Career Leadership Award: Tireless pursuit of excellence

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Peggy Fisher went from self-proclaimed New Jersey tomboy to a respected leader in tire and fleet maintenance.

“Yes, as a kid, I did beat up neighborhood boys,” Peggy Fisher admits. “But not to provoke a fight, but to stand up to them when they picked on my sisters. No blood was involved – I just pinned them.”

And for more than 30 years in her capacities as a fleet maintenance executive, consultant and supplier, Fisher has stood for doing what was right – just as she stood by her sisters. This lifetime pursuit of quality is one of the reasons she is Commercial Carrier Journal’s 2008 Career Leadership Award recipient.

From teaching to tires
Fisher was born and raised in Westfield, N.J. – the fifth child in Bertha and Alvin Fisher’s brood of five girls and one boy. In addition to beating up neighborhood boys, she enjoyed catching frogs and salamanders and climbing trees. Fisher’s father died when she was just 10, and she pitched in on some of the major chores, including mowing the lawn and shoveling snow.

With such an active childhood, it was little surprise that in high school, Fisher excelled in sports – softball, basketball, field hockey, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball and gymnastics. By the time Fisher graduated, she presumed a career as a physical education teacher and attended East Stroudsburg State College in Pennsylvania, which was known for producing teachers.

But Fisher spent her summers performing clerical work in New York City, and based on this limited exposure to the business world, she decided to make a change. She was accepted as a transfer student to Kent State University in Ohio in April 1970 – just a month before the tragic deaths of four students at the college in a scuffle with the National Guard.

At Kent State, Fisher prepared for a career in industrial recreation, a discipline designed to help workers keep fit. But by the time she graduated, a recession had hit. For most companies, an industrial recreation program was a luxury they couldn’t afford.

The need for a job would send her down a different, but rewarding, path. After graduation, Fisher took a job with Keen Transport in nearby Hudson, Ohio. In 1977, she left to join Roadway Express in Akron as a supervisor in the Licensing and Registration Department.

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Before long, the late Don Dawson – then Roadway’s vice president of maintenance and later a Career Leadership Award recipient himself – persuaded Fisher to join his team. Maintenance was – and remains – a predominantly male field, and the going was tough at first. Within a couple of years, however, Fisher says she had gained the respect of her colleagues.

“Don was the best mentor,” Fisher says. In 1978, Dawson gave her responsibility for tire maintenance. Far from being the “token woman,” Fisher evaluated and trained tire professionals in the field. She took on trailer and dolly maintenance in 1980. During this time, she switched over to the low-profile idea, and pioneered the use of hub-piloted wheels. “With the old stud-mounted system, there had been issues with loose wheels, and the hub-piloted system fixed that,” she says.

Fisher traveled extensively during those years, improving Roadway’s tire maintenance by evaluating procedures with techniques such as scrap tire analysis. She visited retreaders regularly, and pushed the envelope on tire repair. By now, Fisher’s responsibilities covered tire and wheel maintenance and the training of mechanics and tire technicians in the maintenance of 190,000 tires and wheels, 28,000 trailers and 4,000 dollies.

In 1985, Roadway Express established a retreading division known as Roadway Tire Co., which Fisher joined. By 1987, she had become president of that enterprise. It was a lean operation, requiring Fisher to do a bit of everything – creating campaigns, performing administrative work and working with vendors of tires, wheels and trailers. She grew the company from gross revenues of $500,000 a year to more than $3 million.

“It quickly became apparent that she was unusually talented,” Dawson said in 1991 of Fisher’s early days with Roadway. “I let her have more responsibility – first managing tires, then trailers and converter dollies – and she flourished,” he told CCJ. “I hated to lose her skills, but her shop is salvaging 50 percent of the tires retreaders won’t touch, and she has a much lower failure rate.”

In 1996, a restructuring led Roadway to sell off several divisions, including Roadway Tire Co. So after nearly 20 years with the Roadway organization, Fisher left with a great deal of sadness and anxiousness. “I thought I’d retire there,” she says.

But ever resilient, Fisher stuck with the industry as a highly valued consultant and columnist. “My main goal was to make roads safer,” she says. In 2006, she had the opportunity to become president of TireStamp, a startup monitoring and asset management solutions company. Preventing danger and improving tire costs go hand in hand, she believes. “Casing disintegration is caused, 94 percent, by underinflation.”

Leading the way
Running parallel with her professional career is Fisher’s many years of service to the trucking and tire industries through associations like the Technology and Maintenance Council and the Tire Industry Association. Dawson and Fisher joined TMC in 1979, and Fisher threw herself into the organization. In 1981, she became chairman of TMC’s S. 2 Tire & Wheel Study Group, where she was instrumental in developing the Radial Tire Conditions Analysis Guide.

Fisher’s contributions and service as chairman of S. 2 were quickly and widely recognized within TMC. In 1986, her efforts garnered a double honor. TMC presented her with its first award recognizing contributions as chairman of a study group. But perhaps an even greater honor is the fact that this award, which is still presented today, is called the Peggy Fisher Study Group Leadership Award.

By 1988, Fisher had become TMC’s general chairman and treasurer and also received TMC’s highest honor, the Silver Spark Plug. Later, she received TMC’s Recognized Associate Award for her dedicated service to the council.

