Ferrellgas Case Study – Rick Frawley

Q&A with Rick Frawley

[Finato] When you were looking to address the problem of distracted driving and mobile device distraction at Ferrellgas, how did you elevate the topic with the rest of the senior executive team, and was there any pushback from the leadership that you had to overcome?
[Frawley] That’s a great question. I think it’s about perspective. The way to do this, I think you need to put yourself in the shoes of those people in the C-Suite. They’re worried about different things because they have different jobs. The CFO is going to be worried about the spend and the COO is going to be worried about disrupting operations. And the Chief Information Officer, honestly, might be worried about whether the technology will integrate well with its own system and not disrupt other technology that might be in the cab. Then, of course, the legal department wants to know whether or not it’s somehow going to expose the company to new or additional types of claims or liability. So, if you can come prepared to talk to the members of the C-Suite about what matters most to each of them from their individual perspectives, then you’re already halfway there.
[Finato] Do you think we’re at a tipping point where companies are going to be exposed for negligence if they don’t provide this level of protection for employees?

[Frawley] That’s a good question. I think it’s very interesting that we may be getting there because, you know, everybody, as you’re going down the road, you see it every day. You’re up at the green light. The light’s green, the person in front of you is distracted looking at their device instead of going through the intersection. It’s become such a pervasive issue that everybody knows about – and some of us are guilty of it ourselves from time to time.

What I saw was the insurance. In the insurance space of trucking, insurance is not only getting more and more expensive, and the lawsuits harder and more expensive to defend, but the insurers themselves are starting to exit from the driving space. And so, ultimately, if they can’t make money because these claims are so large, then they’re going to exit and you’re going to have fewer and fewer insurers to choose from and the cost will be higher. In fact, this was something that we sold as a benefit to the insurance, to our program. …When I would go to Lloyd’s in London, trying to do a presentation, I always wanted to have one tidbit…a project we’re working on that we’re proud of to promote safety. And this technology was very well received by our insurers and I think that stands to give us the best chance as an industry to do that.

But an answer to your question, I think we are at a tipping point at some point because plaintiffs’ lawyers are becoming more and more sophisticated. They’re digging in to the discovery, they’re getting those cell records. And here’s the issue – it’s hard to tell when you get the cell records, “Hey, I wasn’t on the call then. This was one minute before when I took that call and I wasn’t moving.” The problem is, the plaintiffs’ lawyers are going to try to convince the jury, “No that’s not true, this is it.” So it leads to a doubt, and that’s all a plaintiff’s lawyer needs. This technology resolves that. That argument no longer exists because this technology prevents those calls from going through. So we know that could not have happened.

[Finato] How do you balance, when it feels like you’re saying “don’t spend so much time on technology”, but yet technology is a critical part of your job?
[Frawley] It’s a situation about balancing what technology you’re going to allow in [the cab]. The mapping function was very important if you’re out in rural areas, as long as it’s hands free. The other thing we found – you’d have stakeholders question, “What’s going to happen if it’s an absolute emergency and we’ve got to reach somebody?” Okay, well we can allow phone calls from the Emergency Help Line through to that service technician or to that driver – but we’re not going to open it to every number. It should be very rare. If they get that, there is a sense of urgency they need to get that message. And so that was the nice thing, we get to pick and prioritize what’s coming into the cab. It’s a balance really.
[Finato] You’ve described the solution that was put in place at Ferrellgas and it was pushed out to the drivers of your trucks. Was it ever considered as a solution potentially in the office for those that don’t drive?
[Frawley] We’ve never really had that issue because of the way it came to us from a safety standpoint. Obviously, perhaps it could be helpful in that area. But we were looking to drive the solution in the cab. The claims and safety concerns were driving that. But I suspect it could have applications there as well. But, from my standpoint, whenever you’re doing something like this, I have a saying. It’s “perfect as the enemy of good.” And so, I wanted to solve one solution at a time. And if there are other ways to apply that technology outside of the cab of the truck, certainly that’s something I’m sure they’ll consider. Especially if it’s of a safety side and helps benefit that as well as show a return on investment like it has so far.

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