In 1971, transport industry insider Gary W. Short recognized a gap in the market and leapt to fill it. “He moved into the Richmond, Virginia area and saw a need for some additional services,” recalls his son-in-law and current Vice President, Ward Best.
The forward-thinking entrepreneur broke away from the company he worked for and invested in his own, Virginia-based carrier business. “He saw the opportunity, took the risk, and went out on his own with his equipment,” says Mr. Best. “It is a great success story.”
From a startup with just three tractors and a handful of leased trailers, Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation has grown to become a regional leader with nearly 200 drivers and over 600 pieces of equipment throughout the southeast. Operations are concentrated in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Missouri, Florida and Alabama, although the company is licensed to transport goods throughout the entire United States and Canada.
Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation handles liquid and dry materials including hazardous and non-hazardous commodities, and the team has chosen to narrow their focus to a limited scope within these categories. For instance, while the company frequently transports plastic pellets, lime, sand, and cement, “there are different grades of each one of those materials and we don’t handle every grade,” Mr. Best explains. “We have tried to build and grow on a strategy of providing specialized and focused service to our customers. We are not looking to pick up every piece of business that we can find. We are out to pick up the business that fits our expertise and our areas of specialty so that we can focus on that; we can focus on our customers, and we can provide the individualized service to handle and transport their materials.” As a result, the company is able to deliver expert, industry-leading service within its specific scope of expertise. “We are not trying to be everything to everybody. We are trying to be the best to the folks that we work with.”
After 44 years of expansion, Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation remains family-owned and operated, a fact that deeply affects the company culture. “As we have grown, we have tried to retain the focus on being a family company,” Mr. Best explains. As a result, people are valued and relationships are important. “We try to know people on an individual level, on an individual basis… That comes from understanding that if that [respect for the individual] can work on a family level, it can work on the larger level of the company structure.”
Employee retention demonstrates the success of the company culture and family atmosphere. At least one employee has been there from the very beginning, while several others have been on board for more than 30 years. “We greatly appreciate the long term employees that we have here with us. They have helped us get to this point.” Indeed, it is all about teamwork, Mr. Best insists. “It is not a single effort on any one person’s part. It is a group effort and it goes back to that relationship built on long-term mutual respect of both parties. It is that family type of atmosphere.”
People make the difference, “and I mean that from the folks who are handling the commodities and driving the trucks, to the people handling the paper work, to the folks turning the wrenches.” Mr. Best gives ample credit to the guys on the ground, explaining that senior managers “are support staff to the folks who are doing the day to day work. I brag upon my drivers anywhere and everywhere I go. They do a fantastic job. I will put my guys up against anybody else in the industry. They are the face of our company on a day to day basis with our customers and with the motoring public, so we have to set standards for them and they are the folks who uphold those standards.”
In order to attract and retain top-notch drivers, Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation offers some of the highest pay in the industry as well as a very competitive benefits package that includes paid vacation and paid holidays. Even in tough times, the company makes the effort to maintain its generous compensation. For example, during the recent recession, there were no cuts to either pay or benefits. Furthermore, the company implemented a pay raise this year.
Of course, safety is a crucial part of every driver’s job. Operating a truck loaded with hazardous materials on America’s busy highways comes with inherent risks, and Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation is committed to minimizing those risks. “Because of the nature of [the job] and because of the nature of the commodities that we are transporting, we need to focus our attention on safe operations every day. That is a benchmark of our service that we provide. We spend a great deal of time, money, and effort on our safety program.”
The team is constantly updating this safety program to ensure that it is up to date and effective. One exciting new focus is on “a predictive modeling system in which we are trying to identify and prevent the next incident, whether that be an injury or an accident. We are taking our own experiences, we are taking our own leading indicators and we are modeling that to try to see where we can improve on our existing record.”
In addition, Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation utilizes a strict hiring process to ensure new drivers will meet safety expectations, and these strict expectations are clearly outlined from the get-go. Individual Safety Performance Reviews are conducted regularly and real time monitoring of critical safety events are sent directly to senior management.
The company also maintains safety by operating one of the newest fleets on the road; in fact, the average age of a company tractor is less than three years. This modern fleet utilizes the latest technology, including Omnitracs satellite communications, electronic logging equipment, critical alert warnings, disc brakes, and automatic transmissions.
The company’s safety efforts have earned the team a series of awards. Many customers – including several Fortune 500 companies – have recognized Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation for outstanding performance, while the Virginia Trucking Association has recognized the company’s commitment to safety in its annual awards presentations. Since 2010, The National Tank Truck Carrier Association (NTTC) has recognized the company no fewer than 10 times in its annual safety awards. This past year, the Raffles insurance captive recognized Atlantic Bulk with the Pacesetter award for innovative safety practices and Best was named the group’s Risk Control Manager of the Year.
To ensure that drivers receive the credit they deserve for these external recognitions, the company presents its own awards as well. Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation recognizes outstanding drivers annually, and rewards them for all violation-free inspection reports throughout the year. As well, eighteen drivers have earned the million-mile award, recognizing a million safely driven miles. The team plans to present four additional million-mile rings by year’s end.
As drivers keep logging miles and the years keep rolling on, Atlantic Bulk Carrier Corporation is committed to maintaining the core values that have kept the company going strong since 1971. In addition to putting people and safety first, the company will remain a family affair. Mr. Best summarizes, “our goal has always been to continue to grow and prosper as a family-owned, family-operated company to the benefit of our customers, our employees, and the company itself.”