Estes Express builds on 85 years of change

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce
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Estes Express Lines maintains a fleet of more than 32,500
tractors and trailers. Courtesy Estes Express Lines

Richmond-based Estes Express Lines marked its 85th anniversary in August. The largest privately held, less-than-truckload carrier in the nation, the company is led by the third generation of the Estes family.

Rob Estes is CEO and his cousin Billy Hupp is executive vice president and chief operating officer of the company founded in 1931 by their grandfather, W.W. Estes. Since its beginning, the company has been conservative in planning its growth.

“Our dads grew up in the Depression,” says Rob Estes. “We make sure decisions are long-term focused and not quick decisions that will have a long-term negative impact on the company.”

Today, the company has more than 16,000 employees and maintains a fleet of more than 32,500 tractors and trailers equipped with features such as electronic stability control and forward collision avoidance alerts.

Estes Express, which has annual revenue of more than $2.39 billion, delivers freight to destinations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. A subsidiary, Estes Forwarding Worldwide, arranges delivery around the globe, accounting for 6 percent of the company’s total revenue.

One of the milestones in the company’s 85-year history was its 1967 purchase of Carolina-Norfolk Truck Lines. “That doubled our size and gave us coverage in North Carolina,” says Estes. “Some of the things Billy and I do on a day-to-day basis pale in comparison to that type of event.”

Deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980 was another game changer. Before deregulation, the federal government set freight rates and assigned territories. After deregulation, carriers could name their rates and serve whatever areas they chose.

Deregulation also coincided with a recession in the early 1980s, Estes says. “Interest rates were sky high. A lot of trucking companies went out of business. We were able to successfully negotiate the change from a regulated environment to a deregulated environment.”

Technology has changed the industry over the years. The company, for example, uses software to simplify the pickup and delivery process and plot more efficient routes “But we still have to take the freight off the trailer and get it to the customer. We still have to have that personal touch,” Estes says.

Being a family-owned company has helped fuel its growth, he believes. “We run the company like a family,” Estes says. “We work hard to make sure employees know that it’s a job, but it’s also a way of life. Our culture is important, and family ownership allows that culture to help make us better.”

Members of the family’s fourth generation also are involved in the company. For example, Estes’ son, Webb, is vice president of process improvement, and Hupp’s son, Will, is terminal manager in Norfolk. “We believe the best is yet to come,” Billy Hupp says.

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