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Top 50 Trucking Companies: Tough at the top

Analysts and top trucking executives agree that a sharp focus on a durable business plan and dependable operations are vital to remaining profitable in one of the most challenging trucking environments in history.
By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
April 01, 2013

At its essence, trucking sounds so simple: Find a niche, create a business plan, execute it on a daily basis, eliminate exceptions, charge decent rates, and then get paid. However, those executives leading the biggest and most profitable trucking companies will tell you that executing this theoretically straightforward plan every day is anything but.

“For us, I think a lot of it goes back to the strategic planning we did 15 years ago,” says David Congdon, president and CEO of Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL), No. 5 on Logistics Management’s (LM) Top 25 LTL listing and one of the most profitable LTL carriers in the country. Congdon says that the path to ODFL’s current perch was long and involved and could have only been achieved by staying focused on core business principals that are paying off now.

Analysts and top trucking executives agree that a sharp focus on executing a sound business plan is one of the keys to making the list of Top 50 Trucking Companies. The other elements, say our top sources, would be attention to detail, employee relations (both union and non-union), financial strength, information technology, and operational execution.

“Trucking is not a business where money just rolls through the door.” says Donald Broughton, trucking analyst with Avondale Partners. “Everybody knows what they need to do: lower empty miles, minimize fuel, maximize revenue per truck. But execution is hard, and it’s tough to establish the discipline every day to force your customers, suppliers, and employees to do that. It requires a lot of work and thousands and thousands of hours of planning.”

Mike Shevell, chairman of the Shevell Group that includes New England Motor Freight (No. 18 on the LM LTL list), says that the key to success is getting proper rates to haul freight. “Without rates that can give us proper profit, there’s going to be a very serious problem in future,” he says. “Our cost of doing business is off the charts, and regulations are putting a noose around our neck. It’s getting more difficult to operate.”

About the Author

John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.

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