In 1986 Jacqueline Parker had to make one of the toughest decisions of her life: either complete her senior year in college and earn a bachelor’s in nursing, or join her husband, David, in an ambitious startup in the trucking business. Parker chose the latter, setting the wheels in motion for a career at Covenant Transportation Group that has lasted more than 26 years. She hasn’t looked back since.
“At the time I thought, ‘You know what? My efforts are better spent with Covenant. That’s where my future is,’” says Parker, who serves as the company’s Chief Strategy Officer. “With a startup, there’s so much work to be done. You need a lot of hands. So I signed up, and I just stayed.”
Covenant opened for business with just 25 tractors and 50 trailers. Since then, the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company has grown considerably, acquiring other carriers along the way. Covenant now operates approximately 3,000 trucks, which transport a variety of goods across the United States.
Parker attributes much of Covenant’s success to her and her husband’s strong faith. “Some people call it chance; others call it luck. We call it God,” she says. This philosophy is reflected in the name of the company, which she explains is about not only a spiritual commitment but also “an agreement that we have with our customers, employees, vendors and shareholders.”
This sense of commitment is what spurred Parker to enroll in the Vanderbilt Executive MBA program in 2010. When Covenant encountered a rough stretch during the late 2000s, Parker remembers wishing that she could have done more to help the company. “You’re disappointing stakeholders on all fronts, and you feel responsible,” she says. “I had a lot of institutional knowledge, but I knew I was lacking some valuable skills.”
That’s when Parker made perhaps the second toughest decision of her life. “Going back to school was one of the hardest things I’ve done,” she says. “But I thought, ‘It’s going to be worth it in terms of time and money and effort.’
“And indeed it was.”