Christopher Krabbenhoft

Interview by
Published on
May 18, 2022

In this episode...

The most important thing that truck drivers give companies is the time away from home or their families - and the sooner companies make things more efficient in terms of supporting drivers, the better the relationship becomes. And hopefully, the easier it becomes to improve retention. There are so many ways to do this, but Magnum’s Christopher Krabbenhoft says the fastest way is to get everyone up to speed - learning and adapting to new technologies because the industry will keep adding new ones. Being progressive means adapting to things to help us save time in the trucking industry. Christopher sits down with Life By The Mile in an episode filled with insights on user-friendly technology and data that helps truckers on the road, the best culture to have for driver retention, and more.

Christopher Krabbenhoft

Christopher Krabbenhoft is the Safety & Compliance Director for Magnum Transportation in Fargo, ND.


remember at the end of the day it's all about our frontline people and those are the guys in the seats and the trucks doing the things out there making those deliveries helping keep the commodities moving and you know give them a break give them a little space don't cut them off you know to do the right thing and they're going to continue to do the right thing and help keep our economy moving and those supplies coming in

this is life by the mile delivered by freightworks i'm your host butch maltby we love the opportunity to come to you with compelling stories of drivers industry experts and it's really important that you subscribe so hit that subscribe button for youtube we're on podcast platforms everywhere and it's our opportunity to build a caring community around the country of people that care about trucking and logistics today it's a delight to have as a guest christopher krobenhoft he's the safety and compliance coordinator with the magnum companies in fargo north dakota welcome christopher well hi thank you for having me i appreciate it you're quite welcome and you know what i want to start out by asking this question because i'm looking at a very robust web platform here but rather than me read about your company i'll touch on some things in a moment tell us real quickly in a nutshell what your company is and what it does our company is probably the area's largest provider of all different levels of customer service and transportation we do everything from picking it up at your door to delivering it three four five states away to doing truckload dedicated we have three different divisions and we also have a logistics division that specializes in just helping the customers move the things that they need move right well you know one of the things that we find very interesting and let's just go ahead and jump in on this uh how did you get involved in this industry which is so vast and vital to the american economy what was your story well for me it was uh working in highway safety i was doing highway safety and during the winter time up here there's not much highway safety to do so one of the people i was talking to happened to be the head of the safety department over here at magnum about 23 years ago and he said well you already got a class b license if you'd like to get a class a we'd love to give you a hand getting that and then we've got a little bit of a training program and so i did that and i could work over the winters that was really nice and they helped me get my cdl and from there the rest has been history christopher let's go ahead and uh take a little bit of a rabbit trail here describe for people what winters are like in fargo north dakota um i i as a driver myself i'll just do a story with you real quick if you don't know we love stories it was about 55 below zero with the wind chill winds blowing out of the north one night i got home into the yard and it was really cold and it's probably two a.m and it's like okay well you know what i don't want to go warm my car up drive home just to turn the heat up and wait for it to warm up the truck's already nice and warm i'll just sleep here tonight and then go home in the morning and funny thing about that is somebody came in and they didn't want to be bothered by the noise of the idling trucks and stuff so they parked head in facing north and they had a texas truck so about two hours later he was banging on my door saying his truck was froze up from the wind cutting through unbelievable yeah just gelled up his fuel and he was stuck so let him in the building put him up in the driver's room and gave him a hand if that gives you an idea what the conditions can be like in wintertime up here well you know christopher i actually lived in the twin cities and i'm sure that's just kind of a farm team for things but we we i remember back in the day i was there in the 80s i'm old enough to tell stories from that decade and uh you had to have like a warmer for your oil for your sump in there because things would you know you could take a dix you could take a dixie cup with water and throw it up in the air and it becomes snow or ice so uh i mean do that every time it gets below that 20 below zero mark somebody'll be on the news going now we have boiling water in that sum well you know what we we're part of then a little special fraternity here you know living there i guess if you live in north and south dakota and minnesota you get to qualify for a merit badge of some kind let me let me ask you this let's talk big picture for a minute for those that are not informed about the industry in the way that you are certainly describe just big picture the major safety considerations for the industry what what just just describe kind of a state of the union