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Self-Driving Truck Still Isn’t Driverless

I am not the first to get excited about the fact that in the foreseeable future there will be a truck that will not require the driver to make all the turns.

I am also aware that the picture on the front of Transport Topics also shows a driver in the seat of the truck order a burger while driving down the road.  It took my thought process two quick seconds to remember; not only is the truck able to drive down the German Highways without issue but the driver is right there in the driver’s seat.

The truck featured in the article is the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 which can cruise down the highway at a top speed of around 53 MPH while the driver can do other duties in the driver’s seat.

The Future Truck has censors that ensure that the driver is in the driver’s seat and that they do not fall asleep. The truck will also notify the driver if they need to retake the wheel and if the command is ignored the truck will pull itself over.

It is hoped that these trucks might hit European roadways by the year 2025, so just down the proverbial highway.

Today, we are writing a new chapter in truck history. I happen to think that the second or third chapter of this book will be more entertaining than the first.

The Trucking Side of the BioDiesel Mandate

With so much talk about biodiesel and the mandated 10% (B10) in Minnesota, I thought I would use this column to make clear my opinions on it.

There are some end of biodiesel that are very much in favor of using it and they talk about all the benefits of the fuel. Simply, there are many users of biodiesel that would use the product regardless of the mandate.

I have said that biodiesel has had the opportunity to mature its market over the past 10-plus years and for the most part it has.  Now it is time for the product to stand up and be self-sufficient on its own while not requiring the mandate.  We are at a time with this product that we should be reducing the mandate not increasing it.

I have been watching the pricing from Minnesota and its counter parts, mostly focusing on border locations. Since states have different tax brackets, I looked at the pricing net of tax and there is a steady 4-5 cent increase in Minnesota fuel on B5.  Now that the mandate is B10, I will be watching to see if this increases.  My gut tells me it will.

There are many interesting facts about the mandate that only us getting kicked are willing to talk about.

  1. Many industries have been excluded from the mandate; this makes it optional for them to buy biodiesel.  The trucking industry and your automobile are not excluded.  This leaves truckers and you to carry the mandate.
  2. The proponents will talk about the renewable energy.  All of us enjoy seeing success of domestic production of energy.  The reason this is the first topic is because they want to mask the pricing concerns.
  3. Many point to cleaner air and the clean burn of the biodiesel product, but the reality is that the Federal Government has already restricted truck manufactures into better trucks that clean drastically cleaner.  The bio portion of the fuel is a very small measurement to what the trucking industry is doing without Biodiesel.
  4. Money spent on keeping traffic moving would have a more efficient effect on society and would reduce omissions from time our equipment is idling in traffic.  Not to mention, it will allow us to stay more efficient with our rates that get passed down to the consumer.
  5. The industry is very concerned with its winter cloud point of the product and therefore they are very willing to allow the mandate to drop to B5 in the winter.  For those needing a little more information, biodiesel’s cloudpoint (point at which it gets thicker/freezes) is higher than normal diesel fuels.  This makes it more likely to have issues with our trucks on cold winter days.  Or, it requires very expensive treatment additives to work with the product.  Either way, it is lots of effort and expense to truckers.
  6. Many of us that can, avoid using Minnesota based diesel because it is expensive and we don’t need to carry the burden of mandate and the after effects of it.  Think for a moment what this actually does.  Instead of routing our truck to stop in Albert Lea and my driver buying lunch and goodies in their store, we route him to Mason City, IA and as a result of that – he is now buying Iowa goodies and supper and the taxes collected from this sale go to Iowa.  As a proud farmboy from Minnesota, it feels so wrong to avoid fuel where the accessorial sales benefit this state.  The reality is:  I compete with people from all over the country and that competition requires me to go to where the least expense is.

I don’t think you will find that the trucking industry will stand on its head to talk against Biodiesel.  In fact, many of us like the sound of domestic energy.  Minnesota Truckers are tired of carrying the torch.  We think it is unfair, expensive and wrong.

Debunking The Self-Made Driver Shortage Myth

I had this idea come across my desk this week that the driver shortage is a hoax and created by trucking company executives to place leverage in the trucking company’s hands.  I couldn’t help but smile.  The industry intentionally doesn’t hire drivers, so we have a hard time meeting commitments and in result we gain leverage because of the pain we developed artificially?  Pretty humorous, right?

The reality missed is that the leverage isn’t in the trucking company’s hands.  It is in the drivers.  The smart shippers are realizing this and doing everything they can to help company’s like ours to make the lives of the drivers better.  We work hard to do just the same.

The reality is:  even with this hard work done by most of the good trucking company’s:  It doesn’t look good.

According to American Trucking Association and Global Insight; the driver age continues to rise.  The 5% age rise in a decade is alarming to say the least.

