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The Interview Issue: Forrest Lucas

September 26, 2015
lucas-5-092815-15col.jpg (IBJ Photo/ Eric Learned)

Forrest Lucas has never taken a single vacation—and, at 73, he has no intention of taking any time off now.

Lucas says he simply can’t find anyone else to run his California-based Lucas Oil Products Inc. the way he can. He founded the company, which sells fuel and oil additives and other automotive products, in 1988.

The Hoosier native and former truck driver paid $121.5 million to put the Lucas Oil name on the home of the Indianapolis Colts for 20 years.

What’s your education level?

I graduated high school, then went to a long college called hard knocks.

Do you feel like you missed out on anything by not going to college?

Not really. I don’t know what I would have studied.

I thought I might have wanted to be a lawyer, but there was no way I could afford to go to college. So, instead, I bought my first truck when I was 19 and my first semi when I was 21.

Sometimes, college can work against you. I learned to make oil because I was a good mechanic and knew I needed a better oil. By working and learning how to make oil on my own, I was able to think outside the box. If I had gone to school, I would have never done what I’ve done.

How did you get into the trucking business?

I was working in a factory—the night shift—and driving a dump truck by day. I already had kids and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a factory. I wanted to have my own business.

I figured I had to get some money ahead to do it. I was fascinated with trucks and trucking and wanted to see the country. I saved up enough money to live for a few months so I could transition into the trucking company and went to work for Mayflower.

I bought a truck, went through training, and went out and made a lot more money than they thought I could. I was working night and day and living cheap. Unfortunately, my first wife blew the money as fast as it came in. In two or three years, I thought I’d be able to save enough money, sell the truck, and start a gas station or something like that. It never happened.

I had to divorce [my first wife] and start life over again. And I later ended up with a fleet of trucks.

What’s the average work day for Forrest Lucas?

I still work 12 hours a day. I’m on call all the time. And virtually every weekend, I’m at a sporting event or some other kind of event our company is involved in—either we’re sponsoring it or hosting something. The company is still growing and there’s so many things I can do [that] I can’t find anyone else who can do.

In a few sentences, what’s your business philosophy?

Be absolutely honest with everybody. People like doing business with somebody they can trust.

Don’t be in debt. Work yourself to death and get cash in your pocket. When you have cash, that’s when the bargains come along. And treat your people the way you want to be treated. Share the good will with them … and you’ll have good people.

What’s your management style?

I try to run the whole company like a big team. There aren’t a lot of levels of bosses, but if you get out of line, you’ll find you have a boss. I don’t have a temper, and I’m pretty laid-back. But when it comes down to it, I am the top boss here.

Who are your role models, business or personal?

I only had one sports hero and that’s Larry Bird. I liked the way he lived his life. He made it to the top and is still a really nice guy. As far as business, I don’t follow anybody. I do my own thing.

What’s your politics?

I’m a Republican.

What are your thoughts on Donald Trump as a presidential candidate?

He certainly is a surprise.

He’s saying a lot of things a lot of people want to hear. A lot of people are discouraged with the House and Senate [members] for letting the president get by with all the things he’s gotten away with. They want a change.

What [Trump is] doing is a technique I’ve never before seen.

Would you be comfortable with Trump getting the Republican nomination?

It would be like when Obama got elected. I’d say, “I don’t really like it, but I have no choice and I’ll have to make the best of it.”

I could never have been more disappointed with any one human being than I have been with [Obama]. There are a lot of other potential disappointers out there, so I do hope we can get this straightened out. It is a bit of a problem because [Trump] has such a toehold.

Do you think a guy with a business background, but not a political one, can make a good president?

Absolutely. I think a good person with good business sense could come in there and surround himself with good people.

Where did you take your last vacation?

I’ve never been on a vacation. No, never have.•

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