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Effort and Execution: Derek Leathers combines these traits with ideas and innovation to lead Werner Enterprises

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.

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Werner Enterprises was founded by a driver, for drivers, and managing the Company with a driver in mind was one of its earliest founding principles. Without that foundation or its drivers, Werner Enterprises – started by C.L. Werner in 1956 – would not be the best-in-class premier transportation and logistics provider it is today.

Their current president and chief operating officer, Derek Leathers, began his love for the road – and trucking in general – as a child. Leathers was born in Houston, Texas and used to ride along with his stepfather and friends who drove a truck.

After graduating high school, Leathers attended Princeton University, where he played football. He was excited about the opportunity to receive a quality education while, at the same time, playing the sport he loved.

After four years at Princeton University, Leathers had earned a degree in economics and, at this point, decided to enter the transportation industry. Right out of college, he was given the opportunity to work for Schneider National. At Schneider, he held various positions and responsibilities while relocating throughout the United States and Mexico.

In 1999, Werner Enterprises hired Leathers to head its Mexico operations. As part of his role within the company at that time, Leathers oversaw all of the asset operating groups and led the launch of Werner Global Logistics, which encompasses transportation management and freight movement within Intermodal, Ocean, Air and Brokerage. He was named chief operating officer in 2008 and president in 2010.

Best Driver Jobs caught up with Leathers recently to ask about the challenges and rewards of running one of the most innovative fleets on the highway.

Best Driver Jobs: Do you have a personal mantra or business philosophy and how do you incorporate that into your company culture?

Leathers: There are two things that come to mind relative to personal philosophies. The first is my belief that effort wins over ability 90 percent of the time. In life, people tend to focus on a skill set or ability that a co-worker or a competitor might have which they are lacking. They conclude they can’t compete or can’t achieve success due to this perceived deficiency. The world is full of underachieving geniuses, poor performing star athletes, and great companies that never hit their stride simply because effort is the most important ingredient. A good plan, executed on time and with passion, will win every time against a great plan that lacks passion or solid execution.

The second philosophy is a focus on ideas versus people. Large businesses, families, or communities of any kind are filled with wasted time talking about people, rumors, or otherwise harmful gossip. Eleanor Roosevelt said something many decades ago that still holds true today. “Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, and great minds discuss ideas.” The world is a complex place, and only by focusing on ideas that will make it better, more efficient, and more enjoyable, can we truly find happiness. We are living in a very divided country right now … a country that didn’t achieve greatness through great divides, but rather through a collective confidence in our ability as a whole.

Best Driver Jobs: Are there new programs Werner has implemented?

Leathers: Here at Werner Enterprises, we pride ourselves on being ahead of the technology game. We were the first company to implement paperless logs and use Qualcomm technology starting in 1998. We have been running our network within these parameters ever since and it is used as a main source of communication. In September of 2004, Werner Enterprises was the first and only carrier granted exemption from running paper logbooks. The Paperless Log System does the paperwork so the driver doesn’t have to. By using the position history and Qualcomm messages, the system is able to keep track of daily logs. This means a driver will have real-time information instantly. In addition, the load planner can pre-plan a driver’s next trip based on available hours.

Our experience has proven this system will increase driver production. Load planners are able to plan the next trip without waiting for a call. This allows us to maximize all available hours.

We are currently testing driver assistance systems in our equipment. These systems are designed to reduce accidents and increase safety. They alert a driver with three types of warnings:

• Forward collision warning
System detects a potential collision
• Lane departure warning
System alerts a driver when they leave their lane
• Following time warning
System alerts a driver when they are traveling too close to the vehicle in front of them

These in-cab systems provide our drivers with the newest technology at their fingertips. It allows us to provide important safety information in a matter of seconds.

Some other types of new technology being installed in our fleet are MCP200 and Navigo Maptuit Navigation, which work in conjunction with one another. The MCP200 is the newest version of Qualcomm and Navigo works with it as a navigation tool, or GPS.

Werner Enterprises has also installed the following in our aerodynamic fleet:

• Newest diesel engine technology
• Computerized truck idling program
• Automated tire inflation systems on trailers
• “ArrowShield” trailer skirt
   Proprietary trailer skirting system
   Developed internally
  Overall highway fuel efficiency gain of 4 to 5 percent
  Added to list of fuel saving products verified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency SmartWay® Transport Partnership

Our goal is to continue reducing accidents and improve highway safety. We believe testing and implementing safety systems will help us maintain our status as an industry leader, both in technology and in safety.

Best Driver Jobs: Where would you like to take the company now?

Leathers: Before the economic decline in 2008, we had around 9,000 trucks on the road. We are slowly building that number back up and hope to one day exceed our highest truck count. We seriously value our drivers because without them, there is no Werner Enterprises.

Looking to the future, Werner Enterprises will continue to grow and expand our portfolio while staying true to our core values that are the foundation of who we are. Werner will always be a trucking company. We will never lose sight of our roots. It is also important to continue to increase our current scope of services without losing sight of what enabled us to be among the five largest truckload carriers in the United States.

