Bottom Line
Trucker to Trucker
OOIDA leadership: Robert Esler

Ray Kasicki
OOIDA board member

Enron and plenty of other companies that tanked last year could learn a lot from OOIDA. What those companies seem to lack across the board is true blue leadership. I can tell you, that level of leadership is a big part of the reason OOIDA is celebrating 30 years of representing the nation’s professional drivers.

As a member of the OOIDA board of directors, I never cease to be amazed at the expertise and talent that exists within the group. I am very proud to serve on this board of truckers and learn from each and every one of them.

I would like to tell you about one of our directors who is an owner-operator from Taylor, MI. For 20-plus years, he’s worked for our association and the betterment of all truckers. This year, Bob Esler celebrates 20 years as an officer of OOIDA.

My first impression of this man was that he was a big, rough and tough trucker … and I was right. But there’s more. When you get past that outer crust, he is one of the most thoughtful and gentle men I know, and one of the few men I’ve ever met who can possess all of these qualities at the same time.

Bob has been a member of the OOIDA board of directors since 1980. He was elected secretary of the association in 1983 and continues to fulfill that duty.

One of his special attributes is he cares about everything he does and goes that extra mile to achieve it. Bob also has served as president of the Michigan Owner-Operators and Drivers Association, on the board of directors for the Professional Truck Driver Institute of America (PTDIA) and currently serves as a member of the Michigan Motor Carriers Advisory Board for the Public Service Commission.

Bob got his start in trucking while he was in the U.S. Navy, driving a fuel truck for aircraft. After that, he worked as a company driver till he bought his first truck in 1978. It was a GMC “cracker box.” Like most of us, he tried all aspects of trucking, from reefers to dry freight to flatbeds. He found his niche hauling heavy equipment.

Bob and his wife, Carol Lee, have been married 20 years. Together they have four children and 10 grandchildren. Through the years, she’s often accompanied him on the road. For Carol Lee, one of the most memorable trips was during the Reagan years, when Bob led a convoy to Washington, DC, to protest higher taxes on truckers. He had a big sign on his truck that said, “Taxes too high — Rates too low.”

Those who know Bob Esler find out right off the bat he’s a highly motivated guy with a huge sense of commitment to what’s right. And when it’s wrong, you won’t find Bob on the back row.

Once, he was hauling a load through Texas. All of a sudden, there was a young girl, obviously distressed, jumping up and down on the side of the road. His first thoughts were to be suspicious of a “setup.” But his instincts prevailed, and he stopped anyway to see whether he could help. It turned out the girl had been the victim of a crime, and he was able to get her the help she needed. After returning home, he called the authorities to see how things turned out and later received a letter from the prosecuting attorney thanking him for getting involved.

He always makes time to think of others, a quality that sets a good example for all. Bob started his giving ways early in life with the Boy Scouts, going on to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout with three Palms. Bob is an active member of the Emmanuel Free Will Baptist Church in Allen Park, MI, where he’s also a trustee, usher and member of the choir. Bob also works with the Wyatt Family Ministries, where he has done volunteer work in the Michigan prison system, delivering sermons to inmates.

As I said, corporate America could learn a lot from OOIDA and its extraordinary board of directors, a group made up of men and women of the highest caliber, chosen by our own OOIDA members.

Without leaders like Bob Esler, we might just be a group you’d read about in some old magazine, and in the past tense at that. LL

Editor’s note: In observance of OOIDA’s 30th anniversary, Ray’s 2003 columns will profile some of the association’s outstanding leadership — leaders who have worked tirelessly and successfully to keep our ship off the rocks for three decades. People who, when there was no wind, knew how to get in there and row.