I can’t imagine what it is like to have 100% turnover (average for this industry) at a time like this where the replacements are not easily accessible.  It also becomes a challenge for the few of us that have a more reasonable turnover (we had a 22% turnover rate in 2013) because many are now paying large bounties to get our drivers attention.

All of this makes sense to me…. I remember like it was yesterday, it was 1997 when I entered this industry and my father made the bold prediction that one day a truck driver will make more than an airline pilot.  Well, it didn’t happen overnight and we are not there yet, but it appears we surely could be going in that direction.

Lastly, drivers like to make money, but they more want to be part of something too.  If you are in the market of hiring, ask yourself – what do you do that makes you special?  If you don’t think of anything, I would guess that your turnover is closer to 100% than 22%.

Until next week, your assignment is to tell me next time our paths cross one good change the industry can do to make the lives of our drivers better!  To the drivers following this blog, thank you for being America’s lifeline.

Trying To Tie My Words Together

The best writers often tie together all of their thoughts and points into one nicely packaged product. I’d be one of the first people to tell you that I’m not one of the best writers, but I will always tell you that I’m up for a good challenge. I challenged myself to tie together my summer series posts together into one piece. Bring it on.

We here at Kottke Trucking want this blog to succeed and to be widely read. I’m still awestruck at the amount of people who do read my little ramblings. At a recent conference, I sat down and a gentleman leaned over to me and said, ‘My focus is just fine. Thank you.’

This was in reference to my then recent post about the ‘Power of Focus’ where I asked for the readers to tell me how their focus was when they next saw me. Obviously, someone was reading. This blog may never win awards or really be the ‘best of the best’, but we’re really going to try and that’s a huge part of being the best of the best.

I could go on and on about the people who I know in my life that are some of the best of the best. I got to see a lot of them last Monday at our Golf for a Cure event. We had many folks drive many, many miles to help us fight cancer at our golf tournament and those hours devoted to us really put those people at the top of my best of the best list. The time that they gave us and the Relay for Life team that we are intertwined with is the true essence of giving.

We are more than grateful for all of the hours and the dollars that we were given for the event. In this year’s event we raised north of $12,000 in an effort to defeat cancer. The battle has been a long one, but we all believe that it is a battle that will be won.

This is where the power of belief comes in. I believe that the power of belief is the most important of the topics I have talked about. The amazing thing about belief is that it becomes a whole lot more powerful when a magnitude of people believes in the same thing. On Monday, we had a golf course full of people who all believe that we can win the battle with cancer. That is truly amazing and sends chills down my spine.

I don’t expect this blog to be earth-shattering by any means, but it does give me an opportunity to give you all a little piece of my mind, my faith and my beliefs. I hope you enjoy it. I really hope that I tied these all together and appeared like a decent writer.

The True Essence of Giving

Today is a special day for us at Kottke Trucking. Monday marks our 8th annual Golf for a Cure event at Oakdale Golf Club just north of our hometown. Every year on this special day we have our friends from the trucking industry, vendors, customers and our local friends come together to spend the day fighting cancer. Their financial contributions have allowed us to give $100,000 to the American Cancer society, but it’s not the money that makes the even extraordinary.

AdvancedLifeSkills.com has a list of core non-financial gifts: Honesty, Respect, Openness, Concern, Enthusiasm, Assistance and Time.  Today we will have 100 of our friends in Buffalo Lake sharing these wonderful gifts with us.

HONESTY:  The reality is that some of our vendors might feel obligated to attend, but the truth is most are there for the right reasons.  The guys that tell their stories of why winning the battle with cancer is a priority of not only us, but many around us as well.

RESPECT:  The value of surrounding yourself with 100 top class individuals is that they all respect each other and the value they provide the event, your business and your relationship with each other.

OPENNESS:  Each of our longtime attendees to our tournament are very open about how to make it better.  We ask for candid feedback on how to make our process better.  We ask them how to make their day more enjoyable.  We expect our valued attendees to speak their mind.

CONCERN:  This is the main thing that brings a smile to my face on this glorious day.  Today we will announce an estimated total to our attendees (the amount we believe the Golf tournament will provide to the ACS) and I will receive 5-10 calls in the next 20 days asking “how did we do”.  They truly want to know how successful the event was.  True value in giving and concern.

ENTHUSIASM:  Everyone is going to show up today with a smile and a mission.  Let’s do this and have fun while we do it.  Let’s benefit everyone and enjoy each other’s company.  Enthusiasm is a great trait of the best people.

ASSISTANCE:  As each arrives, they will ask what they can do to help.  ‘Play golf,’ I tell each but they want to help the event and its success in just about any way possible.