Werner Enterprises will always be a player in the trucking industry. We would like to also expand that footprint to a larger landscape. That’s why Werner maintains its global headquarters in Omaha, Neb., and maintains offices in the United States, Canada, Mexico, China, and Australia, and we will continue to expand around the globe to wherever our customers need us. Our vision is to use our experience in the trucking industry to our advantage so our logistics portfolio can see the same success. We will continue to increase value for our drivers, associates, shareholders and customers. We see trucking and logistics as being an interesting equation that will be balanced through our heritage and future focus.

Best Driver Jobs: What do you wish you could do over?

Leathers: I wish, growing up, I had realized just how global the logistics marketplace would become during my lifetime. I might have studied different classes or different cultures a little more diligently to better set myself up for success as I now try to help Werner’s growth around the globe. Werner was a dominant name in trucking long before I came and will be long after my time is over, but I hope to have helped spread the Werner culture, values, and commitment to excellence around the globe during my tenure. Overall, I have no real regrets. Life is too short and tomorrow is too soon to worry much about yesterday.

Best Driver Jobs: What is the biggest short-term challenge facing our industry?

Leathers: The biggest short-term challenge that our industry is facing would be lack of capacity, not enough driver applicants, and the price of fuel. As mentioned before, as the economy strengthens, we will experience the “trickle down” effect. As the demand for products increases, the demand for shipping will follow. The price of fuel, however, is something we cannot control. We will always adjust our strategies to function in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible.

Best Driver Jobs: What do you think the future holds for the trucking industry?

Leathers: In a time where financial uncertainty plagues many companies, Werner drivers have confidence in knowing they will be paid on time and are part of a team that values their needs.

There are plenty of jobs available, and the future of the transportation industry looks bright. Our country is slowly regaining economic strength, and the need for shipping will only increase. We will continue to expand our services to create more regional, dedicated, and scheduled opportunities, allowing drivers to get home more often. As the country strengthens, more freight will be moved, which calls for more drivers.

The best thing drivers can do to help themselves would be to get their training first and then apply for a job. Our knowledgeable and helpful recruiters can answer any questions a prospective driver might have.

Best Driver Jobs: What’s your favorite driver story?

Leathers: Drivers and associates are always going to have things they think we can improve upon. We value their input and it only pushes us to be better. It is also nice to hear the stories about things Werner does right. When talking with senior drivers, many times they have stories where Werner has helped them in a time of need. This could be an illness or death in the family or some other sort of event. In times like these, Werner shows that no matter how big the company gets, we will still operate like a small family business.

One example would be the Employee Relief fund which was started a few years ago. A few times per month, associates who donate $2 to the fund can dress casual for the day. The money is matched by Werner and goes to support drivers, mechanics, or anybody else within the company who falls on hard times. We will continue to stand by programs such as these because it is important to take care of others, especially those in our Werner family.

Best Driver Jobs: What is your best or most unique driver benefit?

Leathers: There are many great advantages to driving with Werner Enterprises. Besides the comprehensive package of benefits (health, dental and vision insurance, 401(k) Retirement Plan, and Stock Purchase Plans) offered to Werner drivers, there is the peace of mind knowing you are working with a company that is well established and debt-free.

Some other advantages include:

  • Late model and well-maintained equipment
  • Rider and pet policy – year round optional rider and pet policy
  • Own your own by becoming an Owner Operator
  • Scale pre-pass
  • Toll cards, cab cards and fuel cards
  • E-Z passes and pike passes
  • 24 hours en-route maintenance
  • Truck/diagnostic tracking
  • Load optimization
  • Assigned equipment and dispatcher

PlaySmart, Inc.—Opportunity Through Sports

Athletics have had a very positive affect on Derek Leathers and his fellow alumni. In 1997, they established PlaySmart, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help middle-schoolers realize their academic and life potential through sports.

Sports have a proven impact on developing youth. Leathers and the other founders of PlaySmart believe participation in quality athletic programs, which also focus on academics and character development, will help kids achieve success in life. The organization helps with creating quality and affordable athletic programs for under served kids.

Hard work, commitment, teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship, and integrity are all values reflected through sports. PlaySmart encourages and supports athletic participation and the ideals that come along with being involved.

Youth and middle school aged kids are easily influenced, and it is essential to have a positive impact on them. Adolescents who play organized sports are eight times more likely to be engaged in physical fitness or sports at age 24. High school students who play sports also are more likely to be attending college full time at age 21 than non-participants.

Leathers and his team are committed to supporting kids and teaching them life lessons through athletics. The goal is not to create professional athletes, but to create accomplished individuals who have positive contributions to our society. By providing programs for youth, PlaySmart has the ability to steer youth down the right path and build character along the way.

What are you waiting for? Visit www.drivewerner.com or contact a knowledgeable and experienced recruiter at 800.346.2818 today! Drive Werner. We’ll take you places.

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