Very few people have built a trucking legacy as consequential as Max Fuller. Getting his start working for his father’s company, Fuller learned the industry at an early age before going on to co-found one of the nation’s most successful truckload carriers, U.S. Xpress.
Max Fuller sat down with his son Craig Fuller to share their family’s founding in freight as part of the FreightWavesTV show, “Fuller Speed Ahead.”
U.S. Xpress is the fifth-largest asset-based truckload carrier by revenue in the United States according to its website. Headquartered in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it currently boasts a fleet of 7,000 tractors and 15,500 trailers.
“If you go back and look at Chattanooga over the ages, it’s been known as a transportation town. At the turn of the [20th] century, it was the railroads that basically were so critical, and Chattanooga was an intersecting point of a bunch of rail lines,” Max Fuller said.
He continued, “If you look starting in the 1970s, the interstate system basically did the same thing. It took a lot of freight off the rails and put them on trucks, and Chattanooga, being such a central point to the eastern half of the nation, became really valued in being a center point in transportation in this country.”
Max’s father Clyde Fuller took advantage of Chattanooga’s transportation advantages as CEO of Southwest Motor Freight. His company was one of the first to run two drivers per truck on coast-to-coast hauls as they were building the interstate highways in the 1950s and 1960s.
Max and his step-brother David Parker both worked for their father’s trucking company until leaving in the late 1980s to start their own empires.
Originally, Max wanted to buy his father’s other company, Southern California-based Countrywide Trucking Services Inc. in the hopes of moving it to Chattanooga. Clyde sold the company, but not to his son. Max ultimately decided to open his own trucking company instead.
In 1986, Max and business partner Pat Quinn founded U.S. Xpress. That same year, Parker co-founded Covenant Transportation Group. Both companies established headquarters in Chattanooga.
U.S. Xpress started operations with just 48 trucks but saw opportunities to grow early on, especially on the company’s first load.
“The day we hauled the first load, oil [prices] took one of the biggest drops that it had ever taken,” said Max Fuller.
Fuller’s trucking empire saw tremendous growth throughout the late 1980s and 1990s. At just over a decade old, U.S. Xpress had amassed a 5,000-truck fleet running cross-country.
“We were the fastest-growing truckload company to get to a billion and a half dollars and did it in about half the time than the rest of the guys did it,” Max Fuller stated.
Much of Fuller’s success can be attributed to his forward-thinking in adopting new technologies which helped shape industry standards.
“Building U.S. Xpress has been a lot of fun over the years. We were able to take technology ahead of most people in the industry and really capitalize on it. I think we as a company have really changed our industry through the years,” said Max Fuller on U.S. Xpress’s trailblazing.
The company embraced satellite tracking of trucks before the majority of the industry did. Max Fuller also said that U.S. Xpress was one of the first fleets to implement fully-automatic transmissions in their trucks.
“We were very early on with the Qualcomm satellite communications…Cellular really hadn’t taken off at that point, and we were probably the third largest company to adopt the Qualcomm system,” Max Fuller noted. “We have set the standards, but we also deployed probably 10 years ahead of most of the industry. Most of our customers, over a period of time, basically were forcing the other carriers to adopt it.”
In 2017, Max promoted his son Eric Fuller to CEO of U.S. Xpress, however, he still remains active with the company as executive chairman.
Although he misses being in charge, Max Fuller is excited to see his sons make headway in the trucking industry.
“Eric’s done a great job really picking good people. I’m proud of what he’s done there, but I do miss getting in the action,” Max Fuller said on his son’s performance.
Speaking to his son Craig on the success of FreightWaves, “Even in your company, I love what you’re doing, you’ve got information here that this industry has never had. The information that you are putting together is going to change this industry in ways that we don’t even know today.”
On what he misses most about being CEO, Max Fuller stated, “Getting into the meeting with the management group, working through strategy with the group and then coming to a decision, and then go and execute it.”
“I guess at my age I’m supposed to retire and go away, but I’m not. By having multiple companies and having sons that are highly successful in their businesses, it’s being a part of what they’re doing,” said Max Fuller, looking forward to see how the next generation of Fullers will leave their mark on the industry.