In 2002, college buddies Ted Alling, Barry Large, and Allan Davis set out to build the best logistics company they could possibly create. Today, what started out as three 20-somethings in a garage with a brilliant idea has turned into the largest private third-party logistics firm in the United States. Access America’s recent merger with Chicago-based Coyote Logistics forms a logistics powerhouse boasting revenues of over $2 billion, 17 North American locations, approximately 40,000 contracted carriers, and approximately 1,750 employees. In light of this tremendous success, we asked Alling if he would be willing to share with us some of his reflections on the company’s journey to the top. Here is his inspiring response.
FOUNDING, BUILDING, AND GROWING Access America Transport, now part of Coyote Logistics, with my two best friends was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. It came with ups, downs, and unexpected turns almost daily, and we earned our battle scars. What we learned from that experience was how to avoid those bumps, bruises, and deep cuts in the future as we continue to build new businesses.
IT WAS NEVER ABOUT TRUCKS, TRAILERS, OR FREIGHT, but about taking a wild adventure with people that care about each other and love one another. We started the company with the belief that we wanted to be the best place in the world to work. We actually said that our first day. There are so many people in corporate America that hate their jobs. They look like zombies walking in the door every day. We wanted to change that. We wanted to have a place where people felt empowered and energized to take on the day. We wanted to hire people that were pumped up and had a zeal for life, people like Access America President Chad Eichelberger.
SPEED OF THE PACK IS DETERMINED BY THE LEADER’ is one of my favorite sayings, and Chad is the very definition of it. Chad does nothing slow. He lives and breathes urgent customer service. If there is a problem with a load, he takes it head on. He always gives customers clear direction on what steps the company will take to fulfill their expectations. That’s a very different kind of dedication than you see at a lot of companies. I see so many companies where the boss takes long lunches, comes in after 8 a.m., passes afternoons on the golf course, and spends corporate money inappropriately. That’s not how Chad does things. Chad will check out four different airports to see which has the best price. We would share cheap hotel rooms to keep costs down. We did it that way because when your leaders set a good example, it trickles down to everyone at the company. It becomes a game on how much you can save the company and how big an impact you can make. That’s why Barry, Allan, and I were never the highest paid employees at Access America. It might sound crazy. I’m not sure how many companies in America have C-level employees who aren’t drawing the highest salaries. I’m guessing it isn’t many.
WE SET VERY AGGRESSIVE COMPENSATION PLANS for our people, and they earned the big paychecks. Sometimes it was hard to swallow, but knowing it was the right decision always made it easier. Almost every year, we were able to pour the net income back into the company to fuel Access America’s growth. Then something even crazier started to happen. We had EVPs who would come to us and say they wanted to give employees raises out of their own paychecks. They wanted to reward their best team members, and they didn’t even ask us to foot the bill! Paying it forward like that is how we got our start.
I’LL NEVER FORGET THE PEOPLE WHO GAVE US A CHANCE, people like Dennis Riddell. It was probably our second or third year in business, and Dennis was running the local Komatsu manufacturing plant in Chattanooga. He gave Access America Transport a chance to move some of their dimensional/heavy haul freight. This was a massive deal for us, so we made sure that we knocked it out of the park. With Komatsu as a customer, we were able to land Caterpillar Inc., John Deere, and Volvo. After that first big job, Komatsu has remained a top account ever since. There were many others who helped us early on, including Coker Tire, Smart Furniture, and Wingfield Scale. We will never forget what these local business people did for us and our community. Just by believing in us, they helped create hundreds of additional jobs in our community.
IT WASN’T EASY building Access America, though, even with those early breaks and support from other local businesses. Barry, Allan and I were lucky that our natural strengths and tendencies in business are completely different. Barry is amazing on the finance side, Allan conquered operations, and I was in charge of rocking sales. We were fortunate to have built a foundation of trust at Samford during our Sigma Nu fraternity days. That made it easier when we had to make the tough calls or didn’t see eye to eye as the company grew. It was also a valuable relationship to have when one of our egos was getting too big. When everyone knows where the others came from and the journey you’ve been on, it’s easier to keep each other in check. But when it comes down to it, despite the hard work we’ve put in and the decisions we’ve made, we’re still just three incredibly lucky guys.