The following is the complete transcript of a chat with Truckload Carriers Association Chairman Tom B. Kretsinger Jr. that first appeared in the summer issue of Truckload Authority, the official publication of the TCA. Kretsinger is president and COO of American Central Transport.
Tom - what does it mean to you personally and professionally to serve a year term as TCA Chairman?
I’m honored to do it. I think the greatest thing about being involved in TCA are the friendships, the networking, and the trading of ideas information with your peers in the industry. Being Chairman chairman really allows you to even do that on a higher level. The more involved you get, the more opportunities you are going to have for those things. The other thing I like about being Chairman is the ability to be a part of something great. One thing I talked about with Gary Salisbury and Robert Low, when they came in, was a plan over time… continuity. It’s very easy for a Chairman to come in and say “I am going to do this and change the world..” You can’t accomplish great things in a year as the year will go by fast. So what you try to do is build on your predecessor’s accomplishments and leave something for your successor to build on. Building and creating is fun, I enjoy that.
Before getting involved in TCA, what was your perception of the association?
I know more now that I have been an officer, for a number of years, but I have always perceived TCA as very social, fraternal, casual goupr which is great for networking. The other thing that has always amazed me about TCA is how much they are able to accomplish with the staff they have, which is only eleven or twelve people. They are lean and mean. To look at it from the outside, and all of the things they do, you would naturally think that it is much more people. Seeing what they accomplish with what they’ve got is impressive to me.
When did you first get involved and why did you make that decision?
I left the law practice and came to ACT in 1998. My father is the founder of the company. He was always a believer in joining and participating in industry associations. He was an active member of the State Association, TCA, and ATA. I think I just naturally followed him into that. I’m glad he did because it would be easy, if you didn’t know any better, to sit here in your office, on a back road in Liberty, closed off from the world, not knowing what is really going on as so many do. I found, when I first started going that the value your receive depends on how much you participate. If you attend industry events consistently for two or three years, pretty soon, you get to know quite a few people. You start to develop friendships. As you attend and participate more, you get closer friendships. If you get involved on a leadership level, you are really helping to run the association with a circle of 10 or so friends. You then become close friends. You go back to your office and you have people you may vacation or fish with or you may talk trucking. That’s invaluable.
So would you say your original perception before getting involved was strengthened after you got involved?
No question, yes. When I first got involved as an officer I really had no idea about the association business and what goes on behind the scenes to make the things we all see happen. At TCA you’re an officer for a number of years. Your knowledge really builds every year. Its good stuff and you learn a lot.
Was there a specific moment or circumstance when you made the decision you wanted to commit to serving in leadership in TCA?
It wasn’t all that planned or glamorous, to be truthful. I got a call one day, “would you like to be an officer?” That was a culmination of years of getting to know people and people getting to know me. I went back to talk to my family and said “yes.” So that is how it happened.
Let’s talk about your up-coming year. For members who did not attend the TCA conference in Las Vegas, tell us what specific platforms and issues you are building your Chairmanship around this year?
There are some things that TCA does particularly well. This was built by staff and the people that came before me. On improving industry image, they are doing an incredible job. I remember years ago being at a state association meeting and some guy got up as chairman, he says, “I want to do image.” Being a lawyer, I was skeptical, you sit there and listen to that and say, “ok, is that really going to happen?” We have a small budget; we can’t do nationwide ads, like the “We got milk” commercial the dairy industry promotes. I thought “Well, this is all nice but is it really going to happen?”
I have been watching what’s happened over the years. You know we are getting to a point where that real quality and effective image campaigns are really happening…and it’s amazing. The Wreaths Across America initiative has grown and it is going to continue to grow. They are a great image for the industry and we delivered sixty truckloads of wreaths across the country to place on veterans graves. Lindsay Lawler sang the dedication at Arlington Cemetery while the families of the fallen placed wreaths on the graves of their loved ones….very visible and very moving. TCA has produced an amazing commercial spot which is available for truckers to obtain and run in their local market. This thing just keeps growing every year. You look at that and say “Wow!”
Lindsey Lawler… where did we find this talented young woman? She writes and is an incredible singer. If you have not heard her, get on YouTube and check her out. She is also on Renegade Radio. She wrote and performs the ”Highway Angel song.” TCA had been promoting Highway Angels for a long time to recognize the things that these unsung driver heroes do that too oftengoes unnoticed. Lindsey as the official Highway Angel spokeswoman has taken it to the next level. We honor the Highway Angel of the Year each year at the Potato Bowl in Boise, Idaho and her song honors them in perpetuity.
