July 24 2006 09:54 AM

    It was early 1984 when I first met with Dan Sullivan and talked to him about joining his management team with the task of planning and, ultimately, managing a new small package delivery service. At the time, there were less than a dozen people working on this �top secret� project initiated by Roadway Service. Throughout the implementation-planning phase, lots of people were recruited, facilities were acquired and customers courted. A company took shape. With Dan�s leadership and the management group�s vision, Roadway Package System, Inc. (RPS) was born March 11, 1985.
    What an exciting time it was to be part of the new venture. RPS entered a monopoly market with its sights set squarely on an American institution. UPS was (and remains) the largest trucking company in the world. But, oh, how the giant has changed. Every company that ships or receives a package owes a debt of gratitude to RPS. For what you ask? How about some things we all take for granted today such as discount pricing, tracking and tracing, better on-time service and account representatives. Do you think UPS offers its customers all of those things (plus many others) because it was looking for a way to say �Thank you for the huge profits you give us?� The reason is RPS.
    RPS was never a �me too� company. Its mission was defined early and remained constant throughout its existence. It was simple: give business-to-business shippers an attractive alternative to service their small packages. This was to be achieved through the use of technology and, most importantly, by being the low-cost provider. Two decisions were paramount to reaching this end. First, build your management team with creative, �outside-the-box� people who could apply technological solutions to a �three yards and a cloud of dust� industry. Many were hired with non-trucking backgrounds. Hiring the best and brightest, with little regard to where they came from, was a shrewd approach. Secondly, the driver workforce was comprised of independent contractors. This paved the way for being the low cost provider by paying the drivers for actual work performed, not based on a time clock. Equally important, the use of independent contractors eliminated the possibility of unionization and all the baggage that�s inherent with it.
    Was RPS perfect during its evolution as a company? No way. But neither was General Motors, Microsoft or Wal-Mart, for that matter. The venerable Sam Walton, as a result of poor planning that I can assure you never happened again, lost the lease on the building housing his first �Five & Dime.� But like these industry giants, RPS used its greatest resource, its people, to solve the problems that are inevitable with all start-ups. In the end, a company�s success is largely due to the ideas and hard work that comes out of its people.
    Many of the original management team is no longer with the company. I worked there 12 years. But none of us will ever forget our accomplishments. Indeed, RPS was built by the tireless energy of thousands of people, from clerks all the way up to company officers that shared a single vision � to be the best small package carrier in the world. Whether that was accomplished is a matter of opinion. But there is one point that cannot be argued. RPS has left an indelible mark on the small package industry. RPS took UPS to the mat and scored a lot of points for the good of the customer. That will be its greatest legacy. Rest in peace, RPS. Your work is over. The baton has been passed to FedEx Ground. Congratulations for a job well done!