Den Mother, Drill Sergeant and Safety Leader Takes Center Stage
Among hundreds of state champion FedEx couriers, drivers and CSP drivers – as well as colleagues – he’s known as the best den mother and drill sergeant anyone could possibly have.
That’s quite a combo. And it speaks to the admirable reputation and unique leadership role that’s evolved over the years for Scott Mugno, Vice President of Safety, Sustainability and Vehicle Maintenance at FedEx Ground.
For nearly two decades, Scott, pictured right, has led FedEx-sponsored champion drivers at the National Truck Driving Championships (NTDC) and at the company’s Chairman’s Challenge Competition and Celebration (4C event), the latter held every year for drivers to prepare for the national competition.
Scott is lauded for his dedication to these programs, his passion for safety, the drivers and FedEx. He recently answered a few interview questions.
Have you been involved since the beginning of NTDC?
I have been fully involved in the NTDC since 2000, the year I became Managing Director of Corporate Safety, Health and Fire Prevention at FedEx Express. This year’s NTDC was my 18th national competition.
In addition to supporting Team FedEx at the state and national championships throughout those years, I also volunteered to assist the American Trucking Associations (ATA) NTDC effort in the early 2000s. I served as a Course Judge, Interview Judge and a den mother (my favorite role) at NTDC in that period.
These positions give you on-the-job-training to learn about the competition, the skills it takes to be a safe professional driver in our industry, the wonderful dedicated support staff from all carriers who support the competition and champions, and, of course, the champions themselves. Some of the best people on earth you will ever meet are involved or participating at state championships and the NTDC. If the public knew what I have seen and learned about drivers, carriers and this competition, our industry would be one of the best respected and thought-of industries in America, hands down.
Tell us more about the den mother role.
Being a den mother at NTDC is one of the most rewarding experiences support staff can have without actually being one of the competitors.
A den mother gets to know 50 of the country’s best drivers that year from one class (NTDC has nine competition classes.) You spend the better part of three days with them ensuring they get where they need to be and do – and don’t do – what needs or shouldn’t be done. On top of that, you do, sometimes, play what one might call a motherly role.
I’m here to tell you these steely-eyed truckers can get a case of nerves like anyone else. A den mother spends a little time calming them down or telling stories about previous competitors and how it all turned out okay.
One of the tricks fellow den mothers and I would employ was to make it fun in the ‘den’ and take their mind off the competition while they waited for their turn in the competition over that three day period.
We’d bring in games, music and decorate the den. It worked – and then became the norm the ATA adopted for a while. I have to tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve had 50 truckers call you “Mom.”
Again this year, I had several champions from other carriers come up to me and tell me they have to say ‘hello’ to me because I was their den mother way back when, and they appreciated the support and encouragement I gave them. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that.
What’s the value of the 4C event?
My role and the roles of FedEx staff expanded as more FedEx competitors, mostly by word of mouth, competed at state championships and we were bringing a bigger Team FedEx to NTDC every year!
Team FedEx grew large enough to where it became obvious we needed to have our own internal event to improve and challenge the team as they headed to NTDC. After a couple of events in other cities, the 4C was born in the early 2000s. FedEx Express hosted it at the Indianapolis Hub and it’s been there since.
The 4C upped EVERYONE’s game – state champions and support staff. Within the ATA NTDC rules, we hold an annual event that merges staff and champions into one unit for one sole purpose – improve our champions’ skills to be the safest and most skilled professional driver they can be. Along the way, Team FedEx bonds – develops esprit de corps – and at the end of the 4C, champions have met their newest life-long best friends in their fellow champions, and the staff have met some of the best people one could ever meet.
The 4C organization has developed into teams that move dozens of personnel from all over the country to build a temporary small town at the Indianapolis Hub employee parking lot so champions can practice their skills under the watchful eyes of professional staff and fellow drivers. The staff does its best to replicate the NTDC competition and experience, and on the last day champions compete among themselves for awards similar to the one they would receive at NTDC.
How has your role in these events changed over the years?
First, as the ranking staff member I was on the cross-opco steering team that came together to organize the annual NTDC and 4C. But this staff team is a team-of-teams and rank plays little if no role in our actions and decisions. The team listens to subject matter experts on other teams. We are a team of equals and if my rank comes into play it is to do what a leader would do for their team – help clear a barrier so the team can do what it does best.
We have a logistics team, a course team, a pre-trip team and a written test team, among others. We meet regularly throughout the year as some make advance trips during the year to identify sites and or prepare for next year’s events.
For every one of these team members, this is another day job on top of their actual day job. Of course, it’s a labor of love because we are so passionate about the NTDC and 4C programs, not to mention our FedEx champions and their spouses and guests.
