Transport Topics: Opinion: Let Your Pride Show

By Philip Byrd Sr.Chairman, American Trucking Associations

It was a little more than four months ago that I stood before many of you in Orlando at our Management Conference & Exhibition and had the honor of being named the 69th chairman of American Trucking Associations.

At that time, I said I expected this year to be the pinnacle of my career, and, so far, I may have undersold just how exciting and rewarding this adventure would be. It is truly a unique and humbling experience to represent one of our country’s largest — and most essential — industries as ATA chairman.

In my travels, I’ve seen the passion my fellow ATA members have for this industry and the pride in what they and their companies do every day to make sure the American economy moves safely and efficiently from port to produce stand and from factory to the showroom floor.

The members I’ve spoken with have deep knowledge about this industry. They understand the issues that affect them, and they are generous with their time and resources to help this association and this industry prepare for a rapidly changing future — one full of regulatory challenges, political battles, a changing workforce and an economy that continues to grow.

The passion and knowledge the members of ATA bring to the table underscore just why this association is recognized throughout the country — and throughout Washington — as the single most effective voice advocating on behalf of the trucking industry.

When leaders on Capitol Hill or in the Department of Transportation or the Environmental Protection Agency have a question about trucking, they don’t hesitate, they call ATA. The professional staff — with help from you, ATA’s members — are able to quickly and capably address any issue with a depth of knowledge that is second to none.

I was particularly struck by this in late January at ATA’s Executive Committee meeting in Washington. I was able to look out and see a room full of strong, smart entrepreneurs working with ATA’s capable policy staff. I was struck by it when our members were able to hear from, and question, top officials from DOT and EPA — voicing the industry’s concerns and policies to those who are in a position to do something about it.

That was ATA at its best — coming together, looking at the multitude of issues facing our industry and moving forward to address them. It is an effort that I hope to continue in the rest of my year as chairman.

As I travel to various state association meetings and other industry gatherings, I’m struck by how often the same issues come up as important:

• The driver shortage

• Improving our image with the public

• Safety

• The condition of our roads and bridges

Identifying these issues is just half of what we as an industry and an association need to do.

The other half is the streamlining and reorganizing your association has undertaken. As Gov. Graves announced before our Executive Committee, ATA is committed to being more nimble and responsive, not just to its members but to the changing political, regulatory and economic climate.

ATA is — and will continue to be — the strongest and most effective voice for this industry, but by reworking our structures and reimagining our processes more strategically, we will continue to grow and enhance our ability to affect change in Washington and around the country.

This is a diverse industry and a diverse association. Having a more effective strategic plan will help us bob and weave with the punches better in order to serve you better.

Our diversity is a great strength for our industry. ATA members haul literally every piece of the economy — food, fuel, medicine, construction supplies, clothing. Everything made or sold in this country moves on a truck. Despite this, our drivers are reviled, our trucks are demonized and, frankly, we are misunderstood as an industry. We need to change that.

We need to show our drivers more respect; educate the public about the critical role our industry plays in their lives; enlighten our public officials about what a world without safe, efficient truck transportation looks like; and edify our fellow truckers about the need to come together and stay together to accomplish all that our industry needs to do.

And that is my pledge to you — over the next few months — until I hand off this most awesome responsibility, I will work hard every day representing you and ATA.

The author is president of Bulldog Hiway Express, a Charleston, S.C.-based carrier that has truckload, intermodal, heavy-haul and dedicated divisions serving the United States and Canada.