reputation, his personal and fact knowledge and his desire to improve our image.  He has worked as a driver, dispatch, sales and management. He has such a quick wit and easy humor to hold you spellbound and that is even before he starts to tell his stories.  As CEO he is able to inject facts into the discussion and justify his position with logic and his ability to foresee what the next issue will probably become.

It’s now or never.  There are several new changes coming to trucking such as Hours of Service and Electronic On Board Recorders just to name two in the rule making process now.  If we can bring public perception of trucking over to our side, then working on the regulatory and legislative issues will be easier and we should receive better results, all because of how the public thinks of truckers.  “When it comes to image, we’re in the driver’s seat of our own destiny.  If we don’t grab the wheel, somebody else will,” he said.

As Chairman of TCA, “Our members want to make sure that we lead on issues that impact truckload.  To that end, we have taken proactive positions on several key issues including:  1) TCA disagrees with the proposed HOS rule and will join other industry partners to work against it if it is promulgated as written.  2) We support electronic logging devices (ELDs) for the purpose of HOS compliance only. There is an important distinction between ELDs and EOBRs; we do NOT support access to information that is not directly tied to HOS compliance.  3) We support the current rules in place for drug and alcohol testing and we continue to push for a national clearing house for drug and alcohol test results. 4) We support raising the broker bond requirement to $100,000.  5) We support a fuel tax increase provided monies raised go to highway infrastructure.”

Let me tell you a little more about Gary so you can understand why he is the perfect person to improve the image of trucking.  I asked him the following questions to allow you better insight into how and why we should all get behind his leadership on our trucking image.
Why did you choose to enter the trucking industry? “I loved the thought of driving a truck across this great country. Even as a child I wanted to be a trucker, it has worked out for me. A lot of work no doubt.”

Do you own a truck?  “I still own the best big truck ever made, a 1979 Kenworth W900A.  I’m an old school, big hood kind of guy and as they say, I love that truck.”

Do you attend truck shows like the ones in Louisville, KY and Las Vegas, NV?  “I do and I love it.  It gives me the opportunity to speak with independent contractors from all over.  Of course I try to persuade them to work for Fikes, but I really love and appreciate the chance to drive our truck to these shows because trucking is in my blood.”

Would you advise a family member to go into trucking, why? “Yes I would and I have. The reason I would offer that advice is simply because of all the opportunities that you have in a growing and solid industry. One I am very proud to be a part of.”

Your next step in trucking?  “Good question, as for my next step, I will continue to push for a change in the public perception of our industry and the importance of what we do.”

Would you do it all over again?  “Yes sir, every load, town and company…….. well maybe not the week layover in Albany New York.”
Tell me something about Fikes Truck Lines, Inc.  “We hire only Independent Contractors because it has been our business model from day one. It works well for us, and it works well for the guys leased to us. I don’t want millions of dollars tied up in equipment setting against a fence because we can’t find drivers. In a nutshell, It’s a smart way to do business. However it is not for everyone and I respect that.”

Tell me where you want to take Fikes in the next 5 years.  “We would like to get back to our pre 2009 numbers, around 500 contractors; this enables us to meet the demand from our partnered shippers and some capacity to expand our foot print in the open-deck market.”
Let me tell you a little story that happened to me and it may make your understand why you should get behind Gary Salisbury and the TCA to improve the image of truckers.  My wife and I were on vacation near Reno, Nevada.  She was driving the rental car and we were going up the mountain on our way to Virginia City to see the mines and of course the tourist traps.  I notice her driving faster and faster, eyes flashing from the road to the rear view mirror, she was getting nervous and I could see the anxiety in her face and hear it in her voice.  “What’s wrong”, I asked.

She looked at me with great big eyes and said, “It’s a blow-up truck right behind us!!”  I had no idea what a “blow-up truck” so I turned around to see a tanker behind us, and it looked a little too close to me for comfort although not close enough to warrant a ticket for following too close.  She saw a pull-off coming up so she jerked the wheels to the pull-off and we skidded to a stop on the gravel, too close to the guard rail for me though.  It took a full 10 minutes for her to calm down enough for us to proceed.

How many people see us as “blow-up trucks” or worse when they look in their rear view mirror?  Do you really think the “Big Teeth” on the radiator we have all seen helps your image?  How much better chance trucking would have with regulations and legislation if the public never even considered a truck to be a “blow-up” truck?  Let’s bring back our old image of Highway Angels, someone to help you on the side of the road.  Let’s become something a kid wants to grow up to be something you would be proud to have your child become, a trucker with a good safe job and a well-paying career.

Want to see who has stepped forward to help fund the campaign?

Visit www.truckload.org/image

If you see a company you know, thank them for their support.  If you don’t see a carrier or vendor that should be listed, ask them to get on board!