Being the Best: Aaron works to ensure Stevens Transport’s Success
A University of Alabama graduate with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Bentley spent 15 years as a trucking Publisher before becoming the Editorial Director for Randall-Reilly's Recruiting Media division.
“Good, better, best: don’t let it rest til your good is better and your better is your best.”
They say everybody’s a self-made man, but only the successful ones are ever willing to admit it. That may be the perfect description of Steve Aaron, founder of Stevens Transport. Aaron is a man who has accomplished a lot in his business life, but his path to running a trucking company is much different than most of the leaders profiled in this series. Aaron did not start out driving as a one-truck entity or take over a fleet that was started by his father or grandfather.
Instead, he’s a self-taught CEO who cut his teeth in the meatpacking business. In the early 1970s, Aaron started a small packing house operation and over the course of that decade built it into the largest employer in Paris, TX with 400 workers.
When he sold the business in 1979, it included 13 trucks, so Aaron decided to try trucking and settled on the reefer sector because of his experience. He chose the Dallas area to launch his fleet and began running a few trucks hauling poultry to California and produce back. The biggest challenge in those early days was being too small and not being able to break into the big shipping accounts, and even though the first year was marginal financially, Stevens Transport still turned a profit.
Instead of being on the road himself, Aaron wanted to concentrate on making his new company a success. Running the meatpacking company had taught him several facets of business – marketing, plant personnel, facilities and equipment, energy management, transportation, and government regulations for example – that would benefit a trucking enterprise. Aaron hired a salesman and began to get some business from people like M&M Mars and was soon up to 25 trucks. A completely irregular route carrier with an average length of haul at 1,440 miles, Stevens Transport has only experienced one down year in 31 years of existence and would grow to become one of the largest meat and time sensitive, temperature controlled specialty commodities carriers in the U.S.
Landing freight accounts like Tyson Foods and other “big guys” helped, but it was a fundamental shift in hiring drivers that propelled the growth after more than a decade of operation. “We used to hire a lot of company drivers and owner operators, but started our own training program in 1991,” Aaron said. Stevens University, a full service truck driving school, started small but currently averages training about 70 drivers per week. The program is unique because it takes people with no experience and provides education and specific skills with practically no cost. In fact, Stevens reimburses the cost of the CDL training course and puts participants on the payroll while they get their over the road training. “I think this allows us the benefit of really offering a true career path,” Aaron said. “Students can train on the same equipment they will be driving as a company driver, and we can even offer them a lease plan upon completion of training.” The latter allows new hires to be trained in a career to become an independent contractor, and Stevens offers full blown business classes to teach drivers how to run their own trucks, accelerating their earnings dramatically for the right driven individuals.
Aaron admits he “likes to stick to the basics” and is not big on change, but the new training philosophy allowed the company to expand to 1,950 trucks and 3,600 trailers, which is impressive considering that they have not acquired any fleets along the way. “It’s is enjoyable to see the progress and results we have achieved. I’m most proud of how we have performed in difficult times, and the impact we have made on peoples’ lives,” Aaron said. Aaron attributes much of the company’s success to having long-term employees who focus on efficiency. Bob Nelson, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Director for Stevens Transport, has worked with Aaron since November of 1972, and Michael Richey, Executive Vice President, has been with the company for 30 years.
Theo Wiggins has been a Stevens Transport company driver for 28 years, so longevity extends to the driver ranks as well, and Aaron believes in steadfastness. Stevens Transport is one of PACCAR’s largest customers, and in 1986 they bought the first Kenworth T600A off the assembly line. Steve Aaron rewarded Wiggins for his loyalty by assigning him the truck that is generally regarded as changing the industry forever. The T600A was a sloped-nose conventional with a set-back front axle—a combination which gave drivers the comfort of a conventional and the maneuverability of a cabover. Gestures like that keep turnover rates much lower than at most “training” fleets for drivers and office personnel.
In fact, the newest member of the Stevens Transport management team started in 1992, and everyone at the company works with a sense of urgency. They take their cues from Aaron, who admits he “likes to work” and still bring a bag lunch to work every day. Married for 51 years, with 5 kids and 12 grandchildren, Steve also places a huge emphasis on his family. He has 2 sons (Todd, Clay) and a daughter (Angela) in the business. Todd serves as the company’s Vice Chairman and is also actively involved in Steven’s sales efforts (one of only three salespeople in the organization). Clay is now the President at Steven’s Transport, while Angela is Vice President of Driver Resources and Administration.
Steve Aaron also serves as the company’s CFO, but does not have a specialized accounting degree or MBA. He doesn’t even have a computer on his desk. (When asked about this, he pulls out a small calculator from his desk drawer, and smiles as he says that is the only computer he needs). There is a business adage that says ‘you can’t manage what you can’t measure’, and Aaron is a huge believer in measurement. Trucking is a high cost, low margin business and you don’t get low operating ratio without stiff measurements and discipline. Aaron may joke about his calculator, but he used it to design all the reports that measure every single thing they do at Stevens, from a cost of a pallet to a brake drum to revenue per mile. “To assess and calculate every penny spent and saved, we have to measure down to the lumper receipt,” Aaron said. “I also learned a long time ago that fast pay makes fast friends, whether for your vendors or your drivers.”
Under his leadership, the company generated $575,000,000 in revenue in 2011, up from $505,000,000 the previous year. Aaron enjoys the finer material things that being ultra-successful can provide, but he is also big on charity. He donates an average of $1.5 million to various organizations per year, and in 2009 made a $15 million lead gift to the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation to kick off the Create a Jewish Legacy Bequest and Endowment Initiative (CJL).
Portraying a great image is important to Aaron, which is reflected in the cleanliness of Stevens Transport equipment. The company runs all late model Kenworth and Peterbilts trucks with walk-in sleepers, with the average tractor age being 13 months, making Stevens the youngest fleet on the road.
More importantly for readers of this magazine, the driver shortage has not affected Stevens Transport. The fleet is fully seated right now, but plans to add 250 trucks throughout 2012 as they are in a growth mode. If you are interested in a career with Stevens, call 800-333-8595 or log onto www.becomeadriver.com.
Potential drivers for Stevens Transport should know Aaron is working to ensure your success.
Aaron has a simple business philosophy that has served him well over the years. “Everything I do has to be the best,” he stated. And this isn’t just lip service. Consider this:
- Stevens Transport carries the lowest operating ratio (81.3%) of any fleet I can recall.
- Their corporate headquarters occupies a 70-acre campus which houses the administrative offices in an 80,000 sq. ft. facility, plus a full service driver complex and state of the art maintenance center encompassing 170,000 sq. ft.
- They are the only transportation carrier with their own 24/7 full-time radio station. Powered by Live365, the #1 Internet Radio Station network in the world, Stevens Radio at www.stevenstransport.com by clicking on the MEDIA tab. There is also a free Stevens Radio App for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, which is available as well as Android Phones and Tablets. You can even listen to Stevens Radio anytime on your smart phone with the Live365 App.
Albert Einstein once said doing the best we can is our sacred human responsibility, and Aaron has certainly achieved that over the years. You would think Aaron may be in the twilight of his career, but he has no plans to retire. “On my 80th birthday, I’m taking a half-day off,” Steve quipped. “I’m working for pride and would work harder if I needed to; whatever it takes to get it done.”
With Steve Aaron, the best may be yet to come.