TIME:  Just the investment of time to take from your personal schedule to give to someone else is a true gift.  In this case, 100 people will travel to a town of 700 people in the spirit of giving.  They are giving at least a day of their time in a bigger cause and they find their investment well spent (we work hard to make sure of it).

If you are reading this and you are on the way out to the tournament; God bless your soul and thank you!  I will say hello on your arrival.  If you are reading this and we will not meet today; I ask and challenge you….How are you going to find your true essence of giving?

The Best of The Best

What is the ‘best of the best’? Can you define what it is? You can Google it, but all you will get is Best of the Best a 1989 movie about an international taekwondo tournament. I don’t really want to talk about taekwondo. Maybe when we get to the final week of this summer series, I will be. You never know.

I believe we can define the best as of the highest quality, excellence and surpassing standards. If you’re one of the best of the best, you’re probably pretty darn good.

Kottke Trucking sponsors a scholarship program at the local high school, Buffalo Lake – Hector – Stewart, in which the criteria is to honor the best of the best in athletics, leadership and learning.  I am fortunate that I live in rural America and got to hear the 21 finalists announced.  I get chills just seeing just how special these kids are and how being from a small town allows these kids multiple opportunities, whereas the large cities mostly force their children to specialize.  It makes me wonder that if some of our lost opportunity and lost innovation in this country comes from the fact that we force our children to be GREAT at something too soon?

Professionally, I find that the best of the best makes me always strive to be better.   For some reason, in my mind, the definition of the best of the best is: the best is never enough.  The word ‘best’ is thrown around a lot: best pizza chain, best company to work for, Best Buy (you didn’t think of that one, huh), best prices guaranteed… but notice that nobody is engaged as the best of the best.

It’s a great thing to be the best of the best and I am proud that our company gets to help highlight the high school students in our community that are just that. I just wonder why nobody claims that they are the best of the best themselves. Maybe they’re afraid to get their butt kicked in a taekwondo tournament.

The Power of Belief

In my last blog entry, we discussed the power of focus.  Focus begins with determining what is important and spending your time on it.  Another strong force is the power of belief.

While a few examples I will use revolves around Christianity, there is much more to the power of belief than what’s said in a church.  Belief is defined as the acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists.  Furthermore, it is the trust, faith, or confidence in something.

So how is your belief? In yourself?  Your marriage?  Your job?  Your life?  Your friends?  Your children?  Your parents?  Your faith?  Your government?  This list could go on forever.  The truth is that you have a level of belief in all these things.

All of us choose what we to put at our core as the most important things, most of us do this automatically and a few of us without really thinking about it.  Here is where the power of focus can help us concentrate on what is important, but the power of belief is what gives us our center.

In the movie God’s Not Dead, a young college freshman decides that his professor’s demand of admitting that ‘God is Dead’ is wrong and stands up to him. As a result, the student has the daunting task of convincing his classmates that God exists.  This young student’s center and power of focus told him that he had to do the right thing.  If you happen to be a Christian, it is a good movie for you to see.  Even if you are not, you will enjoy the daunting task this young man takes on.

Professionally, Kottke Trucking strives to have a power of belief that we hire the right drivers, contract with the right customers and put the right people on the team to achieve success.  Our power of belief centers on the fact that everyone on the team will do his or her best in the effort of improvement and success.  In this effort, our company’s belief in employees and customers needs to be returned in belief in the company.

Trust and reputation starts with belief.  Do you believe?

The Power of Focus

While recently traveling, I packed a book written by University of Louisville head basketball coach Rick Pitino, ‘The One Day Contract’. Like most improvement books, most of the stuff I read didn’t surprise me, but the farther away from finishing the book, the more I came back to one of Pitino’s topics. Focus.

I have to admit, a few of the examples he chose to put in his book did come across a little cheesy to me but the truth is – the faster the trucking industry moves the more unintended consequences it can have on our focus.  Every minute we deal with problems and it takes us away from focusing on where we are actually trying to get.  We build a team and give them all the technology in the world to try to solve our company issues and provide quality customer service.  But in many cases it is this technology that attributes to our loss of focus, another point in Pitino’s book.

Thankfully, I have used many nights before bed as a time of reflection of the day, reviewing the progress of many of the long term goals we have.  I would have to imagine that I am in the minority.  We are so busy, that by the time we get home with our family, the last thing we want do is reflect on what many call a ‘rat race’.

In his book, Pitino talks about his one day contracts that he issues himself, a mindset of how he approaches his days. Our drivers do this well, delivering the goods that they need to today and many of our line workers do this quite well making sure that the orders are processed.  The real question is do we do this well as their leaders?  Do we issue ourselves a daily challenge that serves a bigger goal?

