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Updated: March 4, 2024 / 2024 Business Leaders of the Year

Business Leaders of the Year: Holmes grew his company into a trucking giant, while focusing on employees

A man in a suit stands in front of a window overlooking the Worcester skyline Photo | Matt Wright Kevin Holmes, president & CEO of Advantage Truck Group

Advantage Truck Group was founded in a two-pumper service station in 1984 with $12,000, which was Kevin Holmes’s life savings. He was undercapitalized, but he jumped in anyway.

“Nine-thousand dollars went into gas in the ground and the rest into rent,” Holmes said.

ATG is now New England’s biggest Daimler Trucks North America dealer, and the company opened its eighth regional location in 2021. The expansion came after it merged its sales and service provider Tri-State Truck Center with McDevitt Truck in New Hampshire in 2018.

Holmes does not shy away from discussing the lean days of starting his business: The stressful days; the risks taken; the hard work.

A bio box for Kevin Holmes
A bio box for Kevin Holmes

“Kevin really is an American success story,” said Jil Wonoski, owner of Melrose marketing group JW Consultants, who has known Holmes for more than a decade.

Holmes started out fixing trucks with two employees by the side of the road in Ashland. The notion was if the company established trust with clients in servicing trucks, ATG could eventually develop a reputation to sell them, a plan Holmes calls working from the back end forward.

“The journey to get there is not all roses,” said Wonoski. “He’s very forthcoming about the hard times, and he put everything on the table.”

Resilience is imperative to entrepreneurship, no matter what the industry, said Holmes.

“Well, when you’re later buying your first parts inventory and are again undercapitalized – working through market conditions, market cycles, disruption, adversity, taking out a second mortgage on your home and your kids are 2 and 4 years old – as a company, we’ve seen every scenario,” said Holmes. “But … I wanted to be in the heavy truck business.”

Now, he is in it.

And winning.

ATG saw 2023 year-over-year revenue growth of 28% in 2023, according to the company. Its 2023 growth in unit truck sales was also 28%, and parts and service for the same year was up 16%.

“He says, ‘There are no spare customers,’ and he works to keep every single one,” Wonoski said.

As of Dec. 31, ATG’s employee growth rate was at 2.2%, with average tenure at seven years. Holmes maintains an open-door policy with his 394 employees.

ATG team members are the backbone of the company, he said, and part of one of Holmes’ proudest accomplishments of the past year: The growth of ATG’s succession plan.

“I’d have to sell my business otherwise,” he said. “These are young leaders who are up to the task, and our people are paramount. I believe in promoting from within.”

Holmes calls employees internal customers, and believes those relationships – with a person happy with what they are doing – carry through to outside company customers.

It makes sense that employees are so valued and important, as Holmes was customer focused before it was fashionable, Wonoski said.

To give back to the community ATG began Haulin’ 4 Hunger in 2012, with more than 34,000 meals delivered to those in need. It started as a turkey giveaway at the holidays.

“I came from a blue-collar, modest city home. You never knew who had what. When we delivered the turkeys, it took us through some of the old neighborhoods we grew up in and led us to consider how we could make a bigger impact,” said Holmes.

The program delivers food donations to New England communities ATG serves, coordinating with employees, business partners, and customers. Fresh food donations are made at the holidays, with nonperishables on a quarterly basis.

“We let our employees, members, and managers at remote locations choose those communities, as they know them best,” said Holmes.

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