Harold Sumerford Jr., 77th ATA chairman

Tank truck carriers take centerstage at ATA’s 2021 MCE

Oct. 27, 2021
J&M CEO Harold Sumerford Jr. elected federation’s 77th chairman, Carbon Express receives Mike Russell Trucking Image Award

Two esteemed members of the bulk transportation community took centerstage during American Trucking Associations’ 2021 Management Conference & Exhibition in Nashville, Tenn.

J&M Tank Lines CEO Harold Sumerford Jr. was elected the federation’s 77th chairman, and Carbon Express president Steve Rush accepted a Mike Russell Trucking Image Award for his company’s efforts to improve drivers’ quality of life.

“It truly made me feel good that we were recognized for treating our drivers well,” Rush told Bulk Transporter. “Our Road Team Captain, Bill McNamee, was there, too, and he was very proud. This award is a very prestigious one at ATA.”

Sumerford, who joined his family-owned business in 1978, succeeded Sherri Garner Brumbaugh, president and CEO of Garner Trucking, as ATA chairman. He and his brother, J&M president Peter Sumerford, have run the Birmingham, Ala.-based tank truck carrier since their father, Harold Sumerford Sr., retired in 2002.

“This couldn’t be a better time to be not just a member of ATA, but chairman of the board,” Sumerford said. “I’m honored and humbled to be chosen by my fellow members to represent ATA and the trucking industry at this critical time.”

Sumerford has been deeply involved in the trucking industry from a young age, even attending Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) hearings and sales meetings with his father while growing up. He started doing odd jobs at J&M as a teenager, from mowing the grass and picking up trash at the terminal, to servicing trailers and tractors.

He previously served as the 2015-16 National Tank Truck Carriers chairman—just like his father, who served as NTTC chairman during the 2002-03 term, before him. Sumerford also is a past chairman of the Georgia Motor Truck Association; and J&M—which won a Mike Russell award last year—is a longtime member of the American Transportation Research Institute and the Truckload Carriers Association.

“Harold is the consummate professional, and a tremendous ambassador for our industry,” said Chris Spear, ATA president and CEO.

“His story—working in the family business until he ran the family business—could not be more representative of what trucking is all about. I’m looking forward to working more closely with him as chairman and want to congratulate him on this honor.”

Sumerford called assuming ATA’s chairman mantle “the pinnacle” of his career. He plans to use the position to bring more attention to the tank truck segment, but said they’re already well-aligned with the overall trucking industry on most key issues, including workforce development, tort reform, and side underride guards, and in finding solutions for the supply-chain troubles impacting all modes of transportation.

“There are so many irons in the fire right now, with infrastructure, the independent-contractor model, and protecting it, and the upcoming elections, and making sure we’re positioned to pivot if we need to, or support those who still support our industry,” Sumerford told Bulk Transporter. “Whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, we’re not going to be an association of ‘no,’ as in ‘No, we can’t do it.’ We want to be a part of the discourse, and we want to be a key participant and player.”

Rush, a former truck driver himself, founded Carbon Express in 1983, and has been a passionate advocate for drivers throughout his career. Carbon Express is the rare longhaul operation that eschews sleeper trucks in favor of putting its over-the-road truckers in hotel rooms as part of its mission to improve their working conditions.

The company was named a Fleet to Watch in this year’s Best Fleets to Drive For program.

In winning the Mike Russell award, Carbon Express also was honored for its outreach to the driver community through social media, and its work with America’s Road Team. “Any time we can get the message out about how treating drivers better is the answer to retention and attracting new drivers, it’s a plus for the industry,” Rush said.

ATA presented four Mike Russell Trucking Image Awards, with the other three going to a state association, a professional driver, and an industry communications professional in recognition of their efforts to improve the image of the trucking industry.

The other winners of this year’s Mike Russell awards were:

  • The Indiana Motor Truck Association for its work to promote safe driving by working with state officials on several anti-distracted driving campaigns
  • America’s Road Team Captain Wayne Crowder, a professional driver with FedEx Freight, for his work promoting the industry’s image
  • John Walsh, vice president of marketing at Mack Trucks, for his role in helping ATA advance the cause of safety through its show trucks, including the Share the Road and Workforce Heroes trucks.

“Since 2007, the Mike Russell Trucking Image Awards have shone a light on the great work our carriers, associations, and most of all, drivers do in promoting the image of the trucking industry,” Sumerford said. “This year’s winners have all gone above and beyond to show just how safe, professional and essential trucking is.”

First awarded in 2007, the Mike Russell Trucking Image Award is given to an individual, motor carrier, trucking organization and industry supplier who each demonstrate excellence in illustrating the industry’s essentiality, professionalism, and commitment to safety, both on and off the highways, ATA said. This year, for the first time, the Mike Russell Awards were sponsored by Great West Casualty Company.

“Elevating our industry and enhancing our image is something that we all benefit from,” said Elisabeth Barna, ATA executive vice president of industry affairs. “Sharing our stories of success and highlighting the hard work and dedication that is core to our profession provides an opportunity to engage the public and underscore the essentiality and innovation and true heart of trucking.

“ATA is in the trenches next to you all working daily to continue to raise the public’s perception of trucking—and as you will see—the Mike Russell Image Award recipients are the pinnacle of this work in action.”