Fostering Success

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CCJ‘s 2004 Career Leadership Award recipient earns industry-wide respect by living the Golden Rule.

From his accomplishments at Southeastern Freight Lines to his contributions to the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC), the trucking industry and his community, David Foster has made his mark while always putting others first. And yet, this year’s Career Leadership Award recipient still manages to enjoy life.

“You see that river?” Foster asks. “That’s the Saluda, and this is supposedly one of only two metropolitan areas in the country where you can catch rainbow trout.” Fishing is a pastime Foster – despite being responsible for thousands of pieces of equipment and being actively involved in TMC, his church and community – still finds time to pursue.

The Columbia, S.C., resident also finds time to treat those who work with him well. Take the high-mileage, Southeastern-issued pickup that he commandeered from a regional maintenance manager, for example. He wanted the regional manager to have a brand new one because “he drives a lot more than I do,” Foster explains.

A long and winding road
As the son of a career military man, Foster called everywhere from Charlottesville, Va., to Fort Richardson, Alaska, home, meeting new friends and enjoying reading and fishing everywhere he went.

“Military life was wonderful,” he recalls. “There were lots of other kids at each base, and we were like family. And there were all kinds of activities…movies, skiing, shooting, you name it. I didn’t ever want my dad to retire from the service.”

Those early years no doubt helped mold Foster into the disciplined individual he is today. “You don’t mess up as a kid on an Army base,” he says. “If you do, they won’t bust you. They’ll bust your old man, and he’ll kill you.”

His dad eventually retired from the service, and the Foster family settled in Lakeland, Fla., where Dave started high school, and also started his first maintenance job at the garage at Publix Supermarkets.

“My boss at Publix, Buddy Williams, was – and still is – an exceptional guy,” says Foster. “He sent me to Detroit Diesel School and really took a special interest in me. In fact, when I’d be out steam-cleaning equipment in the summer Florida sun, he’d come out and “spell” me when he thought I needed a break.”

During his early tenure at Publix, Foster continued to do some part-time work at a local seafood restaurant. The pay wasn’t good but there were other benefits. “They hired a beautiful young lady, who I immediately fell in love with,” Foster explains. He and his now wife Julie have three sons and will celebrate their 27th wedding anniversary this year.

Foster rose through the ranks at Publix, from fuel-island duty to changing tires to general maintenance and engine rebuilding. By his 10th anniversary with the company, he had become the shop foreman and, by his own account, “everything was great.” But he soon found out that life could get even better.

Southeastern calls
At his first TMC meeting, Dave met Southeastern Freight Lines’ Duke Drinkard, currently vice president of maintenance and recipient of CCJ’s Career Leadership Award in 1997. Drinkard had come to the meeting, as usual, to learn and to share his knowledge and experience. But he was also keeping a keen eye out for someone with maintenance experience to help design a computerized maintenance management system at Southeastern. Although Foster was happy at Publix, he figured “it couldn’t hurt to talk.”

After the meeting, when Foster told his boss that he was going on an interview at Southeastern, “he asked me how I was getting there,” Foster recalls. “He was always looking out for my best interests. He wound up renting a new Oldsmobile for me to take on the trip.”

The interview went well. “Right away, Dave struck me as a bright young man with a desire to advance,” remembers Drinkard. “I knew he had the capability and, more importantly, the heart and the desire to do the job. In all the years since, he’s never disappointed me.”

A few months later, in 1990, the Foster family moved to Columbia, S.C., and Dave began his new position as maintenance system specialist.

Information = cost control
Southeastern, a regional general-commodities hauler, had evaluated several off-the-shelf computerized maintenance information programs, but was unable to find one that would meet all of its requirements. So, almost immediately after Foster’s arrival, a team – consisting of Foster; Drinkard; John Cross, vice president of corporate services; and Elizabeth Baynard, programming manager and business analyst – started analyzing requirements and designing Southeastern’s Maintenance Management Information System (MMIS).

Two years later, programming was completed on inventory and purchase-order modules. Repair-order, warranty, and tire modules were completed in 1994.

The system worked. “We initially had parts in inventory totaling $935,504, system-wide, when we brought MMIS online,” says Foster. “Within a couple of years, we were able to reduce that amount by almost 50 percent.” Moreover, Southeastern was turning its inventory over only 3.5 times a year in 1993. The company now averages 10.5 turns per year.

“One of the biggest justifications for MMIS was what we expected to identify and capture through our warranty system,” Foster continues. “This was money we knew we were just letting fall through the cracks, because we didn’t have an automated way to accurately track component utilization.”

In 1992, the company recovered $23,347 in parts and labor for warranty work completed in its shops, and $64,000 in outsourced warranty repairs. By 2003, Southeastern had roughly doubled in size, and it recovered more than $357,500 in parts and labor for in-house warranty work, and an additional $334,989 in outsourced warranty work.

In recent years, Foster and Southeastern have waged a campaign to improve labor productivity, and it’s paying dividends. “We have increased productivity at all of our facilities,” Foster says. “We were averaging 71.5 percent direct labor, systemwide, the first week in January 2001. In the first week of January 2004 that number was 79.7 percent, and we expect to do even better.”

In true Foster style, he’s quick to give credit where he’s convinced it’s due. “We’ve been successful because of the great associates we have in the maintenance department,” he says. “I believe we have the cream of the crop. And, having Duke Drinkard as a boss, mentor, and friend, we have no reason not to be the best of the best.”

Communication also plays a big part in the Southeastern equation. “We’re big on sharing information,” says Foster. “If someone in the system knows how to do something better, we want everyone to know how to do it better. That, and measuring our processes and setting goals for continuous improvement, have been the keys to our success.”

