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Pete Dannecker

A. Duie Pyle

Tell us more about your background – what led you to get started in the transportation industry.

I never thought that I would work in the transportation industry, but once I started, I was addicted to the pace. Because I worked my way through school, I was able to jumpstart my career while still in college. I double majored in economics and business administration while working different jobs my first two years. In my last two years at college, I landed a full-time job in the Admissions Office. The Dean of Admissions regularly organized events to attract school benefactors, including concerts, dinners, and business roundtables, which I would help set up. Through my job as an Admissions Counselor, I met Don Schneider and other leaders of Schneider National, a truckload carrier based in De Pere, Wisconsin. Those relationships ultimately led to an interview, and after I graduated, I joined the transportation industry as a dispatcher for Schneider National. In the ensuing years I was given opportunities with different organizations within the industry to grow my career and broaden my responsibilities. I enjoyed leadership roles in operations, driver recruiting, labor relations, and safety all over the country.

What about Pyle attracted you to work for this company?

I was blown away by the people. Let me give that some context, because I really had something to compare it to. During the .com boom and five years prior to joining Pyle, I worked as President of a boutique software company that catered to trucking. The owners were interested in selling the company outright if they could get the right price. I was accountable for assuring the business stayed on a profitable growth path, among other things, as “Salesperson in Chief.” I set my own schedule and was often on the road for all but a few days a month. Being young and single, I loved being on the road and was excited by the company growth. Once I got married, I began to struggle with the realization that I was seldom home. My professional devotion to what I was achieving with my travel schedule was short-changing my most important relationship; and I needed to fix that. In the meantime, the possibility our business would be acquired was on the rise. We were cautiously exploring options with a couple of prospective buyers.

Naturally, I started giving some thought to my future career options. As the situation evolved, a buddy asked me if I had any interest in coming off the road to work at Pyle. I sent in my resume and was invited for an interview. While I was nervous walking into the interview, my fears quickly dissipated. Having spent the previous five years meeting with, talking to, and working with hundreds of people from various companies across the industry, I had a real sense for the people in our business. When I met the Pyle People, I knew I had stumbled into something special. My final interview was a couple of hours with 3rd generation owner, CEO and Chairman of the Board, Peter Latta. While Pyle had been around for decades, I had the strong feeling that I was being presented with yet another chance to get in on the ground floor of something big, and I wanted to be a part of this team. I walked out of the office enthusiastic about convincing Pyle to offer me a position. I am grateful they did.

Describe your role at Pyle.

In a nutshell, my role as VP of Risk and Integrated Resources is to support our operations team as they serve our customer. I am ultimately accountable for results in fleet maintenance, customer service, billing, freight claims prevention, and safety. Fortunately, each of these functions has a strong department leader and my real job is to help each of these leaders continue to succeed. In addition, as a member of the leadership team I participate in strategic planning and in helping to establish the direction for Pyle to be successful.

What makes Pyle’s safety and risk management policy different from other carriers?

We approach managing risk from within our culture and we see it as a strategic pillar of profitable growth. We tend to be pragmatic. It is evident that accepting or failing to recognize risk has destroyed many companies in this business. We also embrace the reality that if there is no risk, there is no business. Resources are limited, prioritization is important and communication with operations is paramount. When we are getting it right, the program helps serve our customers, protects our employees, the public and the environment, and gives us a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

Since customers prefer to partner with solutions providers who control costs and protect their product, proper execution of our risk strategy helps us add and retain customers. In what is a symbiotic relationship, it also helps us add and retain the best people. Good people want to be healthy, safe and cared for, and desire to make a meaningful contribution to a profitable growing company that offers challenges, opportunities and long-term job security. A robust, enterprise risk management program helps achieve those objectives. That’s why an important part of managing risk is assuring we maintain our culture and follow our core values. Our culture ties it all together and helps drive it forward.

What results have you seen from the in-house Truck Driving Academy?

