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USA Truck’s James Reed Carries the Load on Diversity

3 min read
James Reed, 48, joined USA Truck Inc. of Van Buren as CFO in November 2016 and was then named CEO after Randy Rogers stepped down in January 2017. Reed has been in the transportation industry since 2012 when he joined Interstate Distributor after a career with technology companies. USA Truck reported 2020 fiscal income of $4.7 million and first-quarter 2021 income of $3.6 million.
Reed earned a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He has a Pacific Islander daughter, a Black daughter-in-law and a biracial granddaughter, and has been vocal in trying to diversify USA Truck and the industry as a whole.

You’re adamant about diversifying USA Truck and the industry; how are those efforts going? Why is this important?

Let me answer the second part first: First, it’s just the right thing to do. To make sure we are providing ample and consistent opportunities to all people is very personal and very important to us. We still always want the best, most qualified people no matter what — that’s a table stake. But we realize that we need to do more as a company and an industry to access more qualified and more diverse talent.

Finally, there is ample evidence that more diverse companies are more profitable, more innovative and overall more successful. It’s going really well at USA Truck. Like many companies, we have a diversity and inclusion council that has helped us raise awareness and provided a platform for us to celebrate diversity, our entire company has had unconscious bias training, and we recently added an incredibly qualified board member to our board. So we’re making progress every day.

What did you and USA Truck learn from the pandemic?

That people are capable of amazing things. We really had to lean into our ability to be flexible, to prioritize our people and their safety above all else (which we always do), and to extend trust to our team that we could still get the job done while being great citizens in our communities and in our families. And our people proved to be even more amazing than we knew.

What are your goals now for USA Truck?

We have our normal business goals around load count, miles on trucks and profitability. But more broadly, our goal is to make USA Truck a consistent high performer that becomes a destination employer for our communities we serve. We have been more profitable over the last four years than in the prior decade combined, and cementing our place as one of transportation’s top performers for our stakeholders is and will remain the goal.

What is your leadership style?

That’s probably a better question for our team! Generally we are very participative, but not consensus-driven. Consensus can waste a ton of time, so we often “disagree and commit” to move ahead as a team even if one of us (including me) disagrees. There is so much power and wisdom that come from counseling together, so I put a ton of trust in our leaders to do their level best, to represent their organization in our executive team, and to vigorously debate for what they believe in. And then we try to decide and move forward quickly and decisively.

Peering down the road, what do you think the future of trucking looks like?

Exciting! Of course, technology plays a huge role as AI and machine learning will enhance and improve our existing operational approach and norms, but also technology will fundamentally change the type of work we do. It is inevitable that we will all move to more and more automated solutions — so autonomous vehicles in some form will definitely be in our future.

That means jobs change: We’ll need more software capability, more time spent building and maintaining business rules in systems, more analytic horsepower, and the driver community will still play a big role in the form of piloting platooning trucks, drone-like applications where a driver “drives” remotely and traditional driver jobs. The future, as I said, is really exciting!

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