Driver Recruiting
Menu: m

Perseverence Pays: Hard work drives Heartland president Mike Gerdin

By: Brad Bentley

Brad Bentley

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.

Related Articles


The lobby of Iowa City, Iowa-based Heartland Express is filled with awards and accolades the company has received throughout the years, and on the day Best Driver Jobs recently visited the facility, the fledgling fleet was actually adding two new trophy cases.

The boardroom is just as impressive, with mounts of hunting trophies from all over the world; but when you get to the office of President Mike Gerdin, there is less style – and a lot more substance.

Mike represents three generations in the trucking industry, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Wilford, and his dad, Russ. The two elder Gerdins were entrepreneurial by nature and made a career as “turnaround specialists” for trucking companies. “They would buy fleets, fix them, and sell them,” Mike said. If they were to make a reality TV show about their exploits, it would probably be titled, ‘Flip This Fleet’.

In 1978, about the time Mike’s grandpa was ready to retire, the Gerdins purchased Scott’s Transportation, a small fleet in Swisher, IA. They decided to keep this company, which would later become Heartland Express – with Russ at the helm. To say Mike grew up in the business would be an understatement. Perhaps a small, unassuming frame hanging on a wall in Mike’s office may best illustrate his story.

It contains Mike’s first “official” paycheck from Heartland Express, and he never cashed it. Dated September 2, 1983, it was only for $18.75; but to Mike it is priceless. The check represented his “arrival” at the company, although he could actually be considered a veteran by then. At the age of 6, Mike started washing trucks for 25 cents apiece and continued to do so for years before officially going on the payroll as a part-time employee. As a teenager, he then changed oil and tires, unloaded and cleaned out trailers, and swept the shop floor.

Heartland became a publicly traded company in 1986, and Mike had a desire to learn the business side of trucking. While earning a BA degree in Business Management from Luther College in Decorah, IA, he would work in the corporate office during the summers and started at Heartland full-time after graduation.

Mike started in operations, and he worked his way around various departments (including safety) for a few years. In 1997, just three weeks before Mike was to be married, Heartland bought A&M Express, a 300-truck fleet in Kingsport, TN, and Mike accepted the position as their President. He and his wife moved to Tennessee, but after three years, they moved back to Iowa when Mike became VP of Regional Operations at Heartland.

Soon after, the company continued their growth by purchasing Great Coastal Express, their fifth acquisition since Russ Gerdin took Heartland public. That was 2002, and for a few years it seemed that the debt-free company was invincible.

Then tragedy struck.

In 2006, Russ was diagnosed with liver cancer, and Mike was quickly promoted to President – a position he was prepared for thanks to the experience of running the A&M Express subsidiary and the mentoring he had received from his father over the years. Many of the trucking company presidents profiled in this series have listed Russ Gerdin as their mentor, and Mike said his father was the most influential person in his life as well. He credits Russ for his work ethic. “I think the best thing I learned from my dad was his belief that Heartland works harder,” Mike said. “He believes we couldn’t always be the smartest, but we could outwork the competition.”

With Russ’s vision and Mike’s energy and enthusiasm, Heartland Express pressed forward and built a new corporate headquarters in 2007. When the economy dipped, many fleets began shifting their focus from long haul to more regional operations, but Heartland was well ahead of the trend. “We’ve been regional for more than 20 years,” Mike said. As such, Heartland continued to hone their niche Just-In-Time inventory skills and focused on reliability for major shippers like Sears, Unilever, Lowe’s, and Kellogg’s. “There is no recession on service,” Mike said.

Sadly, Russ would lose a five-year battle with declining health in October, 2011, but Mike is carrying on his legacy of being the best truckload carrier out there. “We never wanted to be the biggest, just the best,” Mike said. Based on profitability, best-in-class service execution, customer satisfaction, and overall company performance, it’s hard to argue that Heartland hasn’t accomplished that goal.

In 2011 alone, the company won 19 Carrier of the Year awards and the Logistics Management Quest for Quality Award, which Heartland Express has received for the past nine years. Additionally, Forbes Magazine has recognized Heartland as a Best 200 Small Companies in America for 18 of the past 23 years.

Heartland currently operates almost 3,000 trucks, but is expanding into new markets. Within the past five years, Heartland has been expanding in the Western 11 states, concentrating on growth markets like Phoenix, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and San Francisco. So far the strategy has been working. In 2005, Heartland opened a terminal in Phoenix with zero trucks, and now they have 300 based out of that facility. “The West will keep us growing for years,” Mike said.

