When you meet Tom Newby, you can’t help but be drawn by his easygoing demeanor and sense of humor. But rest assured, when it comes to trucking and maintenance, he’s as serious as they come, and he’s one of the reasons Old Dominion Freight Line has become one of the most successful and prolific carriers in the country.
But his life easily could have taken a different turn.
Corvette or cabover?
Young Tom Newby was raised in Eden, N.C., and enjoyed basketball, baseball and “all the stuff kids are generally into,” he says. His parents were involved in the textile industry, and after college, he followed suit, working as an assistant plant maintenance superintendent at a mill.
But Newby, who had an automotive aptitude and was “always tinkering” with cars, also had friends who were truckers, and it wasn’t long before he caught the bug. He wanted a CDL, and he wanted to see the country. “An owner-operator friend offered to teach me to drive, if I could leave for Tampa ‘right now,’ ” he recalls. “I said, ‘Let’s go!’ He hid me in his sleeper at loading docks, but on the road, I learned to drive.”
Shortly thereafter, in 1976, he sold his prized 1971 Corvette, used the money as a down payment on his first truck – a 1974 International COE – and Newby Trucking was born. The next 12 years would see the company grow to include nine trucks operating in 48 states.
By 1988, the pressures of deregulation had taken their toll on Newby’s company. “I had to make a decision,” he says. “It was time to go work for ‘the man.’ ” Newby Trucking was dismantled, and Newby embarked on a career in fleet maintenance management.
Rise and shine
By 2000, Newby had become an ASE-certified Master Heavy Duty Truck Technician, a certified Director of Maintenance/Equipment and an active member of the Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC), and he had honed his maintenance management skills at a handful of fleets, including Billings Freight Systems. That’s also the year he was hired by Thomasville, N.C.-based Old Dominion – a general-commodity LTL carrier – where he continues to leave his mark.
Five and a half years ago, “This business was killing me,” recalls Ed Richardson, Old Dominion’s vice president of equipment and maintenance. “I needed help, and I knew Tommy from TMC and local contacts. He had the education, background and attitude to fit into Old Dominion’s culture. Since I hired him, he’s standardized procedures, improved communication in the maintenance department, and he saw the need for technician training and a full-time trainer. To date, he’s more than lived up to our expectations.”
Today, as director of field maintenance, Newby is responsible for: maintenance of 20,000 pieces of rolling stock; six regional maintenance managers; 23 shop locations and 169 service centers; and a $30 million annual maintenance budget. He also assists in spec’ing and acquiring Old Dominion’s vehicles, which operate in 48 states and Canada.
While Old Dominion’s maintenance costs have not come down under his stewardship, they have remained level, despite the fact that the company has grown by 20 percent annually. Some of his accomplishments include retrofitting 14,000 vehicles with RFID tags; replacing troublesome, translucent roofs with aluminum on thousands of trailers; and helping to double warranty recovery.
Training for excellence
Although he insists that “I find it hard to wave my own flag,” it’s obvious that Newby takes great pride in his technician training program. “Training is especially important with the newer engines,” he says. “Even dealership technicians generally are not adequately trained.”
Newby’s program begins with hiring. If a technician isn’t experienced, “we give him a mechanical aptitude test,” he says. “That weeds out undesirables, and it gives us an idea of whether the applicant is a Level One, Two or Three, with Three being the best.”
Once hired, technicians are required to take PC-based, OE, self-paced training, and even Level Three techs must learn new material. Newby currently is developing an in-house electrical training program, and eventually will expand that training to include brakes and other vehicle systems.
Even maintenance managers are trained, and Newby conducts the sessions himself. “It’s a matter of learning how to supervise people. Communication is of utmost importance,” he maintains. For example, “We used to have an attendance problem. The managers wanted to be the good guys, and they had to learn to put friendship behind the fence.”
Another attendance enhancer is a technician reward program. “If a tech is here on time and does his job, he can take home an extra $300, $400 or $500 every six months,” he says. “Our last payout was $69,000. Before the program, we had six pages of attendance problems a month. Now we’re down to just a couple of names, and technician turnover is less than 5 percent per year, down from a high of 15 to 20 percent. It’s wonderful.”
Running strong, looking sharp
Another area of pride for Newby is the condition and looks of Old Dominion’s equipment. “We want work trucks that look good,” he says. Oil drain intervals are 90 days for linehaul and P&D units, while sleeper units – which can travel a million miles over their four-year cycle – are drained at 30 days or 30,000 miles. “We use a TMT system, which is VMRS-based,” says Newby. “PMs are flagged, and reports are disseminated to the field. In addition, we do oil analysis in different geographic locations when changes are made to engine specs or the PM program.”
While mechanical items are important, Newby is just as concerned with cosmetics and company image. For example, “We had a corrosion problem with the rears of our pups,” he says. “Now they’ll all have stainless steel rears.” The company also specs Duraplate roll-up doors. “They live, and they look great,” he says. “Our rear doors are our billboards, and we want them to look as good as possible.”
And when it comes to changes in equipment, Newby is just as forward-thinking. For instance, regarding ’07 engine technology, Newby is far from afraid. “We’ve got some Cats lined up for testing,” he says. “And we’ve got a test location picked out, where we can keep the vehicles fueled with ultra-low-sulfur diesel. I’m looking forward to it.”
A little help from his friends
Newby is quick to point out that what he’s accomplished at Old Dominion couldn’t have happened without the company’s management team. “It’s not me,” he insists. “I couldn’t do it by myself. It’s a team effort.”
He also credits his peers at TMC with invaluable information and help. “Networking with engineers” and absorbing critical information, especially on engines and electrical systems, he says, has helped Old Dominion make educated spec’ing and maintenance decisions.
And in true leadership style, Newby has given back enormous amounts of his time and energy, having served on TMC’s board of directors, and as chairman of the S.1 Electrical & Instruments Study Group, chairman of Study Groups, vice chairman and chairman of meetings, and general chairman and treasurer. In recognition of his contributions, he received TMC’s highest honor, the Silver Spark Plug, in 2002.
“Tommy is a man of action,” says Carl Kirk, vice president of American Trucking Associations Councils and TMC’s executive director. “For him, it’s not enough to merely have a good idea. Plenty of folks have good ideas. The toughest part is implementation and follow-through, even on the smallest of details. That’s what defines a person’s integrity, and anyone who has worked with Tommy appreciates that quality about him.”
“Tommy is top-drawer,” agrees Bob Deal, veteran fleet manager and past Career Leadership Award recipient. “He likes what he does, and he’s genuinely interested – he always asks questions. But most importantly, he’s a people person