what are the big drivers of safety considerations these days well i mean when obviously in a nutshell lawsuits right that's always always an issue your risk in mitigating that risk um i i think it was interesting when i came back and started working in the office one of the things that happened was i would tell drivers about their personal risk some of the stories of companies being sued and drivers being sued for that negligence also and reminding our drivers and our team to say hey look we've got to mitigate that risk by making our drivers smarter and educated to understand that you two can be included in it and tell them that the story of the driver that was in a crash up on the toll road um using his cruise control in the winter and he he was part of the lawsuit because of negligence and at the end of it it was a 50 50 split on the jury award so the driver is liable for 9 million of an 18 million settlement well then we start talking about these hundred million dollar settlements and then a couple years later it was a 202 million dollar jury award and then a 400 million dollar jury award now a 1 billion jury award out of florida and when you start talking about those kind of risks to drivers and saying that look these are serious things that you need to take in the heart of the matter as an industry i think that's one of the biggest things that we deal with and making sure that our drivers understand that they need to be safe out there you know chris christopher what is happening in the whole arena of nuclear verdicts i mean what do you see on the horizon with all that can you can you just be the subject matter the experts that you are and describe for people what we're dealing with these days well i i think again it goes back to and this isn't you know as far as being the subject matter expert on it i would say just the exposure that we get from being within our industry the articles that we read and what's going on um looking at that bigger picture of it i i see that either you're going to end up getting some regulation on what you can actually have in verdicts or you know the amount of money that they're going to be able to to go for or it's just affecting the industry in a way that is so negative the when you talk about what causes these nuclear verdicts it's a really good lawyer convincing a jury that you're protecting society from the totality of a company and and it's not that you know i i don't think that one driver always speaks for a totality of a company look at all the different companies out there that have bad reps because of one driver's accident that was put up on the internet or something yeah and and and really uh what happens too is you get a lot of angst on the part of jurors sometimes related to big business and you know frankly i've talked to folks they watch too much television and they think they understand verdicts and juries and lawyers and and and all of that let's look at this though from the you know in reading about your company it's very clear that your company takes seriously safety now the marketplace is filled with companies talking about the importance of home time and compensation and we care about you and your family and we care about safety and the like what makes magnum different in this respect i mean talk a little bit about your culture well i think the not to be corny uh i think when i was hired in as a fleet efficiency coordinator five years ago when i went in and talked with uh matt gadberry the president of the company and i was talking with him and i said you know what do you want me to work on specific issues you want me to chase down idling do you want me to bring down you know all of the regular big company concerns i really always go back to what he said which was you know find out what we can do to use our drivers as efficiently as possible the most valuable thing a driver gives us is their time away from home their time away from their family and that's in pursuit of a better life for themselves and that cause their their home and their family so the more efficiently we can use those people and the more money they can make by us being efficient

the bottom line will work itself out we really won't have to beat him up and i was like yeah you know what it's real easy to work with somebody that cares about the drivers and i think that you want to talk about culture that's our culture we care about the drivers and then supporting the driver well you know that's that's where i'm sure that uh even though you're hundreds and hundreds of miles north and we're here in western north carolina we do share that value and we'll often tell the drivers you're never going to be a number here we care about you we care about your family we never christopher lose sight of the fact that we've got drivers that when they go home in some cases there are little children that are looking out the window to see when dad or mom are coming home and we're not we're never going to forget that and never compromise safety in the pursuit of of anything and it feels like your culture is very similar yeah that's definitely the culture that we like to pursue with our drivers um one of the things that we've been able to do with our growth recently was the terminals that we added and an acquisition recently we got to go out and actually meet a lot of these new drivers and have that conversation and say hey you know i know other companies that you work for like to push you in really bad winter conditions things like that and that's not our expectation we don't want to have those serious crashes we want you to shut down and be smart and reasonable and do the right thing uh we want you to be safe and get home every night so that's what's important christopher let me let me ask you