In terms of the day-to-day operation, one of our Regional Operations Directors recently shared with me that the Academy saved him. Within that Director’s Region, we struggle to recruit good drivers at a couple of key locations. The Academy helped us create the capacity we need, where we need it, in order to serve our customers. From a bigger picture perspective, the Academy supports our company culture of developing people and promoting from within. A high school graduate can start out on our dock or in our warehouse as a forklift operator and over time with our support, move up to making deliveries in a smaller vehicle, then move up again to a CDL Class A professional tractor trailer driving position. For those who want to put in the time and effort to take on the responsibilities of leadership, we have our Leadership Development Program. We have a number of terrific success stories of people who have worked their way up through our Leadership Development Program and our Truck Driving Academy.

Were there any changes in Pyle’s safety protocols due to COVID-19? Will any of these changes be implemented long-term after the pandemic subsides?

COVID-19 changed the world and Pyle changed along with it. As an essential business, we continued to operate in order to deliver the supplies America needs. The list of changes we implemented in short order to protect our employees and customers is long, but I’ll mention a few. While we put a short-term stop to hiring, we stood by job offers we had already made. Within days, the team at Pyle converted our hands-on week long classroom safety orientation to a video conference, enabling us to cover the material and still respect physical distancing requirements.

Our contract cleaning crews added rigorous disinfecting routines to normal cleaning rituals, and we increased the amount of fresh air intake into our office heating and air conditioning systems. We ensured our drivers were safe by implementing procedures to enable drivers to make deliveries without collecting a signature, as well as issuing disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer and masks as soon as we could get our hands on them. Unnecessary travel was banned and we activated a work-from-home program, moving 80% of our non-operations staff out of the office with priority given to parents who needed to help their children learn remotely. We also shared a steady cadence of COVID-19-related information to ensure everyone was aware of the CDC hygiene and physical distancing guidelines.

It’s hard to say what we’ll keep when the pandemic is finally behind us. I expect routine disinfecting rituals are likely to continue. I expect we’ll make better use of online remote collaboration tools, like video conferencing. More significantly, we now view work-from-home through a different lens. Because we are so people focused and believe that personal interaction helps people to learn and understand our culture, we have been cautious about remote work scenarios. COVID-19 forced remote work upon us to protect our employees, giving us an opportunity to re-think our approach. We may be more open to the idea in the future.

Tell us about the importance of superior safety and security.

A good safety program is the price of entry into this business. A company that isn’t committed to the safety of its employees is not going to make it long term. A superior safety program can be a market differentiator that helps the company deliver a better service offering at a lower cost.

Security is another matter. For the longest time, the primary function of a transportation security program had been to deter and detect freight theft. Because Pyle People are our best security system and we have such a great team, we have a leg up on our competitors. In the past couple of years, information security has become a front-burner issue with relentless malware attacks that can cripple a company. We survived a ransomware attack, and we will continue to invest heavily in protecting our customers’ information. Personal security has changed the most as people do not feel as safe as they once did with unfortunate, high-profile events taking place nationwide. As we continue to build our security systems and design security protocols to protect products and assets, we are also taking into consideration people’s heightened concern for their personal security.

Are there any new safety and security initiatives the company is planning to implement this year?

Yes – everyone at Pyle is committed to continual improvement in all aspects of the business. We currently have plans for continued investments in security. Safety and security are woven in to the fabric of the organization. Our programs evolve organically. We take a strategic approach to identifying hazards, assessing risk and working on managing our prioritized risks. We measure our results and then loop back to tweak the plan to see how else we can improve. Our plans are designed for and in step with our Operations Leadership team. Over time, we always expect our safety and security program results to advance because our Operations team has established a superior track record of executing the plan.

What achievement are you most proud of (during your time with Pyle)?

I have had the pleasure of watching people I work with develop and grow personally and professionally. They have increased their income, improved their quality of life, and exponentially increased their contribution to the team. While each success story involved an individual making the commitment to dedicate themselves to the effort of personal improvement, it’s tremendously satisfying when I know I have helped facilitate that growth.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as a leader?

I want to name a dozen. If I have to choose one, it is to lead by example.

Any closing thoughts?

Answering these questions reminds me how incredibly lucky I am to work with people who consistently amaze me. Pyle is a remarkable team and I am grateful to be on it.