Crete Carrier Corporation President Tonn Ostergard Has A Simple Philosophy Of Taking Care Of Their Drivers
With a fleet of 5,600 trucks, 13,000 trailers and multiple divisions, you might expect a company and its president to be narrowly focused on the multitude of daily tasks necessary to keep the operation running – but that’s not the case with Crete Carrier Corporation. Rather, Tonn Ostergard and his team remain focused on one of Crete’s fundamental principles – remembering that drivers are “Our Most Valuable Resource” – and Ostergard says the fleet’s actions have to support that. “All members of the team are valuable, but drivers are the part of the team that at times are out on their own and that can be challenging,” Ostergard said. “Therefore, we work harder to maintain those relationships and reinforce our commitment to our drivers with our industry leading pay and benefits package, late model, well maintained equipment, home time to meet their family needs, and an emphasis on safety.”
And talking about safety is not just lip service at Crete Carrier Corporation, which is headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska and comprised of three companies: Crete Carrier (dry van), Shaffer Trucking (temperature-sensitive) and Hunt Transportation (specialized, flatbed). The company adopted a number of years ago the philosophy “There are no shortcuts.” Safety is an area where Ostergard says taking shortcuts has a direct impact on drivers. “We are very proud of our safety record and CSA scores. This reflects the quality of our drivers and the company’s commitment to safety. We have a very low accident frequency, but frankly one accident is too many,” Ostergard said. “We have a responsibility to get our drivers home safely to see their families, as well as looking out for those with whom we share the road.”
Simply put, safety is a reflection of Crete’s culture.
And if early CSA scores are any indication, Crete’s commitment to safety is working. “It’s hard to change, and I think CSA reveals who you were and who you are.” Who Crete Carrier is can be defined by a simple philosophy: in order to be a great company, you need great drivers. “I’ve always felt we have to build our foundation on safety and service, and our drivers set the stage for that,” Ostergard stated. Crete Carrier believes customer service and safety can and do go hand-in-hand. “Service to our customers is extremely important,” states Ostergard. “Our job is to safely pick-up and deliver on time. Customers expect safe, reliable service and the quality of our drivers is a critical part of meeting our customers’ expectations.”
All while this fleet has low CSA scores, they also have low turnover. Ostergard believes driver turnover reflects the overall culture and commitment a company has towards its drivers. At Crete Carrier, Shaffer Trucking and Hunt Transportation, he ensures “we personally value the driver, treat them with respect and take care of them.” And taking care of drivers for Ostergard means more than simply paying drivers for their services. Crete has implemented a variety of wellness initiatives such as the sleep apnea lab and promotes the overall well-being of its drivers. Ostergard knows “the trucking business is very challenging and some days are better than others. I never want to give the impression things are perfect at our company, but through communication and working together all issues can be resolved.”
Ostergard is proud of the company’s team members and says he constantly hears heartwarming stories about things that their employees do, but his favorite driver story is about Morris Sims, who hails from Tennessee and started at Crete about the same time he did. Morris came by Ostergard’s office recently and dropped off his first Crete hat, which was covered with numerous pins and awards he had won during his 26-year driving career. Ostergard was away at the time, but upon his return he discovered that Sims left the hat on his desk. “That hat symbolizes Sims’ career and I was humbled and honored by the gesture,” Ostergard said. “And Morris is symbolic of our caring fleet; we have a great group of people.”
The company is currently looking for more good people. Like all companies, they contracted slightly during the recession, but this privately held company is back on the trendline of growth. “I believe a healthy organization is a growing organization, and we are ready to grow,” Ostergard stated. Regulatory issues, work rules and driver availability make growth a challenge. “The recession gave everyone some temporary relief from the driver shortage, but now we all feel the pain,” Ostergard said. Most fleets will struggle with the short-term challenges facing the trucking industry, but Crete Carrier Corporation has the advantage of being debt-free.
With a society (and a government) who spends money they don’t have, people don’t often appreciate fiscal management. And while Ostergard admits that Crete’s cash position is a “great security blanket”, he says the company does not want to be complacent – and they want potential drivers to know it. The company did not cut existing driver pay during the recession, and while that meant less profit, it also reinforced the company’s commitment to the value of their drivers. Crete also reinstated pre-recession starting pay levels for new hires.
Crete Carrier, Shaffer Trucking and Hunt Transportation are actively trying to reinvigorate their owner operator recruiting as well. “We started out as an owner operator company, and we know that they fill an important role in our company,” Ostergard added. While it is sometimes hard to compare owner operator pay programs, Crete believes in keeping their pay package simple and straightforward. They have a competitive and easy to understand pay program, low empty miles and the company shares fuel surcharges with the owner operator. “We try to get them plenty of miles, keep them productive and keep their net fuel cost at a flat, predictable rate. I think our fuel program for our owners is the best in the industry and with fuel surpassing $4.00 per gallon,that is critical to owner operators’ success.” Ostergard said.
Whether you are a company driver or owner operator, the “There are no shortcuts” philosophy holds true. Ostergard says you won’t find any gimmicks at Crete Carrier Corporation that you might elsewhere, and he thinks drivers should look at the aggregate of pay, benefits, safety and equipment, and “most importantly,” he believes, “our commitment to our drivers through good times and challenging times.” He is proud of the Crete Carrier, Shaffer Trucking and Hunt Transportation heritage and, unlike some in the industry, not afraid to direct others to talk to an existing company driver or owner operator about what it means be the “most valuable resource.”