August 23, 2021
From Truck Driver to Engineer – It’s Never too Late to Chase your Career Dreams
Tony is enjoying his second career and his role as product development engineer for trailer units at Thermo King.
One might say Tony Spetz went full circle on the career front. He started out as an over-the-road truck driver and has found himself working as a product development engineer on Thermo King’s trailer product line. “My life really is the tale of two careers,” explained Tony, “and I could not be happier with where I am today.”
Meet the young Tony and how he became a Jackrabbit
After leaving high school with his general educational degree (GED) and no interest in continuing his education, Tony worked odd jobs until the age of 21 when he became a professional truck driver. “I was a teenage kid with no real aspirations after high school, but I was a fast learner and hard worker. I enjoyed driving trucks as it allowed me to see the country, it was lucrative, and it was flexible – a plus after meeting my wife, Rayna, as she was relocated multiple times with her career.”
Tony behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer during his first career as an over-the-road truck driver at the age of 22.
It was a relocation to Brookings, South Dakota in 2005, that would unknowingly kick off a new career direction for Tony. After some cajoling from his wife, Tony decided to take a few classes and explore a career in Civil Engineering. “I was always interested in math and science, so it seemed a good fit; and I was ready to challenge myself. Plus, the University of South Dakota (Home of the Jackrabbits!) offered a program that fit into my schedule.”
Tony continued to drive trucks during school breaks and holidays to pay for his classes along the way while balancing homelife with the couple’s first child.
High School Drop-out to College Honors Student
Tony not only proved to himself that he could succeed in class, but he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree and high honors five years later. “I officially retired from the road in 2009 before finishing my last semester, and I surrendered by Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) in 2012 – guess I hung onto that a little longer as insurance,” joked Tony.
Since his first degree, Tony’s thirst for more knowledge has continued. In fact, he is currently working towards his master’s in mechanical engineering from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and taking advantage of Trane Technologies’ tuition reimbursement program.
The Road to Thermo King
As was his career, Tony’s road to Thermo King was took a few twists and turns. In 2014, he found himself in New Jersey after another move with his wife. Tony landed a job with our then-parent company Ingersoll Rand in its Power Tools Division before moving to Trane Manufacturing in Trenton, N.J. to work first as a manufacturing engineer and then as a quality engineer.
“Interestingly, I have never actually worked as a civil engineer – I started in manufacturing and that led to other opportunities and goals,” said Tony. “One of those goals was to move to the Thermo King side of the business and eventually make a difference on the trailer products that used to be my career.”
That opportunity came in August 2017 when his family moved for the fifth and final time to Minneapolis. Tony was able to transition first into a reliability engineer role at Thermo King and most recently, the product development engineer for trailer units when it became available in May 2021.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle and I am so excited to make an impact on a product line that I was on the other side of as a young driver. I think that experience and knowledge will be a real benefit as we continue innovating the product line.”
A different ballgame
While the years have passed, Tony’s life on the road and his understanding of a truck driver’s life and mindset will assist him as he innovates product features and next-generation reefer models.
“The technology has advanced so much in the past 10+ years,” laughed Tony. “I remember older reefer units being finicky and we had to stick a thermometer in a back door – called a pulping door – to manually check temperatures throughout a trip. We had to keep a hand-written log to prove load temperatures and driving hours. Today’s drivers do not have to worry about much of that with remote monitoring, advanced temperature controllers and digital logs that track driver hours, temperature readings and security breaches.
“As the industry faces driver shortage challenges, it is good to remember key factors that make a driver’s life easier on the road. I think I bring a unique perspective to the team as far as what features are most needed and appreciated by drivers, and how we can maintain that fine line between too complicated and ease of use.
It’s never too late – chase those dreams and boldly challenge what’s possible!
While Tony’s career may read a bit unconventionally, it is filled with inspiration, grit and forward-thinking – all attributes that embody the people of Thermo King / Trane Technologies.
“I’ve always lived my life by looking ahead,” said Tony. “Challenging yourself keeps life interesting and allows growth. I appreciate how our company encourages that and makes it possible to move into new roles. In fact, my managers have made it a point to share open positions and disucss short-term and long-term goals. It is how I found my way to the trailer product line. Opportunities are there for a reason and it’s OK to switch gears – no pun intended!”
Tony with wife Rayna, son Morgan, a junior in high school, and daughter Addisyn, a 5th grader.