Cookeville, Tennessee’s Averitt Express recently marked its 50th anniversary with a variety of activities.
On Oct. 1 and dating back to National Truck Driver Appreciation Week (Sept. 12-18), the festivities at Averitt’s facilities included special ceremonies, grab-and-go meals, and employee prize drawings for a variety of prizes
For the grand company-wide prize, five over-the-road drivers had their names drawn to be assigned 2022 Freightliner trucks. The winners were Hickory, North Carolina driver Crystal Austin; Little Rock, Arkansas driver Rey Cabigquez; Greensboro, North Carolina driver Troyshawn Downey; Charlotte, North Carolina driver Tim Johnson; and Jackson, Tennessee driver Rebecca Sanders.
In 1958, Thurman Averitt founded the company as Livingston Merchant’s Co-Op in Livingston, Tennessee. In 1969, Averitt incorporated his company and called it Averitt Express.
While making regular deliveries in Nashville, Averitt became acquainted with Gary Sasser, who at the time was a young dockworker. Sasser happened to ask Averitt one day if he would be interested in selling his company.
On Oct. 1, 1971, Sasser purchased Averitt Express, which at the time consisted of two employees, three tractors, and five trailers. Today, Sasser serves as Averitt’s chairman and chief executive officer, and Averitt Express now employs more than 9,000 people and operates approximately 4,600 tractors, 15,000 trailers, and 140 facilities across the country.
“In 1971, I was just a 21-year-old kid who was going to night school, but I knew that I wanted to be in the transportation industry,” says Sasser, who also took logistics training while serving in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. “I was surprised when Mr. Averitt agreed to sell, and it didn’t take long to face my first challenge: how to make payroll. We actually sold the trucks and leased them back just so we could have some operating capital to give everyone a paycheck. We learned a lot in those early days.”
Sasser said the company focused on hiring people who could provide superior service to customers.
“From day one, we surrounded ourselves with good people, people who shared our vision,” he said. “The industry had a reputation for not being service-minded. We wanted to change that.”
“We sat down as a group and figured out what we could do best, where we wanted to go and how to get there. From early on, we knew we weren’t in the trucking business; we were in the service business. Trucks were just the tools, like computers, telephones, and forklifts.”
“The two most important things we committed to from the very beginning was to focus on people and service. It’s people who deliver the freight, not trucks. And when our people provide outstanding service, customers trust us with more and more of their business, allowing us to grow. That’s what secures our future.”
Building relationships with associates remains so important to the company that Sasser personally welcomes aboard every new hire. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, all new full-time associates were brought to Cookeville for orientation, and Sasser met each one and shook their hands. While health and safety guidelines don’t allow for that today, he still calls each new associate to welcome them to the Averitt team.
“October marked our celebration of 50 years as a team, and that’s a milestone we are proud of. It’s been a team effort, and it will continue to be a team effort as we challenge ourselves to be innovative and creative,” Sasser said.
“We like to say, ‘We’re proud of our past and even more excited about our future,’ and that’s because our future is very bright. We look forward to many more successful years and milestones together.”