When a public company reports a whopping $1,000 in quarterly profits, as USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren did in late July, it isn’t really something that executives will cut out and paste on the lunchroom refrigerator.
It was certainly unexpected to see the lonely “1” (in thousands) listed in the income column for the second quarter of fiscal 2019. And, technically and quite literally, it was USA Truck’s eighth consecutive profitable quarter.
It is also the eighth consecutive profitable quarter since USA Truck CEO James D. Reed sent me a teasing email — I took it as teasing since he didn’t say a word about my ancestry or hygiene — after I mentioned the company’s six consecutive losing quarters in a news item about the hiring of a new vice president of maintenance in September 2017. I’m not claiming any credit for USA Truck’s turnaround, just noting the timing.
Reed became CEO of the transportation company in January 2017 after originally being hired in November to be the company’s CFO. He was promoted to replace Randy Rogers and was the company’s fourth CEO since 2016.
When Reed took over, a $1,000 profit would have been great news. The company was lurching from chief executive to chief executive while fighting off a hostile takeover attempt and years of bad financial results.
Since then, Reed has had to deal with any number of issues, just like any other trucking company executive: soft freight markets, rising costs, a serious driver shortage — you name it.
One thing you probably didn’t name is the Arkansas River possibly flooding his office. Well, USA Truck had to deal with exactly that during the second quarter when the river experienced a historic torrent.
The USA Truck headquarters is on Industrial Park Road — it is as charming as its name, by the way — just a few blocks from the river and a levee whose sturdiness was questioned. When heavy rains threatened levees up and down the river, USA Truck had to make a decision: relocate temporarily or have employees possibly swim to work?
The headquarters and levee ended up OK, but USA Truck chose not to risk it. Reed said half of the headquarters’ 400 employees live in Fort Smith, on the other side of the river, and worked out of a leased office there; the others worked in a leased office in a more surely dry part of Van Buren.
The ad hoc headquarters lasted for 10 days until the river receded. The chaos, Reed said in the company’s quarterly earnings release, helped shave off about $600,000 in profits.
But the craziness had its benefits, Reed said. One was that two of his teen-age children pitched in and set up computers in the temporary offices until 5 in the morning the day of the move.
The other benefit was a noticeable esprit de corps among the troops.
“I just wish that everybody could have seen the binding effect that that tough experience had on our people,” Reed said in the earnings conference call. “Was it tough on our result? Unequivocally, absolutely, yes. But the net effect is we’re stronger as a team, we’re closer as a family unit here at USA Truck, and we’re really proud of what we did coming out of that tough circumstance.”
A few years ago — well, more than 20 now — a terrible storm knocked out power at the Pine Bluff Commercial, where I was a sportswriter. It was insane but rewarding to see how the newsroom staff picked up whatever was available and drove out to a colleague’s home to get the new day’s edition out.
I wish I had saved a copy.