The idea to have executives and other non-driving employees complete CDL training came from Chad England, the fleet’s chief executive officer. He went through the fleet’s in-house CDL training himself in the late 90s and has been driving off and on ever since.
England says that driving is in his genes. He, his grandparents, parents, and brothers all drove and/or have their CDLs. His driving experience has helped him with decision-making in meetings because he has a better perspective of what drivers go through.
“It occurred to me that it would be better if more than just a few of us, if all of the management here, really could see it from the driver’s eyes because this business looks a heck of a lot different when you’re in the office and when you’re behind the wheel,” England said. “So we did that.”
In 2017, England asked every executive at C.R. England who did not already have a CDL to go through training and obtain their CDL licenses. The opportunity to learn how to drive trucks is available to all of the fleet’s non-driving employees, England said, and he’s looking at requiring certain additional driver-facing positions to obtain CDL licenses.
“For drivers, I hope they know that we’re going beyond just listening. We’re actually experiencing what they are and therefore we’ll make decisions that will be in their best interest,” England said.
England wants managers and non-driving employees who undergo driver training to walk away from the experience with an increased understanding for what truck drivers experience. Trucking is a hard job and drivers have to be dedicated to the profession.
“You have to be safe. You have to be committed to serving our customers and especially respecting others on the road. I think that’s an insight I want them to learn, and that they are learning, as they go through this process,” England said.
Once they’ve undergone their training and have their CDLs, executives continue to go out for regular runs. The fleet has already implemented some company-wide changes based on executives’ experience over the road, including recently increasing the fleet’s governed truck speed to 65 miles per hour.
Lisa Callister, C.R. England’s vice president of human resources, was nervous to get her CDL but feels more confident behind the wheel, whether in her car or in a truck, thanks to the experience. The experience gave her a newfound respect for professional drivers and how hard their jobs can be.
“I felt just such a sense of accomplishment but also just respect for those guys. Then when you’re going to deal with dropping off a load with a customer and the waiting and different things they go through, and even just sometimes how they’re treated out on the road, they are hauling food across the country to feed America,” Callister said. “We rely on them so much and it gave me just such a respect for our drivers and any truck driver out there.”
Callister thinks the broader impact of having managers and other employees get CDL training is an increased understanding of the frustrations that driver’s deal with and increased empathy for what they go through.
“I hope that the takeaway for the drivers is that they know we want to understand what they go through. We care about them and we’re no better than they are. We need them and they need us,” Callister said.
As part of her training, Callister went out on a 500-mile run with driver Johnny Stack, a senior recovery driver. They traveled from Salt Lake City, Utah, to a town called Hurricane down on the border with Arizona. Stack navigated them through traffic on the way out of Salt Lake City but Callister took over after that. She drove them to Hurricane and then drove them back, and on the return trip she was the one driving them through the heavy traffic.
Callister seemed nervous at first, Stack said, but was much more comfortable behind the wheel by the time they arrived in Hurricane.
“She just did outstanding. She’s a very good driver. She’s real cautious and careful. She’s real smart. I would correct her on a few things and tell her something, and I never had to tell her anything twice. She picked up on it real quick,” Stack said.
Stack didn’t learn about Callister’s high-level position at the company until toward the end of their run when she gave him her business card.
“It’s like this was just two drivers going out for a ride, and I’m just keeping an eyeball on her to make sure she doesn’t get in trouble. She’s a trooper,” Stack said. “It was wonderful. It was a good experience. We laughed and we just had the time of our lives. She’s very capable and competent, and I really enjoyed it.”
Getting her CDL hasn’t just changed how Callister approaches her position at C.R. England, but it’s also changed how she drives when she’s in her personal vehicle by giving her a heightened sense of awareness.
“I really value the drivers that I see out on the road and all that they do for our country. I feel proud to just even be a small, small part of that with having my CDL,” Callister said.
As a driver, Stack appreciates seeing his fleet making these efforts to better understand drivers’ perspectives.
“It’s incredibly important. I think it goes back to the old ivory tower syndrome. Professors sit behind their desk and teach a class but they have no idea what’s going on in the real world. I think that same kind of philosophy applies to management in general,” Stack said.