VOL. 129 | NO. 75 | Thursday, April 17, 2014
McCullough: Trucking Critical to Local Economy
By Amos Maki
Jim McCullough could have ended up in a cubicle working in the accounting industry after he graduated from the Mississippi State University School of Business.
“I knew I wanted to make it in business and I sort of liked accounting but I had a friend several years older than me who got an accounting degree and went to work at an accounting firm sitting at a desk with a calculator and an adding machine,” McCullough said. “But ever since I was a kid I had an attraction to trucks and airplanes and boats, any machine that transported stuff, so I thought that might be a good thing to try.”
So after college McCullough set off on a career in the trucking and transportation industry, going to work for a heavy-duty truck company on Presidents Island.
McCullough then married his wife, Vicki, in 1976 and began working with General Truck in 1980. General Truck was founded in 1965 by Vicki’s father Bill Smith and his partner Jim Fox.
“She’s the only girl I went out with who understood what I did,” McCullough said with a chuckle.
This year McCullough is king of Carnival Memphis. As part of its 83rd anniversary celebration, Carnival Memphis will salute the Mid-South trucking industry during the annual Business & Industry Salute Luncheon on Wednesday, April 30, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Hilton Memphis.
At first, General Truck was the GMC truck factory branch and dealership. Over the years GMC got out of the heavy truck industry and formed a joint venture with Volvo.
Today, General Truck is the exclusive Volvo dealer in the Mid-South, offering sales, leasing, service and parts.
McCullough has witnessed several seismic shifts in the industry over the years, with deregulation of the industry at the top of the list.
“Before deregulation it was a highly regulated industry, which made it very difficult for someone new to get into the business because the routes trucks were running were protected,” McCullough said. “Deregulation enabled small trucking companies that ran out of Memphis to the outlying areas to really compete.”
Servicing trucks is a major piece of his business now and one that ripples across the broader company.
“Memphis being a distribution hub, we get a lot of trucks from other places that are passing through,” McCullough said. “All these big trucks are revenue producing pieces of equipment and a lot of times they’re hauling time-sensitive freight and they need to get fixed and back out on the road.”
A technology revolution has swept over the industry over the last decade or so, making trucks safer and more environmentally friendly, McCullough said.
“The computerization of things, and digital technology, has totally changed everything,” he said. “Today, the trucks are just loaded with computers, letting the fleets know where trucks are anywhere in the country with GPS technology. The trucks we’re selling today, they communicate with us. The trucks communicate with us and the company and they can notify us before a failure happens.”
The trucking industry has experienced a quantum leap in safety over the last several decades, with onboard systems in the trucks making truck driving a much safer profession.
“There’s been a much bigger emphasis on safety from the government and the fleets and with the technology we have now the trucks are much easier to control with an emergency stop,” McCullough said. “We don’t hear about as many hideous accidents as we did before because the vehicles are much safer to drive.”
When McCullough started out in Memphis, one of the predominant industries was manufacturing, but that began to change as the manufacturing industry began to disappear.
“As these manufacturers started going away, some of the leaders of the city decided to market Memphis as a transportation center because of the location, river and interstates,” McCullough said. “All that came together nicely and made Memphis a well-known logistics center.”
That shift helped make Memphis a hotbed for trucking and transformed trucking into a key piece of the local economy.
“Trucking is such an essential service to our economy, nationally and locally,” McCullough said. “Our economy couldn’t function without it.”