this uh given your experience uh are you able to pick up pretty early on a driver's commitment to safety are there some things that you find as variables that just predispose the driver to be safe what are some personal qualities in the drivers that are good and encouraging things that suggest yeah they're going to take safety seriously no i think we look at that in the sense of is the person a risk taker to begin with right you know that's always been one of the big leaders in determining whether or not somebody is going to be a safe driver now i i get the exuberance and trying to please your boss you got those guys out there they want to do a good job like your pickup and delivery drivers they want to be fast and they want to be the best they want to pick up the most every day they want to have the most miles in those sorts of things they want to please the customer and please the boss and they're willing to take risks in order to do that and i always tell them you know you got to wheel back those risks and moderate that to the level of safety that you can do that but be smart about it do the best you can by being efficient at your job you know one of the biggest things i say nowadays to drivers at the end of every phone call is hey don't forget you have an impact on the bottom line ease into the accelerator pedal oh that's quotable christopher that's quotable if i use that again i'll make sure that i reference it came it came from you now what how you know one of the things that we find in talking to different industry experts and drivers and the like is is we find that impatience is really an issue with with some drivers do you see that do you you see some that have an urgent personality and it just is a disaster waiting to happen kind of some of the things that we were talking about uh when we go back to look at look at the difference between how we look at drivers today and how we used to look at drivers right talk about that okay we have analytics nowadays right we can break things down and see how many lane departures somebody has um there's so much technology out there that it's it's balancing that technology and educating the driver to the benefit of that technology i find that some of the things that we end up doing is educating the older drivers on the newer technology and educating the newer drivers on the equipment side of technology breaks things like that folks i want to let you know this is uh christopher krobenhoff he's uh the safety and compliance coordinator with the magnum companies in fargo north dakota uh you know he he's already suggested some things that are very important for you to understand about safety we want to make sure that you remember that we need you to subscribe to the youtube channel remember that liking and sharing and commenting is a way to build the community we're talking about the very important topic of safety today and uh christopher let me let me ask you this when you look at what's happening with the industry where do you see technology taking us in the future as it relates to safety what might we expect in the days ahead just be a prognosticator for a few minutes oh i think we're going to see fewer scale stops i think we're going to see technology and sensors getting to the point where as the drivers approaching a scale with the department of transportation they're going to send a signal a couple of miles out that'll transmit everything from the log break adjustments stuff like that to them and they're going to be able to utilize an anal you know an algorithm to look at that and say hey is this person being compliant is there any issues we need to pull them in for i think it'll improve inspection times overall for the trucks they actually pull in because they're going to go right to the heart of the matter and that's just going to make it safer the frustration i think for the drivers is the feeling that this technology makes them not as valuable and i always go back to saying hey the technology is there to help you at the end of the day you're still the most important safety equipment i have well exactly and you know it's interesting because my father was an airline pilot of course years and years ago but the airline industries had to face some of this i mean you've got air buses and other planes that can kind of take themselves off and land themselves and i'll be honest with you i think the railroad is the best example of that um one of one of our recruiters tony used to tell me he goes hey when i'm talking to drivers and they talk about cameras facing me and things like that remember railroads are on tracks and they have cameras on the engineers right i mean it's coming at some point in time it's going to get there right exactly and uh you know pilots or uh or train engineers or whatever i think when they come to embrace that cameras and forward-facing cameras and like a lot of this is really about safety and and protection of the drivers as well because when you've got the existential evidence of what took place right christopher you can i think i think you just hit it right there that's what's important for the driver and one of the things i do in our orientation piece when i'm talking to our new people coming in is tell them hey whose data is this when what i mean by that is whose data is this when you're driving the truck it's your data you're the driver you're the person creating it you activate the safety um sensors you're the person going into the corners either to too quickly having the rops things like that the data you give us is the data we can use to protect you and to show that you're innocent that you actually do a good job or it's the data that says hey i'm not doing a good job and this is why we're having a conversation in the