Mike says the biggest roadblock to growth is driver availability. “We are picky about who we hire, and that shows up in our lack of accidents and on-time delivery,” he stated.  Heartland has category-leading CSA scores that prove safety is at the core of their corporate culture. “We are tough on drivers to log legally,” Mike said. As such, Heartland began installing PeopleNet EOBRs in February, 2011 and completed the entire fleet in two months. “At first, there was some resistance, but now our drivers love it,” Mike added.

It’s hard for Mike to say what the best driver benefit is at Heartland, because they do so many things well. Heartland’s operation provides great home time, and the company offers some of the highest pay and newest equipment on the highway. The oldest truck in their fleet is a 2010, and the average age is only 14 months. The company trades trucks before they reach 400,000 miles, so in essence, experienced drivers get a new truck every two years. Heartland has a new trailer fleet as well.

Treating their drivers this well has resulted in a high retention rate, and Mike says he enjoys interacting with some of Heartland’s ‘old timers’ – many of whom he washed their trucks as a young boy. “I like listening to their four-wheeler stories and enjoy hearing them give advice to our younger drivers,” Mike said.

Mike loves to hand out million miler awards, and as an avid runner, he certainly understands the efforts that go into achieving a long distance award. Mike has completed 18 marathons thus far and also finished the Ironman Wisconsin, an ultra-distance triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run.

Running for long distances can be monotonous, and running a large financially and fundamentally sound company can be a grind as well; but Mike has a sign on his desk that serves as motivation. It simply says: The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather is a lack of will.

The message represents the lessons instilled by Russ and echoes Mike’s belief in perseverance. Mike thinks perseverance is the key to success – both professional and personal. Away from work, Mike loves to hunt and fish and is also very active with his wife and three boys. He coaches his kids’ sports squads and led one of his son’s baseball teams to a state championship in 2011.

There is a perseverance quote by John D. Rockefeller that perhaps sums up Gerdin even better:

“I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.”

Rockefeller was an American industrialist who founded Standard Oil Company and revolutionized the petroleum industry. As kerosene and gasoline grew in importance, Rockefeller’s wealth soared. Often regarded as the richest person in history, he defined the structure of modern philanthropy. As customer and driver needs continue to change, Heartland Express’ Mike Gerdin is redefining the way to run a modern trucking fleet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Terms, Conditions, HireRight/DAC and PSP Release

Terms and Conditions

In order to use this website to locate job opportunities, you have agreed your use is subject to the Terms and Conditions of this website.

Privacy Statement

This Policy informs you of the information practices for this website, including the type of personal information we collect, how the information is used and with whom the information is shared. This Policy applies only to the information collected on this website. If you are not comfortable with using this website in accordance with this Policy, please exit the site immediately.

This Policy and the Terms may change at any time. Your information on gathered by this site will be treated in accordance with the privacy policy in effect as of the date you provide information to us. If you do not agree with the privacy practices described in a policy, you should not provide us with information. Because your use of this site after changes have been posted indicates your agreement with these changes, we encourage you to regularly visit this Policy and the Terms. If you have questions about the privacy practices of this site, please contact administrator of this site.

This Policy is effective upon the launching of this site.

Application Submission

By submitting this application I certify that I personally completed this application and that all of the information is true and correct. I hereby request and authorize Carrier Companies and their agents or contractors that receive this application to cause to be conducted, at any time, an investigation of my background for employment purposes, which may include, but is not limited to, any information relating to my character, general reputation, personal characteristics, mode of living, criminal history, past work experience, educational background, alcohol or drug test results, or failure to submit to an alcohol or drug test, or any other information about me which may reflect upon my potential for employment gathered from any individual, organization, entity, agency, or other source which may have knowledge concerning any such items of information. I have completed this application of my own free will and hold harmless of all liability all companies, agents and associated parties for the use of this application. As part of our consideration of your application, the DOT requires companies to investigate your employment background. As part of this investigation, they may obtain consumer reports about you from HireRight/DAC as well as obtaining information about your driving record from the FMCSA and/or the Pre-employment Screening Program (PSP). HireRight and DAC are consumer reporting agencies. Any decision they make not to hire you based on information contained in your consumer reports will be their decision alone. HireRight/DAC does not make any decisions concerning your employment with these companies and will not know the specific reasons why they may decide not to hire you. In the event you are not hired based on information contained in your consumer reports, the companies themselves will tell you. We also advise you of your right to obtain a free copy of the consumer report from HireRight/DAC and your right to dispute the accuracy or completeness of your report. Your consent for these companies to obtain the report from HireRight/DAC is required. Although you have a right to withhold your consent, companies will not consider your application if you withhold your consent.

