How One Woman Built a Trucking Business

In our “Smooth Landing” pieces, we hope to share with you
success stories, which we read about, learn about, and in some cases in which
have actually participated. These will highlight individuals, teams, and
organizations who have overcome challenges to achieve success, fulfillment, and
are making a contribution – individually and collectively. We are looking for
those stories where individuals and teams, who are aligned, have made an impact
in their organizations, their communities, and their lives. We will search the
world, far and wide, to bring these stories to you. In addition, we hope you
will share your stories representing alignment with us! We will highlight
these, include their websites, and provide an opportunity for all of us to
learn from to their successes!

The story I’m about to share was actually highlighted in Readers Digest in

It caught my eye, as it was so unconventional and inspiring in many ways:
 a person coming from nothing – nothing – in the rust belt, a minority
women taking on more than just her own poverty, and in the male-dominated arena
of  trucking! The entire article is worth reading, if you want to be
inspired by someone literally pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

From my perspective, Andra Rush aligned who she was with
where she wanted to go. She used all the skills she had to offer. She loved her
job. She integrated her cultural background and values to make the choices
relative to serving her clients and looking after her employees. That is the
power of alignment – doing what you love, integrating who you are and what you
value into what you do! This resulted in success for Andra, as defined by many
different measures: love for what she does, balance in her life, financial reward,
creating a great work opportunity for others and providing a service.

The brief synopsis is offered below.

When Andra Rush started her trucking company, all she had was a beat-up van, a
pair of used pickup trucks, and the naive certainty of a 23-year-old. She
figured it would take her about four years to make her fortune. Then she could
use her newfound millions to accomplish her true goal: tackling poverty on
Native American reservations across North America. “I thought I could
retire by the time I was 27,” says Rush, a member of the Mohawk Indian
tribe of Ontario, Canada. “At that age, you don’t know what you don’t

Rush is 49 now and still working hard. Her tiny start-up just outside Detroit
has grown to a $400 million North American business that employs hundreds of
Native Americans, who assemble automobile components like steering columns near
their reservations and then truck them to manufacturing plants. Last year,
Rush—along with the rest of the auto industry—was almost sidelined by the
recession. But things have stabilized, and today Rush is a role model not only
for Native Americans but also for women in the male-dominated world of
trucking. For years, “people imagined that the business was run by my dad
or my boyfriend,” she says. “I had to say, ‘No, the business is

Rush was raised 30 miles outside Detroit, not far from her paternal grand­parents
and their Ontario reservation. When the teenage Rush visited the reservation
for the first time, she was struck by the poverty and lack of hope. “I
really wanted to make a difference,” she says.

She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1982 and took a nursing job.
The low pay dismayed her, and within a year she was pursuing an MBA. That
summer, she interned at an airfreight company, where the speed of package
pickups and deliveries drove profits. “I thought I could do better,”
Rush says.

She maxed out her credit cards and borrowed $5,000 from her parents to buy a
van and two used pickups. She wooed clients, accepted every delivery job that
came her way, and worked nursing shifts on weekends.

Within six months, Rush had ten employees, and clients like Ford and GM were
paying her to fetch small packages from the airport. Ford was the first to
offer her a job trucking parts between its plants and suppliers. Rush hired
drivers who lived near the suppliers and “went to church and did Little
League with them. So they all helped each other,” she says. “If extra
loads or services were needed, we were right there.” Rush also kept a single-minded
focus on meeting deadlines—no matter what. In the wake of 9/11, when increased
security stalled traffic for hours on Detroit’s largest bridge, she hired
barges to get her trucks across the Detroit River.

By 2001, many of Rush’s 1,000 employees were Native Americans, working
alongside people of every background. But she felt she hadn’t done enough. So
she joined forces with a Canadian parts maker to design and assemble auto
components, such as the dashboard instrument panels that go into Chrysler minivans.
She located the plants near reservations, creating opportunities where they
were needed most. By 2009, her auto parts business was generating $370 million
in revenue.

How did you balance the business and your three sons?
I would take my kids [Zack, 20, Cheyne, 18, and Chance, 13] to the office with
me, but that got a little difficult when they started to crawl. My parents live
nearby and so did my grandmother, and they all helped out a lot. As a business
owner, you don’t have much time, but you do have a lot of flexibility. So if
I’d been traveling, I’d go into the elementary school when I got home and say,
“I’m going to read to the first graders.”

How has your heritage influenced your approach to business?

In our culture, when you make a decision, you consider its impact on the next
seven generations. That means you take environmental precautions from the
outset. Teachings like that help you with your choices.

What is the key to your success?

You have to be service-driven. You think of customers every day, every minute.
You think about what would make their lives or their businesses more
successful. And you have to be focused on who’s serving them. If we don’t look
after our drivers, they won’t look after our customers.