Leadership goals

Regain respect for U.S. truck drivers

Help improve the image and essentiality of trucking industry

Help stabilize the federal Highway Trust Fund

The nation’s trucking industry is fielding a series of issues nowadays, including new federal regulations and a lack of qualified truck drivers to fill openings.

At a glance

Name: Phil L. Byrd Sr.

Age: 58

From: St. George

Education: Charleston Southern University

Title: President of Bulldog Hiway Express and newly-elected chairman of American Trucking Association

Bulldog Hiway Express: North Charleston-based trucking company with about 400 employees throughout the nation.

American Trucking Association: A Washington-based trade group that was founded in 1933 and represents 37,000 members.

Helping the industry address such issues are among the list of marching orders for Phil Byrd, the newly elected 69th chairman of the American Trucking Association.

Byrd, president of North Charleston trucking company Bulldog Hiway Express, marks the third South Carolinian to hold the top executive post for the Washington trade group that was founded roughly 80 years ago and represents more than 37,000 members today.

“When the call came to me, it was a moving surprise,” Byrd said. “I prayed about it and then decided I would give back to an industry that has given me so much.”

Byrd replaces Mike Card, president of Combined Transport of Central Point, Ore.

The national spotlight is not unfamiliar for Byrd.

The Charleston Southern University graduate has been a recent mainstay for testifying before Congress on issues impacting the nation’s trucking industry, including opposition to new regulations limiting the number of hours truck drivers can be on the road.

A leadership role is not unfamiliar as well.

Byrd is a two-time chairman of the South Carolina Trucking Association, in addition to previously serving as chairman of the South Carolina Maritime Association and the Charleston Motor Carrier Association. He now serves on the board of directors of the American Trucking Association and the Truckload Carriers Association.

Byrd is also on the advisory board of American Transportation Research Institute.

The new post at the trucking association will have Byrd balancing his time between Washington, family and his Bulldog trucking business in the Lowcountry. Byrd is also mourning the death of his 34-year-old son, Philip Byrd Jr., who recently passed away after a long and extended illness.

Gearing up

The national spotlight is a large step from Byrd’s humble beginnings in the trucking industry more than three decades ago.

Byrd, 58, got interested in the industry while working at his family’s lumber operation in Dorchester County. “We obviously moved products and I got interested in the shipping and receiving and supply chain and logistics of the lumber,” he said. “That’s really how I got interested in the trucking industry.”

Byrd, who holds a commercial driver’s license, has always been in the operations end of the trucking business.

He joined Bulldog more than three decades ago. At that time, the company consisted of a handful of workers and operations were solely geared toward local port and railroad operations. Through the many years, Byrd has helped swell the company’s fleet of rigs to hundreds and a workforce of 400 spread across the nation.

Today’s footprint is far larger than Bulldog when it started with only a 1954 truck when R.D. Moseley started the company in 1959.

Today’s larger workforce has meant expanded capacities for the North Charleston company, going head-to-head with the behemoth-size trucking companies such as Swift Transportation, Schneider National and J.B. Hunt Transport.

By comparison, Bulldog is considered a small trucking company in the industry. Some say the humble beginnings will make Byrd a major asset at the helm of the ATA.

“He’s very grounded and close to his people, so he knows the challenges every level of employee of the company is dealing with,” said Rick Todd, president of the Columbia-based S.C. Trucking Association. “He’s got a lot credibility.”

Marching orders

Byrd has set a series of goals as the new head of the American Trucking Association. That includes helping truck drivers regain respect, improving the image and importance of the trucking industry to the nation’s economy and help find a way to fund the federal Highway Trust Fund to improve roadway conditions.

“Drivers are often misunderstood and disrespected at every turn,” Byrd said. “These men and women brave the dark of the night, heat of the desert, the ice and snow of mountains and congestion of American highways to deliver everything Americans need.”

The marching orders are lauded by some local trucking industry officials like Pat Barber, owner of North Charleston-based Superior Transportation.

“He made it his platform to bring some respect back to the industry and that is long overdue,” Barber said.

The roadway is a bit shaky for the trucking industry as it adapts and looks to fill open driver positions created in-part by an aging population retiring.

The trucking group estimates the industry will need to fill nearly 100,000 driving jobs in each of the next 10 years.

The shortage of drivers is exacerbated by other issues, such as applicants who can’t pass background checks and a reluctance among younger workers to be on the road for extended periods, experts have said.

Trucking companies have been trying to court new drivers with signing bonuses and other perks. “We need to go into the field, talk to career days at schools and tout our opportunities within our industry,” Byrd said.

Another roadblock for the industry includes new federal regulations.

In July, the new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration policy required drivers to take set periods of rest and limited drivers to 70 hours of work over a week, down from 82 hours previously.

The truckers’ association has challenged the issue, a move that included Byrd testifying before Congress earlier this year.

Byrd said regulation will require more truck drivers, further exacerbating the truck driver shortage.

He added the ATA continues to challenge the regulation, including lobbying federal lawmakers.

“What the trucking industry needs is a regulation that allows for the utmost safety on highways and allows for the utmost productivity and efficiency for both our industry and America,” he said.

Reach Tyrone Richardson at 937-5550 and follow him on Twitter @tyrichardsonPC.