This month, the SGF Insider Podcast—hosted by LeadSGF Executive Director Carrie Richardson—spoke with Dennis Davis to discuss his role as Prime Inc.’s Director of Safety and what he’s learned throughout his leadership journey. Keep reading for a recap of the insightful conversation.
Tell us about yourself and your story!
“I’m just a kid from St. Louis.” Dennis moved from his hometown of St. Louis to Springfield to attend Missouri State University. After graduating, he remained in Springfield in hopes of career growth and an increase in opportunity. As he gained more opportunities and promotions while working at Prime, he remained in the city, securing Springfield as his new home. “This is year 21 [of being in Springfield],” Dennis says, “That’s almost half of my life that I’ve worked for this company and lived in Springfield.”
What has it been like to grow your career at Prime Inc.? Tell us about the culture and what keeps you growing with the company!
“There are a lot of things both personal and professional that have made me stay [at Prime],” Dennis admits. “It’s where I met my wife!”
“A lot of promotion comes from within,” Dennis says. Dennis explains that within Springfield, there is a challenge of having diversity within the workplace that reflects the diversity of its out-of-office workers due to various factors. Due to the company also being close-knit, however, Dennis shares that from its driver force to its in-house associates, Prime’s workplace culture promotes growth within the company. Dennis’s 21 years did not come without its challenges, sharing that there were many times that he experienced hardships and felt undervalued while working towards promotions. “How do you make [challenging circumstances] work with longevity with a company? You don’t leave. When you get frustrated, and something happens and you’re not happy…don’t leave.”
While building his family, Dennis shares that he was able to mature, develop as a professional, and gain experience in various departments of the company. With that experience, he was allowed to be further promoted to Director of Safety.
What was it like being part of the Leadership Springfield Signature Class while being promoted to a new leadership role at Prime Inc.?
“It was during a unique transition time in my life.”
Dennis applied for Leadership Springfield’s Signature Class 44 and was later approached by Prime about a promotion that would require a new set of skills to effectively carry the vision of the company from a safety perspective. Nearly two weeks after the promotion, Dennis was accepted into Signature Class 44, which he says was overwhelming for him. “I’m not going to be the guy that backs out,” Dennis recalls. “I’m so glad I did it. It was an eye-opening experience [for one reason,] just to meet the phenomenal people who I had the opportunity to be in class and then to have the unique opportunities on those program days—those program days were phenomenal!”
As you stepped into your new leadership role, what are some things that you took from your previous experience?
“Your role is to challenge people and get them out of their comfort zone, to make them and encourage them, do things that they’re not comfortable doing to get better,” Dennis states. With his new role adding to the challenges of his previous role as Fleet Manager, Dennis admits that he was oftentimes out of his comfort zone but adapts as he grows to understand more of the vast industry that is freight transport and logistics. “If you’re not making some enemies, you’re not doing your job to the best of your abilities.”
As someone who enjoys networking and connecting with others, Dennis doesn’t mind being out of his comfort zone, especially for the sake of growth. Dennis shares that his promotion to Director of Safety alongside his participation in Signature Class 44 gave him a “crash course” in time management and perseverance.
Tell us more about Prime Inc.! What do you do as a company?
“Prime Inc. is North America’s largest and most successful refrigerated trucking company.”
Prime employs and contracts 8900 truck drivers that travel throughout the United States’ 48 contiguous states. Dennis shares that much of the community’s food and basic care needs come from trucking services and possibly Prime Inc.’s truck drivers specifically. Prime Inc.’s largest division is Refrigerated Transport Services, making their biggest commodities food and pharmaceuticals. “We have to celebrate truck drivers. Over-the-road truck drivers are really the only mode of transportation that goes through every neighborhood in America. Truck drivers are heroes. They provide the goods and services that I rely on every single Saturday when my family goes to the grocery store.”
With its headquarters here in Springfield, Missouri, Prime Inc. ensures that all of its employees have a vast selection of amenities such as a chiropractor, sleep labs for sleep apnea, a clinic, a gymnasium, and a movie theater. Other large terminals of the company are located in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Pittston, Pennsylvania. “The vision that our CEO and Founder Robert Low had when he created this facility was [that] he wanted it to be an oasis for our drivers…a home away from home.”
Tell us about Prime Inc.’s company safety meetings!
Prime Inc. broadcasts its company safety meetings on social media to connect with employees throughout the country. As the Director of Safety, Dennis facilitates these meetings every Friday of the year to address employees’ concerns, accomplishments, and curiosities.
“We simulcast to all of our outside locations…and talk about some of the challenges we have. We talk about some of the triumphs we have. We give our drivers coaching on things that they can do to be better and safer. It’s not just a safety meeting anymore, it’s evolved,” Dennis says. Dennis states that it’s transformed from a safety meeting into a cultural forum where everyone shares their experiences and concerns. This openness is not only encouraged through these meetings but also in the company’s physical building spaces as well. “There’s not a lot of folks with offices. There’s no silos, no barriers. If you want to talk to the Vice President, you just walk on up.”
Tell us a little bit about what else you do outside of work!
Dennis shares that some of his core values center around serving the community and being a resource to people in need. He frequently volunteers around various organizations here in Springfield to help uplift the community in any way he can. “Life ebbs and flows. Time is of the essence, and you don’t always have time to do what you want to do. So, it’s important for me to do what I can.”
Dennis is also a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the first intercollegiate fraternity established for men of African descent. “We are not a monolith by any means. We have brothers both internationally and locally, of different ethnic backgrounds.” Dennis credits the Alpha Phi Alpha as the vehicle that allowed him to get more involved with the community.
What are some of the most important aspects of leadership that you try to embody?
“One of the most important aspects of being a leader is accountability,” Dennis emphasizes. “It’s important for you to honor your word. And when you fall short of what you’ve promised or what you’ve said you’re going to do, you own up to it and fix it.”
Dennis also expresses the importance of considering the perspectives of others, in the workplace as well as in all aspects of one’s personal life; Understanding is key to healthy and safe environments and relationships. “It just means that we have a different outlook, primarily based on [the different experiences] we have in life. The quicker we understand that in a professional sense, or even a family or community sense, the easier it will be for us to come together and focus on the things we do agree on. The little things.”
“I think that once we get down to the core beliefs…that is the key to leadership.”
Is there anything you’d like to share about your Signature Class Retreat and Strengths-based leadership?
“Being self-aware is an important part of leadership.”
Dennis recalls first receiving his CliftonStrengths results. “It was like going to the chiropractor, I was skeptical. I didn’t believe Gallup worked. It works. It was 100% me. In fact, now knowing what my strengths are and conversely, knowing that they may not be the strengths of people I lead, I know how to approach situations a bit more delicately, especially in challenging situations.”
You’ve got a lot of weight on your shoulders in your role! What lightens your load and how do you recharge?
“One of the things that I had to understand about myself, and my situation was that in every facet of my life, I’ve got to be that guy. At home, I’m dad and I’m husband, calling the shots. With my extended family, I’m that guy…call Dennis and he’ll fix it. At work, if there’s a problem, call Dennis. That can be burdensome,” Dennis says. “The way that I’m able to recharge is…find things that [I] like that are away from everybody else and find a group of people that [I] don’t have to be that guy with. They don’t expect you to change the world or fix their problems, they just love you for you. That’s the way I recharge.”
Contributor: KaMara Brown, Communications Intern 2023-2024