TCA sponsors the National Christmas tree as it travels across the country to Washington, DC. Our spokesman Lindsay wrote an amazing song that won the competition for the Nation’s Christmas tree and performed it as the dedication of the tree in DC last year. How cool is that?
An important issue we are focusing is driver health through the TCA’s Trucking’s Weight Loss Showdown. With the Affordable Health Care Act on the immediate horizon, health is a critical business need. Robert Low brought driver health to the fore. He’s right. Our drivers are unhealthy. We are taking the high road to help them get healthy. The image of overweight, unhealthy, smoking drivers is not a good one for any of us. This year I decided we get our company involved the TCA’s Weight Loss Showdown. Of course since our company is involved, I will be involved because I am the leader and I have to set the example. At first, I didn’t know how the drivers would react. We put it out on Facebook (there are only twelve spots). I was surprised at the reaction. We were flooded with calls from drivers. This would not have happened without TCA. Drivers are concerned about their health but many don’t know what to do about it. So they need some help. I have found when you talk to one driver you are talking to twenty because they talk to their friends. TCA helps get the conversation starts and over time all we will make a difference.
The other initiative we have started is strategic planning. The officers got together in May after the Safety and Security meeting and started a strategic planning process. We surveyed our members and taking that information asked ourselves, ”What should TCA look like in three years?” You have to know your destination if you’re going to get there. We had a lot of good ideas from a lot of smart people. Now, the staff will build action plans and measurements around that. This will become an annual thing. It will make us better each year. We have brilliant business people which are a free resource to tap.
What do you see as the biggest and most imminent industry challenges facing members right now?
If I had to name one, it’s the things the government does to you. Many carriers are not up to date of the issues and practices they need to succeed in this environment. Trucker’s image is an important part of protecting the industry from government action. Image effects policy, whether it’s in the courts in front of a jury, what’s written about us in the media, or what the regulators or legislators do. Regulation is coming at a pace that I have never seen, since I passed the bar in 1981. They are proposing 25,000 regulations a year. Now at some point the size of the government and the volume of these rules are such that it takes some sophistication to navigate this. It’s not like the old days where I got a truck and I got some diesel and I got a driver and I can go down the road and make some money. It’s become a very complicated business. TCA is a repository of the resources truckers need to be successful in today’s legal atmosphere.
TCA is very good at is the educational component of trucking. One of our big missions is to get educational information out to members; The Truckload Authority is a big part of that. If you are not aware of the issues you are going to get blindsided and its lights-out. Some of this is not covered by your insurance. TCA also provides valuable benchmarking and identifies best practices for success. That’s a real advantage our members have over people who are not members.
As you mentioned, you were once an accomplished attorney, how do you think your skill set and experience being an attorney will benefit you and the association this year?
My legal background brings another set of skills to the table. I would recommend any young person, who’s thinking about higher education, to consider pursuing a joint JD/ MBA degree. Some of legal training is good for business some is bad. The bad part is attorneys are very risk adverse. We spot a problem and we charge you to solve it. That is not always a good way to run a business. Businessmen must make calculated risk. People get jealous when folks are successful but don’t understand the risk those in business take to be successful. Litigation involves a lot of 20/20 hindsight. Practicing law teaches you a lot about human behavior. Lawyers sit in our office and people come in with all their problems and they pour these problems on your desk. Problems non lawyers may see two or three times in a lifetime, lawyers may see every week for years. Predictable patterns develop. This is something that is hard to get outside of law. Lawyers get a lot of practice dealing with conflict or difficult conversations and situations. This experience can be applied to business or an association. Lawyers are trained to see both sides of the argument. Have you ever thought it is hard to get a straight answer from a lawyer? That’s because a lawyer is contemplating what he will argue and anticipating what the other side will argue. From there he is forming up probabilities are which arguments are likely to prevail.
When I first transitioned from law to business my dad had to restrain me until my thinking had evolved from a strictly legal view to the added perspective of a businessman. The thing I miss about practicing law is that whatever bad is happening it happens to my client instead of me. I get to ask the questions, I don’t have to answer them. You get on the client side of things and that flips on you. It’s been a good background.
How about mediating issues between members? Members don’t always agree on every issue.
