Ed Richardson promotes family atmosphere, open communications
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Ed Richardson promotes family atmosphere, open communications

A family atmosphere, effective communications and an emphasis on training and promoting from within are important factors that allow Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL) to enjoy a comparatively low turnover rate in its maintenance department.

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Name: Ed Richardson

Company: Old Dominion Freight Line

Title: Vice president of equipment and maintenance

Other Positions Held: director of maintenance

Industry Experience: 35 years

Associations: TMC member and vice chairman of the S.7 Trailers and Bodies study group

A family atmosphere, effective communications and an emphasis on training and promoting from within are important factors that allow Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL) to enjoy a comparatively low turnover rate in its maintenance department.

“We try to develop a family atmosphere and have an open-door policy,” says Ed Richardson, vice president of equipment and maintenance for ODFL. “We are a non-union organization, and we try to treat employees fairly. Any of our technicians can talk to anybody they want to, and that includes me, the president or the chairman of the board. We try to develop excellent communications between technicians, supervisors and regional maintenance managers. If they have ideas or concerns, we want them to feel free to talk to anybody to seek advice and help.”

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In fact, one trailer technician in Columbus, Ohio, developed a diagnostic and test stand for liftgate motors and liftgate pumps that was adopted as a standard practice item at all of the company’s shops, Richardson says.

“We found that 85 percent of all liftgate pumps and motors that we put on this stand could be fixed,” he says.

Keeping the lines of communication open among 316 technicians working at 23 maintenance locations nationwide can be challenging. But ODFL seems to be getting the job done, as its maintenance department turnover rate of less than 5 percent attests.

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Training issues

Keeping skills of technicians current is critical in getting jobs done and in preparing them for advancement, says Winston Minchew, asset and training manager. The company offers a variety of internal training programs in preventive maintenance, foundation brakes and air conditioning.

“This year, we are developing two new courses – an electrical course and trailer course that incorporates liftgates,” Minchew says. “The electrical course is ready now, and the trailer course will be out by the middle of the year.”

The company also offers training to employees conducted by its original equipment manufacturers, including Freightliner, Cummins, ArvinMeritor, Caterpillar and Toyota Forklifts.

“We take advantage of as many of those as we can,” Minchew says. “We also do Freightliner’s online Web-based and self-paced training courses. In fact, five of those courses will be prerequisites to our new electrical training course.”

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Richardson says that vendor training is a ‘must have’ in today’s environment.

“It is critical that we have this relationship with vendors because technology continues to change,” he says. “We have to have their assistance to keep our personnel up to speed on this equipment. If we don’t have access to current wiring diagrams, we would have 316 lost technicians.”

The company encourages all three levels of its technicians, shop managers and regional managers to take as many internal training courses as possible. Employees are paid to attend training sessions.

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“We encourage regional and shop managers to come, so they can see processes that the technicians perform,” Richardson says. “We hope regional and shop managers reinforce what the technicians learn and make sure they do it right.”

Recruiting and retaining

Recruiting good technicians is a full-time job, according to Richardson.

“After we recruit them, we want to keep them,” he says. “We have excellent working conditions at our shops, which are bright, modern and clean. We offer training and advancement from within, and we pay a competitive wage.”

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The company hires many technicians out of trade schools.

“Those employees have a good foundation for success,” Richardson says. “With Winston’s cultivation and their knowledge, we can bring them along to T3, which is our highest level of tech.”

And, some employees move beyond that into management.

“We believe in promoting from within, so if we have openings for a shop supervisor or manager, technicians can apply for those,” he says. “If they are qualified and don’t mind moving to a new location, we will give qualified internal applicants first consideration for those openings.”

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In fact, several shop managers, as well as a regional manager, recently were promoted from within, according to Richardson.

“It’s very important to have opportunities to advance for those employees who apply extra effort and take advantage of all the training that’s available.”

To smooth that path, the company published a document for each level of work that outlines the skills, training and work ethic required to move up the ladder, he says.

And, opportunities tend to occur at companies such as ODFL, which has been growing revenue at 14 percent per year for the last five years.

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“We are a highly labor-intensive business, so that relates to employment growth,” Richardson says.

The company also offers family cookouts and picnics to improve morale and communications. Occasionally, suppliers are invited to attend to build that relationship, according to Richardson.

In addition to Minchew, who spends about 40 percent of his time on the road conducting training, other key maintenance employees are Tommy Newby, director of field maintenance, Jeff Otey, corporate parts manager and six regional maintenance managers charged with overseeing maintenance and personnel programs at allied facilities.

ODFL’s fleet includes 4,200 power units, 20,000 trailers and 1,200 forklifts. Its 23 maintenance locations range from one-person operations to a 55-technician facility in Greensboro, N.C.

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About 600 people, including 12 maintenance employees, work at the corporate headquarters in Thomasville, N.C.

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