Doug Mellum begins each workday at Elite Transportation Systems, Inc., in Blaine, Minnesota, at 5 a.m., an hour before the doors open.
When they do, the customers’ calls don’t roll over to voicemail. Mellum doesn’t believe in answering machines. Instead, each customer gets a personal touch and the assurance that the construction materials, envelopes, and other items transported throughout the Twin Cities will arrive.
Shaped by his middle-class upbringing and parents’ encouragement to “work hard and the rest will take care of itself,” Mellum built Elite in the image of his World War II veteran dad, Wallace Mellum, who returned from combat to a career as an electrician.
He still remembers the lingering effects of the war on his father, who died in 2009 at age 86. A mine sunk Wallace Mellum’s ship, the USS Osprey, on June 5, 1944, and the landing craft that plucked him from the sea hit Omaha Beach on D-Day.
“As a kid, I’d hear my dad crying out in the night with what we now know as PTSD,” Mellum said. “I told myself that if I could ever do something someday to help veterans that are living through what mom and dad are living through right now, I’d sure like to do that. It’s the passion that drives me as a person today, and what I’ve tried to do through Elite and as the child of a veteran.”
“My biggest challenge in growing Elite had been securing a financial ally that allowed us some flexibility and understood our business model. That search ended with Wells Fargo.”
— Doug Mellum
Mellum founded Elite in 2000 with one customer and five trucks. His company now serves more than 2,000 customers with over 115 trucks, thanks in part, he said, to the U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loan1 from Wells Fargo in 2012 that allowed him to buy out his business partner and the Wells Fargo line of credit that fueled further growth.
“That was the turning point for my business,” Mellum said. “I had been dealing with several banks and calling around, and Wells Fargo was the only bank in the Twin Cities that said, ‘This is something we can do, and is a fit for us,’ and came to the plate to help us grow our business.
“My biggest challenge in growing Elite had been securing a financial ally that allowed us some flexibility and understood our business model,” he continued. “That search ended with Wells Fargo.”
“We trusted in Doug the same way he trusted in us, and our ability to leverage traditional credit, SBA, and equipment finance programs allowed us to help Elite and allow us to help other companies grow, too — no matter what the need or market cycle,” said Lee Bunge, Wells Fargo Commercial Banking leader for St. Paul, Minnesota, and western Wisconsin.
Along with capital, Mellum said, Wells Fargo has helped expand his business by adding 26 company-owned trucks. They sport graphics of the Lone Survivor Foundation, a nonprofit that supports wounded service members, veterans, and their families. Mellum, in another show of support for veterans, joined the nonprofit’s national board in 2018 and is an active contributor. Along with the Lone Survivor graphics, the driver of each company truck has Lone Survivor brochures in the cab that they can give to any veterans or family members seeking help.
The trucks were purchased through Wells Fargo Equipment Finance and range from flatbeds to dock trucks. Mellum said the trucks have allowed Elite to grow and support drivers, including former U.S. Army paratrooper Joe Mansheim and 14 other veterans.
“I had said for some time that our growth potential would only be limited to the number of trucks we could finance and put on the road, which has made Wells Fargo’s equipment financing capabilities so important,” Mellum said.
“I came to work for Doug in June 2003 and showed him my truck. I told him I’d be the best driver he ever had if he gave me the opportunity, and he did,” Mansheim said. “I shudder to think of where I might be today had that not happened. Doug understands in a way that many don’t the real asset military veterans can be. We don’t need to be told what to do and can be counted on to do the job right the first time, and on time, for our customers.”
Mellum and Wells Fargo have a shared commitment to military service members, veterans, and their families, Bunge said, and Wells Fargo Commercial Banking is honored to have helped him realize his dream.
“What Doug has been able to accomplish through Elite is a testament to how unique he, his company, and the people who have built his business are,” Bunge said. “It’s not often that you’re able to see a business owner complete such a mission — serving customers to honor a father and support the veterans who came after him.”
Having built a successful business, Mellum said he plans to devote the rest of his career and life to helping veterans get treatment and support through Lone Survivor.
“There are still thousands of military veterans out there asking and looking for help and not finding anything that works for them,” he said. “It’s just not in the news anymore, but there are so many people and children and wives going through what I lived through as a child and what my mother lived through.
“Those are the facts, and why it’s so important to me to do what I can to help.”
1All financing subject to credit approval and all U.S. SBA loans are subject to approval by the U.S. Small Business Administration.