People Person: Dennis Dellinger creates a sense of belonging at Cargo Transporters
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.
Running a trucking business may ultimately be about results, but there is still an exchange between individuals with a very human component. Thus, an important part of what makes a good fleet president is their ability to connect with others, to build rapport and trust. Good managers are open, friendly and authentic. A great manager with their genuine interest in others naturally puts people at ease. Best Driver Jobs met such a leader recently when we sat down with Dennis Dellinger, President of Cargo Transporters, a mid-size fleet based in Claremont, North Carolina.
Dellinger exudes sincerity like a Starbucks barista makes espresso – consistently, with a personal touch. When you sit in his office, Dellinger clears everything from his desk and gives you his full attention. Dellinger admits he wasn’t always that way and that he learned by listening. “One of our drivers came to see me once, and he told me I wasn’t paying attention. That really bothered me,” Dellinger said.
In an industry where Wi-Fi and top-notch drivers’ facilities are standard these days, what elevates Cargo Transporters is the openness and respect for its people. “I want to be known as fair and someone who respects my employees’ position, and I think myself and John Pope, our Chairman of the Board, have created that culture at Cargo Transporters,” Dellinger declared. “Most of our drivers know me by name and aren’t afraid to approach me. The way I treat our people has a lot to do with the way I was brought up – in life and in the business.”
Learning life lessons began at an early age for Dellinger, one of seven children in a military family. With a father who was often deployed, his mother was an influential person in shaping his beliefs. When Dennis was in the seventh grade, his family moved from North Carolina to Germany, and while there Dennis became friends with a boy named Robert Patton.
It turns out that Robert was the grandson of General George S. Patton, and Dennis noticed that things came easy for Robert. “Coming from a large family we were of modest means not always having the things others had,” Dellinger said. When Dennis mentioned this to his mother, she told him to remember one thing: there is no one better than you and you no better than them.
The message stuck.
“It is a simple philosophy, which I have lived and used as I have managed, allowing me to move forward in life crossing social or economic barriers,” Dellinger said.
Rising through the ranks
In high school, Dellinger wanted to go into an Army ROTC program, but it was discouraged after his father’s experience in Vietnam and the political climate following the war. At the age of 16, he began working at a foam rubber plant and within three years was asked to be in a management training program. “They saw potential in me. I never went to college, but I was driven to get to the next level,” Dellinger stated.
In 1977, he took his talents to a company where his experience included warehousing, packaging, and distribution. Dellinger’s responsibilities soon included management of a small private fleet with both straight trucks and Class 8 equipment, and his career has revolved around the transportation industry and drivers ever since.
By the time Dellinger arrived at Cargo Transporters as a Driver Supervisor in 1986, its fleet was poised for growth.
The company actually began as a small regional rental and leasing operation named Catawba Truck Rental, which was purchased by the Pope and Brown families in 1966. Their original equipment included six tractors and eight trailers. Cargo Transporters was started in 1982 after the deregulation of the motor carrier industry.
It may be safe to say the original vision was to protect market share for the rental and lease company. The vision shifted in the years that followed to become a provider of quality transportation while at the same time creating employment opportunities in the community.
The latter was very important to Tony Pope, the former Chairman of Cargo Transporters, as the fledgling fleet began seeing growth and prosperity. “I am not a second or third generation family member but an outsider who the family saw potential and eventually trusted to lead their company,” Dellinger disclosed.
Over the years, Dellinger held various positions at Cargo Transporters, including Operations Manager, Asst. General Manager, General Manager, and Vice President of Operations before becoming President in February 2004.
Dellinger gives two people a lot of credit for helping him advance within the organization. “Tony Pope put much trust in me and spent close to 18 years shaping me before he passed away in 2005. We have always referred to our industry as a people industry, not the trucking industry. Tony created such a culture at Cargo Transporters, and I was able to grow as I complimented the same,” Dellinger stated. “Jerry Sigmon, Sr., our Executive Vice President, is very important in teaching me also. He has the distinction of being the first non-family employee of Cargo Transporters. Jerry began working for Tony at Catawba Truck Rental in 1981, and after they obtained operating authority in late 1982, he moved to Cargo. We work well together. Jerry is good with numbers, so he takes care of the business side and I focus on the personnel side.”
