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October 12, 2017 4:45 PM, EDT
Scott Mugno Is the ‘Brain Coach’ to FedEx’s Championship Drivers
FedEx's Scott Mugno (left) Mugno (left) by Jennifer Wade/FedEx Ground

When FedEx Express’ Roland Bolduc claimed the Grand Champion prize at this year’s National Truck Driving Championships, he did so as part of a team of nearly about 170 company drivers who were dominant in every class, from Step Van to Five-Axle. While the skills required to claim those victories are varied and unique to the competitors, the company has for years relied heavily on one man to get its drivers ready: Scott Mugno.

“He has been the voice,” Bolduc said of Mugno, vice president of safety, sustainability and vehicle maintenance at FedEx Ground. “He has single-handedly pushed the force through the FedEx wave of purple and it’s just a virus that grows. And it’s a good virus.”

Bolduc will be among a half-dozen NTDC winners to be honored during an Oct. 22 luncheon at American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, Fla. For Bolduc, the trip will mark a return to the venue where he conquered the Sleeper Berth class on his way to becoming Grand Champion. For FedEx, the championship marks the first time in five years that the company took home the competition’s top prize; FedEx Freight’s Don Logan claimed the title as a Flatbed competitor in 2012.

Mugno, in an in-depth interview with Transport Topics on Oct. 11, discussed what it takes to get drivers like Bolduc ready for the competition.

Mugno (right) chats with FedEx drivers as they prepare for a 2016 company competition leading up to nationals. (Jennifer Wade/FedEx Ground)

The self-proclaimed “brain coach” for FedEx competitors, Mugno has mentored drivers for more than a decade through zen-like mantras coupled with good-old fashioned “get ’er done” affirmations designed to maximize drivers’ potentials. Ahead of NTDC, Mugno leads a team retreat where he delivers a keynote pep talk meant to instill a deep sense of confidence in the competitors. He even came up with the team chant:

What are you?
Champions! 
What do you want to be?
National champions! 
Who are you?
FedEx!
Who are you?
FedEx!
Who are you?
FedEx!

Mugno had praise for Bolduc’s dedication to the challenge.

“I have watched ... this one driver from up in New England compete for this contest because he knew he could win. He knew he had the skills, and he would not give up,” Mugno said. “I feel like I’ve watched my son grow up and become the best he can absolutely be. But I feel that way for all of my champions. Roland is just one of those stories that I was closest to from the very beginning.”

To reach the nationals, drivers must win their state qualifiers and be accident-free for the year. The role of “brain coach” is one he embodied after noticing drivers over the years show signs of nervousness for the competition. A common concern for drivers is performance anxiety. To calm their nerves, Mugno has employed a myriad of reminders and affirmations.

FedEx drivers in their purple shirts dominate the field of participants at NTDC. (John Sommers II for Transport Topics)

“‘You do this in front of a crowd every day,’” Mugno tells FedEx drivers prior to competition. “ 'Joe Public watches you do this every day you’re on the road. So, you do this in front of a crowd. You just need to get that in your head that [this] crowd is no different than anybody else who’s on the road, or on those sidewalks, or working in that facility that you’re going to.’ That’s the kind of mindset I try to work with to get them to change, and that’s the kind of mindset I encourage them all to [adopt],” he explained. “The competition is the man, or the lady in the mirror that they see. And that they’re just trying to be better than they were the last time. They’re trying to improve upon themselves.”

FedEx has excelled at nationals in recent years. This year, however, was a banner year. A FedEx driver won the blue ribbon in most of the classes, such as Four-Axle, Flatbed, Sleeper Berth, Straight Truck, Tank Truck, and the Step Van division. Bryce Neilson of FedEx Freight earned the company rookie of the year honors.

I’m prouder [that] I had over 1,000, 2,000 champions compete and qualify for state championships. ... That means they were accident-free for a year just to get there.

Scott Mugno

“At my core, I’m a safety professional. At my core, I’m about safety and I want to grow safety,” Mugno said. “Am I proud of where team FedEx is, what it’s doing … yes. But, you know what I’m really proud of is not the 170-some-odd champions we brought to NTDC this year. I’m prouder of the number below that, where I had over 1,000, 2,000 champions compete and qualify for state championships. What does that mean. That means they were accident-free for a year just to get there. That’s the number that makes me happy. That’s the number that makes me proud.”

Ever the safety ambassador, Mugno also cares about spreading a culture of safety throughout the industry. The carriers share the roadways, and the championships are a celebration of safety and the drivers, he noted.

“I’d like to see the other carriers step up the same way we’ve had to,” Mugno said. “And bring bigger and bigger teams to the NTDC.”