Big G Express: How One Trucking Company Found Success By Daring To Invest In Their People

A Tennessee trucking company dared to try an inventive solution to empower their employees -- and it's paying off.

There are only two ways that a trucking company can choose to operate.

  1. They can treat their workers as objects instead of people, using them up and refusing to support them until finally they have nothing left to give. Workers quit and are quickly replaced and the cycle begins all over again.
  2. Or, a company can choose to invest in their employees. They can choose people over profit-at-any-cost. They can decide to take care of the men and women who take care of them.

One family oriented, Tennessee-based trucking company has taken the idea of investing in their employees to a new level, inviting their drivers, office staff, and shop workers to take ownership of their own future and in the future of their company.

Since 2009, Shelbyville’s Big G Express has offered its team of workers the chance to own part of the company through its Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). The company is now 100% employee-owned and Big G’s team members are even referred to within the company as “Employee Owners,” reminding everyone on a daily basis just how important each person’s contribution is to the company’s overall success.

Big G Express: How One Trucking Company Found Success By Daring To Invest In Their Drivers

How Does An ESOP Work?

Big G uses the ESOP as a way to empower drivers, shop workers, and office employees with shares in the company. The longer that an employee works for Big G, the more shares they are eligible to cash out when they leave the company.

The ESOP is a type of retirement plan somewhat like a 401k. The ESOP purchases stock in Big G Express on behalf of employees and holds purchased shares in individual accounts until the employee is ready to leave the company. What makes the ESOP different from typical retirement plans is that the shares are awarded to eligible drivers at no cost to the employee.

An Alternative To Selling Out To Mega-Carriers

Why did Big G choose the ESOP option?

When the ownership group at Big G Express looked to the future, they realized that they had two choices, according to Manager of Marketing and Communications and ESOP Communications Committee Chair Jodi Lamb.

The owners could sell the company, possibly to a mega-carrier, and put employee jobs at risk. Owner Pat Marsh had learned a hard lesson years before about selling out to bigger trucking companies when he sold Goggin to a large carrier and valued employees lost their jobs.

Unwilling to put employee jobs at risk again, Big G leadership chose an innovative solution. Instead of selling out to a big company, they opted to form the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, putting employees in driver’s seat.

Too good to be true?

Most drivers who have been in trucking long enough are gifted with a healthy sense of skepticism. Lamb says that many drivers initially question the ESOP, but after learning about the clever way that the plan uses the tax code as a vehicle to transfer wealth, skepticism melts into enthusiasm.

The company’s 100% employee owned status has enabled them to take advantage of tax incentives, and company contributions to the ESOP are all tax deductible. This careful planning has left Big G Express on extremely stable financial ground.

A Driver-Focused Solution Brings Surprising Success

Investing in employees through an ESOP isn’t very common in the trucking industry, but it’s likely that other companies will be interested after seeing Big G’s success story.

Big G Express says that they now have over $8.5 million in vested driver accounts. They also recently announced that their stock price shot up from $37.19 in 2015 to the 2016 stock price of $43.34.

Big G Express Stock Prices Increase Chart

The ESOP has also changed the company culture. Drivers who know that they own the company they work for have extra motivation to get up and come to work, to take care of the customer, and to take good care of their equipment. Employees back home in the office and shop know that when drivers succeed, everyone succeeds, so they go the extra mile to make sure that Big G’s drivers are safe, happy, and home on the weekends.

The ESOP also helps all employees to focus on the long term investment into their own future. Lamb told CDLLife that many of Big G’s drivers are seeing so much growth in the company that they are holding off on retirement.

Big G Express was founded by brothers Pat and Jack Marsh in 1995. They’ve grown from just six trucks and twelve trailers to a fleet of over 500 trucks and 1300 trailers. They employ 500 truck drivers and are looking to hire more.