The first thing you do in bringing people together is you don’t let your personal beliefs or thoughts get too involved. That is a rookie mistake. You have to be able to spot the issue. You have to look beyond the immediate issue to weigh what is best for TCA.. Then refocus people on the outcomes we have all agreed upon in our strategic plan. If we keep our eyes on that, the answer usually suggests itself. When we advocate a policy, we need unity. If we present discordant voices we will fail. If we are together we will have an impact.
We are a strong voice. Most members of ATA are truckload carriers. We have an impact and influence over policy that we might not always understand. It’s hard to push a position that is divisive. If we are divided we will lose every time. So if we get an issue that is 51/49 we are in a losing position. When senators and congressman hear a divided industry, they will ask, “Wait a minute what does trucking want? I’m not going to stick my neck out, if they can’t decide what they want.”
When you analyze policies logically; you first have to ask “do we have a consensus?” If we don’t, maybe that policy should wait until whoever really wants it builds that consensus though logic, reason, communication and persuasion. Before we go out on a limb we need to know if half of our members are not following on the issue. The second question you have got to ask is “What is the probability of success?” “Is this a long term ten year goal or is this something that can happen now” I’ve been surprised sometimes we get a little torqued up on things that aren’t going to happen anyway. So why are we doing this to ourselves? It doesn’t make sense. The key to all of this is to keep your eye on the big picture, don’t get stuck down in the weeds on something that’s divisive or academic. Politics is the art of the doable. Look at what is possible, what is do-able, and together can be an effective voice for the trucking industry.
TCA advocates an increase in fuel taxes to fund infrastructure throughout the country. Why do you think TCA believes this is the best avenue to generate infrastructure investment?
This is an area where there is a lot of consensus. Number one, everybody agrees the roads and bridges are not adequate for what we need. We waste a lot of money and fuel sitting in traffic. It’s not good for drivers. It stresses them out. It’s not good for safety because cars are pulling in front of a truck and putting on their brakes. It’s not good for the environment and it’s wasteful. Our interstate system was built under Eisenhower and designed to have a life of twenty years. Here we are in 2013. Fuel tax is the preferred way to raise money; there are a number of reasons for that. First, we all charge a fuel surcharge. We won’t be in business long if we don’t. That is based on the Department of Energy prices, which includes fuel taxes. It’s much easier in a fuel tax system to pass that directly on to our customers as it should be. So we like that.
We do want the fuel tax to be used on the roads. In Missouri we passed laws to that effect, the funds have to be used on the roads. In Washington the money gets diverted; they want to use the money on birds, flowers, plants and walking trails. It’s good to do those things but this money is meant for roads. We don’t mind being taxed if the tax is put to the use that we want to be taxed for.
Collection of fuel tax is efficient with a administrative cost of only about 1 percent. When you get into things like vehicle mileage taxes, the cost to collect that tax can be 30-40%. That money goes to tax collectors, not roads. The problem with tolls is a several-fold; one, it’s a lot harder for us to recoup that money from our customers. Look at your typical owner-operator, most leases require the independent contractor to pay tolls. How are they going to collect reimbursement for that? What are they going to do to avoid it?... drive on the back roads? How safe is that? How much fuel is being used? We’ve seen this in several places where they raised the toll and they get less traffic. The other thing that is wrong with tolls is this notion of public/private partnerships. Basically this is taking something that belongs to the people, a road, and selling it to some non-public entity. I don’t believe in big government but I do believe that the government should do certain things: roads, police, fire, schools. There are some things that the government does best and they are for a profit. These private entities are for profit. A good example of this was in Texas. Why did they want to raise this toll road to 85mph? They desire to more cars rolling through there at higher speeds for more profit but at what cost? The other thing is if you go the profit motives where is the incentive to put the money back into the road? One place where I would depart from Republicans is they think all taxes are bad and that all government is bad. I think a lot of taxes are bad and a lot of government is bad but there are just some things that are good for the government to do. I think the roads are one of those and you have to pay for it or you don’t get it. The economy depends the smooth and efficient movement of freight.
The money is not being used efficiently for infrastructure. What can the trucking industry do to see that the money is allocated to the infrastructure properly and is used to its maximum effectiveness?