first place exactly and i think it seems like when when the light bulbs come on for a driver and they cross all over the rubicon of understanding hey you know what this is not big brother this is about protecting me and protecting the interest of the company right most definitely i think when you start getting that level with the driver and it also i you have to give the drivers something to believe in and showing them that you're going to continue that commitment and we started i want to say putting in uh all disc brakes in 2014 all the way around trucks and trailers um and it's a commitment when things were going a little bit tougher the companies said no we're going to stick that out i think it's more important adding the safety equipment and things like that yeah we're going to continue to do that if it makes the driver safer then that's what we want to do christopher what's been your experience about drivers accepting new technologies new processes what are some of the things that you have found to be helpful in encouraging drivers to take new things i mean for example the edl's were like a mount everest for some people right i mean it was like i just was definitely yeah never talk a little bit about your experience sir so we went through that with the um edl a little bit and then with the uh the eld entry level yeah the eld the entry-level driver program is one that we're seeing with bringing in new people and having that but when we're talking about the older drivers converting technology um again truck driver story hate to do this to you about him no no we love stories my my buddy ed smalley was a truck driver all his life uh ed at old scratch was a cv handle he uh one of those guys that had pictures of himself standing on the frames of trucks when he was five years old he retired when he was 69 years old from trucking um wonderful guy we were sitting at the counter here a while back up uh at the ta in new york and that's back when you could smoke at the counter still so he had a cigarette going and some older drivers sitting on the other side of him were talking about the good old days and wouldn't be great to go back to the good old days and eddie turned around he looked at them and he goes yeah the good old days when we carried a board between our seats so that we had a bed or the good old days when we didn't have air conditioning in the truck and they were scared that if they gave us power steering we'd over control the truck and roll it over and all of those good old days right guys and then he looked at me and he said son let me tell you something this industry consumes technology if it's new it's safe and it's going to improve something this is an industry that's going to pick it up and if you're not willing to be progressive and move forward and utilize and learn that technology you might as well get out of it because in a couple more years they're going to add something else the next year after that they're going to add something else and it's just going to keep going that is so that's a powerful encapsulation or a nutshell of really what the industry is facing you know it's interesting christopher whenever i ask old drivers i got a dear friend bud byers he drove for 50 years drove for yellow went over 5 million miles had no not not a single recorded incident in all those years which is just incredible he's got a closet full of jackets and all kinds of awards but every single old driver i've ever talked to when i ask him the question two questions do you remember the first truck you drove and you remember the first time you backed up a truck they all have an answer christopher every single one how about you do you remember your first truck oh gosh yeah talk about it our listeners and viewers was i was 10 years old on the farm that's the first truck i drove but the first actual over the road setup i went to do the test and somebody else had hooked up the truck and trailer for my class b and when i was crossing the train tracks they'd hooked up a three-quarter inch ball or a three-quarter inch hood hitch to a half-inch ball so we went over the train tracks it bounced trailer fell off but the chains caught it and i'm in the middle of the driving test so yeah i literally on the chains backed it up off of the tracks and into the parking lot and dropped it so because we didn't have any brake lights or anything for it and we climbed back in the truck we finished the drive i got back there and i said so do i pass the driving test she goes as far as i'm concerned yeah i mean i've never seen anybody back something up just hooked up to the chains before i'm like great she comes back out about five minutes later and she goes my supervisor said if you don't bring the trailer back you don't get to get your cdl unbelievable uh that was that story unbelievable now do you get out on the road still yeah i go out with the drivers i don't have a cdl anymore i got injured out in the oil field i had a spinal injury and tore the trapezius in three places um i still go out and coach our drivers i'm trying to get some time set aside where i can actually ride with our line haul drivers look we took a a coaching approach back when we started putting cameras into trucks and he said you know sitting down with the owners and and their mentality was let's go with a coaching approach instead of the hammer and stick kind of a thing let's not beat up people let's say this is what our expectation is and if you can change and conform to that great we'll give them some opportunity to change and conform with that one of the nicest things i had is i had a driver in orientation that came back um our return rate is great for that i love the fact that we have such a high return rate of drivers that leave and then they