2019 August Member of the Month: Stephanie Williamson

Stephanie Williamson

In announcing Stephanie Williamson from Dart Transit as the 2019 Women In Trucking (WIT) Member of the Month for August, the Association is recognizing an industry professional who has made the career journey from the driver’s seat to the executive suite. Today, Stephanie serves as the Vice President of Revenue Management, overseeing all aspects of pricing with Dart. Stephanie’s route to become a member of Dart’s Executive Management Team began long before she joined the company as a fleet manager in 1994.

Stephanie was born into trucking, and a strong argument can be made that she has held a driver’s perspective on the industry since her earliest days in the world. Stephanie’s grandfather was a career driver. Stephanie’s parents served as drivers and they even worked as a team for a number of years in the 1970s and 80s. In fact, to say that Stephanie was born into the trucking industry with a view from the driver’s seat is not that great of an exaggeration. Stephanie’s mother was working as a dump truck driver when she went into labor on the job and drove herself to the hospital. 

“Trucking has always been a part of my life through my family. There are pictures of me when I'm like two or three years old helping my grandfather rebuild a diesel engine, and I'm covered head to toe in grease,” recalls Stephanie. “My parents actually encouraged me to look at a career outside of the trucking industry. But, after graduating from college, I wanted to go into the trucking industry with the goal of helping to make things better for professional drivers – the men and women who are moving the American economy mile by mile.” 

Initially, Stephanie worked in the areas of driver recruiting and orientation before landing an opportunity to oversee a carrier’s terminal in the Dallas area. While she was working with drivers on a daily basis, Stephanie still sought to have a first-hand perspective of what it meant to be in charge from the driver’s seat. 

“I wanted to learn everything I could about this industry,” she explains. “You can't always make changes in any industry without gathering enough information. My initial input was in the recruiting process and the orientation process. But I wanted to do every job in a trucking company. With a wide range of experience, I thought I'd be qualified to help make those positive changes. At a certain point in working with drivers, I decided that I should get my CDL and drive. I knew it was the right thing to do for me, and I also knew that having a CDL would earn the respect of drivers who would see me in an office. So, I went out and earned my CDL.” 

Hitting The Road & Finding A Team Partner For Life 

Around the time that Stephanie entered truck driving school to gain her CDL, she had started dating Bob Williamson. At the time, Bob was a driver who also did training for the company where Stephanie worked. When Stephanie earned her CDL, she wanted to hit the road for the carrier. Bob served as Stephanie’s driver trainer, and the couple then became a driving team.

As Valentine’s Day approached in 1989, Stephanie and Bob were hauling a load that would take them close to Las Vegas. That’s when Bob suggested they make an unscheduled stop and a life-long commitment. 

“Bob said, ‘I think we should get married." And I said, ‘Well, okay. You want to just swing through Vegas and get married?’ Then Bob said, ‘Sure,’” Stephanie recalls. “So, we got there, and we dropped our trailer at the old Union 76 Truck Stop in Las Vegas. Then we bobtailed through a drive-through wedding chapel and got married. It's still kind of crazy to me. You see people put a lot of work and money into weddings, and, many times, those marriages don't last. Then you find a drive-through wedding chapel, have your wedding in Las Vegas, and we’re now thankfully going 30 years strong.

“A marriage is just like a job. It’s hard work, and you get out of it what you put into it,” she adds. “It's just like I tell the drivers every week in orientation, "If we have a problem between the two of us, let's talk about it. We're married now through the company. We might need trucking’s equivalent of couple's counseling occasionally, but we don't have to get a divorce." 

The 18 months that Stephanie spent as an over-the-road driver with Bob not only established some of the foundational elements of understanding for their relationship, but it also provided her with an invaluable perspective on life behind the wheel.

“Driving is hard. That's the number one lesson. Driving is hard, and drivers put up with a lot. That’s one of the many reasons I always tell drivers, ‘Thank you, thank you.’ Because, like most everyone out there, I like the stuff being in the store and professional drivers make that happen,” says Stephanie. “There are some very hard lessons, particularly as a woman, that you learn on the road. Though it can be difficult and challenging on the road as a woman, it's not impossible. We have come so far just in my lifetime related to how the world operates for women who may be alone out there working as a professional driver.Things are much different than they used to be. It used to be all leering, bad jokes and all that kind of stuff. Now it is a more professional environment. There's probably some of that stuff still going on, but not like it was back then. I can assure you.”

Finding A Home & Career Advancement With Dart Transit

Following her time with Bob as a team driver, Stephanie got back into the office side of trucking and the couple welcomed a son into their family. En route to her job in those days, Stephanie would drive past the Dart Network location in the Dallas area. Stephanie learned a little bit about Dart and thought she would be a good fit with the company.

