Henry Ford once said “most people get ahead during the time that others waste.” In the Virgin Islands, the ability of one enterprise to grow over time has been largely helped by the waste from others.
Hurricane Season will officially begin on the first of June and forecasters anticipate that this year will yield an above average array of storm events. Of course, residents and businesses of coastal communities are accustomed to annually preparing for such weather phenomenon by stocking-up on supplies and developing strategies to mitigate potential impact, but even the most organized can often be caught off guard by unforeseen occurrences. The Philosopher Epictetus once observed that the most skillful sailors do not gain their reputation by navigating among silent seas, but rather through storms and tempests of life. Validation of that very point can be found in the Virgin Islands where one company’s recognized skill and expertise ultimately emerged through its efforts to help the territory following the devastation from a hurricane.
As the northwestern links in the chain of the Leeward Islands, the American territory of the Virgin Islands (comprised by St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island) occupies an oceanic expanse that separates the Atlantic from the Caribbean Sea. These islands impart idyllic bliss and beauty in sunset strolls along the sandy shores of beaches, hikes along nature trails and underwater scuba excursions. It also has ample offerings for lovers of history as well as for those with modern passions for shopping, dining and other recreational diversions. It has been described as an island paradise made home by some of the friendliest and most hospitable people that travelers will ever encounter, yet sometimes, in fact, too often for some, these islands are visited by weather systems seemingly intent on destroying so much of that paradise. This was certainly the case in 1995 when Hurricane Marilyn roared through the Caribbean and exacted a toll that claimed more than a dozen lives and more than $2 billion in infrastructural and residential destruction.
Yet, having frequently encountered ordeals from such weather onslaughts, the people of the islands are imbued with a rare kind of resilience and operational tenacity. They pick-up the pieces, make the repairs and move forward. A company known as A9 Trucking Enterprises has been critical to that process, but to be sure, its services have not been limited to after-storm activities, for it also provides a vital function to everyday life in the islands.
To put that in proper context, A9 Trucking’s President, Jimez Ashby explains how the enterprise was began by his father, Lester Ashby. Ever the entrepreneur, Lester had formerly established a company known as Vitronics which specialized in the repair of televisions and office equipment. He was also a dedicated father who raised nine children. That progeny was comprised by Enrique Ashby, Dexter Ashby, Jimez Ashby, Ariel Ashby, Dr. Bernard Ashby, Ian Ashby, Dr. Charity Ashby, Lester Ashby Jr., and Ashley Ashby. These, the Ashby-nine, were well in Lester’s mind when the family launched A9 Trucking, a company that initially offered hauling services involving light-trucks that primarily served the construction industry. Those trucks would come in handy by hauling debris and helping clear roads after Hurricane Hugo hit St. Croix in 1989. The business and its services expanded over the years, but in the wake of devastation by Hurricane Marilyn, Lester Ashby realized the territory was also in need of other important services, in this case, an effective and efficient means of transporting water. Furthermore, there was need for larger trucks and earthmoving equipment to properly and expeditiously advance recovery efforts. In the chaos of that era, A9 Trucking Enterprises and Heavy Equipment Rental sprung to action and proved vital to theterritory struggle to return to some sense of operational normalcy.
As the company went on to provide water delivery, waste & debris removal and heavy equipment rental services, Lester Ashby and his family soon encountered another blow more devastating than any weather system wind. Lester’s son, Enrique (Ricky), who had worked beside his father to grow the business, tragically died in an accident. Now for his part, Jimez Ashby was an exceedingly gifted athlete who excelled in track & field as well as football throughout his high schooling in the islands. He also possessed academic strength, no doubt supported by his efforts in assisting with the electronic repairs at Vitronics when he got out of school each day. Jimez ultimately earned simultaneous scholarships in football and track & field to Norfolk State University in Virginia. He went on to earn distinction as an All American athlete, but also earned a degree in electronic engineering. Following his brother’s untimely death in 2002, Jimez would step-in to fill the void, bringing the full measure of his mental prowess and well-honed will to win.