For example, all facilities receive monthly reports on inventory, warranty recovery, direct labor and other activities. These reports cover not only a facility’s own performance but that of similar shops in the system for comparison. “But it’s not really a competition. As long as you’re always beating your own previous scores, you’re doing OK,” Foster reasons.

During his 14 years at Southeastern, Foster has been promoted to assistant director of maintenance and then to director of maintenance, his current position. Today, he and a team of maintenance experts in Columbia and in the field monitor, evaluate, and maintain more than 10,000 pieces of equipment through 20 shops and more than 250 technicians.

Foster spends much of his time deciding what equipment to replace and when. To that end, he and his team have developed an equipment evaluation program, and a form for technicians to

Today, Foster and “a great team of maintenance experts” monitor, evaluate, and maintain more than 10,000 pieces of equipment and manage 20 shops and over 250 technicians.

use when they inspect vehicles. “You can look at all the data you want,” he says, “but it’s not the same as having someone physically looking at the equipment and touching it.”

The decision whether to keep or replace is made jointly by maintenance, operations and accounting, all looking for the best payoff. Ideally, says Foster, the goal is to replace linehaul tractors at 10 years or 1 million miles. But the miles pile up so quickly that 10 years of service is rarely reached. “We also take what’s been done to the vehicles into account,” he adds. “If a truck that would ordinarily be slated for replacement has recently had major work, it moves to the bottom of the hit list.”

Southeastern undertakes many new projects in its quest for continual improvement, such as automating the dispensing and tracking of in-house fuel, and the implementation of a new training program for technicians. “We’re very excited about the training,” says Foster. “We’ll have our own Master Technician program, with testing and certification similar to that of the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. And those who do excel will be rewarded with better pay.”

Sharing and growing
Foster’s first TMC meeting in 1990 began his long-term commitment to advancing the science of maintenance management. While it’s no secret that he has drawn ideas and inspiration from TMC, he has also provided inspiration to many others in the organization.

Foster’s contributions to TMC are well known. Over the years, he’s served as general chairman and treasurer, and is a member of the Future Truck Executive, New Member Contact, and Silver Spark Plug Committees. He has chaired several task forces and Study Groups on everything from vehicle energy conservation to vehicle maintenance reporting standards (VMRS).

“When I think about Dave Foster, the word that comes to mind is respect,” says Joe Fleming, president of Falcon Transport and 2002 Career Leadership Award recipient. “Dave has my utmost respect and that of most TMC members. He blends excellent technical skills with great systems knowledge and vision. He is also very dedicated to TMC and will tackle any task that benefits the industry as a whole.”

Foster – also a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the South Carolina Maintenance Council and the National Truck Historical Society – has participated as a moderator or panelist on numerous technical presentations for TMC and other industry organizations and is a co-author of the SAE/TMC Tomorrow’s Truck paper.

“In numerous areas, David has been one of the most pro-active members in TMC,” says Carl Kirk, TMC executive director and vice president, ATA Councils. “He was general chairman during some very difficult times, during which he showed great leadership skills and a certain stick-to-itiveness that I have always admired.” For his efforts, Foster received TMC’s highest award, the Silver Spark Plug, in 1997.

“Dave is both innovative and forward-thinking enough to understand how new ideas and technologies can improve the way his fleet does business, while at the same time having a firm handle on the realities of fleet management,” summarizes TMC technical director Robert Braswell. “He’s a quick study and a proven leader in our industry.”


Southeastern Freight Lines – Latest, typical linehaul specs
Tractor: International 9200i
Engine: Caterpillar C-13
Transmission: Eaton FRO-15210C
Clutch: Eaton Solo
Driveshaft: Spicer Life
Axles: Dana
Rear suspension: International, air
Brakes: Dana, w/Abex linings
Wheels: Accuride disc, 5-hand-hole, 22.5-in.
Wheel ends: ConMet
Wheel seals: Stemco
Bearings: Timken
Tires, front: Michelin XZA2
Tires, rear: Michelin XDA-HT
5th wheel: ConMet Simplex II
ABS: Meritor WABCO
Power steering: Ross
Air dryer: Bendix AD-IP
Alternator: Delco 34-SI, pad-mount
Batteries: Interstate, 4, 3,000 CCA
Fan drive: Kysor
Exterior lighting: Grote LED
Driver’s seat: National
Satellite systems: Aether
Trailers (van): Great Dane, w/Whiting doors
Dollies: Silver Eagle

Key suppliers:
Engine oil: Mobil Delvac 1300, 15W-40
Grease: Mobilith 007 (non-driven wheel ends)
Gear lube: Mobil SHC, 75W-90
Trans lube: Mobil SHC, 50W
Coolant: Chevron Texaco
Retreads: Michelin


About the Career Leadership Award
Now in its 28th year, CCJ‘s Career Leadership Award was formerly known as the Fleet Maintenance Executive Career Leadership Award. Its new name, the Technology and Maintenance Career Leadership Award, better represents the evolving role of today’s maintenance executive, and the increasing importance of information technology.

The award is not a contest to be won, but a distinction earned throughout a career of dedication to professionalism and excellence in technology and maintenance management.

Anyone can nominate a candidate who has made a career of fleet maintenance management simply by writing a letter, making a call or sending an e-mail to any CCJ editor, indicating why the individual being nominated should be considered.

The final candidates are checked out as thoroughly as possible to verify theiraccomplishments, involvement, leadership and contributions to the profession.
Personal and professional integrity, and the candidate’s reputation among his or her peers, also weigh heavily in the final decision.