Strong Silent Type: Meet ATA’s Driver of the Year William Brown
Editor’s Note: This article appears in the latest edition of Alabama Trucking magazine. You can see the entire digital edition here. To order a hard copy, please contact us at 334-834-3983.
By Ford Boswell
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It is often said it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about. When it comes to commercial drivers, however, there’s probably not a single fleet manager out there who wouldn’t appreciate a professional driver who does all the right things to be successful without a lot of discussion. Blair Logistics owner-operator William Brown is that guy: the strong silent type who just gets his work done at the highest level to the delight of those who work with him.
In 34 years of commercial driving, he has faithfully worked hard, focused on the details that matter, and built an exceptional career. A private man who doesn’t seek the spotlight, the 59-year-old lets his actions speak for him. His coworkers describe him as someone who always takes the extra steps to do the right things to deliver safely and on time without a lot of supervision. Over the years, he’s logged more than 3 million-plus miles without an accident or violation and has earned a shelf full of accolades and awards.
For his dedication to safety and professionalism, as well as for the value he adds to his customers’ operations, the Alabama Trucking Association named him Alabama Driver of the Year, sponsored by Southland Transportation Group, at its annual Fleet Safety Awards last spring.
Brown has been both a regional driver, long-hauler, a company driver, and an owner-operator working with various carriers in Birmingham’s hot flatbed market. For the last few years, he’s been a member of Blair Logistics’ stable of 600 lease-operators, earning a reputation as one of its most trusted and valued partners in terms of production and quality of work.
Blair Logistics Vice President of Safety Jeff Loggins, who nominated Brown for ATA’s award, highlights his leadership and dedication to delivering for the Birmingham-based company which was founded 10 years ago.
“The best word I can use to describe William is ‘low key,” Loggins says. “Once you get to know him, he opens up and talks a little more each time he’s around you. He goes about his business without much discussion and always does it well. He has never given us any problems from a safety standpoint – no issues with safety violations, CSA violations, or crashes, which is pretty remarkable for someone who has driven for 30-plus years.”
Loggins wishes he had 100 drivers with the experience and talent that Brown has. “Drivers like Willam make my job easier,” he says. “I can point a newer driver to William and say, ‘Watch this guy; this is how you do it.’ I wish I had a whole fleet of drivers like him.”
ATA President and CEO Mark Colson says professional drivers are the heartbeat of trucking, and Brown certainly is that for his company. “William is the epitome of excellence in our industry,” he says. “He’s a small business owner, a 3 million safe miler, and a family man. It’s what Alabama Trucking is all about — it’s what America is all about. A man of few words, he speaks with his actions and his intentions. That form of leadership is especially important in today’s world of hyperbole and self-aggrandizement. The world (and trucking) would be even better with more William Browns in it.”
After graduating from Carver High School in Birmingham’s Northside in the early 1980s, Brown had no real plan for his next life chapter. He worked a few part-time jobs until getting hired on with the City of Birmingham as a general laborer at the Birmingham Zoo, a job he says he thoroughly enjoyed, but he always had trucking in the back of his mind.
When he was a child, his aunt had a boyfriend named John Johnson who was a truck driver. Brown thought he had the coolest job and would jump at any opportunity to ride along on regional runs. “I used to go with him on his routes up to Cullman and back,” he recalls. “I always liked big trucks, and I thought it was fun being high up and seeing everything from the cab. I can remember thinking back then that one day I’d get my CDL and start driving a truck. I never forgot that, and that’s what I did as soon as I could.”
When he was old enough, he took a leave of absence from the city to enroll in classes at a private CDL training school in Georgia where he spent about eight weeks learning theory, truck operation, safety and procedure. After earning his CDL, he went back to work for the city to wait for the right time and opportunity to get into trucking.
His first driving job was hauling building supplies to local markets. Following that, he began a succession of jobs at various fleets hauling produce, heavy metals, and building supplies with some of the big-name carriers of the day, including Deaton, Inc., Colonial Freight and Boyd Bros, among others.
After a few years in the industry, and experiencing a little burnout from the grind of trucking, he went back to working for the city, figuring he’d come off the road to be with his family more. He planned to go back to trucking but knew that when he did, he’d do it as an owner-operator to take more control of his schedule and routes by leasing on with an operation that best suited his needs.
“What I like best about being an owner-operator is having more control over things,” he says. “The money is also better. I know my (level of) experience is an asset. Having had 30 years on the road, I know how to operate safely and efficiently, always taking my time to properly perform my pre-trips and check my load securements. I watch everything – mainly just keep an eye out for those on the road around me. You have to take it one mile at a time because anything can happen in a mile.”
He currently leases a truck from Blair Logistics under his current contract. “I have run my own trucks before, but I like having a newer truck for more uptime and less maintenance. I plan to pay off my current truck and keep it for a while, though.”
‘PRETTY GOOD DAY’
ATA Vice President of Safety and Compliance Tim Frazier says he’s known Brown for several years through the Fleet Safety Awards. “William was a Driver of the Year Runner-up in 2018, and he’s competed at our Alabama Truck Driving Championships a few times,” he says. “But this year, our judges were impressed with his extensive career, especially his personal achievements as a driver and businessman. His record speaks for itself and is a reflection of his dedication to highway safety and a passion for the road. His involvement with industry activities, civic responsibilities, and dedication to his family and coworkers were definitely major elements in the judge’s decision process.”
Loggins adds Brown embodies the word professional as a driver, and more importantly, as a man. “He is a man of his word and that reflects on his impeccable safety record with our company,“ he says.
Brown says he loves his job and plans to drive as long as he’s healthy, happy, and making good money. His advice to new drivers is to take safety very seriously. It’s the most important aspect of the job. “You just can’t come into this line of work and think you know everything,” he warns. “You can learn something new every day, but you have to watch and listen closely. You do that, and you’ll make a lot of money in this business.”
Brown says he was in his truck waiting to be loaded when he received word that he had won Alabama Trucking’s top professional award.
“That was a pretty good day, and I sure wasn’t expecting it,” he says. “But it feels really good to be appreciated for the work I do,” he says. “Trucking is difficult. It’s up and down. It takes years to learn how to do it right. I have been fortunate to work with some great companies over the years. Everywhere I worked I learned something, and I am still learning every day.”