come back and i never realized how good we had it and then talking to me goes um one of the things i'm going to need you to work on with me is is changing my bad habits and you know understanding that i know that i have some and it's like hey as long as you understand that and you're willing to work on them the data will say whether or not you're working on them that is so true that is so that is so good and of course teachability is a great way for people to become better and advance we're actually working on a podcast episode that's along the lines of i left and i came back here's why because freight works here has had people that you know for different reasons it's a very seductive environment you get a big bonus waved at you you get a new truck waved at you and and a lot of times there's not the loyalty and folks will leave but we've got drivers to come back and say the intangibility of being cared for loved appreciated and a great place to retire at is why we're coming back and it sounds like magnum's the same way oh yeah um a little bit of bragging for us i know on the uh top 20 list of companies to work for we were in the top five mentionables isn't that great here at the last one that was a great feeling know that our drivers appreciate us that much my comment to that is i just love being able to support our drivers that are willing to go out and say hey this is that good of a company to work for another bragging point um average companies our size activate their safety equipment on trucks about every say five to six hundred miles i think is the average for the industry and we're on our on our best days we're between nine and twelve thousand miles on activations that is wonderful that's a real it's a real those are great great things and i always let our drivers know when they're coming in that is the quality of driver that is our expectation that that is that is tremendous and of course it reflects that it's not just head knowledge it's being applied and literally where the rubber where the rubber hits the road christopher let me ask you a couple more questions here uh when you're when you're not doing what you're doing what are you doing in other words outside of work mostly for a long time i i did do a lot of nothing but work i i believe blue for this company i love magnum i think we're a great company and i was in our after hours for five years and i just quit doing that a couple months ago so i did that every other week for five years and uh now i actually find myself out in my wood shop making shelves and things like that a little bit and that's great around the house that's kind of the hobby thing um i still love the computer stuff and i like programming a robot and some of that stuff but you got to you got to have a little bit of both things going on you got to have some willingness to learn the technology and you got to be willing to do something with your hands to get your mind off of the other stuff like the technology and things that is that is really good so you like to do woodworking oh a little bit of that a little bit of playing the guitar music that's that's wonderful you know for some reason when you talked about this i remember i took shop that was not my direction in high school but i wanted to at least know how to do basic stuff and mr barton i'll never forget his safety discussion where he lifted up his hand and he said gentlemen i want to talk to you about safety and he was missing two fingers so uh you know i was missing his mine was missing his thumb he had the that no thumb well and you know what and and all these decades later from warwick high school in newport news virginia mr barton i still tell the story of how his safety message went home for me when he lifted his hand and two digits were were missing so um you know safety it doesn't have to feel draconian does it i mean when you have drivers you can help them come to understand look we're not trying to beat you with this oh how do how do you talk to him if i'm a driver what would you say to me so like we have the conversation a lot of it also goes back to experience level with the drivers i think that how a driver's experience uh is going to affect how that conversation goes i hadn't had a conversation with the driver here not too long ago he went up to a ramp and it was his third trip and coming up to take the ramp he was doing the same speed the conditions had changed you don't drive him for a year and a half you know what are the things that you're looking for in winter conditions you're looking for moisture on the back of the mirror to stop being wet and rolling off but to actually start turning to ice clinging leaving little icicles things like that do you see snow snakes on the ground per se or the lines of the snow weaving across the ground or is it still wet and overspray those you know just little keys that you either get through experience and talking with other drivers and having time doing it he didn't have some of those so he wasn't necessarily prepared so our conversation was more along the lines of okay everything's fine we didn't have any major issues then i get it uh you now know what to look for and then let's just make sure that we're slowing down because in the end our biggest factors are speed you know and having it out and your space exactly and being able to distill that for drivers in a way where they can put that in the toolbox of their heart and mind and and and apply it every day is is so important well and as a trainer as that type of person i think that part of that other piece is is that you've also got to switch gears if it's not registering with them there are different ways to reach people whether it's using a simulator whether it's using classroom whether it's using a book