The Art of the Double Play

How a CFO runs the finances of two companies at once, why he won't agree to a prepayment penalty past the first two years of a capital-financing deal, and what he has against Starbucks.

If you think it’s tough trying to guide a company through a recession, how about two companies? But Scott Mattox, CFO of a pair of trucking firms with a common part-owner, is comfortable with their financial performances this year. Both had solid bottom-line gains through August compared with last year, even though one of them saw revenue shrink by 17%.

To a large extent, the results are a product of the business the companies are in. This year’s drastic drop in the price of diesel fuel provided a $3 million boon to one of them, Truline Corp. — a massive savings for a company with an expected revenue base of just $30 million this year. The other entity, Estenson Logistics, with revenue on pace to approach $90 million, got a $4 million bump-up from fuel costs.

Fuel is a bigger share of Truline’s expenses, not only because it’s a third of Estenson’s size, saleswise, but also because the smaller company provides long-haul, full-truckload services. Estenson, by contrast, provides such companies as Home Depot, Simmons Mattresses, and Capital Lumber with dedicated trucks for hauling goods from distribution centers to stores within relatively small geographic areas.

Aside from the fuel bounce, the recession has been tougher on Truline, because the demand for freight hauling has nosedived. Estenson, on the other hand, has been somewhat shielded by its business model, which involves multiyear contracts with its customers. Its top and bottom lines were up 3% through August.

In any event, Mattox, who has been with the companies for three and a half years, says they have been operated the same way during the recession as they were before. That includes a strong bent toward not spending a dime unless it’s for something that is absolutely needed, which the CFO credits for helping keep cash flow healthy.

Indeed, he says, that thrifty orientation goes back to 1962, when Grant Truman launched Truline as a one-truck company. Today Truman’s son Paul owns part of both companies — 20% of Estenson Logistics (Tim Estenson owns the other 80%), and Truline, which Paul and two brothers bought from their father in 2004. The two companies share, in addition to the CFO, accounting, accounts payable and receivable, and payroll personnel, as well as employee-benefits programs and general liability insurance.

Here is an edited version of CFO.com’s interview with Mattox.

What is the value proposition for Estenson’s customers? Why does a big company like Home Depot use someone else’s trucks?

They don’t have to be in the transportation business and worry about the rules, taxes, and maintenance. They [otherwise] would have to have their own maintenance directors, safety directors, and transportation risk managers. [But] they’re on the hook for the equipment. If they want out of the contract they can get out, but they either have to pay us for it or let us sell it, and if we sell it for less than the contracted amortized value, they have to make up the difference. If we sell it for more than that, they get the difference.

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