Webb Estes ascended to president of his family’s trucking company within a week of the birth of his third daughter.
He joked that his father, Estes Express Lines CEO Rob Estes, wanted three grandchildren from him before he got the job.
“Obviously, a busy week,” the president and COO said, “with more responsibility and an exciting year ahead.”
In an interview with Transport Dive, the younger Estes described how his experiences driving trucks, working docks and managing a terminal over the past 15 years helped shape his priorities as president. He shares the reins with his father, who remains CEO.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
TRANSPORT DIVE: Congratulations on your promotion to president. Could you introduce yourself to our readers?
WEBB ESTES: I’m 39, I’m married, with three kids. I love soccer. I'm an accountant by trade. That was my degree, both my dad and I graduated from the College of William & Mary. Love numbers, love accounting. I've worked at Estes for 15-and-a-half years full time.
There were a lot of years that probably child labor laws would have said were illegal, working summers. But I graduated with a master’s in accounting in 2007, and I’ve been at Estes ever since.
How have your previous jobs at Estes informed your priorities as president and COO?
ESTES: The biggest thing I've learned in each of those roles is that no one can do it all on their own. Every shipment in our system is being handled by several different people. The two things that I've come to appreciate the most through those roles, is one, how hard those jobs are and that every team member at Estes is worthy of respect and appreciation. Two, no one job can do the whole thing. It's a whole team effort.
My job is to take great care of our people. Because I know they'll take great care of our customers. And in our business, a lot of our customers see the same drivers day after day and it is still such a people business. And we have such great people, why not leverage that? One of my goals is to continue to empower our people and give them the tools to allow them to be successful.
How has Estes adjusted in the face of a more challenging economy?
ESTES: We're privately held and debt-free. It’s an easier role that I’m walking into than at a public company. I'm not having to go meet 1,000 different shareholders and get the banks to believe me when I need a loan from them and all those types of things. One thing about us at Estes is we're always focused long-term. Not quarterly, but ‘what do we need in the next year, three years, five years? And how can we make sure we're doing the things to get there?’
I remember back when COVID started, and this was close to three years ago, when most of our competitors were laying people off. We gave interest free loans and figured out ways to find business.
No crystal ball, but there are a lot of predictions that the economy will continue to get even more challenging in the coming few months. For us, we consistently hear from our customers that we offer really good value. And so you know, we don't try to be low-cost. We try to provide exceptional service at a fair price. And so, as things have softened a little bit, we've had lots of opportunities to go back to customers who wanted to give us more freight in recent years, when we just didn't have the capacity, and find ways to bring on that business.
How is the business, and how will you and your father divvy up leadership responsibilities?
ESTES: We did just under $5.1 billion dollars in revenue last year. And $4.3 billion of that came from the LTL entity. So, about 85% of our revenue comes from that LTL mothership. It really carries us and gives us a seat at a lot of tables. But we also have a foreign division, EFW. Under them, they have a warehousing division. We're really kind of growing in that space as well. That's a $300 million to $400 million business. Another division, Estes Logistics, is more of a dedicated, they do a lot of final mile and truckload and when a customer wants dedicated resources for a certain product or service. They're about $400 million. And so my dad is still going to kind of champion those while still helping and working with me in LTL.