Retiring UPS lifer Holmes reflects on legendary 37-year career
March 18, 2016
The torch is being passed at UPS Freight as a legendary trucking executive prepares to retire after a remarkable 37-year career that saw him rise from the overnight docks in Philadelphia to the executive suite in Richmond, Va.
Jack Holmes is retiring effective June 30. Over the course of his distinguished career, Holmes served in several key roles, spearheaded the move into LTL by the world’s largest transportation company and is highly regarded in the freight industry for his leadership and talent.
“When I started 1979 unloading trailers in Philadelphia at 3:30 in the morning …to go from that job to president of company, I never thought of it really,” Holmes said. “I am really proud to have worked for company that allows that. It was the most humble starting position.”
Holmes said when he started at UPS, he began tracking packages with “a clipboard and carbon paper. If the clipboard got wet, you were screwed. Now when I talk about all the technology we have, that’s when I really feel old. The younger people can’t believe it.
In an interview with LM, Holmes said when he started with UPS in 1979, the company was purely a domestic-focused company. “We had operations in Canada and West Germany,” he recalled. “Now we’re in 220 countries. We are truly a global economy. The supply chains are so much more complex. There are so many more borders that have to be crossed than in 1979.”
He said back then, e-commerce was just a pipe dream. “Maybe some smart person saw that in 1979, but not me,” he said. “It’s incredible how the world is now at everyone’s finger tips. If you have access to internet, you can do whatever you want to do. The changes on the technology side have been huge.”
Along with those tech changes is how UPS changed. “Back then we were a trucking company trying to introduce technology. Now we’re a tech company that happens to own trucks. We supply our customers tools to help manage their supply chains. That’s an incredible change.”
When UPS entered the $35 billion LTL sector when it bought Overnite Transportation for $1.3 billion in 2005, Holmes said UPS “frankly saw a void in technology and speed and reliability” in the oft-staid LTL sector.
“That’s what we’re known for,” he recalled. “When we came in, our competitors reacted in an incredible fashion. They didn’t let us sit back. The technology changes last 10 years have been dramatic. The focus on caring for customers’ goods is so much better than 10 years ago.”
That previous “it gets there when it gets there” mindset has been transformed into a high-tech, high-service sector that has long ago weeded out the sleepy operators. “Now LTL is viewed the same way parcel service is. Just-in-time is normal.
“If you don’t meet customers’ expectations,” Holmes said, “you’re going to suffer.”
Holmes said one of the things he’s proudest of is solving the toughest problems at UPS in tough operating cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. “Every place I found a capable team and we built on our small successes,” he said. “When time came to leave, we left in best in class. People who went with me are with big jobs in this company. Just the way my old leadership looks back on my career. I see future leaders coming up in this company.”
“Jack’s contributions to UPS and the trucking industry are immeasurable,” said Myron Gray, president of U.S. operations for UPS. “His strong leadership, deep industry knowledge and professional counsel have educated and inspired countless UPSers and others who have worked with him throughout his career.”
The other heartwarming thing about this industry, Holmes said, are the relationships with customers. “I have customers here who have been with me 10 years,” he said. “They went from constructive partners to friends. It’s hard to believe you can believe you can work in an industry where some of your customers are your friends.”
In retirement, Holmes said he plans on serving on a couple of boards of directors, including the United Way of Richmond for perhaps a year, but then it’s full-time retirement. After moving 19 times during his career, his wife Michelle and he have built their “dream house” in Richmond and plan on settling there.
“I really want to give retirement a go,” he says.
Rich McArdle has been promoted and will assume responsibilities as president of UPS Freight in June. Like Holmes, McArdle began his UPS career in 1982 as a part-time employee loading package cars in Kentucky. In 1985, he was part of the UPS team that initiated international air service between the U.S. and Europe. Now he is tasked with running the nation’s fifth-largest LTL company which will probably top $3 billion in revenue this year.
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