Bob Helms “The Turnaround Specialist” at Pegasus TransTech
A University of Alabama graduate with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, Bentley spent 15 years as a trucking Publisher before becoming the Editorial Director for Randall-Reilly's Recruiting Media division.
Bob Helms says he’s had an emotional connection to the trucking industry since birth. His grandfather and uncle started a trucking company in Albemarle, NC that later became Helms Motor Express with terminals in five states. When Bob was born, the story goes that his granddad placed a metal truck in his hands. “I was emotionally attached,” he said.
Children’s emotions shape the attitudes that drive decisions and behavior, and even unconscious feelings can have a concrete impact on later life. That was definitely the case for Bob, who is now Chairman and CEO of Pegasus TransTech, a company that focuses on the way the transportation industry utilizes business critical data and information.
Bob coined the term “Information Logistics” for this process, but it’s merely the latest in a series of entrepreneurial endeavors that began at an early age.
At 8 years old, Bob wanted a new pro-style ball glove for Little League, so he negotiated to get paid for chores with his parents and got a commitment from a neighbor to pay him to cut their grass. Bob got the glove two weeks after the season started, paid cash, and learned a great lesson that has served him well for many years: be personally responsible for the result you are seeking.
By age 10, Bob was cutting grass for several neighbors with an antique push mower. He used his earnings to purchase a 3HP power lawn mower with a 24” blade to enable him to mow more yards faster and take on more customers.
That same year Bob substituted for the neighborhood paperboy to earn extra money while his friend was on vacation. Suddenly the friend’s family moved away, and Bob asked the newspaper manager for the route. While Bob wasn’t technically old enough to get the route, the manager agreed, knowing Bob knew the route and the customers. The extra income allowed him to purchase a new bicycle with three large baskets – and you guessed it, Bob asked for more territory and doubled the size of his route and income.
Proud of his business accomplishments, Bob’s dad gave him a book to read called The Blue Vase. This book was usually used as a training tool for adult salesmen. In essence, it says that the common denominator of success for all those who have ever achieved success is that they are willing to do the things that most people don’t like to do. “Most people” are seeking pleasing methods or pleasing environments and most of all, are looking for things they “like to do”. Successful people seek pleasing results and are willing to do the things necessary to achieve those results. Isn’t that the essence of what all entrepreneurs must do? Entrepreneurs almost never come up with a great plan that just works. There are many challenges and obstacles to overcome.
Fortunately, Bob continued to learn these lessons as an adolescent. Take, for example, the dilemma he faced at 16 years old when he wanted his own car. Bob took a construction job as a carpenter’s helper (summer) and worked Saturdays during the school year in a department store. He continued to mow lawns and did other odd jobs for neighbors, then paid cash for a 14-year old car that carried him through his high school years.
At 18, he found another “need to fill”. Bob’s small town had virtually no entertainment for teenage kids. He and his girlfriend liked to dance to live music but had to drive over 20 miles to do so. Bob decided to start his own entertainment company.
It appeared that such a venture required contacts, knowledge, and skills that he did not have, so he began to contact entertainment promoters around the state. This “research” also became a good excuse for Bob and his girlfriend to attend a number of concerts and entertainment events where they could dance and also learn more about the business.
He soon met Ted Hall, President of Hit Attractions in Charlotte, NC, a regional promoter of concerts and entertainment. He contracted with Ted to handle booking the talent of known entertainers. Ted suggested taking on an experienced partner for a year to learn the business and mitigate the risk of failing due to inexperience. This worked. Over the next four years, Bob expanded into two locations and earned a profit on every event except one. From that experience he learned to manage seven people, secure a business license and permits, research a business before entering the arena, seek expert help in unfamiliar areas, and to deliver a product or service that your customers really want to buy.
In the process of promoting concerts and entertainment events, Bob found another “unfulfilled need.” He opened a store called Music Unlimited. The business struggled in the beginning – a competitor had been in the business for decades and was well established. But once the high school and college crowd discovered Bob’s policy of acquiring new hit recordings within 24 hours of release and providing a student-friendly atmosphere they could enjoy, the business boomed.
After graduating college, Bob went with a Fortune 500 shipper and progressed rapidly. Later he would start a software consulting and recruiting company in Atlanta, which he sold in 1990. He then had an offer to join a San Diego startup, Qualcomm, and jumped at the chance. “I had been in the tech world, and the prospect of marrying that background with trucking felt good,” Bob stated. “Things continued to connect me with transportation and even though I had outside opportunities, trucking had stayed in my blood.”
