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FreightWaves Haul of Fame: M.S. Carriers Inc. found success…

and its success led to its acquisition

An M.S. Carriers tractor and trailer. (Photo: Craig Wendt Collection)

Michael Starnes founded M.S. Carriers in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1978. Starnes started the company from his own home, with just two trucks and $10,000 in working capital. By 1986, the company had achieved considerable success, and gone public. In 1987, M.S. Carriers announced the construction of a new terminal in Jackson, Tennessee – the company’s fifth terminal. Its other terminals were in Nashville and Memphis, as well as Tupelo, Mississippi and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Starnes conceived an expansion strategy into short-haul markets throughout the 1990s. At the time, more than 75% of the nation’s truckload freight was carried on routes within a 500-mile radius of their origin, and Starnes focused on owning that market share. The strategy paid off, and in 1993, M.S. Carriers grew 20%. The growth allowed the company to add 400 tractors to its fleet, which then totaled over 1,900. Growth continued in 1994, with revenues of $292 million. 

Continued growth

M.S. Carriers also established M.S. Logistics Services in 1994, a subsidiary of M.S. Carriers Inc. that provided logistics and supply chain services. Although the company’s primary business was in the eastern two-thirds of the United States, by this time at least 10% of its business was delivering freight across the border into Mexico. In 1995, M.S. Carriers continued to experience financial success, reporting first quarter earnings of more than $81 million, a substantial increase over the $60 million reported for the first quarter of 1994. 

In 1998, the company acquired Interstate Trucking Corporation, a truckload carrier located in Merrill, Wisconsin. Further investment occurred in 2000, when M.S. Carriers partnered with several other carrier companies (including U.S. Xpress) to found, an online venture designed to cut costs and lure shippers and businesses away from their competitors. M.S. Carriers invested $5 million in the endeavor.

Company’s success led to acquisition

In December 2000, Swift Transportation announced that it was acquiring M.S. Carriers, creating the second-largest truckload carrier in the United States (by revenue). The $650 million acquisition allowed M.S. Carriers to operate as a semi-autonomous subsidiary of Swift for three years. Combined, the two companies had almost $2 billion in annual revenue and 15,000 tractors. At the time of the merger, M.S. Carriers had grown to employ over 5,000 people.

On September 8th, 2017, Swift Transportation and Knight Transportation merged to create Knight-Swift Transportation Holdings Inc., or Knight-Swift. This truckload carrier merger was the largest in history.

M.S. Carriers’ story was a positive one; the company grew throughout its tenure and then was acquired.

A Swift Transportation tractor-trailer. (Photo: Swift Transportation)
A Swift Transportation tractor-trailer. (Photo: Swift Transportation)

Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.