A New Era
Under the leadership of Jimez Ashby, A9 Trucking Enterprises and Heavy Equipment Rental evolved from light and heavy material hauling, demolition, waste and debris removal and heavy equipment rental to now perform other vital services. He partnered with other professionals to launch a new recycling enterprise and added a new division to A9 that specialized in the management of landfill operations. Ashby secured certifications by Solid Waste Association of North America distinctions awarded to landfill operators who adhere to the industry’s highest standards of operational safety and environmental integrity. Over the time that followed, A9 won government contracts to manage and operate the Bovoni and Anguilla landfills on the islands of St. Thomas and St. Croix.
The managing of landfills is a complex process in the islands due to the scarcity of space and certain geologic properties often evidenced more by hard rock than soft soil. As Jimez says, “space is gold.”
“We don’t have the luxury of lots of land space on an island that is only 32 square miles. Every inch of space is gold and dirt is gold, but since there is so little space and so little dirt, one has to be very precise and there’s no room for making mistakes,” says Ashby.
In respect to the area landfills, it deserves note that regulatory compliance deficiencies occurring prior to Ashby’s management contract led to scrutiny by the EPA who advised it necessary to make a number of changes to bring the landfills up to standard. Ashby anticipates the territory will move toward systems that allow for the capturing of waste to convert into energy, but for now, the VI Waste Management Authority (VIWMA) has contracted with the Georgia firm of Oasis Consulting to design landfill closure plans.
Meanwhile, A9 continues to focus on the core services it has long provided to the territory, and it is still what Jimez calls “a family affair.” Though Lester Ashby has recently been contending with health concerns, the values and principals he routinely promoted to his children continue to be fostered in all operational aspects of the company. In reflecting on those values, Jimez says his father always insisted on keeping customers happy. “He taught us the customer is always right and we always have to be polite,” says Jimez. And should a break-down occur, Jimez says his father taught him of taking the time to listen, to gain an understanding of the customer’s problem and then do whatever is necessary to make it right.
For those familiar with less desirable attitudes of certain latitudes, the Caribbean is an area where one may often hear “soon come,” an expression that means something may be completed or accomplished sooner or later, with no definitive time schedule, an aspect of life also known as “Island Time.” Yet, in the midst of such local factors, A9 and its dedicated staff adheres to another appreciable quality in being prompt, on-time, following-through with scheduled plans and completing duties in accordance with schedules too. Again, anyone living or working in the Caribbean understands what an important quality this is in enterprise there. Recalling an expression of his father, Jimez say, “The early bird gets the early worm.”
Another advantage of working with A9’s team is their unique understanding of environmental conditions of the island. In addition to investing in the appropriate equipment and material resources for land clearing, transport, demolition and debris removal of all kinds, the company also carries the insurance should any accident occur on a job. Some operators don’t carry such insurance, so, for example, should a rock roll down a hill and damage a structure during the course of some land clearing project, or should some debris fall from a truck and damage a passing motorist, the offending operator may not possess the financial means of making up for that damage. This isn’t the case with A9, and Jimez explains that the company and its clients benefit from an extensive insurance plan that covers the firm whether it is going to a job, or on the job, or leaving a job.
Another aspect of island life is not necessarily having ready access to parts when mechanical systems break down. Jimez says it isn’t like Miami where one can simply walk into any number of stores and purchase a desired engine part. In the island, one might need to catch a plane to go acquire the part elsewhere or wait for it to be shipped-in by boat. There are costs associated with either case and these often get passed on to the consumer. A9 counters such factors by maintaining a well-supply of parts and materials to maintain equipment. And that equipment they rent is also well-stocked, from excavators, backhoes, dump trucks and dozers to wheel loaders, semi tractors, dump trailers, bailers & crushers, generators, compressors, and lots more. Yet, beyond all their heavy duty equipment resources, A9 is further driven by a diligent, devoted and dedicated team of more than two dozen employees whose desire to serve customers may only be outmatched by their care for the islands and the people of the islands.
The A9 team’s ability to accommodate so many needs and provide such a range of services has led to the company’s popular tagline – A9 Anytime. While the Virgin Islands represent a wonderful place to visit anytime, when there’s work that needs to be done or equipment needed to get that work done, A9 Enterprise staff and management team is prepared to help anyone, at any time, all the time.
For more information, please visit their website at: A9 Trucking Enterprise, Inc.