By Roger Harris, Tennessee Ledger
After years of providing transportation, security and logistics services for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and other hot spots, Maryville businessman Eric Barton has successfully transitioned his company to the commercial sector in the U.S.
Vanquish Worldwide landed its first contract two years ago with package delivery giant FedEx. Today, Vanquish is one of the largest FedEx contractors in the country, doing about $10 million a year in business with the Memphis-based package delivery company.
Vanquish also is FedEx Ground’s largest independent pickup and delivery service provider in both the Knoxville and Nashville Metro markets.
Barton, president and CEO of Vanquish, also runs Front Range Training and Peak Technical Institute, a pair of small, but fast-growing companies that offer a wide range of security-related and occupational training courses for law enforcement, military and civilian clients in the U.S. and other countries.
“Being the largest is not important, but being one of the best is,” says Barton, a retired Marine Corps officer.
FedEx recently recognized Vanquish for its rapid growth and service achievements, presenting the Maryville company with the “Best in Business’’ award for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2015 for the FedEx Ground Central Division.
Through mid-July, Vanquish had delivered more than a half million packages combined in the Knoxville and Nashville markets with a customer service rating of better than 99 percent. The company operates 53 pickup and delivery trucks in the Knoxville and Nashville markets, with 25 line haul trucks in Nashville.
Achieving nearly 100 percent customer service satisfaction isn’t easy, but given Barton’s track record it’s no surprise. He expects excellence from himself, his companies and employees, say business leaders familiar with Barton and his company.
“He is a true entrepreneur and like a lot of entrepreneurs has the ability to translate good ideas into a successful plan,” says Cathy Ackermann, Knoxville public relations and marketing executive who has worked with Vanquish on several projects.
Blount Partnership President and CEO Bryan Daniels says Barton, who has an ownership interest in more than 20 companies, has in a short period become an important contributor to the regional economy, creating jobs and helping recruit new businesses to the area.
“He’s hired a lot of local folks and brought in some very talented people,” Daniels adds. “He’s definitely had a positive impact on the local community and his being so engaged with the community has been a great benefit.”
Barton’s companies have grown rapidly over the last three years, adding nearly 200 new jobs for a total payroll of 223. Vanquish is the largest of Barton’s companies with 155 workers worldwide.
Barton, 39, has worn many hats over the years – Marine Corps officer, minister, CEO, philanthropist and motivator-in-chief.
He started some of his companies from scratch, while some he acquired and others he invested in. But he expects the same from all of his businesses – excellence.
“The theme for all these companies is delivering excellence,” he says. “For everything I own, I want it to deliver excellence. We want to deliver excellence for our customers, but we also want to deliver excellence to our employees. They are my No. 1 asset.”
Under Barton’s leadership, Vanquish revenue has grown steadily since the business was started in 2007. The multimillion-dollar-a-year company saw a 25 percent increase in revenue in 2014, and Barton expects another double-digit increase this year.
In addition to contracts with the military, Vanquish has contracts with the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Homeland Security and commercial clients in the U.S. and Canada.
The company’s diversification into the commercial sector helped Vanquish continue to grow despite a slowdown in government contracting due to sequestration, the automatic cuts in federal government spending implemented in 2013.
“Even as government shutdowns and sequestration nearly paralyzed the government contracting industry, we were able to stay our course and expand our services,” explains Barton.
Barton’s drive for excellence was evident early in his life. He enlisted in the Marines at age 17 after graduating from a small high school in Southern Illinois.
“My graduating class had 31 students,” he says.
Barton earned several meritorious promotions, rising to the rank of Marine captain. He served in a variety of capacities during 11 years of active duty, including commander of a scout/sniper platoon, and in 2002 he was assigned to the National Intelligence Center as senior analyst for the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa National Intelligence Cell.
As an intelligence analyst, his duties included daily briefings for the commanding general and other governmental agencies working in the seven-country region.
Barton traveled widely during his military service. He lived for a year in Japan and spent time in Africa, the Middle East, Norway, Finland, Sweden and elsewhere. His years in uniform were challenging and transformative, he says.
“My father was a Marine and his father was in the military,” Barton explains. “It was the best time of my life. I learned so much. The Marine Corps broadened my view of what life is all about.”
His time in Africa was particularly life-changing. It was during his two years there that he started feeling the call to the ministry. At the end of his active duty tour he moved to Atlanta and entered Columbia Theological Seminary.
“To go from briefing target packages and building up for a war that was about to take place and the next week being in the seminary, it was very different,” Barton says. “And it challenged my faith.”
He graduated from seminary with a master’s degree in divinity, one of four advanced degrees he holds. He was a youth pastor for a while in Conyers, Ga., but the need to provide for his growing family pushed him toward a business career.
Barton and his wife, Mechelle, have five children, including two adopted sons from Ethiopia.
In 2005, he went to work for a government contractor in Iraq. He learned much about managing government contracts and made some money, but wanted to be his own boss.
He left that job after a year and a-half and, in 2006, helped launch Relyant, a Maryville-based company that provides construction, vehicle maintenance and other services to government and private sector clients in the Middle East and elsewhere.
He started Vanquish Worldwide in 2007. Barton sold Relyant in 2010 to concentrate on building up Vanquish and his other diverse business interests. He also wanted to spend more time at home.
From 2005 to 2009, business kept him on the go. He was overseas most of the time, coming back to the states “for a few weeks here and there.” During that time, he visited 48 countries.
He still travels internationally on business, but not nearly so much.
“Once a year I get to Afghanistan,’’ he says. “I used to live there, but once a year is enough. We’ve got a good team running the company there.”
Hiring good people, identifying leaders and empowering them to make decisions has been key to growing Vanquish and his other companies, notes Barton. “I’m fully aware that the sun doesn’t rise and set with me,” he adds.
Although he is comfortable letting his executive team run day-to-day operations for his companies, Barton holds weekly leadership meetings to stay in touch and motivate his executives.
Leading by example, Barton strives to learn as much as he can about every new business he acquires.
When he bought a horse ranch, he went to farrier school. “I can shoe a horse, clean hoof,” Barton says.
When he bought an insurance company, Barton studied for his insurance license.
A holder of a commercial driver license and with his background as a Marine, Barton knows what it means to drive a tanker truck delivering fuel to a military base in a war zone.
“One of my successes is I’ve been there and done that. … When I ask a driver to do something, I know what it takes to do that,” Barton points out.
Why does he do all these things?
The simple answer is Barton loves being busy. He loves meeting new people and learning new things.
But it’s more than that.
“It’s the complexity and the engagement,” Barton explains. “I am turned on by living. I wake up turned on. I have ideas all day. I keep a little pad by my bed in case I wake up and need to write down ideas.”
He even keeps a pad by the bar in his house. “A lot of things in the last few years have been started over a bourbon and talking with a few friends about ideas we can pursue,” he says.
Although his business portfolio is diverse, Barton has more ideas percolating. Among other things, he’s talking with the Knoxville Chamber about developing an affinity [benefit] program for small businesses.
“The thing that’s most impressive to me about Eric is he’s constantly looking for ways to help other people,” explains Mark Field, senior vice president of membership for the Knoxville Chamber.
“It’s very refreshing to see someone on the upward trajectory to be as busy as he is to stop and be helpful to his community,” Field adds.
Find the story online at: http://www.tnledger.com/knoxville/editorial/Article.aspx?id=84314