Bob has been awarded U.S. Patents for three industry changing solutions, including in-cab email and a load optimization system. He saw Qualcomm go through an IPO and grow to a $9 billion dollar company before being recruited away to try to take a Chattanooga company public. Bob then moved on to TruckersB2B.com, a startup business to business e-commerce site for the trucking and private fleet industries.
Intrigued by the opportunity to convert trucking companies to paperless businesses, Bob came to Tampa in 2001 to engineer a turn-around of Pegasus TransTech. Inside fleets, Bob had observed people pushing carts around with big stacks of paper and knew the time it took to process the paper. Simply put, he envisioned a better way to implement paperless technology in transportation.
As an emerging company, Bob knew Pegasus TransTech needed processes in place in order to sustain profitable growth. “We started out with a goal of getting the right people in the right job and prices that would allow us to grow market share,” Helms said.
Pegasus TransTech’s success came after Bob started a new company division, TRANSFLO Express LLC. He transformed the business from one-off software sales into data centers, electronic transactions, and stable recurring revenue. “Initially it was back office tasks, but later on it evolved into truck stop and in-cab scanning,” Helms stated. “Over time we have become good stewards, helping with cash management, cost containment, and improving operating efficiencies.”
With the understanding that business goes in cycles, Helms continued to launch new products and services. These innovations were all necessary to grow profitably during the recent recession, when Pegasus TransTech survived and thrived while many other trucking vendors struggled. In the past 10 years, they developed seven new iterations of products that sustained the business. The end result has been 30 consecutive quarters of profitable growth.
Bob Helms has positioned Pegasus TransTech as a thought leader in the ever-changing trucking industry, and he understands the future belongs to those who make emotional connections with their customers.
As more consumer electronics are adopted and used by the general population, Bob also sees technology use expanding greatly with drivers. “It used to be we dealt with drivers who never had their fingers on the keyboard. Now we have drivers who write their own software apps,” Helms added.
Data security will always be an issue, so one of the biggest challenges for fleets is managing the technology that is in the hands of the drivers. Bob predicts that the tech winners will be companies that make products that are easy to install, maintain, support, use, upgrade, and get service – a mantra that is repeated over and over by Pegasus TransTech’s development team. “If something is not easy, it can cause driver frustration, which will lead to turnover,” Bob said. “We focused on that at Qualcomm, and that theme has carried through to Pegasus TransTech, where we are designing tools for drivers to be more successful in their jobs and enable better communication with their company.”
Over the years there have been many challenging and wonderful learning experiences for Bob. He would have never been able to save Pegasus TransTech from collapse without the combined experience of these many and varied adventures, the dedication of its employees, the support of his family, and the ideas planted all those years ago:
- Find a need and fill it.
- Seek pleasing results and be willing to do what needs to be done to achieve them.
Whether it’s building a business or building toys, Bob Helms has the entrepreneurial edge and experience needed to turn around the life of a company or the life of a child.
Serious About Toys
During an April visit to the Pegasus TransTech User Conference near Tampa, I learned about another organization where Bob Helms serves as President – The ToyMakers of East Lake, an outreach mission of his local Methodist Church.
This group is one of three belonging to Toymakers, a 501(c)(3) not for profit corporation located in Pinellas County, Florida. With a slogan of “Making Smiles One Toy at a Time”, their mission is to provide brightly painted, simple wooden toys to children in physical or emotional distress.
The ToyMakers began in 1982 when their founder was advised that his grandchild didn’t have any toys to play with while in All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. Realizing a need, he enlisted the help of friends and relatives to begin making toys that were given to the hospital and other local agencies. The ToyMakers grew by word of mouth, and they eventually found themselves sending toys, at their own expense, to several other states.
From simple beginnings, the ToyMakers have made and distributed more than 300,000 toys. Their proud tradition continues today thanks to volunteers like the group led by Helms, who dedicates about 300 hours per year to help sick and needy children. The ToyMakers of East Lake began operation in 2007 with six helpers and currently includes over 40 members. Helms says it takes about one volunteer hour per toy, and his group will make about 7,000 toys this year. He is personally working on 144 police cars and 50 Batmobiles at his home.
Recently, the toy ministry has expanded to include soft, hand-made dolls and stuffed bears which are included with each delivery. Additionally, bicycles are being rebuilt and recycled in the toy shop of this local chapter. Deliveries are made quarterly to charitable agencies for children and homeless adults. Toys have also been shipped to the Midwest during floods, to Louisiana and Mississippi during the aftermath of hurricanes, to Mexico, Haiti, Cuba, and the Caribbean with medical and health mission teams, and to Iraq and Afghanistan through military contacts. “All of these groups deal with high-stress situations, and these toys help distract children from distress. A toy turns a kid around when they are upset,” Helms said.