U.S. Xpress officials and employees gathered Thursday morning at the company's Jenkins Road 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 company-wide 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, on Jan. 21, 1986, that U.S. Xpress first put a truck on the road, after Fuller and the late Pat Quinn — friends and business partners after working together at Clyde Fuller's Southwest Motor Freight — went in together and started the trucking company.
U.S. Xpress started out with 48 trucks. Clyde Fuller gave 25 trucks to Max Fuller, Quinn and stepson David Parker. Clyde Fuller passed away in Chattanooga in 2002.
U.S. Xpress is now one of the largest privately held trucking companies in the country, with more than 7,000 trucks and 19,000 trailers.
Max Fuller joked Thursday that Covenant Transport, the Chattanooga-based long-haul 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 also serious at times Thursday morning, and he offered an honest look at 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 last year was "a tough year for the industry," but "U.S. Xpress probably had one of the best years we've had in our history."
The company is consistently rated one of the top privately-owned trucking companies in the country.
Fuller said the company — which was the fastest in the trucking industry's history to hit $1 billion in sales — is still financially boisterous and poised for even better days ahead.
But Fuller also turned his attention to the audience before him, made up of a mix of U.S. Xpress employees, ranging from long-haul 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 late father, Clyde, 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 COO at U.S. Xpress, is one part of what Fuller called the best management team the company has seen yet.
The younger Fuller said during Thursday's events that the company intends to make the 30th anniversary celebration a year-long event, and will focus on employees and their stories throughout the year. 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, and she announced programs on Thursday to sponsor employee sports teams, and to 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."
Contact staff writer Alex Green at email@example.com or 423-757-6480.