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October 27, 2017 2:00 PM, EDT
Dave Manning Brings Work Ethic, Diplomacy to Role as ATA Chairman
Demeanor, Drive Define TCW President's Success in Intermodal Industry
ATA Chairman Dave Manning John Sommers II for Transport Topics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — People who know him say Dave Manning works hard, is extremely disciplined and comfortable with detail, eager to teach and a man who knows his mind yet appreciates the value of a mutually beneficial deal. Now he has the biggest platform of his life to put those qualities to use as the newly installed chairman of American Trucking Associations.

Manning, president of TCW Inc., an intermodal trucking company headquartered here, became ATA’s 73rd chairman Oct. 24 at the close of ATA’s Management Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Fla. He succeeded Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express Inc.

Manning, 61, has deep roots in the industry — his grandfather and an uncle were in the business — but the nature of his company means he has had to learn how to operate in a cooperative environment.

Some trucking entrepreneurs can run their firms exactly as they see fit, making and carrying out ultimatums if they choose to do so, but none of TCW’s intermodal freight gets delivered without some cooperation from railroads or steamship lines, corporations notoriously resistant to bluster and threats.

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Whether Manning was born with it or developed it over time, he arguably has the perfect temperament for intermodal.

“He wants you to think before you open your lips. He molds his words before he speaks and chooses his words wisely,” said Gary Duffel, TCW’s vice president of marketing.

“He doesn’t insult people, but he is direct. I’ve never seen him chastise another person,” Duffel said in an interview.

“There are a lot of smart guys and gals in [intermodal], although not all are willing to share what they know, but he is,” Jeffrey Brashares said of Manning. The two men are members of the Intermodal Association of North America’s board of directors, and Brashares, senior vice president of sales and national accounts for SunteckTTS, has known Manning since 1985.

“He came a couple of years ago to our agents meeting. He was very knowledgeable, articulate and willing to share his knowledge,” Brashares said. “People said afterward, ‘I want to call Dave and learn about this.’ ”

Manning discusses operations with warehouse manager Arron Taylor at TCW's Stanley Street facility. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

At work, Manning has guided TCW through the rapids of constant change: economic downturns, mandates for pollution controls on diesel engines, leaps in technology and demands from shippers for new services. The counterbalance is a personal life of uncommon stability: he has worked for the same employer since 1985 and been married to his junior high school sweetheart since 1975.

“The industry changes every single day. It’s part of what I love about trucking,” Manning said at TCW headquarters.

“We’ve evolved from just tobacco and changed as the market has. You always have to know how the market is changing and how that might fit for you,” he added.

Manning’s interest in ATA was sparked by two people: Phil George and Tommy Hodges. George hired Manning at TCW in 1985. He was the son of company founder Howard George, who started TCW in 1948, and the father of Scott George, TCW’s current CEO.

“Phil took me along to ATA meetings early on. I learned from him to speak up and show up,” Manning said.

Hodges, the 2009-10 chairman of ATA and chairman of Titan Transfer, upped the stakes of the game. Hodges’ company is based in Shelbyville, Tenn., so the two knew each other from the Tennessee Trucking Association. Manning said Hodges asked him if he was interested in pursuing the leadership path and then Hodges campaigned within ATA for Manning’s advancement.

“He’s been a good mentor,” Manning said of Hodges.

Manning sits in a Peterbilt day cab. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

Whether it’s TTA, ATA or IANA, the point of a trade association is not just to network with other members, but to use the forum to accomplish something useful and important.

Curtis Whalen, the executive director of ATA’s Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference from 2004 until his June 1 retirement, said Manning has played a critical role in improving conditions for intermodal truckers.

Whalen

At IANA, Manning is a 15-year member of the committee that administers the Uniform Intermodal Interchange Agreement, or UIIA. The agreement forms the rules and procedures for transferring containers and chassis among ocean, rail and highway carriers. Manning has worked to ensure the agreement is fair and equitable and is supportive of the current operating practices.

The agreement “was great in concept but one-sided at the start,” Whalen said of UIIA. It favored railroads and steamship lines over truckers.

“They’re used to having their way,” Whalen said.

The worst aspect of UIIA was that motor carriers had to pay for chassis repairs — even if damage was not the fault of the trucking company, and even if the repairs were not actually made. Sometimes there was double billing.

