By Clay Wilson
When J.D. Garrison and Marcia Garrison Taylor purchased a trucking company in 1974, they had 15 rigs, 30 trailers and two contracts n one with Ford Motor Company's tractor division and one with Sunshine Biscuits of Columbus.
Just under 30 years later, the small company the Garrisons took over has 14 divisions, 3,200 independently contracted drivers and so many contracts n including several with Fortune 500 companies n that the CEO can't name them all.
"I still see us as that small company, because we try to have a real family culture here," said Bennett International Group, Inc. CEO Marcia Garrison Taylor. "We don't care about being the largest. We just want to be very, very good at what we do."
Apparently Taylor is very good at what she does. She has come from knowing (by her own admission) nothing about trucking to being the CEO of a trucking company that ranks as the fourth-largest woman-owned business in Georgia.
"We really believe that to be successful you have to base your company on core values, like integrity, and if you do that then growth will come," she said.
Taylor came to Henry County from southern Illinois in 1971 when a group of investors from her hometown started a trucking company here.
"I didn't know anything about trucking, but I just wanted to make a change," she said.
At her new job she met her future husband, J.D. Garrison. In 1974 the two bought a small contract carrier from George Bennett.
"We agreed to keep the name Bennett until it was paid for," Taylor said, "and by the time it was paid for the name was so ingrained that we just kept it."
J.D. Garrison died in 1981, and Taylor assumed many of his responsibilities. Under her direction, the business has only continued to grow.
"Doing one type of service has kind of led us into doing another type of service," she said.
Among those now offered by Bennett's 14 divisions are trucking, drive-away (for vehicles such as RVs) that must be driven to delivery points), warehousing and yard management. BIG even owns Southern Thunder (better known as Easyriders of Atlanta), a motorcycle sales and repair company.
Bennett moved its corporate headquarters to Industrial Parkway in 1983. The headquarters now employs 255 people. Another 305 employees work at 120 offices throughout the world, including ones in Tokyo, London and Paris.
BIG's remarkable growth has even attracted attention in Washington, D.C. In 1999, the company was recognized as one of the top 100 women-owned businesses in the nation at a White House ceremony.
According to Taylor, the company's success cannot be attributed solely to her.
"I feel like it's been a real joint venture in getting where we are today. I have a lot of good people who have been here for a lot of years," she said.
Taylor's son Danny Lawry, one of her three children who works for BIG, said that such a statement is characteristic of his mother.
"Some people look at ways of building personal wealth," he said, "but I think in large part her view is that growth and success gives her the opportunity to build personal wealth and growth opportunities for the people of the company."
"She's wonderful as a boss and a friend," said Penny Dempsey, Taylor's personal secretary. "She's always even-keeled. I've never seen her lose her composure. She's always a lady. She always gives 100 percent."
According to Lawry, "A lot of (BIG's) success has been because (Taylor's) been willing to try new things and she has a good vision of what the company needs to be."
Asked about her vision of the company's future, Taylor said she intends to see that it continues along the course that has gotten it where it is today.
"(We plan) just to continue to grow and do a good job and look for any opportunities that come our way," she said.