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There was a sense of survivor mentality among the several hundred trucking company executives gathered in Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the 14th annual Randall Trucking Symposium. The theme – Navigating Through the Recovery – caught the interest of the attendees who have managed to keep their companies afloat through the recent economic turmoil.

After a long period of financial turmoil, it can be easy for executives to lose sight of their core values. But Symposium keynote speaker John Kasich urged the assembled industry leaders to conduct their businesses with a focus on ethics and values.

Kasich, a nine-term congressman turned businessman, kicked off the 2003 Randall Trucking Symposium by telling trucking industry leaders that business and government need to be run with “heartland values.” Those values include honesty, integrity, humility, personal responsibility and teamwork. All businesses, including trucking, need strong, ethical leadership,” Kasich says. “A leader’s not saying – he’s doing. When the gun goes off and you begin running for the finish line, it’s easy to forget your values.”

Bob Costello, chief economist and vice president of American Trucking Associations, told Symposium attendees that he sees a slow but steady recovery for trucking company survivors. Costello believes that this downturn in the business cycle saw fewer job losses than most. Demand is coming back, and wages for drivers are going up again. All of this translates into the potential for carriers to increase market share and to make fuel surcharges standard practice.

Costello also predicts that credit will stay tight but lower costs will be passed on to those who are creditworthy. While nobody can anticipate wild fluctuations in fuel prices, surviving companies are adept at factoring in the costs. Costello says on average, small truckload carriers have been hit hard in the past couple of years, while large truckload carriers benefited from considerable consolidation.

Driver pay continues to make news with steady raises and more wage increases coming this year, Costello predicts. “Drivers continue to seek the same conditions most workers seek: good pay, a little respect and life outside their jobs.”

Navigating through the recovery is smoother when the course is charted and when there is a sure hand at the helm. Captains with information and solid ethics and values are in the best position to survive the high seas.

Thanks to our generous sponsors who helped make the symposium a success. Look for complete coverage of the Randall Trucking Symposium in the July issue of CCJ.