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Tennant wants to bring back 'knights of the highway'
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More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Aaron Tennant is CEO/president of Tennant Truck Lines.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Todd Welvaert
Aaron Tennant is president/CEO of Tennant Truck Lines.
ORION -- What drives the CEO/president of Tennant Truck Lines always has been the same: the desire to be the head of a trucking company.

"From the time I was very young I knew what I was going to do. This was always my dream," Aaron Tennant said on a fall morning in his office at the company's current headquarters. The company is in the process of having a $3 million facility built in Colona.

Groundbreaking was in September, and the project is expected to be completed by June. The company has fully staffed terminals in Moline and Orion as well as Augusta, Ga., Baltimore, Md., and Wichita, Kan. Tennant will consolidate its headquarters and two Moline sites at the new Colona facility once it's completed. Now, the company is operating out of Mr. Tennant's grandparents' farmhouse, with people working in the kitchen, former bedrooms and even closets. "Hence the reason we're excited to get our new office space," Mr. Tennant said.

The late Sidney Tennant, Mr. Tennant's grandfather, started the business in 1946 when he bought his first truck and trailer. He began hauling livestock to Chicago, and then the company also started hauling machinery.

Mr. Tennant said the company has experienced much growth in the last few years but isn't stopping at that. "We plan to double the size of the company in three years," the 38-year-old Orion man said.

With the exception of working on some farms, detasseling and helping with the hogs, Tennant Truck Lines is the only place Mr. Tennant ever has worked. As a kid, he swept the shop, changed oil and changed tires. He stayed with the business, was vice president from 2002 to 2009 and has been president since. "Prior to that, I was a dispatcher, a driver, a mechanic," he said, noting he's had many titles dating to "way back."

"I've done every job there is to do here," he said.

Mr. Tennant's job as CEO/president includes leading the company's management team, keeping the team focused, and has a heavy emphasis on sales, which he said he really enjoys. The other part of his position is "to put out fires. When something's wrong, I jump in."

Although Mr. Tennant had a partial scholarship and was set to start college at Western Illinois University after graduating from high school, he decided to opt out of college right before classes started.

"I got cold feet and decided to keep driving," Mr. Tennant said

He said he regrets not going to college but is glad to have the truck-driving experience he gained during that time.

When meeting people while traveling, he said one of the easiest ice breakers is talking about college. "What I have to say is I didn't go to school," he said, adding that people often judge him harshly.

Despite what people might assume, Mr. Tennant said the company wasn't given to him. When his uncle retired and then again when his dad retired, he had to take out loans to buy them out of the company.

Mr. Tennant said he really enjoys what he does and is happy with how things turned out. "I love working with our customers, making our customers happy, trying to promote the industry," he said.

He noted that trucking is good for the economy and that there's a great need for more truckers right now. Tennant has been looking to hire and is having trouble finding employees because of a shortage of truck drivers.

He'd like to see the age to obtain a commercial driver's license (CDL) be 18 in all states. Now, semi-trailer drivers have to be 21 in many states. Mr. Tennant said the trucking industry loses many potential employees to warehouses and the trades because people can't start driving when they graduate from high school.

Mr. Tennant said another thing that needs to be changed is the image of the trucking industry. That image, he said, isn't good and has deteriorated over the years, which doesn't help in attracting people to the driving jobs that need to be filled.

"Years ago they used to be called the knights of the highway," he said.

That's something he wants to get back.




Living the dream

Who: Aaron Tennant, CEO/president of Tennant Truck Lines
Quote: "From the time I was very young I knew what I was going to do. This was always my dream."


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