Key Card: Dale Corum uses motivational message to lead Mercer Transportation
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.
Mercer Transportation’s corporate facility encompasses a significant amount of real estate in downtown Louisville, but the key to their success is contained in only 15 square inches.
That’s the area covered by a 3” x 5” index card taped to the backside of the desk of their General Manager, Dale Corum. Contained on that card is Corum’s Personal Mission Statement:
To help others realize their own potential and build self-esteem. To assure them, there is always hope for a brighter tomorrow through Jesus Christ.
Corum says he wrote this 15 years ago when he was going through some tough times, and he reads it every day to remind him of his role in leading one of the top owner operator fleets in America.
“It doesn’t matter if it is an employee, vendor, shipper or one of our contractors, people often think they are by themselves,” Corum stated.
Corum can relate to the people he interacts with on a daily basis, because he’s worked in numerous aspects of trucking before rising to his current position. Corum started with Mercer in September 1977, and on the day Best Driver Jobs conducted the interview for this article, he had just celebrated his 35-year anniversary with the company.
However, Corum’s trucking career began modestly with no background in the transportation industry. “My family had just moved up to Kentucky from Alabama, and I was looking for work to help pay my way through college at the University of Louisville,” Corum recalled. “Mercer was a new company then, and I took a job there as a part-time map reader. I didn’t know what a truck was, but I started figuring fuel taxes and rates, plus the number of miles as we loaded from point to point.”
Corum also did menial tasks like taking out the trash and sweeping the steps and parking lot. His work ethic was noticed, and Corum was able to take advantage of growth opportunities at the fledgling fleet. Mercer soon opened an office in Corum’s hometown of Birmingham, where he transferred. Within a few months, he was running the Alabama operation after the original manager left to start their own company. “By then, I had realized that I liked what I was doing and was having fun,” Corum said. “I had a good mentor in Birmingham and she helped me mature and learn about sales and other aspects of the business.”
In 1982, Corum returned to Louisville as manager of Mercer’s Rate and Tariff Department, where he was responsible for rates, billing, collections, credit, and paperwork processing.
Fifteen years later, he took over the Operations department for Mercer. It was then that he wrote his Personal Mission Statement on that index card, and he has been helping people succeed and reach their own goals ever since.
Today, Corum manages 300 employees at its corporate office and 2,150 contractors over the road – and he does it with an open door policy. “I strive to create a comfort level where our employees know the office is a safe place where they are treated well and valued as a human,” Corum stated.
He says he especially enjoys spending time with drivers. “The owner operators are our lifeline at Mercer. They make us tick and I know we are doing something well when drivers feel like they can talk,” Corum said. “It makes me feel good when I come in at 7:30 in the morning and a driver wants to have coffee or if I have someone waiting in my office when I return from lunch.” Corum also talks to most of Mercer’s new hires. The two things he hears the most often are, “I can’t find a driver that says anything bad about your company” and “I wish I would have come here five years ago.”
Mercer has always been a 100% owner operator fleet, and Corum says the company plans to stick with that business model in the future. “We don’t want to be in maintenance business or be distracted from things we do really well,” Corum stated. “Owner operators take pride in on-time delivery and do a better job of Taking Care of Business.”
He also has a lot of praise for Mercer’s contractors in regards to CSA. “Our guys have embraced it and have been cleaning up issues,” Corum said. “It will be interesting to see where CSA goes. Ultimately, it will eliminate some of the junk on the road, and I am proud that we have an incredibly safe fleet.”
Corum says that Mercer is also a unique fleet, with two hard and fast policies that make them different. The first is protected territories for their agent base. “We have field offices in major metropolitan areas, so our 90 agents aren’t competing with each other. There is no rate cutting,” Corum said.
More important for Mercer’s owner operators is their first in, first out load board dispatch. “Everyone gets a fair shake this way, and a new driver has the same opportunities as someone who has been here for decades,” Corum said, adding that Mercer has plenty of freight. Bolstered by strong military loads, plus machinery and building materials, Mercer doesn’t have enough trucks to haul the freight available. As the residential housing market slowly recovers, this trend will continue.
In the past two years, Mercer has implemented new programs that allow owner operators to see their freight and loads available on their laptops and smartphones. “We are using technology for better communications and will soon unveil a mobile app for routing check calls,” Corum added.
Mercer also offers mobile scanning and same day pay for their contractors. “We do not sit on their money. These guys and gals put it all on the line, so we pay them fast and pay them fair and try to prepare thinking of the future trucking environment,” Corum said.
Corum has plans to grow Mercer’s fleet, but says the company does not set specific goals. A lot of it depends on the economy, and Corum acknowledged that Mercer is missing enough freight to fill another 100 trucks. “Our goal is not to get big; it is to have ample freight for the owner operators we have,” Corum said. “Every day we try to be a better company at 5:00 p.m. than we were at 8:00 a.m. If we accomplish that, growth will take care of itself.”
Dale admits the biggest short-term challenge facing our industry is finding quality drivers. That problem is magnified for fleets seeking independent contractors. “There will always be a pool of owner operators, and we want to be best option for them,” Corum said. “We like to say being at Mercer is the closest you can be to owning your own business without the headaches.”
Regardless of who comes to work for Mercer, they will always find Dale Corum’s office open and inviting.
And if they need words of encouragement, he has an index card waiting.