I would like to think so, but I would assume the real answer is within each of us.  So the next time you see me, tell me, how is your focus?

Football and Trucking: Not That Different

I love basketball, I really do, but with limited assets (5 on the floor at a time), it resembles more of a small truck line to me.  While managing 120 personalities, I find it very easy to compare our current trucking environment to football.  Don’t see it?  Hear me out.

TEAM BUILDING

Free Agency:

Football’s free agency has just begun and it is easy to look at how trucking and football add talent to their teams.  In football, you have limited time and resources (salary cap) to improve your talent pool (players) and these decisions truly drive a team’s results.  In trucking/transportation, free agency is year round.  You have the ability to find, recruit and sign talent all year round.  Again, because of razor thin margins, we have an allotment that we can spend on our on the field talent (drivers).  Many times free agency is the big splash; you spend to know what you are going to get and usually have more predictable results.

Drafting:
In football, this is where the executives either look very good or really bad.  In trucking, this is where many don’t play.  We don’t allow rookie drivers on our payroll because of risks and many of us bet on the sure thing (established players/drivers).  With a driver shortage on our hands, rookie drivers are more common than ever, using driving colleges to get them started.  This will continue and hopefully for many of us, finds us with much success.

BALANCING OF PRIORITIES

Winning Today:
Every executive of a football team wants to win today which is not a trait to be too shy about,  but with limited resources, these executives have to be careful to put too much into immediate success that they forget about the future.  This is also the case in trucking.  Trucking needs to improve their immediate balance sheets but they also need to continue to invest in things that ensure long term success.

Building a Team for Tomorrow
As mentioned, balance is the key.  The best executives have the ability to balance today’s needs with building a team that will be extremely successful down the road.  Having the ability to see the talent that is needed and to find the raw traits that will develop over time is quite the challenge.  The best are very good at it, while others of us pretend to be learning these skills.

COACHING
Many of the best coaches in football are superstars in their own right.  I find the exact opposite in trucking.  Many of the very best executives are very silent and diligent about going about their own way.  Jim Collins describes the best coaches/leaders in Good to Great.  He says a Level Five leader, the highest level, is one that puts the company’s success in front of their own success. Collins states that a Level Four leader needs to bring attention to themselves.  Surprisingly, he describes the skillset of both leaders as equal but they just have a different desire of who gets the recognition.

COMMUNICATION
I think everyone would agree that communication is at the soul of every great company or team.  No different here, regardless if it is play-calling, disciplining, teaching, routing or dispatching.  The message that is delivered needs to be accurate, timely and efficient.

TEAMWORK
No need for deep conversation here either.  The ability to take the team that you have and get the most out of them and allow them to be successful is a powerful tool in both sports and trucking.

KEEPING SCORE
Seems obvious that in sports there is a scoreboard and a standings listing of how your team is performing. The best of trucking companies have their KPI’s, financials, benchmarks and rankings.  In the end, winning is quite important on the field and on the road.

LUCK
Some absolutely hate using the word luck.  I have heard everyone’s version of luck:  the harder I work the luckier I get, luck is the result of hard work, and luck is earned.

I get all of that, but at the end of the day, there are a lot of hard working companies and people that just don’t get that lucky break.  Luck of being in the right spot at the right time can be the difference of something interesting and something special.

Be it 100 yards on a football field or a 1,000 miles on the interstate, both football and trucking need all these components and excellent teamwork to get to the ultimate goal. For some wide receivers, it’s boils down to listening to Peyton Manning at the line changing their route at the last minute. For our drivers, it’s our team at the office telling them their route, too. Both scenarios have a finite finish, the end-zone or the loading dock.

Don’t Forget Who Brought Your Bread!

I am admittedly a man of many pet peeves and I am trying to make my list smaller.  But today, my list got one bigger.  I do have an issue with some of the decisions made by those involved in the storms in the Southeastern part of the United States.

Our drivers work for more than us.  They work for society.  They bring you the things you need to live.  They are trying to do their job safely and yet make sure that society has things they need.

Remember, if you need water, food or supplies; it comes by a truck.  It seems that every time there is a storm, everyone buys enough to live 90 days.  Therefore, the shelves go empty very quickly.  Remember that guy in the truck, he is taking that load of whatever you need, because you don’t want to hear that one isn’t available.

Lastly, I beg everyone in this industry for your common sense.  We have people that are delivering to their locations in Atlanta today.  One customer is telling us to leave their property and the cops are attempting to ticket our drivers because they are driving.  If we are good enough to bring your bread, don’t forget that driver who brought it.  Furthermore, if he is good enough to bring it; allow him the corner of your yard until your governor says we can drive again.

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Kottke Trucking, Inc.