At the time she applied for a job, the company did not have any open positions, but Stephanie remained persistent, checking with the Dallas office almost on a daily basis. One of those phone calls paid off in a job interview to fill a fleet manager spot. As the company was looking to coordinate mutual schedules, Stephanie was asked if she could interview for the position at 5:30 a.m., and she was promptly at the location ready to answer questions. She immediately impressed the terminal manager with one of her initial responses.

“He asked me, ‘OK, where do you see yourself in five years?’ And I told him, ‘I want your job.’ Looking back on things, I was actually shooting a little bit low with that response,” recalls Stephanie with a smile. “I found a home at Dart because the company has a culture where everyone is given the opportunity to let their talents shine, and Dart has provided me with so many opportunities over 25 years.” 

During her tenure with Dart, Stephanie has held a series of positions within operations, customer service and pricing at the company. As Dart plans to take time this fall to commemorate the company’s 85th anniversary, Stephanie appreciates the fact her career progression to an executive management position followed in the tradition of the important contributions that women have made to the growth of the Dart Network. Dart Chairman of the Board Don Oren and wife, Bev, became a dynamic duo within the trucking industry during the 1950s and through the 1990s. Still in his position as Dart’s Chairman, Don continues to be a daily presence with the company his father, Earl, founded in 1934. Bev has retired from her position as head of HR, but her impact on the company’s culture remains clearly evident. 

“Bev Oren would never have stood for someone being limited because of their gender. To this day, Don is same way. It’s about qualifications. It's about who can do the job,” explains Stephanie on the approach the Orens have taken in building their family-owned company. “When I started my career here, Bev was very active in the company. Bev is kind, she is generous, and she is tough when she needs to be. I think fair and stable are two very good words to describe Bev, but also innovative.

“The whole family embraces innovation. But one of the things Bev does is she embraces innovation in the human capital arena versus technology and things like that,” Stephanie adds. “She wants people to succeed, and she wants to give people opportunities as they earn them.”

One of Stephanie’s role models in the Dart Network is Joyce Jordan, a Bev Oren hire who served as the company’s executive vice president of sales and marketing until her retirement. Along with Bev Oren, Stephanie views Joyce as one of the true trailblazers for women in the trucking industry.

“Anybody who has ever known or met Joyce Jordan knows that she was a tiny force to be reckoned with,” recalls Stephanie. “She is a very, very small woman in statue, but, man, when she spoke, people listened. Joyce and I still stay in touch. When I'm working, the voice inside of me that guides me is Joyce Jordan. And when I'm having a difficult time making a decision, I think about what Joyce would do. That’s when the answer comes forward.” 

Achieving the Goal of Making a Difference for Drivers

As the Vice President of Revenue Management for Dart, Stephanie has never lost touch with her experience in the driver’s seat or the memories of the time both her parents and grandfather spent on the road. Stephanie continues to be part of a group of Dart executives who spend time with company drivers and owner-operators as they go through Orientation.

Pricing discussions and bid evaluations with customer opportunities take on a different perspective and dimension at Dart because Stephanie keenly understands the professional driver’s role as the key link in the supply chain. Through her varied experiences at Dart and across her entire career, Stephanie is now in a position where she can positively impact and better the lives of professional drivers – her stated goal when she decided to follow in the footsteps of her parents and grandfather and enter the trucking industry. 

“Through the years, I have gained an appreciation for a driver’s time. When you think about our industry and how we work with drivers, time is our greatest commodity. I am very sensitive to the fact that, for a driver, time literally is money,” says Stephanie. “In the hours of service that they have to work with, when someone delays them or impedes their progress, that costs them money. I cannot allow the company to align ourselves with businesses that we know will cost our drivers money. Businesses that hold drivers up for loading or unloading, businesses that won't allow our drivers to use a bathroom, businesses that just generally disrespect the driver – I can't be a part of that.

“I look at it from the standpoint that we have to be careful who we do business with because the driver is the most treasured member of our team,” she adds. “I believe if we take care of our drivers, they will take care of our customers.”

The fact that she will be celebrating her 25thanniversary with Dart at the same time the company will be commemorating its 85thyear in business has provided Stephanie with a unique opportunity for reflection on her career and Dart’s legacy in the trucking industry.

“Looking back, I'm so thankful that I became involved with the Dart organization. I'm so proud of what we do and who we are,” observes Stephanie. “I'm proud as a woman. I'm proud as a member of this organization of who we are and what we do. I think that the Oren family has presented a great opportunity not only for me and everyone at all our facilities, but for every driver who has ever come through our doors. Through all these years and all the changes in the industry, Dart has always stood tall when it comes to the test of time and providing effective answers for the needs of the day.”