Ross Froat became so hooked on trucks from a high school vocational class his senior year, he put off college to take a full-time job at a Penske Truck Leasing rental shop in Baltimore.
When Froat finally decided to get an electrical engineering degree, he juggled classes with mechanic work. His experience as a wrench-wielding techie provides a unique resume to lead the American Trucking Associations’ technology and cybersecurity efforts.
Froat, 31, is the ATA’s director of engineering and information technology. As the trucking industry trade organization’s technology policy point person, he’s responsible for crafting positions on a range of issues, including on-board logistics to cybersecurity threats.
As trucks become more digitally connected and adopt autonomous driving features, it’s a role that should only become more important.
On Tuesday, ATA released a comprehensive automated truck policy statement.
“Automated and connected vehicle technologies have the potential to dramatically impact nearly all aspects of the trucking industry. These technologies can bring benefits in the areas of safety, environment, productivity, efficiency and driver health and wellness,” the policy statement said in its introduction.
Part of Froat’s job is helping the industry develop technology to protect vehicles from hackers.
He’s also the liaison between the ATA and stakeholder groups including the Information Technology and Logistics Council and the Technology and Maintenance Council, its arm for all things related to trucking equipment.
Prior to being promoted to his current position in January, Froat spent three years overseeing engineering and information technology programs for the Technology and Maintenance Council. The council’s 2,600-members include fleet executives, maintenance directors, safety officers, truck makers, truck stop owners and government officials.
It took Froat 14 years of working with trucks to get there.
From Technician to Tech Chief
Balancing high school classes and his job at Penske was difficult but lucrative.
“I would get out of class by 10:30, start working at Penske at 11 and work until 8,” Froat said. He liked the job because it paid more than twice as much as restaurant work and helped him buy his first car, a 1991 Chevy Blazer.
A few years later, Froat toggled between shifts as a diesel truck technician and attending community college.
It took him seven years to earn an associate’s degree and then an electrical engineering degree Frostburg State University while paying his way through school and working his way up from technician to service department manager.
He now works out of ATA’s headquarters in Arlington, Va., but Froat remembers his roots in the maintenance garage.
“I could have continued working as a service manager and had a happy life,” Froat told Trucks.com. “There are plenty of people who say it’s a great life. I’m in support of that. But I had the drive to do something better.”
Before that, he worked as a service manager at Idealease, a Baltimore-based heavy-duty truck leasing and rental company owned by Beltway Companies. Froat often arrived early to open the lot gates, turn on the heat, make the coffee and review timecards. During a shift, he typically oversaw five to 10 maintenance and repair projects and managed up to a dozen technicians, pairing people to jobs based on their skills. He answered the phone, helped customers, coordinated with the parts department and handled billing.
“Sometimes my day ended at 7 or 8 p.m. and I would close the shop as well,” Froat said.
He didn’t realize it at the time, but Froat was getting first-hand experience with an industry-wide dearth of heavy-duty truck technicians.
“We were short-staffed a lot,” Froat said.
People called in sick, and sometimes an unplanned job would stretch the team to its limits, he said.
In the last few semesters before finishing his degree, Froat frequently balanced split shifts at Idealease with classes at Frostburg, near Baltimore. He logged early-morning hours at the lot, drove to school for class, then returned to work.
Before joining Idealease in 2012, Froat spent close to nine years at Penske. He started out washing trucks and doing other customer service jobs and moved up to working as a technician, tackling progressively tougher assignments.
“The diesel technician world is hard core, it’s rough,” he said. “It’s rough on your skin. My hands still have scars, but not the dry spots or dirt and grease under the fingernails. I have a scar under my eye when a tire blew up in my face.”
He worked at Penske in Baltimore for a year, went to a Kentucky Bible college for a year, then moved back to start college classes in engineering. His academic pursuit was inspired by his older sister who’d earned a degree in mechanical engineering.
“Engineers are in such high demand anyone with a technical background and a degree can basically write their own ticket, Froat said.
He met his wife, Loreal, when she was working in customer service at Penske. Today they live in Columbia, about 30 miles outside of Washington, and have a son, 4, and a daughter, 1.