CEO, Blue Grace Logistics
Bobby Harris is one of Tampa’s quintessential entrepreneurs. Harris is founder and CEO of freight and logistics provider Blue Grace Logistics, ranked as the 20th fastest-growing private company on the Inc. 500. A two-time finalist of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award, Harris has always had a desire to do things his way.
Starting his career at 18 years old working on the docks for Southeastern Freight Lines, Harris worked his way up through operations management. At 20 he was running an outbound facility, and at 22, he was working in sales.
By 28, Harris was running specialized sales in Florida and Puerto Rico for Yellow Transportation. “That’s when I got the bug,” he says.
Harris was 30 years old when he bought into a DHL shipping franchise, and within two years, he owned 23 franchises. In 2008, Harris wanted to buy the franchisor, but the deal fell through when DHL decided to leave the U.S.
So at the beginning of 2009, Harris decided to start Blue Grace Logistics. He tapped into his 401(k), brokerage accounts, real estate and financial investments to start the company. He grew from $8 million in revenue in 2009, to nearing a projected $120 million this year.
His company, which started with 20 employees, now tops 160 employees. Though he’s acquired multiple businesses, he claims a majority of the growth is organic, from offering new services to customers.
Harris says he has no plans to take outside capital or go public. “Autonomy is paramount to everything,” he says. Harris wants to be able to continue to service his clients as No. 1, rather than have to serve investors’ best interests, he adds.
The company may seem eclectic to some — it’s a huge supporter of the Tampa Bay Humane Society and animal rights, while at the same time a sponsor of UFC mixed martial arts fighters. Sponsoring fighters has not only proved to be good advertising for the company’s target demographic, it’s also piqued Harris’s interest in the sport’s business opportunities. In 2012, he bought Fighter Warehouse, a mixed martial arts gear and apparel company.
At Blue Grace, Harris has created a culture where employees are trusted to do their work, and his job is to provide an environment in which to do that. For example, after visiting the Zappos headquarters with his leadership team, Harris decided to play employees’ selection of music at the headquarters during the workday and a have a free keg of beer for employees every Friday afternoon.
— Traci McMillan Beach
City of residence: Tampa
Years on the Gulf Coast: 31
Twitter handle: BobbyBG_CEO
Best place to network: Anywhere people gather to be happy.
The most important business lesson I’ve learned: Little knowledge is dangerous, trust the professionals around you.
One website that makes your job easier: TINYPulse, it’s a great tool to help you understand your employees
One community group you’re most involved with: Humane Society
Favorite off-hours activity: Biking with my daughters, MMA Training
Two people, dead or alive, you’d like to have dinner with: Ronald Reagan and Richard Branson
Best award you ever received: INC 500, 20th Fastest Growing Company in the U.S. and first in my industry.
Favorite techno gadget: Mophie- You can never have enough battery life
Who would play you in a movie about your life: Joe Manganiello- he’s a big guy like me but I’m probably more wired like Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire