Andra Rush Featured

7:00pm EDT January 31, 2007
When Andra Rush was taking MBA classes in 1984, the emphasis was on scoring a prime position in corporate America. But she was more interested in being her own boss, so she dropped out to begin her own trucking company in an industry that was being deregulated. Today, Rush, president and CEO of Rush Trucking, heads up a company of almost 1,000 employees and 2005 revenue of about $125 million. Smart Business spoke with Rush about how to persevere, create a strong culture and let employees grow.

Make people feel comfortable expressing their opinions. It’s always a challenge. As you get bigger, it’s more of a challenge. The people who have been here the longest say you can be open, and there is no retaliation.

If there were some concerns, or if I become aware, I try to bring everyone in together and try to diffuse any feelings that are being misinterpreted right away. Some people are conditioned to follow the chain of command, which is important because I can’t fix tires on the side of the road.

If it’s something people feel strongly about, they voice their opinion. They also know they can make an appointment with me. It’s not the easiest way to get a hold of me, but, if it’s urgent, I will make sure I make the time.

It’s important you always encourage your people to take risks. The more people have little wins, the more comfortable they feel. You could have 1,000 good wins and one bad experience, and you create a little bit of gun-shyness. If we have that awareness, we address it right away.

Constantly pursue excellence. It’s never good enough, which can be frustrating for people. It’s constantly striving to be better, competitive and profitable.

A lot of the people who work with me are driven by measurable goals, so they know what they have to achieve. I don’t micromanage. I try to set the direction, pick great people, follow up and be a consultant or a coach. Some days it’s not easy.

Balance work and home life. Sometimes you are 80 percent too much into the business, and you see signs you aren’t addressing personal or family needs. Then you give 80 percent to the family and miss a few meetings. I balance it by trying to have understanding children. Trying to bring them to some events I attend. Try to make sure I am home at night is the key thing.

Or, if I’m at a function at night, then I schedule time during the day, say from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. to see my kids and spend quality time with them.

Have people around you who buy in to the vision. I like the people around me to be able to communicate well orally and written.

More importantly, be service-driven, focused on their specific job qualifications, be organized and be able to help communicate to the people that work with them the key goals. They have to be focused and disciplined in their job elements. I’ve been fortunate enough to find good people based on interviews and being in the business. A lot of them come from recommendations.

Since I have other facilities, I’ve been trying to develop a common hiring approach so we can have common cultures. It may involve a clinical psychologist and certain tests and certain interview questions that help pre-screen and help get us the top five to 10 candidates, depending on the job.

I’m shooting for 80 percent success. Rapid growth certainly does challenge that.

Persevere and care. Someone said something and I wish I knew who said it; the only time success comes before work is in the dictionary.

If you are very passionate at what you believe and are strongly committed to it, you are going to be successful in whatever you pursue. But success isn’t permanent, and neither is failure. It’s easier to manage life through successes, but your biggest learning is through failures. You grow that way.

Once you get over the hurtful feeling of not getting what you were pursuing at that moment, sometimes you look back and say, ‘There was a good reason why.’ It’s not that it’s never disappointing, but you just have to say, ‘There are some things in here where I have to look for the good.’ It’s all where you shift your focus.

Seek advice. Being in the business 25 years, sometimes you get duped. Even Donald Trump does.

I call a lot of other executives and we talk about it. They tell me what they think and why. I’ll say, ‘What would make you believe this?’ Usually, I’m calling someone who has been around 50 years, so they’ve had more experience. They’ll say, ‘Have you asked these four questions?’ Maybe I’ve asked one.

Then you start asking those questions and you get down to the person saying, ‘I can’t put that in writing, I can’t guarantee that, or if that would happen, then it would be your own problem.’ Then you say, ‘I’m not pursuing this.’ I use a variety of people and their expertise and opinions.

Let employees grow, even if it’s at another company. In some instances, I encourage them to take an opportunity because it helps them grow into an area I’m not in yet.

I’ve been fortunate to have a couple return, and they return with that knowledge and that skill set that may have taken two to four years with me. They were able to get it in a year-and-a-half. I want people to be their best and pursue what makes them happy.

If I can provide challenging work, a great opportunity to grow and commensurate compensation, then hopefully they’ll stay. But if someone offers them double their salary, then I say, ‘Go. That’s great.’

HOW TO REACH: Rush Trucking Corp., (800) 526-7874 or trucom2.rushtrucking.com