education system whether it's just taking them out and working with the equipment with them people learn differently and if you want to keep the people you're going to have to switch up your style sometimes in order to train them that's that's really good christopher and i love the concept of coaching more than being sort of a top-down leader i mean that that that i think would defuse a lot of the defensiveness on the part of the drivers when they know it's a coach you know it's somebody that's going to help me well and not everybody took that early on you got to fight with some people obviously when you're bringing in these things we when we started with the cameras we went through that had a lot of the uh how do you say it creative metaphors and colorful languaging and stuff like that and i was told many times that i don't need some snot-nosed college kid at a desk telling me something and then i have to go through the history and explain who and what i've done what i've driven and then they're like oh suddenly the conversation's a little different you know you got to have some of that in the office you got to have some office experience that's driven a truck that's part of it you know christopher one of the things that i've done that's been helpful is i had no background in trucking and logistics and uh i will often stay in the driver's lounge and because i'll have a you know a shirt on like this i'll get drivers that'll come in tell me about their truck being broken down and what needs to be fixed and what they're not happy about potentially and i'll i'll listen to them and and uh and i learned i've learned so much just you know just by doing that you just said the key right there you would listen to the drivers you're not talking to them you're listening to them exactly exactly and as soon as i tell them and volunteer listen i don't know what you're talking about in this particular case but i'm i want to learn i want to listen and i have found tremendous personal education by making the drivers the focus asking good questions and just listening to what they have to say and that seems to be your ethic christopher 2 well it definitely is um if you can it's getting the pulse your company and if you can put two fingers on the pulse of your company by listening to the employees it makes a difference and i think magnum does a really good job of that i think they do a great job of leading our company culture from the top down it resonates throughout everything we do every day this is uh christopher krobenhoff he's the safety and compliance coordinator for the magnum companies up in fargo we have just enjoy i've enjoyed this tremendously and what comes across to me christopher is that you're an active listener you're driver focused uh the safety is not just a set of rules and guidelines but you're really trying to incubate and inculcate a safety culture at your company which is a distinguished one freight works here in western north carolina is committed to the same kinds of things and you know i love the fact that we can have collegial relationships uh with companies around the country and you've been another tremendous expression of that uh today as a guest and we're really grateful now you didn't know this but you get a gift for being on this podcast oh wow and i'm going gonna go through it i'm gonna be like uh somebody on qvc for a minute here and and and you just determined what you want we've got this um we've got this life of the mile cap this went over really well at mats by the way uh it's got the red white and blue on the back and uh the leather patch up front of course we've got um the traditional freightworks cap here with our logo rate works one logo and then i have to kind of pre-call this this is often the choice this is a genuine yeti mug here let me just show it to you and it's got the life by the mile logo it's got the freightworks logo it's for hot or cold it's a yeti and that's a whole culture so you tell us which one of these you want we'll make sure we put it in the mail to you tomorrow no i actually like that red white and blue hat you had there that was really nice great all right well you know what that says a lot about uh your taste in fashion so uh yeah you know what uh some sometime sometime when we talk we'll figure out a way to get a magnum cap and i'll uh i'll i'll wear that on one of her podcasts so we'll send this along i will be happy to get you one sent down great and you know what i'm learning is that trucking and logistics is a hat culture lots of hats lots of hats well and you wear many and you wear them well so uh thank you christopher so much we're grateful appreciate what you guys are doing for the industry and and the time that you've given us today to have this conversation and yeah i i do appreciate the camaraderie between the businesses and the opportunity to have this conversation

no you go ahead please I just was going to say remember at the end of the day it's all about our frontline people and those are the guys in the seats and the trucks doing the things out there making those deliveries and helping keep the commodities moving and you know to give them a break give them a little space doesn't cut them off you know to do the right thing and they're going to continue to do the right thing and help keep our economy moving and those supplies coming in that's a wonderful benediction this has been Christopher Krabbenhoft he's the uh safety and compliance coordinator of the magnum companies I'm butch male your host this is life by the mile delivered by freight works make sure that you subscribe hit that subscribe button like share and become part of this growing community here at life by the mild


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