“Without question, Peggy Fisher is a legend at TMC,” says Carl Kirk, TMC’s executive director. “Her volunteer contributions are without equal. She was an instrumental part of establishing TMC’s tire- and wheel-related recommended practices, both when she was a fleet member with Roadway and later as an Associate member as an industry consultant and supplier. No matter which side of the aisle she is on – fleet or supplier – she has remained a true advocate for the trucking industry’s fleet maintenance managers and executives.”

Fisher’s peers echo Kirk’s sentiments. “Peggy has been a leader in the industry for years,” says Joe Fleming, president of Youngstown, Ohio-based Falcon Transport and recipient of the Career Leadership Award in 2002. “She has always been one of the best tire people that I ever met – totally dedicated to TMC and S. 2. She works tirelessly for both.”

“Peggy Fisher is one of those few people who builds no fences between or around any person or situations,” says Darry Stuart, who just wrapped up his term as TMC general chairman. “In my own personal situation in a career change, she unselfishly shared her own experience and wisdom. She has been a part of my personal success,” says Stuart, himself a Career Leadership Award recipient. Stuart points out that Fisher’s authorship of “the bible of tire and rim maintenance” alone is a huge contribution to “the highest cost and most mismanaged area” of commercial vehicle maintenance. “In my opinion, she is well overdue for this award.”

“When I think of Peggy Fisher, the words leadership and excellence always come to mind,” says Bob Flesher, managing director of vehicle maintenance for FedEx Ground in Moon Township, Pa. “In my opinion, Peggy is without question the foremost knowledgeable person for tire issues in the industry today. However, it is her leadership skills and study group management skills that I admire most.” Flesher, who received the Career Leadership Award in 1995, says he learned much just by observing Fisher run a study group. “I always wanted to do it the way Peggy did it – except for her jokes that I would never be able to get away with. This award for Peggy is long overdue!”

Fisher remains active in TMC, currently chairing S. 2 task forces on tire debris prevention and tire and wheel recommended practices. And as if Fisher’s extensive work with TMC weren’t enough, she is active in tire industry associations, including the International Tire & Rubber Association and the Tire Industry Association, for which she currently serves as president.

A team effort
Fisher certainly has given back and has no regrets about her career. “I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” she says, adding that each morning, she says to herself, “Oh, boy, I get to go to work today.”

In her Career Leadership Award acceptance speech on Feb. 3, Fisher talked about how honored she was to be in the company of the previous 31 recipients – almost all of whom she got to know during her 29 years of TMC involvement. All had a passion for trucks and vehicle maintenance and ensuring the most cost-effective, productive and safe equipment on the highways, she says.

“But none of them did this alone,” Fisher continued. “They all worked with the supplier side of the industry to make it happen. They worked with engineers and manufacturing at all of the truck OEMs and component supplier companies represented in this room tonight. They got ideas from each other and from other fleets who are well represented in this room tonight, too. No one works in a vacuum. No one working alone could force the evolution of the incredible transportation equipment that we have today. That includes me. I’m only up here tonight because I work hard and play well with others. I may have had a few good ideas, but I had the best people to work with and learn from over the years.”

For all her pioneering work, Fisher doesn’t like to be thought of as being one of the first women to venture into her field. “I’d like to think I got where I am based on my qualifications,” she says. “I love trucking. It’s my passion.”

About the Career Leadership Award
Peggy Fisher is the 32nd person to receive Commercial Carrier Journal’s top honor for lifetime achievement in fleet maintenance since Safeway Stores’ E. Clair Hill was so honored in 1977. CCJ’s Technology and Maintenance Career Leadership Award is not won through a contest or competition, but rather is earned throughout a career of dedication to professionalism and excellence in fleet maintenance.

CCJ vets candidates for the Career Leadership Award as thoroughly as possible to verify accomplishments and leadership qualities. In the end, personal integrity and a candidate’s reputation among his or her peers weigh heavily in the final decision.

Through the years, some Career Leadership Award recipients like Fisher were no longer employed in fleet maintenance at the time CCJ bestowed the honor on them. Regardless, only individuals who made significant contributions to the industry while directly engaged in truck fleet management qualify for the honor.

CCJ welcomes nominations from anyone for the Career Leadership Award. Contact Avery Vise at [email protected].

Halloween and home improvements fisher’s free time can be frightening
For Peggy Fisher, life might be mostly work, but not all. In what little spare time she has, Fisher enjoys remodeling her house, traveling – and her legendary Halloween haunted house, for which she spends months planning, with indoor sets designed and built with her significant other, who is an engineer. She horrifies the 500 or so visitors who come to witness things like simulated guillotine beheadings. “It all started when I’d give out candy dressed as a witch,” she says. “And it just took off from there.”

A star of the show is a 1968 Cadillac hearse (with a 472-CID V8), which, when not at the haunted house, Fisher uses as a truck. “I take it to Home Depot a lot,” she says.

More of Fisher’s passions include antiquing and travel. She’s been to China, Spain, Italy, England, Germany, Egypt, the Caribbean and Japan, among other places – “about all corners of the globe.”

If she were independently wealthy, Fisher says she would travel most of the time, but would still come to Technology and Maintenance Council meetings. She owes a debt of gratitude to the organization, since, “It’s because of my profile at TMC that I have received so many job offers. It’s allowed me to do things I couldn’t have done by myself.”