Here’s where we run into the idea versus the academic. It would be ideal to copy what we do in Missouri; money raised from fuel tax is used for roads...period. The problem with politics is too many have eyes for the money. Varied interests see this pile of money, we’re talking about billions of dollars, and all angle to get their hands into that. It takes some real political courage and leadership for our elected people to say “let’s do what is right for America,” as opposed to this group and that group. What is right for America is a good road system, supporting a good economy, with a free flow of goods without congestion, barriers or toll gates. I’ve heard some members who would support indexing fuel taxes this to inflation with a cap because we know it takes political courage to raise fuel tax when you know you will be accused taxes
I don’t know how academic all this is but it’s been going in circles for a long, long time. The one thing that is encouraging about this is that Representative Shuster, the new head of the House Transportation Committee gave a speech and said everything is on the table. That is a positive change from what we had been told before.
Where do you stand on the creation of a drug and alcohol clearing house right now?
I am for it and I am worried about it. Drugs and alcohol have no place in trucking. The concern in the past has been privacy. That’s kind of a “we want to be fair and we don’t want to be mean to people,” but we also don’t want to put drunks or junkies on the road either. The EEOC sees alcoholism and drug dependence as a disability. So what are we going to do with this data once we get it? This is a good example of where government puts us in a place where we have to make decisions that carry legal risk regardless of what we decide.
Do you believe in the effectiveness of hair testing?
I think it is valid. I heard it said recently that it takes only 48 hours to get drugs out of your system to pass a urine test. So the guy that fails a drug test is either incredibly stupid, in which case they probably don’t need to be in a job as skilled as this, or they were hopelessly addicted and can’t wait 48 hours for their fix. Either one of which is not the profile of a good driver. The hair testing gives carriers a way to see if this is part of this person’s life. They say a lot of people will pass a normal urine test and not pass the hair test. That is frightening.
Let’s talk about the looming HOS changes. We know they are here and they’re here to stay. What is your best advice to members about what they need to be doing to prepare and what steps they should take if they haven’t already?
The critical skill you need in trucking today is adaptability because whatever you are doing today is going to change tomorrow. HOS changes are a recent example. I would call this a officious meddling. The new rule doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose; it does take away flexibility and some time. I believe this was a political decision. The real impact depends on your operation. If you had tightly dedicated lanes where a driver can barely make it in the time you have now, you likely have a problem. You had better be all over this because if you continue to run those drivers, that will be illegal. As a lawyer I would argue you are knowingly and repeatedly creating fatigued driving and that’s not a good legal place to be. Education of drivers is critical; we owe it to them to put it out there. We need to talk to them. We do not need to talk to them about whether it’s fair or unfair; we all have different opinions on that. If you don’t’ like it, write your congressman, because this is likely coming. If you didn’t vote, I feel less sorry for you. We must adapt. There is not much time. Quit worrying about whether it’s fair or not and get on with the program. Figure out how to be profitable under the new rules.
Under Chairman Low’s chairmanship, it seemed a lot of progress had been made in TCA’s relationship with ATA? Talk to us about the importance of continuing that and what you envision TCA’s ongoing relationship with the ATA becoming.
We have made incredible progress; I really attribute that to Chairman Low, President Burrus, Governor Graves and Chairman Card. I have been in monthly phone calls with the Governor Graves, Chairman Card and TCA President Burruss. I am impressed with the openness and honesty of the dialogue and the respect that each organization has for each other. Our associations have some overlap but for the most part, we do different things. ATA’s focus is advocacy while TCA’s is networking, best practices, education and image.
We need to be mindful that when we go to the government with our concern, we may be LTL, tanker, flatbed, refrigerator, van, or a lot of other things; but in the end, we are all truckers. We can’t be this group and that group, and successfully advocate for trucking or we will lose every time.
It’s amazing to me that the railroads all combined don’t have the gross revenue of UPS and FedEx, much less the entire trucking industry, but put together but they are more effective in raising money and advocating against truckers. There is a reason for that. They stick together. We can do more together than fighting each other. People don’t understand the cost to set up a lobby shop in Washington D.C. I can tell you the cost is more than double TCA’s total budget. Now I suppose we could buck up, increase our dues and put our money where our mouth is but why? We have great lobbyist on the ATA side. We can leverage that by working with them. They have subject matter experts on the payroll in every area of trucking. Do we really need to spend the money to replicate that? They have a million dollar TRUCKPAC, TCA has no PAC. They have a litigation center which brings class action law suits and files legal briefs to defend the trucking industry. We know the courts can do as much damage to us, probably more than congress because congress can’t even decide on anything. ATA has ATRI which does research and science and are so important in advocacy. When dealing with this onslaught of regulations they help back our arguments with logic and science. They have an independent contractor taskforce set up to defend the owner operator business model throughout the nation. Owning your own business is the American Dream. There are many governments who do not want them to have that. We need to fight this. That fight can happen in fifty states. It can happen in Washington, Department of Labor, NLRB, a host of different places.
