Putting the trucking industry’s best, most positive, foot forward is the goal of Lisa Spangenberg and Lori Teders, co-chairs of the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) Communications and Image Committee. The leadership duo said while progress has made in communicating the positive elements of the industry and those who work in it, there’s much more good news to tell.
“In my opinion the (industry’s) image has been negative for a long time. You know, cars don’t like to share the road with the big trucks,” said Teders. “However, with the whole pandemic situation, people now recognize and appreciate truck drivers who are still delivering products and trying to keep shelves full in the stores. So, there has been some positive light that has been shed during this time.”
Changes in perception don’t just happen spontaneously, however, which is why the task of the Communications and Image Committee is so vital, added Spangenberg.
“For a while, the view was quite negative, not just of the trucks on the road but the image of the truck driver,” she said. “I think over the past few years we’ve made great efforts to promote a more positive image, trying to promote people as professional drivers and not just ‘truckers.’”
Aside from working in the transportation industry and being active in TCA, the two women came to their dual leadership roles via very different routes. Spangenberg is CEO of Tennessee-based Spangenberg Partners, a company that helps match new technology with appropriate audiences within the trucking industry. Teders is director of administration for Hoekstra Transportation, based in Kankakee, Illinois.
Neither woman started out in trucking — Spangenberg spent decades in education and Teders served in human resource roles in the chemical industry — but both say their diverse experience helps inform their respective leadership style and perspectives.
For instance, Teders understands all too well some of the misconceptions people have about the trucking industry — attitudes she once held before joining her current employer.
“I had worked in a chemical factory here locally, and there was a reduction in force,” she said. “I was looking for a job when I never thought I would need to be looking for a job, and the only one that I really qualified for in this area was a billing and payroll job with a trucking firm. I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to work with truck drivers.’
“But man, did it work out to be the best thing for me and the way that I view the industry,” she continued. “I certainly have a passion now for the drivers we have, the drivers that I’ve met along the way, the companies that are constantly trying to make the drivers’ lives better, and just the industry as a whole.”
Some of the current responsibilities of the Communications and Image Committee are to promote in the media various programs supported by the trucking industry. Examples include TCA programs such as its Highway Angel initiative, which recognizes drivers who perform acts of selflessness and heroism while on the job.
It also publicizes the role drivers and trucking companies play in such efforts as hauling the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree from a national forest to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., or the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s The Wall That Heals, a three-quarters-sized replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial that tours the country. The committee also partners with Wreaths Across America for an annual driver appreciation dinner for the drivers who haul truckloads of wreaths for placement on veterans’ graves in cemeteries from coast to coast.
Teders said that while all of these efforts are worthwhile in and of themselves, the most powerful aspects of committee members’ work happens when they witness how personal the connections are between a driver and one of the various causes.
“For ‘The Wall that Heals,’ for example, a lot of times it is a veteran that is hauling that trailer,” she said. “I remember there was one driver who picked up the wall. He was a veteran, and when I handed him the keys for the trailer, he was literally in tears. He was so proud and humbled to be able to haul the trailer over to the next stop.”
An overriding mission for all the publicity work is to help attract and retain more people to work professionally in trucking, thereby keeping the industry strong. Spangenberg said this has been a consistently high priority for the committee in the past and will be for the years ahead.
“One initiative that we’re working on is getting more involved in high school or trade school programs to better promote professional driving roles, and also additional positions within the industry,” she explained. “We’ve got a subcommittee that has been meeting in that regard, looking into options. We definitely see opportunities to reach out to that younger generation to promote the industry. That’s our most recent initiative that we’ve been tasked with.”
The committee is always seeking new ways to show the trucking industry in a positive light.
“Something else we’re going to try to do, to leave a lasting impact in Vegas during the TCA convention in March, is to host a donation drive benefiting a local hospital,” added Teders. “The idea is you have a thousand people in one area and the local children’s hospital needs Play-Doh or UNO cards, let’s say – that’s so easy to do. You don’t have to do anything with it but just drop it off at the registration desk. This is just another way that your organization can make a positive impact.”
Both Teders and Spangenberg, who each served on the committee for several years before being appointed to their positions, said the most enjoyable aspect of their roles is the immediacy of the good they can do by shining a light on the positive contributions the industry makes every day.
“The thing I have really enjoyed about being on the committee — and now helping lead it — is, you feel like you’re really making a difference,” said Spangenberg. “You can see programs that are positive. You see people’s lives being impacted for the better, not just in the industry but outside the industry for the good. It’s very rewarding to be part of that.”
*Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the Truckload Carriers Association’s committees, which are open for all members to join. To learn more or to sign up for a committee, visit www.truckload.org/committee-program-leadership.
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.