By Dawn Holden
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Fort Worth Star-Telegram (www.star-telegram.com)
Mike Eggleton fondly remembers the story he’s heard over the years about when his father, Richard, bought his first brand-new truck. It was a month before Mike was born. Of that polished Sterling truck with a diesel engine, Mike said, “I think (my father) was prouder of that than the birth of me.”
That was in 1950. Mike, now a grown man with a family of his own, followed in Dad’s footsteps and took to the love of the road with his own trucking company. His sons, Mike Jr., 30, and Dan, 28, also slipped into the driver’s seat of the family business, behind their paternal predecessors.
The Eggleton family’s history in the trucking business is a richly detailed tapestry. Richard, who died about 20 years ago, got his start before World War II. He hauled hay in the Imperial Valley in California. After the war, he started his own trucking company, using flatbeds to haul glass, lumber, steel and construction materials.
Mike Sr. said his parents wanted him to be an attorney, and he attempted to grant their wish and attended law school for one year. But as many truckers can attest, if the industry is in your blood, you can’t ignore the calling. He went to work for his uncle’s trucking business in Orange County, Calif., and stayed for 15 years, then moved from southern California to Houston to start his own trucking company.
Mike Jr. and his college roommate from Texas Tech University started the family’s current business two days after graduation – launching Raider Express in Fort Worth in 1998. Mike Sr. relocated from Houston to help spearhead operations.
The Eggletons named their business after the Eggleton sons’ alma mater, Texas Tech’s Red Raiders.
“We lacked imagination,” Dan Eggleton said.
The Eggleton brothers caught trucking fever at an early age. Mike Jr. has dispatched trucks since age 10. At about age 14, they were the only boys in the neighborhood to unload produce off the trucks at 4 a.m., when they weren’t in school, Dan said.
Although Dan got his degree in accounting from Tech in 2001, and attempted to hire on with several firms, he was drawn back to the family business.
“When you’ve been around the trucking business your whole life, it’s different than the typical corporate culture and life,” he said.
Mike Jr. would agree. “I can’t see myself putting on a suit or working office politics,” he said. “I tell our employees, ‘If there’s ever a day where you don’t want to come to work because you hate your job, you need to quit.”
The term “family business” doesn’t just stop at the Eggleton men. In addition to company President Mike Sr., Vice President Mike Jr. and Chief Financial Officer Dan Eggleton, the entire Eggleton family is involved in the operation of the family’s refrigerated trucking company. Mike Sr. and his wife of 35 years, Janice, pulled their youngest child, daughter Meghan, 23, in as billing manager. Even Mike Jr.’s fianceé, Melissa Fitzwater, serves, in the role of safety director.
“With us working 12- to 15-hour days, the wives, or women, are always involved,” Mike Sr. said.
“When you want to be able to provide a good job and environment for that many people, it makes you aim higher,” Dan said.
The company has three employees – recruiter, a driver coordinator and a concierge – who focus on internal driver retention to help achieve this goal. Their job function is to help accommodate the personal needs of drivers.
“These guys have families and doctor’s appointments. These needs need to be recognized,” Mike Sr. said. “In the old days, these guys were considered part of the equipment. Now they’re part of the family.”
Mike Jr. said Raider’s market niche is doing the “little things” to make its drivers and families feel appreciated – “little things” like sending flowers to a drivers’ wife for their wedding anniversary, enclosing $5 in a driver’s child’s birthday card, sending a $50 Wal-Mart gift card to a driver’s wife on their first trip out to say “thank you” for allowing him to go on the road.
As this family-owned company is operating under the leadership of two of its three generations, the Eggleton men can chart the winds of change that the industry has experienced over the years.
Mike Sr. said some of the greatest change took place when the industry was deregulated in the early 1980s. The business shifted from a high degree of regulation to “You can haul anything, anywhere, as long as you do it legally,” he said.
He added that today’s trucker hauls shipments with far fewer “empty miles,” due to the deregulation.
“For example, back then you could haul from Houston to Dallas but you may not be authorized to transfer back from Dallas to Houston,” he explained, in regards to “empty miles.”
Dan said that technology has drastically changed the face of the trucking industry. Whereas engines used to be purely mechanical, they are now controlled by computer. Every tractor/trailer in Raider’s fleet has satellite equipment so that its position can be determined and even the temperature setting in the refrigerated trucks can be regulated from the office.
Both Mike Sr. and Dan cite public perception and industry negative publicity as a prominent challenge for today’s carrier.
“People think trucks roll down the road at 90 miles per hour, that equipment is unsafe,” Dan said. “That’s not true. So much goes into our safety and maintenance programs.”
“Most people are unaware that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration holds high standards,” Mike Sr, said. “Only 1½ accident per every million miles is allowed per (company). If a carrier exceeds that, they’re shut down.”
As a seasoned veteran in the world of big rigs, Mike Sr. relates the nature of the trucking business in the most fundamental terms: “This is a tough business. Some days are good; some days are bad,” he said.
But like his father before him, and his children following after him, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We started with nothing. We’ve grown it with no financial base,” Dan said.
Mike Jr. said “here” is exactly where he envisioned being, noting, “Did I think we’d be here this fast? No.”
And what would Richard, the man who started it all, think of his family’s endeavor today?
“He would be particularly proud especially of our son,” Mike Sr. said.