SAN ANTONIO — They came for a share of $280,000 in cash and prizes and to compete and celebrate like family. In all, 232 technicians, and truck and parts sales personnel selected from across Rush Enterprises’ national network vied in skills tests to prove they were the champions of what they do for the truck dealership.
The Rush Enterprises 2018 Tech Skills Rodeo was held here Dec. 9-11, and a record 1,808 employees nationwide took tests earlier to try to qualify for the company’s 13th rodeo.
Steven Brain, a lead technician from Rush Truck Center Dallas, whose specialty is Hino medium-duty trucks, was named grand champion. He won cash and prizes totaling $18,470 plus a big belt buckle.
Belt buckles were awarded to winners in several categories. (Eric Fossum)
Brain has been competing at the rodeos for seven years and won various categories six times, but never the top prize — until now. He said he solved the final bug in the Hino he was working on in the last 30 seconds of allowable time.
“Hino has been my bread and butter,” he said.
Overall, 55 winners were chosen in 18 categories. They were brought to the stage individually during a dinner for an estimated 900 attendees, including competitors and their guests, industry suppliers and Rush employees who came to help support and administer the event.
“It’s pride,” Rush Chairman and CEO W.M. “Rusty” Rush said. “People can talk it, but I like to feel we have walked it. We are going to continue to invest in our people.”
After the awards dinner, Brain said he has been “happy and proud” to work for Rush for almost 10 years He has been a truck technician for 16 years.
“I’ve been very fortunate. What I do comes very natural to me. I think it’s a God-given gift.”
At the Dallas dealership, Brain oversees the workflow in the bays neighboring his and works on Hino trucks himself.
“I am bumper to bumper at work,” he said.
W.M. Rush. (Eric Fossum)
At the same time, he mentors new hires.
“I tell young people all the time that this is a career that’s in demand,” he said. “If you apply yourself, study and train, you can do well with it and make a very good living, which I do.”
Rush is recognizing its workers for the job they do every day, said George Arrants, ASE education foundation manager. “And that is powerful. They are creating a positive company culture.”
The day before the awards dinner, Jerry Carpenter said he had earned 11 trips to the rodeo.
“They treat us right. It’s always fun to come and see if you could be the guy, one more time,” he said, adding he has never placed in the main competition but has won cash and prizes.
Carpenter has worked as a lead technician at the Rush Truck Center in Charlotte, N.C., for 33 years and also serves as a mentor.
“We try to raise [new hires] the Rush way, show them how things are supposed to be done,” he said. “And the quality that comes out the door better be top notch. So they have to learn that, and it takes some time.
“I really like the ones who say, ‘I’m going to do the job. You showed me how, now I want to do it.’ Those guys are typically the ones who really come up faster.”
Rush’s father, W. Marvin Rush, who died in May, started the company in 1965 as a car dealership then moved into trucks in 1967 as a Peterbilt Motors Co. dealer. The company was taken public in 1996, and has grown to 7,125 employees with revenue in 2017 of $4.7 billion.
It is the only publicly traded truck dealership in the nation, with 110 locations in 21 states.
Looking out at the dinner crowd after a video tribute to his father, a tearful Rush said, “It’s a business, but more than that it is a family. He was your daddy, too. He loved each and every one of you.”