On Friday, Sept. 25, 2020 Truck Dealer of the Year Oscar Horton was a guest lecturer at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. The guest lecture is part of the annual Truck Dealer of the Year award program, which offers the winner the opportunity to speak to business students with an interest in entrepreneurship.
During the virtual lecture, which is typically held in person, Horton, president and CEO of Sun State International Trucks, LLC in Tampa, Fla., shared his professional journey, including his path from suit sales at Sears in Little Rock, Ark. to International Harvester, now Navistar, as a management trainee after graduating from the University of Arkansas.
While at International Harvester, Horton rose through the ranks, holding positions in sales, finance, manufacturing, labor relations and finally as the vice president and general manager of International’s Foundry Business in 1995. While Horton reached the level of senior vice president with the possibility of continuing on and becoming CEO, he choose to resign from Navistar and began the process of purchasing Sun State International in late 1999.
Through his career journey, Horton developed five tenets of professional success, which he shared with the students. One key element to success according to Horton: “Build good, strong relationships. Then bring in a partner or partners who you trust – that’s a critical piece. I see lots of people with great ideas, but they can’t turn those ideas into a complete puzzle without important pieces from outside partner(s).”
“Mr. Horton’s 5 basic elements of success really resonated with me,” shared one student. “I plan to carry these principals with me throughout my career.”
Horton also described for the students his approach to running his business with a focus on transparency and responsibility for every employee. “Every quarter, we have employee meetings and we talk about the financial health of the company; we talk about the income statement, we talk about balance sheet, we talk about cashflow. And, at the beginning of the year, we have a plan and all employees have a part in developing that plan. We talk about doing the right things and when and with integrity. But what really happens, is that we focus on honesty, respect, trust.”
In addition to professional development advice, Horton also highlighted the importance of philanthropy, a lifelong commitment, which is embodied in Horton’s phrase of life: “learn, earn and return.” Horton, like most car and truck dealers across the country, is heavily invested in the success of his local community.
“Our community involvement is a big piece of what makes us successful,” Horton shared with students. “We are very involved in the community including with the Greater Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce, Abe Brown Ministries and Tampa Community Foundation. One of the places that I am very proud of is the Academy Prep School, where I served as Chairman until last year. You have to give back to move up.”
The national Truck Dealer of the Year award – sponsored by the American Truck Dealers (ATD), Heavy Duty Trucking magazine and Procede Software – recognizes commercial-truck dealers for business performance, industry leadership and community service and has judged by professors from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business for more than 20 years.