Tell us about your career at Renzenberger and your rise to the presidency.
I started with Renzenberger 20 years ago as the executive assistant to the president and the two vice presidents. Throughout my years of service, I have taken on additional responsibilities. I started with the HR functions. We didn’t have an HR Department so I was able to create one from the ground up. From there I took on the responsibilities of the dispatch center, safety/claims and fleet department. I became vice president in 1998 and executive vice president in 2006. I took on the role as president in Sept 2011 when Bill Smith retired. Renzenberger is a great place to work. I was given a lot of challenges and opportunities.
Bill Smith, who is our previous president, provided me a lot of opportunities to try a variety of roles. I always joke, “Be careful what you ask for” because Bill would say, “Fine, go do it.”
Tell us about your fleet and the services Renzenberger provides.
Renzenberger started in 1983 – on our founder’s kitchen table – with two vehicles. We have grown to a fleet of over 1200 vehicles today. We operate in 21 states and we have about 3000 employees; most of whom are drivers. Our fleet is made up of full size passenger vans and SUVs.
We provide crew transportation for the railroads, oil & gas industry and manufacturing companies. We started in the railroad industry and that is the backbone of our company. Safety is the first priority of Renzenberger and we are the industry leader in safety.
Now you are moving into fueling with propane. How did you come to that decision?
With the number of miles we travel each year, we believed that there is both an environmental and a financial reason to look at alternative fuels. We challenged our fleet group to find some ways to make an environmental impact that also could improve the bottom line. Propane provides the answer to both.
We rolled out twenty bi-fuel vehicles in the Kansas City area. They run on both propane and regular gasoline. If there is propane in the vehicle, they operate on propane. Once the propane runs out, it switches over to gasoline. It is a very seamless process; drivers don’t even know the difference. We also have ten 100 percent propane vehicles operating in the Los Angeles Basin area in California. Our plan is to add an additional 100 propane units to our fleet in 2013.
The difference between gasoline and propane is almost $2.00 a gallon. We have had about a 1-2 mile per gallon difference in fuel economy, but the difference is pretty insignificant, especially since our vehicles average about 60,000 miles each year.
So at $2.00 a gallon on 60,000 miles a vehicle, do you plan to add more propane or bi-fuel vehicles to your fleet?
Yes, our plan is to roll out another 100 units in 2013. We are looking at doing 100 percent propane vehicles, some of which will have an extended range tank. Part of the challenge with propane is that there’s not a very large public infrastructure. We’re working with propane providers to ensure we have propane available in the areas we operate. We have even installed our own tanks in California and Kansas City.
Do you have a sense of that infrastructure growing this year?
Yes, I think it will grow in certain geographic locations based on need and larger metropolitan areas. In California we are working with a vendor, Arro Autogas. In addition to installing our fueling facility, he owns several public stations in the area that our drivers can access. Working with him we have been able to expand where our drivers/vehicles can operate.
Have you noticed any difference in the maintenance costs on the vehicles?
We haven’t had enough experience yet. We anticipate that our maintenance costs will be reduced because of the cleaner burning fuel.
Why did you select Roush to partner with?
Roush has a very reliable, proven system. They were easy to work with. We were able to get a lot of data from them upfront. They’ve been a great partner. For the bi-fuel vehicles, we partnered with Midwest Green Fuel, who installs the Icom system. The benefit of bi-fuel is that we are able to extend the range of the vehicles in areas where the propane infrastructure isn’t readily available.
What excites you about this industry?
The challenges. We are in an industry that demands perfection. We do a thousand trips a day and if we’re late on one, it’s a major failure. And while we can put processes and procedures in place to reduce errors, as long as people are involved, there will always be mistakes. Our challenge is to minimize them. Our team is always looking at ways of improving our business, improving the service to our customer, and reducing costs. There are challenges every single day and it makes our business very interesting and fun.
What about safety initiatives?
Because we transport people, safety is our number one focus. We have revamped our safety program and installed DriveCam cameras in all of our vehicles. With the information from the cameras, we are able to coach and train our drivers to change their driving behaviors before they have accidents.
Over the last four years we have reduced our accidents by more than 60 percent. Most of our reduction has come about through hands-on field operations initiatives. Our management team is responsible for safety and they are ensuring our initiatives are communicated to the drivers. Drivers are incentivized for safe driving.
How did the drivers feel about the cameras?
They didn’t like the cameras initially; they were concerned that we were using it as a punitive tool as opposed to a coaching tool. But over time we have been able to show them that our objective is to change behavior and make them safer drivers.
Do you use telematics?
We use PeopleNet as our telematics solution. We began installing their units in our vehicles in 2003. In addition to GPS data, we utilize their system for two way messaging. We can send the driver changes to their trips, weather warning updates, and safety messages. The driver sends trip updates; when he arrives at his pickup, when he is leaving, if he has to wait longer than normal and why he has to wait. All of that is updated electronically and at the end of the trip the driver knows what he is getting paid for that trip and we could technically bill the customer at that point, too. We also utilize the system to monitor driver speed based on posted speed limits and vehicle idling.
Have you been able to see what a difference telematics has made with respect to safety? Have you seen your accident rate drop?
Our coaching effectiveness rating with DriveCam is at 95 percent. This means that 95 percent of the time, once we have coached a driver he doesn’t repeat the same behavior again.
Oh, absolutely. Like I said earlier, since 2008 we have had a 60 percent reduction. Last year from 2010 to 2011 we had about a 25 percent reduction in accidents. This year to date, we are trending down about 15 percent.
Karen began her career at Renzenberger, Inc. in 1992 as the Executive Assistant. In 1994, she established the company’s HR Department and was promoted to Manager of Employee Services. She assumed the additional responsibilities of Dispatch and Safety & Compliance in 1998 and promoted to Vice President of Organizational Support & Development. In 2002, the Fleet Department was added to her list of responsibilities. She was promoted to Executive Vice President in 2006 and in 2008 the Data Processing, IT and Finance teams were added to her areas of responsibility. In September of 2011, Karen was promoted to President.
Karen has a degree in Human Resources from Ottawa University, Kansas City, and earned her SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) in 2000. She is actively involved with St. Paul’s Food Pantry and serves on the Church’s HR committee.