Hogan’s Heroes: Covenant President draws inspiration from multiple sources to lead trucking turnaround
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.
Covenant Transport’s Joey Hogan has a different story than most of the trucking company presidents that have been profiled in this series. He is not a second or third-generation trucker, nor did he get his start as an owner operator or small fleet owner.
Instead, Hogan’s background was on the financial side of the ledger, working for a former “big five” accounting firm after graduating from college in 1984. He was then a CFO for more than a decade at Chattem, Inc., a publicly traded consumer products company with recognizable brands like Icy Hot®, Gold Bond®, Flexall 454®, Unisom®, and Ban® Anti-Perspirant & Deodorant. Hogan also had a brief stint as the CFO of Payday Loans.
In August 1997, Hogan received a call from Mike Miller, a former Covenant Transport executive who asked if Hogan would be interested in being their company’s Treasurer and CFO.
“I knew Mike because our kids played sports together, but I wasn’t looking for a career change,” Hogan said. “However, I felt moved to take the position. It was a God thing.”
He had no idea about the trucking industry, but accepted the job after ‘hitting it off’ in an interview with David Parker, who was then President of Covenant and is currently Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer. “David values opinion around here, and I felt like my experience would be welcomed.” Hogan’s skills were quickly noticed, and he also served as Senior Vice President from December 2001 to May 2003. He was then promoted to Executive Vice President and served in that capacity until moving into the President’s chair in May, 2007.
In addition to being President of Covenant Transport, Hogan serves as COO of Covenant Transportation Group, which also consists of Star Transportation, an irregular route, dry van truckload carrier headquartered in Nashville, TN, and Southern Refrigerated Transport located in Texarkana, Arkansas. While Covenant Transport consists of 60% of the group, Star runs 600 trucks, and SRT has more than 1,000 new and late model tractors.
Hogan admits his presidency “has been interesting.” He probably could have used some of the products Chattem manufactured because there have been plenty of aches, pains, and sleepless nights. “We had lost our way and grew way too fast,” Hogan said. When Hogan took the reigns as Covenant’s President, the company was coming off the heels of a recent acquisition, and mass changes were underway with their management’s team. “Our company was made with great soldiers, but we needed some great thinkers who would inject entrepreneurism and weren’t afraid to fail.”
In his new position, Hogan surrounded himself with good people and seeks advice from people he trusts. In his interview with Best Driver Jobs, he took time to reflect on the people who help shape his decision making.
“First, I was blessed with a great set of parents, who taught me about God, hard work and discipline,” Joey said. “They loved life without having a lot of material ‘stuff’ and taught me to do the best with what you have.” Hogan is often the first one in, last one to leave at Covenant’s corporate headquarters, so the work ethic they instilled in him is being followed.
Hogan credits David Parker for his passion, enthusiasm, and energy and says Bob Bosworth, who serves on Covenant’s Board of Directors, taught him about perspective. “David likes to live for today but wants to get it done yesterday,” Joey stated. “It’s easy to lose focus in this industry, but Bob always provides perspective for me.”
Finally, Hogan is motivated by Covenant’s driving force and their stories of generosity. One of the programs at the faith-based company is a Benevolence Fund to benefit fellow employees in need. Coordinated through Covenant’s Human Resources department, the fund has doled out $1.2 million in the past 10 years.
Today, every fleet is dealing with regulatory and driver market changes, but the greatest challenge in the early part of Hogan’s tenure was accident costs. “We have made improvements and are starting to move the needle on the safety side,” Hogan said. And this isn’t just lip service. Multiple drivers have recently represented Covenant in the Tennessee Truck Driving Championships and two drivers competing in the national competition. Covenant’s safety director has also been honored for his work as the company continues to put up record DOT accident per-million-mile numbers.
“I’m not a hindsighter, but I knew we needed to go back to our roots and began hunting for team drivers.” Hogan has long felt the best driver benefit at Covenant is miles but knew he needed to change the perception in the marketplace. With an average length of haul at 1,400 miles, there was little doubt that Covenant would work you, but Hogan says the ‘my way or the highway’ mentality is one of several misconceptions about the company he is working to correct. “We definitely tell our drivers they will have to work hard to make money, but our company works just as hard to get them home when needed,” Hogan said.
Hogan underestimated changes in their model but put stakes in the ground for culture change.
Although Hogan made some changes at the executive level, he kept some of Covenant’s best front line employees. The company has a great training program, and the average fleet manager has been in place for 15 years.
The company’s decision-making was previously confined to a small group of people, but Hogan wanted to engage more employees. “It’s easy to get caught in the weeds,” Hogan said. “So I always ask them, ‘who’s tending the lawn and mowing the grass’?”
For the short-term, Hogan is focusing on a “circle of excellence”, which is illustrated here:
The crude drawing may not exemplify much, but Hogan says the beauty is in the simplicity. “The concept is really straightforward: all of these elements work together,” he said. Hogan also implemented a program called Commitment to C.A.R.E, an acronym that stands for:
This initiative requires time and holds employees accountable, but the results have been better morale, good CSA scores, and higher retention. The company is also growing again, including added operations in Mexico and Canada, but is playing to their strengths. “We are getting away from the ‘you call, we haul’ mentality and want to be known as the carrier that takes care of your problems,” Hogan said.
This is being facilitated through the Covenant Transport Solutions division, where customers can utilize an extensive partner carrier network of small and private fleets to benefit from additional capacity for surge periods, equipment for non-standard loads, and concentrated density for problem lanes. Hogan sees this as important since the supply chain is shortening. “Freight has to get there, and at Covenant Transport Solutions, we know ‘no’ is not an option.”
Joey Hogan is a humble leader who is making an impact with Covenant’s internal and external customers. For the best opportunity in trucking, team up with Covenant and meet Hogan face-to-face. He starts driver orientation every Monday when he is in the office and is known for going on frequent ride-alongs with Covenant drivers.
Teams love Covenant because their roots are deep in providing the kind of support that is unique to team drivers and their careers. We didn’t just start running teams yesterday,” Hogan said. “We know that more miles equals more total pay – and that’s peace of mind that will help you build a better career.”