Safety pays for Swift driver — $1 million, to be exact

Robert Goar picked up a check for $1 million from Swift’s Thanks a Million program. The winners were announced by Bob Cunningham, the company’s chief executive officer.

Under the hot desert sun in Phoenix, a large banner at Swift Enterprises’ corporate office reads “Goodbye fuel islands, hello Hawaiian Islands.” The banner is one of several “fantasies” designed by Swift to promote the company’s new driver appreciation program.

On Tuesday, Sept. 12, the fantasies came true for Robert Goar, who picked up a check for $1 million from Swift’s Thanks a Million program. For Goar, however, the award was not the realization of a fantasy nor even a wish — it came as a total surprise. “I never thought that this day was coming,” Goar says. “It is unbelievable. I’m still in shock.”

In fact, Goar didn’t even think about the contest until last week when he was handed a plane ticket to come to Phoenix as one of 10 finalists. “A lot of things have been happening really fast.” To enter the contest, Swift drivers had to meet minimum safety standards. They received one voucher for every 500 miles they drove safely in a 12-week period. In the past 12 weeks since the contest began, the company had collected 434,000 vouchers.

Ten drivers then were selected at random by an accounting firm and flown to Phoenix, where they were picked up in limousines and taken to the Camelback Marriott for dinner and an overnight stay. On Tuesday, they were brought onstage at Swift’s corporate headquarters led by a marching band from a local high school and greeted with thunderous applause from drivers, mechanics and administrative staff in the audience.

The winners were announced one at a time and presented with a $10,000 check from Bob Cunningham, chief executive officer of Swift. The list then came down to the last two finalists: Goar, from Fontana, Calif., and Cosmas Lowate from Denver. As the second-place winner, Lowate received $10,000 and the keys to a new Volvo 880, with all the amenities, that he will drive for one year.

Volvo Trucks is lending the vehicle to Swift for one year, says Michele Calbi, Swift’s vice president of procurement and shop operations. About 50 percent of Swift’s fleet is comprised of Volvo trucks, she says. Calbi has worked full time for the past month to help organize the awards ceremony held on Tuesday.

Cunningham says that finding and keeping good drivers is the most difficult task the company faces. “This was a way for us to really thank them for all of their hard work,” he says. “We wanted it to be big enough to adequately express our appreciation for the great job they do.”

Cunningham says the company has given away awards such as pickups and Harley Davidsons before, but “we really thought it was important to set a new standard above and beyond what was done previously.” The company is going to give away another $1 million in another 12 weeks and $10,000 to the other nine finalists. Continuing the program will hinge on factors such as driver retention and productivity, Cunningham says.

At a dinner the night before the event, Cunningham says that the finalists expressed that they were skeptical as to whether the Thanks a Million program was for real. As news of the winners get out, spread through the company intranet at driver kiosks and by the 10 winners, Cunningham says he anticipates the excitement for the next round will be significantly greater.

As for the future, Goar says he plans to keep on driving – a job he loves. “(Driving) is one of the last jobs where you can make all the decisions yourself,” he says. Goar has been with Swift for about two years as a driver and driver trainer – a role he plans to continue as a millionaire. The Hawaiian Islands can wait for now. “It is a lot of money, but not enough to retire on,” he says. “But it changes my whole attitude.”

The other finalists were Carmen Alfonso, Atlanta; Alvin Arrington, Richmond, Va.; Melvin Dawkins, Lancaster, Texas; Radames Laboy, Menasha, Wis.; Thomas Meyers, Greer, S.C.; Jennifer Sportsman, Minneapolis; Gary Devones, Lancaster; and Woody Williams, Oklahoma City.