by Marty Cook
Posted 8/4/2014 12:00 am
Updated 4 months ago
I admire people who put their money where their mouths are.
I also admire people who serve really good barbecue.
Steve Williams, the CEO and founder of Maverick USA Inc., spent $4 million to expand and improve the driver training center at his company’s headquarters in North Little Rock. Williams held a grand opening on July 24 and all sorts of political and industry bigwigs showed up.
Most notable, of course, was Gov. Mike Beebe, who gave opening remarks. He said Williams is unconventional because he refuses to take shortcuts when it comes to improvements in the trucking industry.
Beebe said the state funded a driver-education program in several colleges and universities, but that wasn’t good enough for Williams. Williams, Beebe said, appreciated the help but still put prospective drivers through a graduate-level training system when they showed up at Maverick.
“Maverick’s way is more costly,” Beebe said. “Maverick’s way is more intensive. Maverick’s way involves more training than anything that I’ve seen.”
Williams, who started Maverick in 1980, is well known in the trucking industry for his outspoken calls for such things as hair testing for drugs and electronic on-board recording systems. Although the industry is in the grips of a driver shortage, Williams is emphasizing increased training rather than faster training or lower standards. And he’s using $4 million of his own money to do it.
Maverick reported revenue of $315 million in 2013, so it’s not like Williams had to scrape loose change from between the seats of his trucks to pay. But it was money he spent — and will continue to spend — to make Maverick’s stretch of road safer.
“Maverick’s Way” means that training one driver costs about $10,000, and Maverick trained 948 last year ($9.48 million for those scoring at home). This is even though there is no way of knowing if those trained drivers will stay at Maverick for one day, one week or 20 years.
What is known is a driver at Maverick will know what the heck he or she is doing on the open road.
“The last thing we need to do is lower our standards,” Williams said.
Williams said standards have to be improved because truck traffic (and every other kind of traffic) on the nation’s roads is only going to increase. The catch is that there are fewer, drastically fewer, people entering the trucking field as prospective drivers.
A few months ago, Williams said if he had 500 extra drivers he could use them immediately and said 51,000 trucks are parked nationwide because of a lack of drivers. Still, he refuses to hire anyone until he has passed his training requirements.
The training center is part of Williams’ standards. It expanded the existing facility by 13,000 SF and added more bays and classrooms.
Maverick trucks predominantly pull flatbed trailers with cargo such as steel and glass, so Williams stresses specialized training to ensure that those loads are secured, not just for the customer but for the other people on the road. Think about that the next time you’re behind a huge 18-wheeler with a stack of enormous, car-crushing things strapped on the back.
Williams said the extra training results in insurance savings but not in the way you’d think. He didn’t ask the insurance companies for a rate reduction if he improved safety training; he went ahead and did it anyway — and then saw his rates drop because his trucks’ safety records were so good.
Williams said he has upped Maverick’s driver trainers from 115 to 150. These are mostly older, experienced drivers who spend four to eight weeks on the road with recruits teaching them the finer points of how to be a driver: how to dress, how to pack, how to handle different situations on the road and, critically important, how to deal with customers.
Williams is convinced that helping new drivers learn the “nuances” of being on the road improves retention. Maverick’s annual driver turnover is 62 percent while the national average is more than 100.
In recent weeks, Maverick has announced two pay raises, one a general rate-per-mile increase and another by waiving the waiting period for a pay-for-performance bonus. Williams said starting annual pay for a first-year driver ranges from $50,000 to $58,000 and up to $80,000 for experienced drivers.