Byrd Leads Trucking Giant To ‘Crawl, Walk, Run’ In Overcoming Industry Challenges

Bulldog Hiway Express chief creates welcoming culture for drivers while gearing up for opportunities in autonomous vehicles.

From the driver shortage to onerous federal regulations to the autonomous-vehicle future, the issues facing Phil Byrd Sr. and the rest of the U.S. trucking business are humongous. But the president of Bulldog Hiway Express uses a consistent approach to all of the challenges that amounts to “crawl, walk, run.”

Based in Charleston, South Carolina, 60-year-old Bulldog Hiway is a unit of Daseke, the largest owner of flatbed-truck transportation in America. Bulldog Hiway trucks run routes all the way out to California from the company’s base but it focuses on the Southeast and Midwest. Cargos typically are specialty products such as the huge blades for windmills, automotive cargo and military goods.

The much-discussed electronic-logging-device rule that the federal government slapped on the trucking industry in December to get a handle on drivers’ hours had “no impact on us,” Byrd said, because Bulldog Hiway had moved to electronic logging many years ago.

But the company is afflicted with something else that plagues the rest of its industry as well: a tremendous shortage of drivers. Bulldog Hiway has managed to keep about 99 percent of its jobs filled despite the industry’s acute squeeze for people who want to drive big rigs. But in 2018, the company’s turnover rose to about 20 percent, a “very high year for us,” Byrd said, that also reflected a wave of driver retirements.

Byrd, who also is a past president of the American Trucking Association, said that Bulldog Hiway remains in good shape in the ever-intensifying competition to recruit and retain drivers for a number of reasons. And that, he attributed to the company’s “crawl, walk, run” approach.

First, he said, “We train, procure and pay our people well and make sure in our traffic patterns that we suit their lifestyle needs,” he said. “And we have modern equipment. What’s more, Byrd added, “The most important thing we do is respect our drivers. We appreciate them. We demonstrate that not occasionally but daily.”

For instance, he said, “We train and educate people at every level of our company that when we greet a driver and talk with them about an issue, we do it in a professional and respectful manner.” In fact, he said, “We have walked away from some customers who have disrespected our drivers,” such as by not providing restroom facilities at loading docks.

Because of some of the lifestyle issues involved in long-haul trucking – dreary stretches on the road and away from home and loved ones – pundits have predicted that the trucking industry’s shortage of drivers will only worsen as boomers continue to retire and as the transportation system comes to depend on millennials and Generation Z members to populate the rigs.

“But we’re finding that millennials are very interested in the jobs because of our technology such as onboard data recorders,” Byrd said. “Plus they can email from the cab to folks at home. And it’s a paperless environment.”

Bulldog Hiway, Daseke and other carriers are trying to increase the employment pool by lobbying for the federal government to change the law that says truckers must be 21 years old before they can be involved in interstate commerce.

At the same time, the entire industry also is beginning to reckon with an autonomous-vehicle future, which in part is being driven by the prospect of the continuation of a chronic driver shortage. Many of the earliest road trials of driverless vehicles have involved trucks, assuming that transportation of cargo is likely to make it over technology, regulatory and safety hurdles before transporting humans will.

Here’s another area where Byrd’s strategy of “crawl, walk run” is highly applicable. He believes that, before autonomous trucking can enter the mainstream, the federal government must “design a sustainable, stable mechanism to fund the highway needs of today and tomorrow.” That starts with some way to get off the dime where Congress and President Trump haven’t yet agreed on how to meet the estimated trillion-dollar needs of simply refurbishing America’s existing highway infrastructure.

“Once that is in place, then we have a strategy that will lead to success,” Byrd said. It involves automated vehicles that will “talk” to other automated trucks and to a “smart highway grid.” Succeeding with such technology initially, he said, will involve “going to regions of the country where autonomous vehicles have been more successful from a safety standpoint, and in niches of the industry that could utilize them.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    We are in a period of rapid change. Customer needs, technologies, competitors and internal capabilities require companies to review and update their strategies for the new realities. In this workshop, strategy experts Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison will show you a systematic approach to strategic planning to help you refine or redefine your business strategy and approach including:

    • Learn what you need to know to develop an effective strategic plan. Put the right players on the strategic planning team.
    • Develop strategies that leverage your company’s unique position in the marketplace. Lift your management team beyond “business as usual” thought processes and activities.
    • Translate your strategies into action. Achieve your vision for success and generate superior financial results.
    • Identify exactly what you need to do now to position your company for future success.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.