Wabash’s CEO relies on military training for transformation

How does nearly three years as a sidekick to a nuclear machinist in the US Navy prepare someone to be CEO of Wabash? Very well, according to Brent Yeagy, who ticks both boxes on his resume.

Marine nuclear weapons to the trailer business

On Veterans Day it is appropriate to thank those who have served for their sacrifice. It’s also interesting to find someone who can apply the skills they learned in the military to the rigors of the corporate world.

In addition to leading Wabash, formerly known as Wabash National, Brent Yeagy has led a transformation and rebranding of the Lafayette, Indiana-based company in recent years.

Yeagy claims that military service teaches more than just a sense of duty. The ability to accomplish a mission, deal with ambiguity, and develop a service mentality are hallmarks of a well-performing veteran. Yeagy himself was part of the Navy’s renowned Nuclear Power Program.

“What this program really puts through is an incredible attention to detail and incredible process-driven results,” Yeagy told me. “There is a high level of risk management that goes into managing and operating a nuclear reactor abroad in a port in another country.

“The precision and vigilance required to manage this asset, where it can have disastrous geopolitical consequences, cannot be measured in simple words.”

Brent Yeagy goes from Navy veteran to CEO. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

And that explains why the program’s graduates are sought after by industry when they leave the Navy. Think utilities and a variety of other technical fields.

Yeagy and I talked about the carry over value of his three years as a sidekick to a nuclear machinist and how that affected his tenure as CEO.

What special value do you associate with your military service at Wabash?

It has always been a part of the different roles I’ve had, but I think as a Chief Executive Officer, where you lead a company by setting a vision, you help them navigate through confusion. They think about the pandemic and the uncertainty and what came with it. I think I was uniquely prepared to be able to guide a group of people in a way through it in a conflict oriented world.

It is understood that ambiguity can cripple a business. How did you deal with it?

I really relied on the officers’ training and experience and translated that to get the people through to the end and get us to a place where we can continue the mission. I’m surprised how much it has come back.

You are converting a Wabash refrigeration system into dry transporters. How does it work?

We are well on track to reach full production by mid-2023. We’ve been able to navigate it through all the supply chain issues to run to this point.

Hiring enough people has been an industry-wide challenge. Are there any improvements?

Workforce has become more available and stable within our manufacturing locations from coast to coast. Whether it’s the economic environment or whatever, we absolutely see a more conducive working atmosphere.

Any update on how Wabash addresses first-to-last-mile products?

We feel really good about where the strategy is going and how these assets are allowing us to have new and different conversations with some of the biggest first-to-final mile companies, and the list keeps growing. But we don’t use it like a traditional truck body builder would.

can you expand that a bit

It’s not about building most truck bodies, it’s about making sure we build the right truck bodies for the right customer buying a portfolio of Wabash products. There are cooled, cold or dry truck bodies, flatbeds and tanks, parts and service – all along the line. So now we can be more selective and strategic about where we deploy our capabilities.

Is that related to the rebranding you did?

We are working to position Wabash as a less market responsive company and much more forward thinking about where the market is going. Branding is about saying that we see the world differently, offer our products differently, and understand your business in a way that we want to move forward with you, not just meet your needs over the next year.

So it’s not just about placing an order and receiving the delivery?

This long-term agreement gives them a strong source of a premium product with known capacity for several years. We’re achieving deeper parts and service value points and broader portfolio penetration, and we’re working together on ways we can add value to one another. We can now because we have an airstrip.

Wabash is still national. It only goes on the market with a single name. (Photo: Wabash)

Workhorse settles with shareholders

All it takes to excite attorneys working to craft class action lawsuits for aggrieved shareholders is a market slump like the one we’re witnessing — not counting the best Thursday day since April 2020. Destinations abound: TuSimple. hylion. Nicola.

Things are a little worse for former meme stock Workhorse Group. The electric van maker, which is holding on until new products are ready, has agreed to settle certified class action lawsuits in California and derivative lawsuits in Nevada and elsewhere. The settlement cost the Cincinnati-based company $15 million in insurance cash and $20 million in company stock.

The settlement class in the class action consists of purchasers of Workhorse stock or other securities between March 10, 2020 and May 10, 2021. They are seeking damages under federal securities laws for statements made by Workhorse.

Separately, during this week’s earnings conference call, Workhouse said it found additional issues testing the redesign of its C-Series electric vans, which it recalled earlier this year. More work is required, and the company is trying to decide if it’s worth the effort and expense.

The Workhorse C-1000 may never be sold. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

About this discount

Nikola knew what it was getting into when it bought struggling battery maker Romeo Technologies.

“To see that Romeo had a high cost isn’t surprising,” Mark Russell, Nikola’s recently retired CEO, told me this week. “It was surprising how high it was.”

Nikola could have let Romeo go under and tried to pick up the pieces at a discount. Russell knows that high costs for a startup are a given.

“Not surprisingly, their costs are very high in the early stages of production. We have the same thing,” Russell said. “Until that volume is reached, you can’t cut your costs very effectively. You have to automate things, grant volume discounts [and] Work on costs over time.”

Nikola received a $110,000 rebate on every battery pack made by Romeo. Now she has to pay for it. (Photo: Alan Adler/FreightWaves)

Romeo discounted $110,000 on every battery pack it sold to Nikola. It will take Nikola over the next five quarters to recoup those additional costs.

Nikola now has the unenviable task of reducing the amount Romeo paid for everything, including the wiring harnesses, to be built in Los Angeles rather than by cheaper labor in Mexico. The big ticket was the battery cases from China, where Romeo paid about 90% more than it should have.

“We entered and closed this deal because we believe that over time we can bring it down,” Russell said. “We certainly found out about these costs early enough in the process that we could have done something differently. But bringing that in-house was strategically right.”

That’s it for this week. Thank you for reading. Click here to receive Truck Tech by email on Fridays.


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