TT: Hi Willie. First off, we want to congratulate you for being TOTAL's Trainer Of The Year. That's fantastic, it's not an easy thing.
WH: Well, thank you.
TT: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
WH: I'm married. I have three children and eight grandchildren. Live about 60 miles north of New Orleans, Louisiana, 30 miles south of McComb, Mississippi.
TT: How long have you been driving trucks?
WH: I've been in the industry for about 13 years now.
TT: Wow. How long have you been with TOTAL?
WH: Three years.
TT: What did you do before driving trucks?
WH: I worked 20 years in the construction field before I started driving.
TT: What was it that made you decide you wanted to get out of construction and into driving?
WH: Basically, my body wore out, but I've been around trucks my entire life. My dad is still driving to this day. 58 years behind the wheel this year I think. So, you know, I wasn't born in the sleeper, but I was brought home in one.
TT: Does anyone else in your family drive or just your father?
WH: One of my brothers, several uncles, several cousins. It's a family thing.
TT: What other companies did you work for before TOTAL?
WH: I drove for Warner. I drove several small companies, you know, Mom and Pop type outfits. Then I got into the training. I spent three and a half years as an instructor at a driving school in south Louisiana. And for three years, I was a third-party state tester for CDLs.
TT: So you definitely know what you're doing when you're out there. No wonder you’re Trainer of the Year?
WH: Yeah. And I spent two years as a school bus driver.
TT: What made you decide to come to TOTAL?
WH: During the three and a half years that I worked at the driving school, I dealt with every company that would send a recruiter to us. And there's just no comparison, TOTAL is the top, TOTAL is the best deal going, in my opinion. You know, I'm sure everybody has their own opinion. But to me, TOTAL is the best deal going.
TT: We certainly like to hear that. Was there something that made you decide to stop teaching at the school and come teach for us?
WH: Basically, I was an owner-operator school bus driver, and working at the driving school on the weekend. The school bus broke down and in about a month it cost me what it would have taken a year to recoup doing what I was doing. I just decided that it wasn't worth it. Since I was away from home and working 7 days a week anyway… I might as well make some money doing it. I mean I was fully qualified as a driver and a trainer and a teacher so this was just a natural progression once I've got back into OTR.
TT: Let's change tack a little bit here. How do you feel about our equipment?
WH: I do like the fact that it’s new equipment and not older stuff with a lot of miles on it. I like the safety features that are installed in them like the 68 mph and the stuff like that. Overall, I give it a really high rating.
TT: Have you had good experiences with our shop?
WH: Oh yeah, a while back I had a Freightliner that was a bit of a problem so I was in Jackson, Olive Branch, and Loudon shops with that truck. As a matter of fact, that truck doesn't even have the original motor in it anymore. I have no complaints about shop work at any terminal.
TT: What do you like most about working for TOTAL?
WH: I guess you'd call it the family environment that we have at TOTAL. You’re not just a number, or even a driver, you're a person. It's like, the people really care about each other and try to help each other out. Whether it be upper management, operations, or other drivers… we all pull together and work together.
TT: Good. That's what we like to hear and we believe in it too so it's nice to hear you say that as well. Do you have any tips for drivers to have good relationships with their fleet managers?
WH: Communication. That is the key if you don't communicate what you're thinking, no matter which way it's going from operations to the driver, or a driver to operations, then nobody else is going to know. Communication is the key. If you need time off, explain why and ask for it. If you need a load going to a certain location, explain why and ask for it. If the dispatcher fleet manager needs you to do a load, then they need to not just throw that load at you with no explanation, but to explain why they need you on that load. Just it works out a lot better if everybody's on the same page.
TT: What do you think it takes to be TOTAL's Trainer of the Year?
WH: I had no idea that I was going to be in this position. It totally blindsided me when I got the phone call. I just do what I know how to do and I try to do the best I can. That’s sharing knowledge. Again, you have to communicate. If you cannot say the same thing in 10 different ways, then you won’t be able to communicate what you're trying to do to some people, because not everybody speaks the same language. It may all be English, but the cultures and subcultures that we have in America, they don’t all communicate the same way. So to be good, you have to communicate, you have to be able to not just say it, but be able to know that the person listening to you understood what you were saying.
TT: What do you think is the most challenging thing for a trainer?
WH: The most challenging thing would be the diversity of the trainees. We get men, women, young, old, you name it. Everybody comes through our trucks. Some are extremely nervous, some are confident, and some are very good natural truck drivers. Then some you really wonder the first few days how they managed to get their license. There's no way of knowing what the next training is going to be. So, I would say that was the most difficult thing is being able to deal with the different types of personalities, age groups, and subcultures that are gonna climb in a truck with you.
TT: How many students do you think you've taught how to drive trucks?
WH: Are we talking since I started TOTAL or?...
TT: Let’s hear them both.
WH: Man, I don't know. Just a guess off the top of my head, I think I've had probably a dozen students here at TOTAL. Then the three and a half years at the driving school, I averaged four students per class for a year with four class a week. (2.912?) They averaged, four students over an eight-weekend period while I was teaching the weekend class, and that was for a year and a half, or almost two years,(39?) So yeah, it's been, you know, it's been quite a lot.
TT: Indeed. Some back of the napkin math brings that close to 3,000 people you’ve helped become drivers! That’s a very impressive stat.
TT: Let me ask you this, is there anything that you feel that you could learn to still do better?
WH: I believe that I still have to work on my communication because sometimes I catch myself saying things to people that they don't understand. They don't understand what I'm trying to say because of the words I'm choosing to use. I think that I still need improvement on that. Even with my experience in dealing with it, then I have a lifetime of experience because in the 12 years, you go to school to 10 different schools in three different states. And that, I think that is both good and bad because my vocabulary sometimes gets strange.
TT: Do you have any advice for new drivers or veteran drivers out there for ways to stay successful on the road?
WH: Really, the only advice I've got for anybody. If you don't love the lifestyle of being on the road, then it's not for you. It's not just a job, it's a lifestyle. We live in these trucks. And if you're doing this for fast money, you're not doing it for the right reason. You need to be a driver because you want to be a driver, because it's something that you love to do. I mean, that transfers to any industry, any company, any job anywhere. If you don't love what you're doing, you're doing the wrong thing.
TT: Well, you have an opportunity now to speak to new drivers, veteran drivers, drivers for TOTAL, and drivers across the industry, is there anything that is on your mind that you would like to tell everybody?
WH: Basically, pay attention to your surroundings at all times, you have to be safe, because you're responsible for not only yourself and your truck and your cargo, but you're responsible for everybody else out there on the road. So you have to pay attention to details. Look way ahead, anticipate what's going to happen. Keep as much distance as possible. Stay safe. Watch your moves. Just don't be a distracted driver. Concentrate on what you're doing.
TT: Certainly good advice for all of us out there. Again, congratulations Willie for being TOTAL’s Trainer of the Year and keep up the fantastic work!