Also, I carved out another team – the brain team. Now we have those other teams I mentioned but it’s important to know I do not drive a commercial motor vehicle nor should I. I’m better at helping organizing a driving competition than participating in one. But the need I recognized was not unlike the one I saw when I was a den mother.
Our FedEx steely-eyed truckers wanted some inspiration and confidence as well and I thought I could accelerate the bonding process among our champions. The brain team focuses on the six-inches-between-the-ears of each champion.
It’s the biggest team because everyone is on it. It’s the team as a whole that works on confidence, dealing with the stress of competition before the competition and being open minded to different approaches of learning and from everyone – staff, rookie or returning champion. I give a ‘pep talk’ at the 4C Friday night meeting to the champions and staff. I try to tell an inspiring story that will keep their interest, one they’ll remember, but more importantly they can relate to given what they are engaging in at the 4C and NTDC. I’ve used stories about the Beatles, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and this year the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon mission.
We see your passion for drivers, for the competition’s purpose, the 4C and NTDC events, and team building value. What drives you?
The two best weeks of my year are the 4C and the NTDC – each and every year. Hands down. Those two weeks drive, inspire me for the other 50 weeks of the year. Those two weeks serve to remind me of what safety can and should be every day, every month and every year.
The hundreds of drivers who go accident free for a year to qualify to compete in the truck driving championships are real-time proof that FedEx provides safe and reliable service to our customers while keeping themselves and the motoring public safe.
It’s also proof that any driver who puts their mind to it can do it as well. In those other 50 weeks, my team and I are challenging all FedEx drivers and CSP drivers to be safe. Some drivers may not believe it is possible, not with all the congested roads or the country’s infrastructure issues or the “other guy” out there.
That’s when we tell them about Team FedEx and drivers like themselves who are competing to get on Team FedEx. Being accident-free is very possible and it has advantages beyond becoming a member of Team FedEx. The biggest? Keeping the promise. The promise the driver made when they said “I’ll see you when I get home tonight,” or “I’ll meet you at your soccer game,” or “We’re going to have a great weekend this weekend, can’t wait.”
As a safety professional, part of my job is dealing with the aftermath of when that promise isn’t kept. That drives us as well, but on days that are rougher than others, the two weeks of 4C and NTDC, and FedEx champions carry us through.
Your reaction to this year’s (2017) results?
The best ever NTDC for Team FedEx! Of course I’m incredibly proud of all Team FedEx awards and accomplishments over the 18 years I’ve been involved. But 2017 was the most singular exceptional year Team FedEx ever had.
Eighteen Team FedEx champions walked away with “hardware” in their hands that included a lifetime award and a Grand Champion among many others. It is a testament to the quality of the FedEx champions and the respect and support they receive from FedEx leadership.
Safety is a team activity. The individual is the key to safety but when the individual is encouraged and supported by their peers, management and company leadership – well, Aug. 12 (the ATA championship banquet) is what safety looks like when it all comes together. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this year’s results.
Do you see FedEx as a safety influencer in the transportation industry?
Team FedEx’s outstanding (but they’ll get better!) performance at NTDC makes FedEx a safety influencer for the transportation industry. Our commitment to the NTDC program – one of the best safety programs ever – is the envy of other carriers and drivers. But there is more.
Every one of the FedEx state and national champions instantly becomes a safety ambassador of sorts when they promote the truck driving championship program to fellow drivers back home. They also become mentors for new FedEx drivers and CSP drivers who are encouraged by what they hear, and who then want to participate in the program. That’s the “paying-it-forward” request we make of champions every year.
Finally, don’t forget that our champions become the face of safety on the road, FedEx’s commitment to that and most importantly, our champions’ commitment to themselves. They are our best safety influencers for our company and our industry.
Additionally, many of our FedEx NTDC champions go on to be Road Team Captains for the American Trucking Associations, some state associations and now operating company teams.
These captains become ambassadors by making public appearances at schools, state and federal capitals and other events to teach and explain road safety and sharing the road with big trucks.
Also, as we who volunteer at NTDC or 4C have learned, these Road Team Captains also put a face on trucking – a face of a confident, professional safe driver no different than the publics’ family members, friends, or neighbors.
However all of that is just one of the ways FedEx is an influencer. Its starts with our Chairman and Founder, Frederick Smith. His insistence for “Safety Above All,” and his “no package we could ever carry is worth jeopardizing the safety of one employee” approach made FedEx a safety influencer in the industry.
Is he serious about that? Well, he lent his title to the 4C – the Chairman’s Challenge Competition and Celebration. For those who may not know, FedEx champions who win national awards at the NTDC meet the Chairman at his office every year. Talk about influence.