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  • Writer's pictureJody Glynn Patrick

From truck driver to millionaire: Here's how he did it

Updated: Nov 30, 2020

$250,000 Wisconsin Energy Independence Fund Check Presentation to Idle Free (Robert Jordan shown on right)

$250,000 Wisconsin Energy Independence Fund Check Presentation to Idle Free (Robert Jordan shown on right)

Robert Jordan, inventor and founder of Idle Free Systems, is my hero – and not because he has one of the most inspiring business start-up stories ever told, but because of the way the man’s mind works.

Jordan was a long-haul truck driver for 20-plus years (“over 6,200 days”). He told me that very soon into that career, he realized he could “spend” or “invest” his driving time. He could spend it staring hypnotically at the road for hours on end of quiet introspection, he could spend it learning every word of every country song sung on the FM radio spectrum, or he could invest it listening to audio books on a variety of topics and earn in fact, if not on paper, the equivalent of a college degree and perhaps even advanced degrees. It was a choice. He could, if he wanted, make his time count.

With the engineering knowledge he acquired on the road, listening to more and more complicated books on all sorts of related subjects, Jordan imagined and then developed a battery-based and reefer-based idle elimination system that, today, allows trucks and buses to completely eliminate discretionary idling for heating, air conditioning, and for use of electric equipment inside a vehicle (truckers like to watch TV at night, too). Idle Free is now the recommended system for Mack Trucks and is the standard solution for Pinnacle SmartWay-verified sleeper trucks. Volvo picked up the technology for its factory, and new products are in the works. School bus companies and city buses also are in the conversion phase to his products.

If you spend 30 minutes a day commuting from place to place, it adds up to 120 hours a year to spend or invest. Most of us commute on autopilot. After reflecting on how I spent my cruising/parking jam time routinely commuting between Madison and Chicago, I’ve since listened to more than 200 audio books. While I haven’t used the time to master a foreign language (not my goal), I have listened to some of the best literature ever written, learned more about foreign cultures, and delved deeply into American history. And yes, I’ve even listened to the occasional business book.

Want something to think about during your next commute?

Jordan’s story reminds me of Dale Carnegie’s illustrative tale of two men chopping wood.

One man worked hard all day without breaks, stopping only briefly for lunch. The other chopper took several breaks during the day and caught a quick nap at lunch. At the end of the day, the worker bee was frustrated to discover that the other woodsman had chopped the most wood. He said, “I don’t understand. Every time I looked around, you were sitting down, yet you cut more wood than I did.”

His companion remarked, “Did you also notice that while I was sitting down, I was sharpening my axe?”

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