U.S. Xpress officials and employees gathered Jan. 21 at the company's Tennessee headquarters to hear what co-founder, Chairman and CEO Max Fuller and his management team would say on the trucking firm's 30th anniversary.
On the milestone day, Fuller touched on the past but focused on the future.
He said in a companywide address, which was live-streamed to all U.S. Xpress terminals and facilities, that the state of the company is exceptionally strong. And its future, exceptionally bright.
And himself, exceptionally proud and optimistic — and enjoying leading and developing a new group of executives.
It was exactly 30 years ago, Jan. 21, 1986, that U.S. Xpress first put a truck on the road, after Fuller and Pat Quinn — friends and business partners after working together at Clyde Fuller's Southwest Motor Freight — started the trucking company.
U.S. Xpress started out with 48 trucks. Clyde Fuller gave 25 trucks to Max Fuller, Quinn , who's now deceased, and stepson David Parker. Clyde Fuller died in Chattanooga in 2002.
U.S. Xpress is one of the largest privately held U.S. trucking companies, with more than 7,000 trucks and 19,000 trailers.
The company ranks No. 18 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.
Max Fuller joked Jan. 21 that Covenant Transport, the Chattanooga-based longhaul trucking company started by Parker, beat U.S. Xpress to making its shipment by three days.
"It was an insurance issue," Fuller said. "It was the only reason they beat us."
And despite being gifted 50 trucks by his father, Fuller said some bad luck claimed a couple of his and Quinn's before their company ever got off the ground.
"On our end, two of them had wrecked by the time we started U.S. Xpress," he said. "It seemed to be a common theme, unfortunately."
But Fuller was serious at times, and he offered an honest assessment of the state of the company, freight demand and the question of top-level succession.
"I can tell you U.S. Xpress today is one of the strongest companies in this industry," he said.
He said 2015 was "a tough year for the industry," but "U.S. Xpress probably had one of the best years we've had in our history."
Fuller said the company — which was the fastest in the trucking industry's history to reach $1 billion in sales — still is financially boisterous and poised for even better days ahead.
But Fuller also turned his attention to the audience, consisting of a mix of U.S. Xpress employees, ranging from longhaul drivers to office workers.
"It's not our trucks," he said. "It's not the size of the company. It's the people that we have."
Fuller said his father once sat him down and reminded him: Innovations are great, but you're only as good as your people.
"He said, 'You've got to really understand,' " Fuller said, "'It's about people. It's not about technology.' "
And going forward, he believes the right people are in place to grow U.S. Xpress over the next 30 years.
Eric Fuller, Fuller's son and current president and chief operating officer at U.S. Xpress, is one part of what Fuller called the best management team the company has seen.
The younger Fuller said during the Jan. 21 events that the company intends to make the 30th anniversary celebration a yearlong event and will focus on employees and their stories. The program, with the tagline "You put the U in U.S. Xpress," will even land some employees on billboards along major interstates.
"You may be driving on vacation and see a billboard with a driver you know," he said.
Lisa Pate, chief administrative officer and daughter of late co-founder Quinn, is another member of the new U.S. Xpress executive team. She announced programs Jan. 21 to sponsor employee sports teams and provide financial help for employees who face unexpected emergencies and tragedies.
"We know that you guys are our best asset," she said.
But despite knowing the company is in good hands, Max Fuller also said he isn't ready to ride off into retirement. He said it will be clear when he's ready to hang it up — because he'll either be below ground or physically unable to go on.
"What I want to do is develop the next generation of the company, as a staying power," he said. "I love what I do. I love this company. I love this industry."
The unknowns and the future don't phase him.
"Challenges are fun," he said. "That's what makes it fun for me."