Old Dominion Freight Keeps On Truckin’ Its Way Ahead

OLD DOMINION FREIGHT LINEAs a 10-year-old, David Congdon accompanied his dad to meet with truck drivers. His father, who ran Old Dominion Freight Lines, told his employees that the more the company succeeds, the more they can earn.

Congdon, 56, now conveys the same message to his workforce of about 14,000 full- and part-timers. He’s president and chief executive of Old Dominion Freight Lines (ODFL), a transportation firm founded by his grandparents in 1934.

“My dad is 81 and our executive chairman,” Congdon said. “He tells me, ‘The thing you brought to the business is a participatory style of management.’ He sees how I listen to employees and reach consensus rather than shove things down their throat.”


After earning his college degree in Business Administration, Congdon studied the burgeoning quality movement. He read books by Philip Crosby, W. Edwards Deming, Joseph Juran and Tom Peters, plucking ideas from these legendary management thinkers.

When Old Dominion sought to adopt quality management processes in 1993, Congdon led the effort. Four years later, he was promoted to president of the Thomasville, N.C.-based company.

The 1/10/100 Rule

Congdon still applies many quality management principles he learned 30 years ago. For example, he cites the 1/10/100 rule as a key to doing every task correctly the first time.

“If you prevent a defect, that’s a cost of one,” Congdon explained. “If an employee makes an error and another employee discovers it, that’s a cost of 10. But if the error isn’t discovered until an external customer sees it, that’s a cost of 100. You need everybody to do the right things right.”

When Congdon became Old Dominion’s president in 1997, he met with his 18 senior managers to engage in strategic planning. Before the weeklong meeting, he asked each of them to ponder four questions: Where did we come from?; What drove our success?; Where are we today in the marketplace?; and Where do we see ourselves in the future?

The process proved so fruitful that Congdon has continued to hold annual strategic planning sessions. While the leadership team’s size has grown from 18 to 28, he says that many of the executives who participated in 1997 remain with the company today.

Nine Seamless Acquisitions

Over the last 15 years, Old Dominion has grown from a regional to a national firm. It had 75 service centers across the U.S. in 1997; today, it operates 219.

“In 1997, the paradigm was, ‘You can’t do short-haul and long-haul under one company,'” Congdon said. “We broke that paradigm. We now offer regional, inter-regional and national services.”

The company has acquired nine small freight carriers since 1997. In each case, Congdon’s team converted the acquired firm’s information systems over a weekend to create a seamless integration.

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