MTSU alumnus J.B. Baker, owner of Sprint Logistics and chairman of the board for trucking company Volunteer Express Inc. and Associated Companies, was presented the Jennings A. Jones Champion of Free Enterprise Award at the recent MTSU Economic Outlook Conference.
Held Sept. 21 inside the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center, the annual half-day conference attracted about 200 business and community leaders to hear featured speakers address topics ranging from the importance of community banking to the prospects of the nation falling off the “fiscal cliff” because of political gridlock in Washington.
In introducing Baker, Jim Burton, dean of the Jones College of Business at MTSU, noted that Baker took the reins at Volunteer Express from his mentor, former Gov. Ned Ray McWherter, who also was a past recipient Champion of Free Enterprise Award. The company, whose motto is “Large enough to perform, small enough to care,” now employs 325 employees in 30 locations in Tennessee and across the Northeast. Baker previously won the Pinnacle Award, the highest honor in the trucking industry.
In accepting the award, an emotional Baker noted that it was National Truck Driver Appreciation Week and encouraged the audience to take time to thank the many truck drivers who represent “the everyday working guy.” Baker noted that free enterprise is an entrepreneurial life that can be a “roller coaster.”
“We see a lot of highs and a lot of rewards, but we also see those days where we wonder where the next day is going to come from,” he said. “Free enterprise goes to a lot of people who may not be sitting here today that need to be saluted as well.”
He also left the audience some nuggets of advice: “Do the most important thing you have to do in the first part of the day and you’ll never have an unproductive day.”
The Jennings A. Jones Chair of Excellence in Free Enterprise, the MTSU Business and Economic Research Center, and the Weatherford Chair of Finance co-sponsored the conference. Featured speakers included Greg Gonzales, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions; David Penn, director of the MTSU Business and Economic Research Center; and Donald Ratajczak, nationally known economist and regent’s professor of economics emeritus at Georgia State University.
— Jimmy Hart, Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu