W. M. “Rusty” Rush is a down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it is, interesting and immediately likeable individual. He’s also someone who is never at a loss for words and, when asked, delights in giving his opinion, especially when it pertains to the transportation industry. I should also mention that when Rush talks, people tend to listen and take heed. Rush is president and CEO of Rush Enterprises. The New Braunfels, TX-based company operates the largest network of commercial heavy and medium duty vehicle dealerships in North America. When it completes its recent acquisition of certain assets of Asbury Automotive Atlanta’s truck dealerships in Georgia, the deal will expand the Rush Enterprises’ contiguous network of Rush Truck Centers throughout the Southern United States and result in the company operating 64 locations in 14 states. Begun in 1965 by Rush’s father Marvin, Rush Enterprises’ had revenues of $1.2 billion last year. The strategic goal of this publicly-owned company is to grow to $5 billion in revenue with a 20% average return on equity. The company not only remained profitable every quarter through the economic downturn, it maintained a high level of customer service level to all customers, Rush proudly told me. I had a chance to visit with him during the recent Rust Truck Centers’ 5th Annual Rush Truck Centers Tech Skills Rodeo that took place in San Antonio, TX. When asked how he plans to grow his company, the first thing Rush mentioned was continuing to invest in its people - in both recruiting and training. “We do this continually, all the time, even in down business conditions. With improved business, we’re ramping up these efforts.” By way of example, the Tech Skills Rodeo was enlarged this year to include more models of trucks, exhibits and displays and additional mandatory training. Rush Enterprises invested more than eight months of planning and $300,000 in the event. For the first time, the company hosted 50 diesel technology students from St. Philip’s College, San Antonio, at the Rodeo, buying their lunches and providing each student $1,000-dollar-value classes on the latest in diesel technology for free. The classes were part of the Tech Skills rodeo. Rush Enterprises is also exploring more ways to work more closely with vo-tech schools. Another key to growth, Rush said, is a diverse product line. Rush Enterprises includes truck centers, bus centers, truck financing and leasing, truck insurance, refuse systems, crane systems, towing systems and more. Along with having distinct Peterbilt and Navistar divisions, the company handles also handles Hino, Isuzu, UD, Ford, Kalmar, Autocar, Workhorse, Blue Bird, IC Bus, Diamond, Elkhart and Jerr-Dan brands. It operates about 150 mobile service trucks, fully equipped to do just about any kind of service and repair except major engine work. Rush Enterprises has its own line of parts and accessories, Rig Tough Truck Parts, for all makes of heavy duty trucks; operates Perfection Equipment, a parts distributor and up-fitter in Oklahoma; and operates a tire business through its World Wide Tires subsidiary in Texas. Another element to business growth and success is “coming up with more creative ways to serve our customers by driving efficiencies,” Rush told me. It has been expanding its vehicle leasing and contract maintenance operations. “This next decade will be a solutions decade,” he stated. “It’s about providing solutions to the truck owners and operators far beyond cost per mile, depreciation and so forth. It’s about cost-effectively driving efficiencies, providing non-core type services to take the burden off the customer and being much closer to the customer, beyond what we have been historically. “Now, we have to be much more a part of the total solution on all ends, not just the sale of a truck and maintenance, providing more efficiencies overall. My philosophy is: ‘Mr. Customer, you tell me what your issues and needs are and we’ll fix it.’ The challenge is that every customer has different needs. “We need to be even closer to the customer and provide non-core type service to take the burden off the customer, find more avenues and ways to tying the customer closer to us.” In concluding the interview, Rush reiterated the importance of people to any business’ growth and success. “Nothing is more important that investing in your people,” he said. “The best invested dollar is the dollar you invest in people.” How true. No matter the investment in bricks and mortar, only well-trained, talented and motivated employees can provide superior results and consistency throughout any size organization.