Pushing people up, not out
In addition to good interpersonal skills, executives need proper perspective to effectively lead an organization. Dellinger reflected on how he found this perspective several years ago with a situation involving Larry Atkins, a driver who was domiciled in West Virginia:
“Customers who took a lot of our drivers through that corridor were ever-changing. Loads were going to various places and it required weekend deliveries, yet Larry was never available after Friday afternoon. Some people within our organization struggled with that.
Tragically, less than a year into his tenure at Cargo Transporters, Atkins was killed in an automobile accident. I went to the funeral, and it seemed like the whole town was there. I found out that Larry was very involved in his church, his community, and the Boy Scouts. It gave me a different perspective. Sometimes we in trucking forget that drivers have a life outside of work. That trip changed my mindset on our drivers and how they are perceived. There is life outside of work.
That situation also reminded me that people are always watching you – especially children. I never took up golf and gave up hunting and fishing to make sure I was always around for my daughter. When she was 16, she told her mother I was her favorite person in the world. She remains my proudest accomplishment.”
Image is everything
Dellinger thinks our industry must address its overall image, and he is doing his part to make an impact beyond the fleet he manages. For the past two years, Dellinger has served as the Co-Chairman of the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) Communications & Image Policy Committee, providing guidance and assistance for TCA’s Independent Contractor and Company Equipment Driver contests, their Scholarship Fund, and programs like Highway Angel, Wreaths Across America, and the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree.
Dellinger sees image as a way to combat the biggest short term challenge for our industry – attracting qualified drivers. “There are many barriers, including age, criminal records, driving records, and physical limitations that reduce the pool of applicants,” Dellinger declared. “Safety on our highways will do more to improve image than most give credit.”
Safety is not just a priority at Cargo Transporters, it is an unconditional requirement. The fleet continues to be progressive when it comes to in-cab and safety technology – a commitment that began years ago when they implemented Qualcomm’s mobile communication in 1992. “We immediately saw benefits beyond a communication platform and used Qualcomm’s product to enhance safety by using the product to report state mileages for fuel tax reporting. I share this only to take one back in time when a driver was required to pencil his/her odometer readings each time he/she crossed a state line for fuel tax reporting, Dellinger stated. “Try to think about a driver going down the road at 65mph, reaching for his/her pencil and pad, turning on the interior light to see the odometer to then view and transfer to paper a series of numbers. And this was different from today’s texting, how?”
Cargo Transporters quickly moved to ABS brakes before it became an industry standard. This was followed by installation of automatic transmissions, collision avoidance systems, lane guidance systems and anti-roll over systems. They also installed electronic logs during a six-week period in 2008, a move that resulted in less alerts when CSA was implemented in 2010.
“Our newest safety programs include mandatory safety training which we began in 2010 and installation of DriveCam front and cab-facing event recorders which we began in 2011,” Dellinger added. “The DriveCam units were a progressive step for safety, and there was some pushback that we addressed during monthly roundtable meetings. The results have been improved skills and drivers taking fewer risks.”
Cargo Transporters has developed a culture of safety, and their hard work is being recognized. In May, their Safety Director, Jerry Waddell, received TCA’s Clare C. Casey Award, which recognizes the outstanding safety person of the year. In September, Cargo Transporters received first place in the North Carolina Trucking Association’s outstanding achievement in highway miles for fleets over 25 million miles. Most recently, they were recipients of ATA’s Safety Management Council 2012 President’s Trophy for mid-size carriers.
“We want to be known as the little company that is very safe, not only for the drivers, but for the motoring public,” Dellinger said. “We also want our employees’ families to know we focus on safety.”
Having late-model trucks also helps with the safety efforts at Cargo Transporters, who continued to purchase equipment during the recent economic downturn – including 99 new trucks this year.
Prospective drivers for Cargo Transporters will find clean, well-maintained trucks waiting for them. More importantly, they will find an approachable advocate in Dennis Dellinger, who is ready to lead by helping others.
“I’m the face of the organization, and I want to be a good mentor, but there is much greater power in our people onsite,” Dellinger said. “We have good people in place and now is the time to tell our story.”
If you want to hear that story personally, Dennis Dellinger has a chair waiting for you in his office.
For your opportunity with Cargo Transporters, call 877-354-0176 or log onto www.cargotransporters.com today.