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High heels in the laundry room

Driven female president built multi-million dollar success in male-dominated trucking and courier industry

Michelle Cully believes that if she had stopped to ponder what she was doing during her serendipitous odyssey to success she probably would have lost the nerve and given up.

 “I know it sounds crazy when people hear me say that I never really gave it any thought,” said Cully, 47, the founder, owner, and president of Xpressman Trucking and Courier in Randolph. “I would never have had the courage to continue had I thought about it.”

With no business plan, market research, pricing strategy, or college education, Cully somehow got the notion at age 23 to start a business in a decidedly male-dominated industry ironically naming her courier firm Xpressman.

The company has grown dramatically and today also offers warehousing and distribution services, logistics management, and other B2B services. Xpressman has 18 employees, a fleet of trucks serving customers across New England and in several other states, and seven-figure billings.

“I can truly say that when I started, I was the only woman in Massachusetts to own a trucking and courier company,” she said. “There was one other woman, but it was actually owned by her husband who listed his wife as the president.”

Even now, the state’s Supplier Diversity Office lists Xpressman as one of just three women-owned companies in Cully’s category, with her firm the first one certified.

She is proud of her perseverance in the early days, when she drove around alone, delivering everything from bank checks to blueprints. What she lacked in business acumen she more than made up for with drive and determination.

“I had to prove to myself that I was somebody, that I was a smart girl, that I was going to succeed,” she said. “I didn’t know the when or the how or the why. I only knew I wanted it for myself.”

Getting started ready or not

Reeling from a bad breakup with a man she both lived with and worked for, Cully found herself heading back to her childhood home, in her early 20’s and still pondering what do to with her life.

531A9723Xpressman headquarters

“I was in the car when it came to me,” said Cully, sitting in her modest office inside the 10,000 square foot Xpressman headquarters/warehouse. “I had seen couriers come and go where I worked and I guess I figured it was something I could do. I didn’t want to work for anyone anymore and I thought I was too old for college, so I figured I’d start my own company. Of course I had no idea how to do that.”

Noticing that most companies had “Inc.” attached to their names, Cully figured she’d better get that first. She visited a local lawyer with her request and he asked her for the name of her company. “I told him I hadn’t thought that far ahead yet. I just wanted to buy the three letters.”

Michelle Cully at Xpressman headquartersMichelle Cully at the Xpressman warehouse

Fortunately, the indulgent attorney guided her through the process, coming up with a name and filling out and filing the incorporation papers.

“People always ask me why I put ‘man’ in my company’s name,” she said with an infectious giggle. “But, seriously, I just didn’t give it any thought.”

Xpressman was launched from the crowded laundry room in her parents’ Holbrook home. A bumper pool table doubled as her desk.

“Every day I would go dressed in a suit and heels,” she said. “My heels would ‘click, click, click’ across the living room floor and I remember my father yelling at me, asking why I was dressed like that if I was only going to the laundry room. I was carrying a briefcase that was empty. But I was going to my office and I was going to work.”

Grabbing the Yellow Pages, she cold-called the list of printing companies with a pitch that admittedly stretched the truth: (“Hello, I’m Michelle from Xpressman Trucking and Courier, we’re a same-day delivery service. Can you use our services?”)

“I started with the ‘As’ and kept going. It was ‘no, no, no’ until I got to the ‘I’s,” she said. She got her first customer and, eventually, a few more.

  Making it work and grow

Cully then had to figure out how and where to go in those pre-GPS days. She called non-emergency police numbers or disguised her voice and called the customer looking for directions. “You did what you had to do, right?”

Setting her “office” phone to forward calls to her pager, Cully made deliveries all day and stopped at pay phones to return calls. “I knew the location of every pay phone on the South Shore,” she said, laughing.

Barely subsisting on small jobs, Cully wanted to grow but, again, had no idea how except by unrelenting effort.

“I knocked on hundreds of doors and finally the head of a company hired me to deliver bank checks and documents. He asked if we were 24/7 and I said, ‘Of course.’ I guess we were,” she said.

Looking back, Cully seems amazed at the scope of her success though not really surprised. “I don’t believe in luck. I think things happen for a reason.”

531A9679They say you should dress for the job you want; that’s exactly what Michelle Cully did.

She has shared her story of struggle and success with several groups and individuals over the years – many of them young women starting careers and looking for mentors. Her biggest message to everyone: never give up on your dreams.

“One comment that I always leave people with is, ‘If it was that easy, everyone would do it,’” she said. “I also tell people that you have one life, one destiny, so make it what you want it to be. It’s up to you to decide where you want to go in life and only you.”

Cully regularly attends national trade shows and conventions and has noticed there are now a handful of other women business owners when there used to be none. Surprisingly, she has few stories about her gender hurting her business, though she figures it may have happened a few times without realizing it.

One blatantly sexist incident involved a woman she met at an exhibition who told her she’d won a prestigious account only because she was “pretty.”

“I was so insulted,” she recalled. “I put it right back to her and said, ‘No, that’s not the case.’ I had worked my (butt) off to get that account and here’s someone telling me I didn’t really deserve it. A woman, of all people.”

Such memories invariably bring her back to the last words she heard from her boyfriend when they split. “You will never amount to anything without me,” she recalled.

Married with two teenage children, Cully is working on a book about her journey, tentatively entitled: “High Heels in the Laundry Room.”

This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's Studio/B in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.