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March 7, 2016 3:30 AM, EST

New TMC Chair White Hunts for Technicians When Not Maintaining Bulletproof Trucks

Joseph Terry/Transport Topics
This story appears in the March 7 print edition of Transport Topics.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For a truck repair guy, Douglas White’s vehicles aren’t the largest, but they are bulletproof. The new chairman of the Technology & Maintenance Council is hoping to channel some of that toughness toward helping to remedy TMC’s ongoing battle against the chronic technician shortage.

White, vice president of fleet maintenance for Dunbar Armored, took over as TMC chairman during the group’s annual meeting here Feb. 29 to March 3. He has been a maintenance manager in trucking since 1994 and a TMC member since 1995.

White, 59, has a hard time understanding why many people wouldn’t be drawn to a maintenance career, which he has loved. He wants to make a dent in the problem for the benefit of his industry and to make his own work life easier.

“Dunbar has 66 maintenance facilities nationwide and 76 mechanics working at them — most are one man per shop. . . . If I could wave a magic wand, I’d hire 10 to 15 more, if I could find them. I could certainly put eight more to work tomorrow,” he said during a Feb. 29 interview.

White succeeds Kevin Tomlinson of South Shore Transportation as TMC chairman for a one-year term. Tomlinson agreed that the technician shortage is the most pressing problem in truck maintenance and that the council will be in good hands under White’s leadership.

“I’ve known him for about 15 years through TMC, and we’ve worked together especially closely this year. Doug’s a good guy and a straight shooter. He likes to get things done,” Tomlinson said.

White is not offering a quick fix on the tech shortage.

“We’re suffering a severe shortage of technicians today, and it will probably get substantially worse. We can’t fix it tomorrow, but we can start,” he said.

White said he wants to address the situation with schools, including high schools, but elementary schools would be better, he said.

Four-year colleges have been stressed beyond reason, whereas trade school education has been unfairly shunned, he said.

“Students who aren’t ‘college material’ could make a really good living. That needs to be talked about,” said White, who had been TMC’s vice chairman under Tomlinson.

By the time a student gets to high school, White said, he or she may already have been convinced that a trade is not a good career choice, which is why he wants trucking to talk to younger kids and their guidance counselors.

White’s career is an example of the technician shortage and how a young person can benefit from entering the truck repair industry. Two important people who got to know White appreciated his talents so much they made sure he jumped ship from old employers to be with them.

Darry Stuart, president of DWS Management Services in Wrentham, Massachusetts, and the 2007-2008 TMC chairman, met White in the 1980s at Keen Leasing in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.

“He was a mechanic on the third shift, doing mobile repair on a fleet of reefer trailers. Even in 1988 you could see he was a diamond in the rough, and you knew he could climb to the top,” Stuart said.

When Stuart jumped to Cumberland Farms Inc. in 1993 to manage the private fleet in Canton, Massachusetts, he took White with him the following year.

“I was the vice president of distribution and Doug was my maintenance director. His ability to think and solve problems is second to none,” Stuart said.

After CFI they went to different jobs, but Stuart said they still talk regularly and that he is grateful they worked together.

“A very big piece of my success is due to Doug. . . . We flavored each other’s talent and enhanced each other’s abilities,” Stuart said.

White moved south to Baltimore and became vice president of operations for an International Trucks dealership. He and his staff worked on Dunbar Armored’s trucks and he got to know David Botzler, the company’s executive vice president of armored operations.

“Doug impressed with his experience and knowledge,” said Botzler, whose Hunt Valley, Maryland-based company transports coins, currency and securities, in addition to providing security services. He hired White away from the dealership in 2002.

White is definitely a manager. He has maintenance shops and employees scattered across the contiguous 48 states, and all of White’s assets are brought to bear on Dunbar’s fleet of 1,700 trucks, Classes 6-8, and also some armored Subaru Foresters.

His work life is split evenly between the headquarters and travel to his maintenance shops.

Yet he is also happy to get his hands on the machinery.

“We bought a company in Texas and covered six cities in 2½ days for due diligence,” said Botzler, who pored over business records.

White took a different path, Botzler said, and commandeered a creeper to roll under as many vehicles as he could, inspecting them from bottom to top.

“Doug was like the Energizer

Bunny. The more there is to do, the more he steps up to the plate,” Botzler said.

White has used his specialized knowledge to work with truck makers. He assisted Freightliner Trucks on developing a diesel-

electric hybrid armored car that runs in Southern California near Los Angeles.

While all heavy-duty truck makers talk extensively about uptime, White said it is especially important for his company.

“I can’t go to Ryder or Penske and rent an armored car for a day,” he said.

Technically, White said, his trucks are bulletproof only on certain caliber weapons at specific distances. That makes them bullet-resistant, whereas military combat vehicles are truly bulletproof.

White said he is impressed with today’s trucks and fascinated by what is coming, including connected and autonomous trucks, but he does wish manufacturers would give some consideration to truck technicians.

The space under the hood of a modern truck is so tight, he said, simple repairs are taking longer than ever.

“A cam shaft change used to take 12 hours, but now it’s 40 hours,” he said.