The ATA’s Insurance Task Force has worked on tort reform and anti-indemnification legislation very successfully throughout the country.
The two organizations agree on 99% of every issue that is in play. We are set up to do different things. They are set up for that advocacy piece, they could use some more help. TCA is really doing a good job at education, image, and wellness and getting its members together to network. Many of our members are also involved in ATA. I don’t see any reason we should be at each other’s throats. Working together we can accomplish so much more than either organization can separately.
Do you think there is a lack of information or education pertaining to TCA relative to ATA members there are possibly a number of ATA members who are just not aware of benefitted value that the TCA brings to the industry?
TCA members probably don’t understand what a lobby shop cost and the extent of our resources. Our dues are a good deal. I pay less to TCA than I pay the Missouri Trucking Association. They are lean, mean and putting out a lot for what you are put in.
ATA has a completely different cost structure largely due to their most important mission…advocacy. ATA is staffed with lobbyists, subject matter experts, lawyers, and the other very expensive components of an effective lobby shop.
The smart thing to do is to focus on what we do best and work together with ATA and leverage our friendship and partnership with ATA to push truckload issues forward.
And would you say, for ATA members who are not members of TCA, that there is great value in TCA for them?
I think we all truckers can support many of the things TCA does whether one is a member or not. We all want to work on image. The same holds true for ATA. One thing we’re exploring and talking about is looking at the many valuable TCA programs ATA members could support without being a member of TCA to participate in and visa versa. Wreaths Across America (www.wreathsacrossamerican.org), is a tremendously successful and growing image program sponsored by TCA. You can get involved without joining TCA. ATAhas many programs in need of money which you can participate in without joining ATA. It’s an opportunity that has been missed by members of both associations. Of course, we’d love for you to become members of both. But if you don’t want to belong to both but see value in some programs that the association offers, we need to find the avenue for you to support them and not let the membership stand in the way.
What would you say to carriers who are members of their state associations and yet not involved in TCA?
State Associations are focused on advocacy in that state, which is important. Most of us are interstate carriers, so what really impacts us goes way beyond our state. TCA is a really affordable way to get involved to help the image piece, to get access to best in class practices, and bench marking, education and network with colleagues from across the country.
Shifting gears, what stood out from the recent TCA conference in Las Vegas, where you were officially named as Chairman?
It’s an interesting experience. You have a lot of people come up to you. It’s funny the questions they ask. What are you going to do during your “rule?” What are you going to do during your “reign?” Well I am not a king. I am not going to change the world in one year. I think what happens to some who become chairman of an association is they get in and it’s a big ego rush and three months later you look up and say “Oh my gosh! I need to do something I gave a speech and said I would.” You don’t meet every week. You start doing something and six months later, you’re a lame duck and here comes the next guy. That’s really not the way to do it if you want to have an impact; it’s working with your peers to jointly develop long term strategies and improve corporate governance. Doing this you can build on the success of your predecessors and take it the next level. I will be satisfied if I leave the association in a better place than I found it.
What are you most looking forward to over this next year?
I look forward to seeing more of our members. I like getting out of town and networking with people. I like it better if when there is a trout stream within two hours of my destination because I will take my fishing rods. I will find the fish and I have some friends that do that with me. That’s kind of a nice thing to do. I would recommend truck drivers do that. Don’t get mad when you get laid over, get your fly rod out and find a stream. Get some introspective tranquility out in nature.
By what metrics or in what ways will you personally measure your terms success?
We’re going to roll that out that real soon… the way it will work is this. All the officers have convened, we have surveys from the members, and we have developed a strategic plan. This looks out three years. The staff has been tasked with coming up with specific action plans to support each of these goals and objectives. Those actions will be specific and they attainable within our resources. They will have a champion, a timeline and a measurement. We will meet for our annual officer meeting in in August. . We will review the work of staff and set the budget. From there we will have a balanced scorecard setting forth the key measures of success. We will review it periodically to determine if we are being successful. Keeping score is important. If you played football without a score, you wouldn’t know if you where winning or not. So you need to know if you are winning and measurement is how you do that. Then what I would like to see once I am gone is this happens every year, it will be easier because you are freshening up the plan instead of starting from scratch. That becomes part of the good corporate governance piece that can hopefully be a legacy.