Rush Trucking proves it's possible

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WAYNE, Mich. - Andra M. Rush is a woman in a hurry.

As a nursing student, the Mohawk started a two-truck carting service in this Detroit suburb to earn money for school. Fifteen years later, Rush Trucking has its name on more than 5,000 pieces of equipment. It makes hurry-up deliveries 24 hours a day through the lower 48 states, Canada and Mexico.

As this year's president of the Native American Business Alliance, Rush is busy putting the final touches on an annual convention, its first. Many of the alliance's 200 members will meet in Dearborn from July 10 to 12 to network with representatives of some of the country's largest corporations.

The alliance has announced three days of meetings at the Hyatt Regency to include seminars, receptions and "talking circles" but no exhibit area, all in an attempt to educate corporate America about Native culture and forge business relationships.

Rush is working on her own web of motor industry contacts to make the meeting a success and a source of potential contracts for Indian-owned suppliers.

She was so busy she couldn't squeeze in a personal interview, but answered written questions in a memo. She called herself a relative newcomer to the alliance, itself a fledgling organization, but said it expressed her own life experience.

Rush also described the group as "the dream of a few determined men who, as I was taught, overcame the barriers to Native-owned businesses in their own lives. It is their way of giving back the blessings they have received."

Four American Indian businessmen in Ohio, two Cherokee, a Blackfoot and a Mohawk, got together to found the Alliance in 1995. Their goal was to help Native-owned businesses gain a foothold as suppliers to large corporations. Minority business programs, they said, often overlooked Indian companies simply because no one spoke up for them.

The alliance, headquartered in Bingham Farms, based itself on the auto industry of Ohio and Michigan. Its list of corporate sponsors featured the Big Three auto companies: Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler, as well as Toyota and Honda.

But from its first membership drive in 1997, it has grown into a national organization representing more than 200 Native-owned companies in 41 states and Canada.

Its officers boast that its corporate contacts have led to "significant contracts" for its members.

Rush built her trucking business on close contacts with Ford Motor Co., but she got her start, she said, because she was an "effective listener."

A graduate of the University of Michigan's business administration and master of business administration program, she was working as a nurse in the Critical Care Unit of a local hospital when a patient started telling her about his trucking business. As she listened, she said she thought, "I can do that!"

To put herself through nursing school, Rush said she switched from emergency health care to the emergency component of the transportation business.

Starting with two trucks, she launched an "expedited delivery" service in Wayne. She was ready, on a minute's notice, to deliver the parts and supplies needed to keep assembly lines going.

One of her first customers was a Ford Motor plant.

"Every piece of freight kept the machinery moving and thousands of people working," she said.

As a new entrepreneur, Rush said she "made the sales calls, drove the equipment, kept the books and handled all the crises." Her nurse's training, she said, helped her understand her customers' "emotional freight." She said she did her best to reassure them that she understood their needs and could fulfill them.

It might seem Rush started with a double disadvantage, as a woman and an Indian, but she credits her heritage and the "enormous strength" of her Mohawk grandmother for helping her prevail.

"It is entirely possible that my Native spirit, communicated to me by my grandmother and my immediate family, have enabled me to overcome the isolation, historical prejudice and business environment viewed as a barrier to Native- and woman-owned businesses.

"The willingness to listen, to understand first and act directly and honestly with integrity is a lesson and code of conduct my elders have bequeathed to me. Being an entrepreneur has reinforced those lessons again and again."

Rush said these lessons carry over into the alliance goal "of building a sound and enduring economic base within our community."

The Native American Business Alliance, she said, "presents the opportunity to create true wealth within the Native community and to share the gifts of our character and spirit with the world."