Ryan Carter looks to the future with optimism — but one worry lingers.
Entrepreneur: Ryan Carter
Company: Scotlynn USA specializes in hauling time-sensitive refrigerated produce. It manages thousands of shipments a week across North America.
Carter got into logistics with a freight brokerage in Cincinnati in 2006, after he graduated from the University of Kentucky. One of his biggest clients was Canada-based Scotlynn Sweetpac Growers. In 2009, the owner of that company, Scott Biddle, recruited Carter to launch Scotlynn USA. Carter’s brother Brad helped launch the firm, which they initially ran out of a 900-square-foot office in Fort Myers. It did $4.5 million in revenue its first year. Brad Carter remains with the firm today, as does Director of Operations Kevin Kollker, who moved to Fort Myers from Chicago to join the firm in its first week.
A dozen years later Scotlynn USA is one of the largest logistics companies in Florida and one of the largest businesses, of any kind, in Southwest Florida. It did $342 million in revenue in 2020, up 55.45% from $220 million in 2019. Carter says the firm is on pace to possibly hit $500 million in revenue in 2021. While the first few months of the pandemic was especially chaotic for a logistics firm — the hunt for toilet paper helped make that so — Carter says the last three months of 2020 were solid. “We really came through for our clients in the fourth quarter,” Carter says.
'It doesn’t matter who you are what you do, you have to take care of the people who take care of you.' Ryan Carter
Partially behind a surge in revenue that goes back to 2017, when it had $130 million, Scotlynn is currently building a new headquarters in Fort Myers. The three-story 60,000-square-foot complex will more than double its current 25,000-square-foot space, and includes a gym, a basketball court, a cafeteria, a walking track and an indoor/outdoor recreational space featuring an eating area.
With some 300 employees, Carter, 37, orchestrates the complex business while raising three young sons, all under four years old, with his wife, Amy Carter. Curious and analytical with a competitive side, Carter has recently started to garner some statewide and national attention for his work leading Scotlynn. The U.S. Small Business Administration named him the Florida Small Business Person of the Year in 2020 last September. Then, during an SBA virtual award ceremony, Carter was named first runner-up for the overall National Small Business Person of the Year. The recognition came a year after Carter was named the 2019 SBDC Entrepreneur of the Year for Southwest Florida. The office of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, chairman off the U.S. Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, honored the company late last year.
Carter says one of the biggest challenges to support the growth at Scotlynn, logical for a fast-growing business, is hiring top people. “If I could hire 38 people today I would do it in a heartbeat,” he says. “We’ve never had a backlog like this. It’s a crisis for us.”
Best advice: The best wisdom Carter has ever heard is to “take care of those who take care of you.” For Carter, that list includes employees and customers, but also vendors, suppliers and even freelancers and contractors only loosely connected to the company. That approach, he says, has helped build a winning corporate culture at Scotlynn.
One example comes from a recent accident in which a truck driver transporting a load for Scotlynn died. While the driver was with a third-party contractor, Scotlynn employees launched a fundraiser for his family. The company has a casual-dress day once a week, where, to dress casual, an employee is required to donate $5 to a cause. The team chose the driver’s family that week. “It doesn’t matter who you are what you do,” Carter says, “you have to take care of the people who take care of you.”
Best decision: Carter says not laying off any employee in the pandemic was his best call. That includes some 40 people in sales roles who weren’t able to book much work due to the wild uncertainty the pandemic caused to shipping and logistics. “We incurred a substantial cost upfront,” Carter says, “but I wasn’t going to play with people’s lives.”
The company took out a federal PPP loan and it also trained some sales personnel in other tasks and work. The effort, and cost, paid off with loyal employees and a much needed morale boost. “They’ve worked their tails off for us and it shows,” Carter says.
Biggest mistake: “Not taking action quite fast enough when something is right in front of you and you know you have to do it,” says Carter, describing his worst entrepreneurial misstep.
One of several examples he cites is failing to hire senior level managers at various growth points in the business. That was true before the pandemic and has only grown more essential since then. He’s currently trying to rectify that with some new hires — including an assistant he believes will serve as a second set of management level eyes. “We really needed some expert talent and managers,” Carter says. “I knew I should’ve done that. I just didn’t take action.”
Up-at-night worry: Getting hacked. Carter says Scotlynn has invested significant time and money into cybersecurity protection. But with all the data the company holds for clients, the threat of a hack — especially given how it seems to be happening with more prevalence than ever — is a constant anxiety point. “You could you could be a JPMorgan or some other big institution and spend all this money on cybersecurity and you can still get hacked,” Carter says. “That’s my biggest fear.”
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