The Weigh-In: Fleet Owner Phil DeKnight on Managing Relationships

The Weigh-In: Fleet Owner Phil DeKnight on Managing Relationships

In this installment of the Weigh-In, Phil DeKnight, owner of DeKnight Enterprises Inc, collaborated with Uber Freight to give his opinions on the industry.

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The School of Hard Knocks taught me a lot about driving; I can thank my older brother for that. Back in 1973 he introduced me to trucking. From that moment on, I was injected with diesel fuel instead of blood — all I wanted to do was drive a truck. I later got my license, starting as a company driver and then worked my way up to fleet owner. Now I own four trucks.

There are a thousand different hats you have to wear when you run a fleet – dispatching, accounting, booking loads – it’s a lot to worry about. On top of that, you have to take care of the folks working for you. Because you’re not only managing them, you’re building relationships. But if you want to make something better for yourself and for somebody else, then being a fleet owner might be the right path for you.

Making the Choice: Transitioning From Company Driver to Fleet Owner

I moved around to different company jobs throughout my life and decided to become an owner-operator because I believe you can make more money as an independent driver. As I continued down my path as an owner-operator, I began to take on more responsibilities and learn other sides of the business, like accounting and management. From there I continued to grow my business. I got my authority in 2012. Now I own a small fleet and I'm bringing my son on board. He's learning the office part of it, too. As he gets more involved, it will be less on my shoulders and that’s when I plan on making the business bigger.

If you want to be a fleet owner, I believe you have to know yourself, be good at setting goals, and be involved in all the details of running a business. I knew all the hardships that I had to go through when I was a company driver, so I try to make the lives of my driver a little bit better than what mine was. From truck maintenance to booking loads and looking out for your people, a lot goes into running a successful fleet.

The Nitty Gritty: Keeping Money In Your Pocket

What I’ve learned is that as long as you mind your pennies, the dollars will fall into place. Trucking is a penny business, not a dollar business. I try to teach my drivers to save a little bit on their fuel because that’s money in the bank. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you start adding up pennies over 100K miles, that’s money in your pocket. Same thing with equipment and maintenance. My advice is to buy used trucks and if you can, take care of the repairs yourself. The more self-sufficient you are, the better off you're going to be in the long run.

The other half of saving is avoiding deadhead miles. There's no money in an empty trailer, so I try to keep everything as close as possible when booking loads. Some drivers get that and some don't. They see big money at the end of the week and that’s all they think about. But the reality is that they put too much money in their tank and actually don't make that much. It's not about what you earn at the end of the week, it’s about what you keep in your pocket.

More Than a Business: Mentoring and Managing Your Team

When it comes to managing, I try to put myself in my drivers’ shoes. My philosophy is that if I wouldn't do it, I wouldn't expect them to. That way, they know the task that I’m giving them isn’t impossible. Sometimes as a dispatcher you just move drivers around without remembering that they need to rest. You have to realize that this is a human being you’re managing, not a piece of equipment that you can just keep running into the ground. Even if you’re making money off of good loads, you have to make sure they’ve got a good life too.

I also try to be a mentor as much as I can. With your own authority, you’re not just responsible for yourself, you’re also responsible for somebody else's well-being and their family's well-being. I take things on a personal level. If I succeed, my drivers are going to succeed because they’re working with me, not for me. You only get one turn in life; you've got to make it count.

Hear more of Phil’s advice on managing employees and starting your own business:

The views expressed in this post are solely those of the individual being featured. Experiences may vary.

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