For more than a decade, Expedited Transport has been moving freight, and improving lives.
Founded in 2011 by Tim Cross and Jim Rikard, the Vestavia Hills-based freight brokerage firm specializes in shipping logistics and management for customers throughout North America. The original Expedited Transport LLC focused on Department of Defense military freight, followed in 2014 by the addition of Expedited Transport Agency to serve the commercial market.
While moving freight is what the company does, improving lives is what the company is about. In fact, the creation of Expedited was in itself an attempt by Cross to improve his life after years of alcohol and drug addiction. Since then, he has regularly hired people who are in recovery, to the point that those employees have accounted for between 60% to 80% of the company’s workforce.
“We said from the very beginning that we wanted to use this company to help other people, to give them an opportunity for a second chance,” Cross says. “Somebody gave me another chance along the way, and part of the spiritual principle of recovery is to extend the same opportunity that helped save my life.”
A Birmingham native and graduate from the UAB School of Business, Cross began his professional career in consumer collections, working for the old AmSouth Bancorporation as well as AmSher Compassionate Collections. Cross says he was very good at his job, at least, when he was willing to do it.
“I’d get mad about something at work and speed off out of the parking lot and be gone for the rest of the day,” Cross says. “Erratic behavior was happening because of alcohol and drugs, and things were coming undone. I was developing a rep for being difficult to manage and deal with. Eventually I could no longer find a job in the collection business in Birmingham.”
Finally, in 2008, Cross went into recovery and came out to a clean but uncertain future. This was, after all, during the Great Recession, and his resume was filled with red flags. Cross spent a year working a variety of temporary gigs before finally being offered full-time employment in a freight-brokerage business in 2010. When that company went bankrupt a year later, Cross and Rikard teamed up to form Expedited, with a staff of three people.
“This was not something I had planned for,” Cross says. “I had no idea how it was going to turn out. I was just looking for some steady income.”
Cross ended up with both a successful business — that original three-person company has grown into a $96 million enterprise with approximately 75 employees — and a meaningful mission. Because for Cross, the company’s true success comes not from the bottom line, but rather from helping people who have hit rock bottom.
“Even if a person gets sober, it can be difficult for them to find a good job,” Cross says. “So yes, we have a soft spot for alcoholics and addicts.”
As a result, the Expedited office is filled with heart-wrenching stories of addiction. The former high school cheerleader who became hooked on heroin, had her child taken from her custody and ended up living on the streets. The felon who spent four years in prison for trafficking methamphetamines and cocaine. The repeated rehabs and relapses that steadily took a toll, both mentally and physically.
All those people have found a second chance (and for some, a third or fourth chance) at Expedited. And for many of them, that chance was all they needed to change the direction of their life.
Expedited COO Crystal Holcomb is a prime example. She says she was “a junkie on the streets” throughout most of her 20s and had never held a steady job before getting sober in 2012. She initially worked at a fast-food restaurant before meeting Cross, who hired her in 2015.
“On paper I was not hirable. For whatever reason, Tim saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself,” Holcomb says. “But we can be amazing people once we get separated from the drugs and alcohol. Just because people make bad decisions, it doesn’t have to define who they actually are as a human.”
It was a similar situation for Bryan Odom, who says he went through a downward spiral that ended with him serving time in prison. When he was released in 2020, Odom says, “I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Cross’ daughter, Grace, had known Odom for years, and she suggested that Expedited would be a good place to get his life back on track. The move was so successful for Odom that not only is he now the company’s logistics coordinator, but he and Grace are married.
Odom credits Cross with overlooking his past to give him a future, and he has seen numerous other employees be able to turn their life around as well thanks to Cross.
“He’s given people what was probably their last chance and helped them restore their integrity,” Odom says. “He doesn’t dwell on the past. His vision for you is so big, he sees past the obstacles.”
And there certainly can be plenty of obstacles. Cross says relapses are not uncommon, and even his patience can be tested. The company maintains a three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy for its employees.
“We’re not going to enable them,” Cross says. “If they’re not interested in getting sober, the best thing we can do is let them go.”
For many business owners, such risk is not worth the trouble, which is one of the reasons people in recovery can have a difficult time finding steady employment. But Grace Odom says that former addicts who are serious about recovery actually can turn out to be dedicated, motivated workers.
“This sounds crazy, but alcoholics and drug addicts have grit and determination,” says Grace Odom, who is Expedited’s DOD operations officer. “Because if you’re on the street and you’re looking for drugs, you’re not going to take no for an answer. You’re going to get your drugs, no matter what it takes.”
Still, Cross says that maintaining this type of workforce is not easy, and to do so, it helps if somebody in charge is in recovery themselves.
“We’re able to identify the red flags. We have radar that goes up when we see behavior change that a non-addict probably wouldn’t pick up on,” Cross says. “Things that might go on for months in other places, we notice instantly.
“We understand the risk, and at times it has been a real pain. But above and beyond that are the successes. People getting married, having kids, getting custody of their kids back, buying a house. That far exceeds any difficulty we’ve had along the way.”
Or as Expedited CFO Lindsey Nowell says, “It’s not as much about making money as it is about making sure that everybody who works here succeeds.”
Of course, turning a profit is important, but Expedited has been able to do that as well. All of which has made this unexpected venture worthwhile for Cross.
“It takes grit and resolve. You can’t waver,” Cross says. “But we are an example that it can work. That you can be a second-chance employer and help people create a better life for themselves.”
Cary Estes and Cary Norton are Birmingham-based freelance contributors to Business Alabama.
This article appears in the July 2023 issue of Business Alabama.