Cliff Beckham's Exit from USA Truck ‘A Bit of a Victory Lap'

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Sep. 1, 2014 12:00 am  

Cliff Beckham

Cliff Beckham said he felt weird as he sat at his office computer and prepared to confirm a sale of some of his USA Truck stock.

“I felt like I was doing something wrong, like I was cheating on a test,” said Beckham, who announced Aug. 7 he would step down as chief financial officer of USA Truck effective Sept. 30. “At the same time, it was a bit of a victory lap.”

Beckham, 42, has been with the Van Buren trucking company for 20 years after starting as a $20,000-a-year staff accountant. He worked his way up to be named CFO before he was promoted to CEO in 2007.

Beckham’s tenure as CEO was not a fairy tale come true. After a profitable 2008, the company posted five consecutive years of net losses. John Simone was hired to replace Beckham in February 2013.

Beckham was part of the hiring committee that selected Simone and agreed to stay on as CFO to help with the transition. It is a bit like a head coach in football being fired but then staying on as the new coach’s offensive coordinator.

“I have never heard of it happening before,” Beckham said of the arrangement.

Despite the unorthodox coupling, Beckham swears that it worked. He said he and Simone sat down “like a couple of guys” to get a feel for each other and figure out how to work together.

“He never put me in my place,” Beckham said. “My entire mindset was to help John’s team and the board. It couldn’t have worked out better. There was zero friction.”

Beckham had been talking with his wife, Lynn, about stepping away from the company once Simone’s turnaround efforts took hold. That happened when USA Truck reported earnings of $700,000 for the second quarter of 2014, the company’s first profitable quarter since 2011.

Beckham told the board the next day he was resigning. He made it public a few days later.

“It didn’t feel right not staying,” said Beckham, who was born and raised in Fort Smith. “I felt a tremendous responsibility to the company.”

There are no next plans, Beckham said. He said he is exhausted from the grind of the past few years, which included two failed takeover bids amid the financial struggles.



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