Ray Ramu is the Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer of Saia, an American less-than-truckload (LTL) freight shipping and logistics company. In a Q&A, he answers questions about some of the most pressing issues facing the transportation industry today, and how trucking companies can attract and retain workers.
Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Officer, Saia
What are the biggest challenges facing the truck driving industry today?
Because of its size and complexity, the United States transportation industry faces many different challenges. The national driver shortage and well-documented aging driver population are serious issues that impact the industry. It’s important that carriers find ways to make a driving career appealing and more exciting so we can attract a younger driver pool. At Saia, we think about it from the standpoint of the driver experience. Obviously, a competitive compensation package with great benefits is top of mind for a driver candidate. But drivers also expect good tools and equipment, meaning newer model tractors, trailers, electric pallets jacks, etc. It’s also about staying true to our core value of “treating each employee with dignity and respect.” Trucking, less-than-truckload (LTL) in particular, is an asset intensive business and is constantly confronted with high costs in the form of rising insurance premiums, increased government and state regulations, and a congested, sometimes failing U.S. highway system. Additionally, expenses in the form of real estate, having multiple terminals in states across the country, and the rising costs of new tractors, and how we outfit them with state-of-the-art safety equipment and technology.
How did you ﬁrst start a career in the transportation industry?
My cousin was in the industry and helped me get into the business when I was 20 years old while attending school at night. I worked for a local LTL carrier on Long Island, New York. I’ve worn many hats during my career, including sales, operations and various leadership roles. This year I’ll be celebrating my 23rd year with Saia!
Can you discuss steps that your organization is taking to empower health and safety for drivers on the road today?
At Saia, we’re constantly investing in both programs and technology to support the health and bolster the safety of all employees, especially our drivers. With regard to health, we offer a benefits package that is second to none, including free medical after 10 years of employment. It also consists of a wellness program, Healthy Directions, which supports employees in their quest to live healthier lives. We also invest in a variety of technologies, such as driver assistance systems, to safeguard our drivers. On average, the age of a tractor in our fleet is four years and each is equipped with safety features that assist in keeping our drivers safe. Additionally, each driver goes through an annual Smith System training program where they learn about the five keys to safe driving.
What advice would you give to veterans considering professional truck driving as a career?
For any military veteran, transportation is a great place to consider a career because the vast majority can apply the skills they learned and developed while serving in the military to those needed in the industry. Like most all industries, those in transportation are looking for applicants who have an excellent work ethic, are leaders, and have great interpersonal skills — all traits that will guarantee success. We encourage all veterans to consider Saia for employment whether they’re interested in driving or are interested in other available careers in transportation and logistics.
Why is truck driving a good career path for veterans?
Veterans are a group of professionals that are well trained and disciplined. They can handle high volumes of work and demands. The transportation industry can be very challenging so a veteran’s experience in the military makes for a smooth transition. Additionally, there’s not one particular job that the military prepares new applicants for. Successful careers can and have been established in every department. Veterans are serving in a variety of roles, as mechanics and freight handlers to positions in driving and management.