“There was a tremendous amount of angst” among IMCC truckers, Whalen said, noting that Manning decided to develop a white paper on changes needed to make UIIA fairer. Then Manning worked hard to implement reforms.

“His force of will and diplomacy” was key to the effort, Whalen said. Binding arbitration for disputes was adopted.

While there was patient, careful negotiation among the transportation modes, what moved it forward, Whalen said, was the plausible threat of legal action.

John Sommers II for Transport Topics

Through ATA, Manning also pushed Congress to act on chassis roadability, or safe highway chassis. Congress decided that chassis should be maintained by their owners, Whalen said, and that decision led ocean carriers to sell their highway chassis to third-party providers, including NACPC, the North American Chassis Pool Cooperative formed in October 2012 with Manning as its chairman.

Scott George, TCW’s CEO, went so far as to characterize Manning’s work on chassis as “visionary.”

“In my lengthy career of 44 years, I’ve never met a company executive more willing to donate his time and leadership,” Whalen said. “He’s a thought leader in the industry with diplomatic skills, and the consummate Southern gentleman. He has uncommon patience and brings out the best in people in solving industry issues.”

Huneryager

TTA President Dave Huneryager has put some of those skills to work for his state association. Manning became busy as a fundraiser as co-chairman of TTA’s political action committee after the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court allowed corporations to donate to PACs, not just individuals.

“We’re players now because we’ve increased the amount of money we’ve raised. It’s about access and the support of candidates,” Huneryager said.

Manning also joined the fray for TTA’s long-standing goal to raise diesel fuel and gasoline taxes to fund highway improvements. After more than a decade of trying, the plan finally passed this year, taking effect in July.

During the legislative debate, some legislators worried that higher taxes in Tennessee would drive truckers to buy fuel in neighboring states.

Manning stepped in and “did a 15-minute explanation on IFTA [the International Fuel Tax Agreement] based on his own fuel tax records. He took a very complex issue and boiled it down to five or six bullet points and explained it to the legislators,” Huneryager said.

“He’s serious but easily approachable. He’ll roll up his sleeves and help anyone with anything,” Huneryager added.

Manning said he would like to repeat this performance on the national stage; infrastructure is the great deal he’d like to see made.

“I’m hoping we can find some leadership from our elected officials in Washington. The ATA Infrastructure Task Force has pointed out the cost of doing nothing — it’s more costly than a tax increase,” he said.

“We have to get over the fact that gas and diesel taxes have the ‘T-word’ in them.”

He noted that numerous state legislatures have raised the two fuel taxes to fund road improvements and “there’s been no revolt.”

Tennessee legislators who raised fuel taxes were also clever in putting at least one project in all of the state’s 95 counties, he said.

Manning said he has talked labor law with his congressman, Rep. Jim Cooper. Having worked for his uncle’s less-than-truckload carrier prior to deregulation in 1980, Manning had a commercial driver license that he dropped when he turned 50. He was also a card-carrying Teamster.

I would enjoy doing that, trying to help them understand.

ATA Chairman Dave Manning, on testifying before Congress about trucking-related issues

Manning described Cooper as a moderate, blue dog Democrat who listened to Manning’s experience of how right-to-work law really works at a unionized company. He said the experience led to them building a rapport and respect for each other.

Whether fuel taxes, labor law, intermodal exchange procedures, engine emissions, vehicle safety systems or Scripture (see accompanying story), Manning is always willing to immerse himself in detail, master a subject and then patiently explain it to others.

Asked how he would approach Capitol Hill testimony, Manning said, “I would enjoy doing that, trying to help them understand.”

“He’s serious, very, very direct and well-versed on issues,” ATA President Chris Spear said of Manning. “He listens to others and then forms an opinion on constructive ways to solve a problem. That’s good leadership.”

Alan Witt, TCW’s chief financial officer, described Manning as “even-keeled,” but on occasion he will rise to a “controlled anger.”

“He’s driven to do the right thing. He sets aside self interest and emotions,” Witt said. “He’s always looking for a path to the resolution of a problem. He has a really unique ability to listen well and understand the concerns of others” to help construct a viable solution.

The son of a dentist, Manning almost followed in his father’s footsteps. While that profession has its merits, there was something about dentistry that didn’t sing to him.

“I love to work with a team like you do in trucking — unlike orthodontics. I enjoy accomplishing things as a team,” he said.

For the next 12 months, he’ll have a nationwide trucking federation as his team.