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Full speed ahead

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  • | 10:44 a.m. May 17, 2013
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Bobby Harris is running pedal-to-the-metal, full-speed ahead, to use trucking slang.

He has gone from dock worker at a trucking company following high school to founder and CEO of the 20th fastest-growing company on the Inc. 500 with 7,387% revenue growth between 2008 and 2011. Riverview-based BlueGrace Logistics, a third-party freight and logistics provider, is on target to hit $120 million this year, with revenue projected to triple in the next two to three years.

At times, the ride has been bumpy and unpredictable.

Five years ago, the entrepreneur owned 23 United Shipping Solutions franchises, a reseller of DHL services, and he was in the process of buying the franchisor. Collectively the franchises had about $8 million in annual sales. “It was a very successful company. Everything was looking up,” says Harris.

But then DHL's parent company announced it was exiting the U.S. market, citing steep losses tied to the economic recession. “It was scary. A lot of people were depending on me,” he says.

It didn't take Harris, now 39, long to recognize a new opportunity.Managing shipping costs is crucial to the survival of companies that regularly ship goods. For some businesses, it's the second highest expense following labor, he says.

Harris had created BlueGrace Logistics (the middle names of his two daughters) to hold the intellectual property rights to technology developed for his shipping company.

His team refined the software to enable small- and mid-sized companies to find the most affordable trucking carrier by using a computer search similar to Orbitz. Instead of calling 20 or 30 companies for shipping quotes, the software provides an answer in 20 seconds. It also tracks shipments and consolidates the entire process.

BlueGrace had $18 million in revenue in 2009, its first full year of operation.

Harris, who grew up in Brandon and graduated from the University of South Florida with a bachelor's degree in psychology in 2010, speaks modestly of his success. He says his company is successful because it helps other businesses operate more efficiently by simplifying shipping.

Still, the company faces stiff competition.

But “there's always a market for the best,” says Harris.

Key to BlueGrace's success is Harris's executive team, which includes in-house legal counsel. Harris also cites the company's corporate culture: Management is committed to treating all employees fairly and making BlueGrace a fun place to work. Management is also committed to hiring empathetic, creative people who want to serve customers. “My thing is to let people be themselves. We like odd people,” he says. “We're a little eccentric.”

On Fridays, the company offers free beer at 4 p.m. It's no surprise those lines are usually long.

The company has an open social media policy, which means employees are encouraged to use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn as work permits. The open social media policy enables Harris to keep up with the lives of his 140 plus employees through Twitter.

Harris has his own Twitter account, @Bobbybg_CEO. His Twitter home page proudly proclaims: “Actively living 20 lifetimes in one and enjoying every second.”

About half of the company's revenue comes from its 35 franchises and Harris expects franchise growth to continue as BlueGrace expands its geographic reach. Selling to start over isn't in his plan book.

“I don't want to sell my company,” he says. “I just want to keep making it great. I have a lot of fun doing what I do. I stay creative, very flexible.”


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