UTC recognizes entrepreneurs Fuller, Vital

UTC recognizes entrepreneurs Fuller, Vital

April 11th, 2013 by Ellis Smith and Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Max Fuller will receive UTC's Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

Greg Vital will receive UTC's Entrepreneur of the Year award.

Photo by Staff File Photo/Times Free Press.

PAST UTC HALL OF FAME WINNERS

A. Hamid Andalib, Dr. Richard C. Becherer, James Berry, Dr. J. Don Brock, Nelson E. Bowers, Bob Bullard, Hacker Caldwell, Lewis Card Jr., Harriet Babcock, Campbell Copper, Samuel H. Campbell Jr., Harold L. Coker, Bob Corker, Joseph Decosimo, Joe Engel, Lyle Finley, Jack L. Frost, Clyde M. Fuller, Renee Haugerud, Edgar M. Jolley, W. Allan Jones, Bobbye Harris, Clarence Harris, Ernest Holmes, James D. Kennedy Jr., Brenda G. Lawson, Moses Lebovitz, Henry Luken, John Thomas Lupton, Roy Ketner McDonald, Anna Ruth McKee, O.D. McKee, Glenn H. Morris, Adolph S. Ochs, Zeboim Cartter Patten, George H. Pettway, Mary R. Portera, Charles A. Portera, Victor "Pete" Serodino, Harshad Shah, Garrison Siskin, Mose Siskin, John Stagmaier, Gordon P. Street, John C. Thornton, Anthony L. Vest, Bucky Wolford, Spencer H. Wright

Not every graduate of UTC's business school ends up in the school's Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, but that's exactly where Max Fuller's journey began.

His father owned a trucking company at the time, so after Fuller graduated with an degree in business and finance, he continued his education under the watchful eye of Clyde Fuller, founder of Southwest Motor Freight.

"I learned a lot in school, and I also learned a lot from my dad," said Max Fuller, now the top executive at his own company, trucking giant U.S. Xpress.

U.S. Xpress is the fourth-largest trucking company in the U.S. and the largest east of I-35.

Fuller has also been an investor in other area businesses, including a 15-year-old Ooltewah business that has developed nearly two dozen assisted living centers across the South. The founder of that business, Greg Vital of Independent Healthcare Properties, will join Fuller tonight as this year's inductees into the UTC College of Business Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame.

UTC's business school recognizes successful area business leaders who have built local companies that keep the pioneer spirit of Chattanooga on the business map.

Both Fuller and Vital, who join 48 others already in the UTC Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, said their success didn't happen by accident or without the help of other employees.

"This is a great honor, but it's much more about we than me," said Vital, who started his Independent Healthcare Properties with an initial plan to build and lease a half dozen centers. Vital joined with another LifeCare Centers of America manager, Franklin Farrow, in 1997 to start their development business. It has since grown into a chain of 20 assisted living centers in five states with three more centers under development. The company has more than 1,000 employees and $50 million a year in billings, Vital said.

"There's a great freedom in being an entrepreneur to pursue your passion, which for me is about development and community service," Vital said. "I've been very blessed to find other people who are passionate about their work and have helped in our success."

At U.S. Xpress, Fuller says he began his business as a 73-truck venture with stepbrother David Parker and the late Pat Quinn. Parker later split off and formed his own company in the newly-deregulated trucking industry.

Fuller and Quinn continued on together, taking U.S. Xpress public to raise capital, and then taking it private again when the industry's rapid growth began to slow.

"There's no book, no manual to tell you how to do this," Fuller said. "We've tried some things that didn't work, but we didn't bet the company in the process."

Key to the company's growth was the early adoption of satellite technology and just-in-time delivery, both of which helped U.S. Xpress ship freight more quickly than its competitors.

"In the mid-80s, if you were running a load from Atlanta to Southern California, the mentality was that you'd get it there in a couple weeks," Fuller said. "U.S. Xpress arrived on the scene and said we'll have it there in a week, then five days, then four days, then two days, and our competitors had to play catch-up."

Contact staff writer Ellis Smith at esmith@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6315 or Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340