Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Chairman Tommy Neely: Continuing a trucking legacy, guiding Alabama’s industry forward alongside newly elected ATA officials

The Alabama Trucking Association recently tapped Birmingham trucking businessman Tommy Neely to serve as its new Chairman of the Board for fiscal year 2024. The group also installed several new officers and nine individuals to serve on its executive board, bringing the number of active board members to 72.

The executive board comprises dozens of industry leaders from various Alabama trucking industry sectors. The group oversees and guides the activities and operations of the Association, providing strategic direction, making key decisions, and ensuring the organization effectively serves the interests of members and the state’s trucking industry. Officers and board members typically serve for one year from July 1 to June 30.

“The strength and resiliency of our board leadership have been the driving force behind the success of Alabama’s trucking industry,” said President and CEO Mark Colson. “These men and women give their time, energy, and resources to make the trucking industry better and safer for all. They are truly the backbone of our Association.”

A Legacy Realized

Neely, 46, is President and CEO of Ross Neely Systems, Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., one of Alabama’s oldest and most recognizable trucking fleets. Founded in 1958, by the late Ross Neely, Jr., the company employs more than 70 professional truck drivers running dedicated lanes across the Southeast.

Interestingly, Tommy was installed as the Association’s Chairman nearly 50 years to the day, that his late grandfather, company founder and namesake, Ross Neely, was installed as the group’s top elected official. If there was ever a true trucking legacy leader, it’s Tommy Neely.

Tommy Neely speaks during last spring’s 2023 Alabama Trucking Convention & Meeting.

Tommy’s father Ross Neely III worked at the company for 25 years until his death in 2004. He encouraged his son to go to college and to try something other than trucking as a career. “I didn’t listen and eventually joined the family business almost 25 years ago, after leaving Auburn University’s forestry school,” Tommy explains. “Of course, trucking was a large part of my family life growing up, but on my father’s advice, it was not on my radar for a career. Honestly, I was sure I did not want to work with family. Like a lot of young people, I wanted to go my way.”

What Tommy discovered, however, was a strong bond between the Neely family and employees, and, of course, the drivers. He says there was something alluring about the comradery and common goals of the team. Plus, the opportunity to learn from an industry legend was a chance not to be missed.

“After college, I joined the dispatch team, learned the industry from the ground up, and gained invaluable lessons from the experience and knowledge of my grandfather and the team he’d assembled. I soon realized this is what I was meant to do.”

Ross always ran a tight ship. At one time, before the industry was deregulated in the 1980s, the company was among the largest carriers in the Southeast, running hundreds of trucks and trailers, all emblazoned with the company’s famous tagline, “Breath Freely, Ship Ross Neely!”. Over time, Ross decided that the company was at its best as a sleeker, regionally focused carrier that provided quality service and attention to detail for customers.

Ross died in 2019 at 92, following a brief illness. Even to the end, he was in the office every day, often on Saturdays. “He still drove a truck,” Tommy laughs. “We didn’t encourage it, but anyone who knew Ross understood that he did what he wanted to do. He didn’t take orders well when it came to his own affairs.”

Today, Tommy runs the company his way (sort of). “There was a time even after Ross was sick that I stuck tight to what I thought he wanted because I always had it in the back of my mind that he’d get better and be back in here on Monday morning questioning all my decisions that I made while he was gone.”

His focus now is keeping company lanes short and tidy enough that drivers are home on most weekends. “That’s important to me. Trucking is a job; it shouldn’t be your life. Even Ross, as dedicated to his work as he was, believed that.”

The main change he has implemented since assuming control has been a focus on running newer equipment and providing comfort amenities for the drivers. “I want to keep our people happy,” he explains. “We run a lot more newer trucks and trailers than we have in the past. We also outfit cabs for comfort because that’s what drivers want the days – and frankly, they should have it, especially if you want to attract and keep professional drivers.”

For the Association, Neely will serve as the main decision maker for the membership as a whole and the face and voice of the Alabama Trucking Association for the year-long term. Neely will serve on the Policy and Finance Committee, the TRUK PAC Board, and the Alabama Trucking Foundation Board and preside over all Board of Director meetings. He will also oversee major Alabama Trucking events such as its annual meeting and the Alabama Trucking Golf Classic, the lone fundraiser for the industry political action committee, TRUK PAC, which is regarded among the state’s largest and most successful PACs.

New Officers & Board Members

Cullman businessman and longtime ATA Board Member Joe Black of McGriff Tire Co. has stepped into the role of Vice Chairman. He will work closely with Neely to conduct Association business and policy decisions through the organization’s Policy and Finance Committee, TRUK PAC Board, and the Alabama Trucking Foundation Board. He will also assume leadership roles in all major Alabama Trucking events.

New board members are Brent Bruser, Truckworx; Claiborne Crommelin, Baggett Transportation Co.; Allen Dye, ServisFirst Bank; Jeff Ellsworth, Evergreen Transportation; John Ethridge, Buddy Moore Trucking; Greg Evans, M&T Equipment Finance Corp.; Valerie Lindley, LB3 Trucking; Bruce McLeod, McLeod Software; and Travis Williams, Greenbush Logistics, Inc.

Immediate Past Chairman and President of the Boyd Companies Chris Cooper said, “I am looking forward to the improvements and change that Tommy and Joe bring to the Association. There are a lot of challenges the industry faces, such as legal reform to combat insurance fraud and nuclear verdicts, workforce development, and promoting industry safety. As leaders in the industry, it’s our job to take on those issues. Both men both bring different perspectives that allow us to cover our bases.”

He added, “For years, the Alabama Trucking Association has pushed our industry forward in many different areas, including industry safety, workforce development, and political advocacy. I am honored to have served my home state and an industry that supports its economic development. I am excited to see what the future holds for Alabama Trucking.”