By submitting this application I authorize Carrier Companies and their agents or contractors that receive this application to obtain may obtain one or more reports regarding my driving, and safety inspection history from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Any decision they make not to hire me based on information contained in your FMCSA reports will be their decision alone. I authorize Carrier Companies and their agents or contractors to access the FMCSA Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) system to seek information regarding my commercial driving safety record and information regarding my safety inspection history. I understand that I am consenting to the release of safety performance information including crash data from the previous five (5) years and inspection history from the previous three (3) years. I understand and acknowledge that this release of information may assist Prospective Employers in making a determination regarding my suitability as an employee. I further understand that neither the Prospective Employers nor the FMCSA contractor supplying the crash and safety information has the capability to correct any safety data that appears to be incorrect. I understand I may challenge the accuracy of the data by submitting a request to https://dataqs.fmcsa.dot.gov. If I am challenging crash or inspection information reported by a State, FMCSA cannot change or correct this data. I understand my request will be forwarded by the DataQs system to the appropriate State for adjudication.

Collection of Your Information

We collect personal information that you voluntarily submit to us when you complete a job application or complete any other online form or survey. The personal information we request may include your name, social security number and contact information (including address, email address and telephone number) as well as information about your past employment, driving record, criminal history and other information relevant to potential recruiters and employers.

We also collect tracking information as you navigate the Web Site. This information may include certain information relating to you, such as your Internet address, Internet service provider, type of operating system, the time and date you accessed this site and the Internet address from which you arrived at at this site. We may also collect information from you through the use of a "cookie". A cookie is a small file that a web site can sent to your internet browser and is stored on your computer. This type of technology is designed to tell us when you reenter this site, where you visit within the site, and the type of browser you used. You are not required to accept any cookie we might use, although some areas of this site may not be operational without the use of cookies. You can disable cookies on your computer by changing the settings in your browser. The information collected helps us identify data relating to usage and trends, address any problems with website administration and to further improve this site.

Use of Your Information

By submitting your information, you grant us consent to use this information for the purpose of providing the information to interested potential recruiters and employers and other industry related organizations. We do not correct, verify, modify or supplement the information you provide to us. We are not responsible for the accuracy or completeness of the information you provide. We simply provide the information you submit on this site to a potential recruiter or employer or other industry related organizations at their request. We are not an employment agency and are not your agent. Other than providing the information you submit on to this site to a potential recruiter or employer or other industry related organizations, we are not responsible in any way for assisting you in obtaining employment nor are we responsible for any employment conditions or employment relationship you may obtain, as a result of using this site. We are not responsible for any use, disclosure, protection or security of the information you submit on this site after the information leaves the possession of the ownership of this site. We may also use the information you provide on this site to communicate with you through direct communications, emails, newsletters etc.

If after filling out an application you decide not to maintain the information you provided or provide your information to potential recruiters and employers, other industry related organizations you should contact the administrator of this site. As you direct the site will cease maintaining your information and/or providing it to potential recruiters and employers.

Once you have found a job or wish to stop receiving communications from our site any email correspondance we have with you will contain an Unsubscribe / Opt-out link that will remove you from those communications from that time forward. You can also email info@besttruckdriverjob.com.

Sharing Your Information with Third Parties

This site will share the information you submit on this site to potential recruiters and employers and other industry related organizations, at their request. The site may disclose your information if we believe it is necessary to comply with law or governmental authorities or in connection with litigation, dispute resolution, or administration of this Policy. The site may disclose or receive your information in connection with a possible sale, purchase, merger or other reorganization of a business.

Retaining Your Information

The site will retain personal information collected through this site for as long as it is needed to fulfill the purpose for which the information was provided or as required by law.

Security of Your Information

To protect the information we receive, this site uses certain security measures designed to guard against the loss, misuse and alteration of that information. These measures include physical, technical and administrative controls including using a secure socket layer (SSL). It should be recognized, however, that we cannot guarantee that transmission of data over the Internet will be absolutely secure. Due to the open nature of the Internet, the information you provide may be in environments that do not have adequate security measures and may be accessed and used by persons other than those intended. As a result, while protection of your information is important to us, the site is not able to ensure the security of information you transmit to us via the Internet and you assume the risk of any third party obtaining that information. Upon receipt of your information, This site will strive to ensure its security on our systems.

Links to other Web Sites

This site may contain links to other web sites. If you choose to access those sites, please review the privacy policy applicable to each site. The links to other sites are made available as a convenience to you and this site is not responsible for the privacy policies and information collection practices of those other sites.

Global Presence

The management, operation and technical processes and systems used by this site may involve transfer of information across borders. For example, information you give may be sent to systems outside the country in which you initially provided the information and it may be processed and stored in a different country. Regardless of where you provide your information, this site will take steps to handle it in a secure manner in accordance with this Policy and applicable law.