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VOL. 128 | NO. 165 | Friday, August 23, 2013

Driver’s Seat

FedEx affiliation bolsters Ward’s growing trucking empire

By Bill Dries

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Don Ward hasn’t been on the road in one of his trucks in about three years, but he still wouldn’t be in any other business.

Don Ward’s trucking company works for FedEx Ground and includes 14 trucks from three firms. Big T Trucking Inc. grew out of W.W. Enterprises Inc., named for his father, Wayne Ward, right. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Ward, the owner of Big T Trucking Inc. in Memphis, runs a 14-truck business as a contractor for FedEx Ground. Big T Trucking grew out of W.W. Enterprises Inc., named for Ward’s father, Wayne Ward.

And before that, both father and son drove for Roadway Package System.

“I was in college at the time I came in, getting a civil engineering degree,” said Ward, noting that in 1987 the driving job paid more. “I came in just strictly driving, not knowing if I would like it or not. I was meant to drive. I don’t do it anymore – very seldom. I haven’t been in a truck since 2010, but it’s not punching a clock. You don’t have to be every day at the same place at the same time.”

Ward started running his father’s business, W.W. Enterprises, in 2000, and in 2004 became an independent contractor working for FedEx Ground.

“Since then we’ve changed a lot of names until FedEx Ground bought us,” Ward said. “That’s been a good thing.”

Ward contracts through Ground to “pull their trailers,” and the contract provides him with stability in a business that is changing.

The ground division of FedEx has benefited in recent years with a shift from FedEx Express, the company’s oldest and largest division – the one with the jets – to ground and freight.

“I started out with two trucks and now I have five under BT,” he said. “My father has W.W. Enterprises. He has seven. I bought another company last year that had two – L&J Services.”

And in another two years, with approval from FedEx Ground, Ward intends to buy out another trucking firm whose owner is retiring. If that happens, Ward would have 21 trucks, which means plenty to do without getting behind the wheel.

“I’m trying to run three trucking companies, keep drivers all happy and safe, and keep all my speeding tickets and everything down and just trying to do the best job I can for FedEx Ground.”

The Memphis area is home for Ward, but it also is where FedEx has its world headquarters – two reasons Ward sticks with an industry that is an essential part of the Memphis economy even though it has seen a lot of change and a lot of companies come and go.

“Probably the biggest change is the quality of drivers. It used to be drivers were very easy to get,” Ward said, citing new federal regulations on driver background checks and the amount of time on the road and off the road. “It takes a lot to find qualified drivers. I’m very ticky with my drivers. … That’s probably been one of the biggest changes in the industry that has affected me.”

Recruitment of drivers is a constant in the industry these days, with recruiters for many companies emphasizing trips are shorter than they once were, meaning the time away from home is not the issue it once was.

Ward is not a critic of the new federal regulations that are also a factor in the greater degree of difficulty in hiring drivers.

“They are reasonable,” he said. “The 30-minute break in between so many hours driving is very reasonable.”

And running a trucking company is more technical, using technology Ward could scarcely have dreamed of nearly 30 years ago when he started with the idea of making better money.

“In all of my trucks except two, if a check engine light comes on … I get an email to tell me exactly what’s wrong with that truck the minute it happens,” he said. “I can make my choice on whether it should go to the shop or its OK to get in. The engines are just superb these days.”

Road service calls are “getting there.”

“But you still have to watch that part,” Ward said. “Knowing what’s wrong with the trucks when it happens has been a tremendous help for my costs.”

The business is in transition, with Ward’s father – the man he credits with teaching him everything he knows – diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease this past April at age 78. Ward’s soon-to-be 21-year-old son is on his way to earning a business degree and will go into the family business.

“I chose to do it and I’ve never gone to work a day in my life,” Ward said. “I don’t consider this a job. … I truly love what I do.”

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