AT age 19, Nerv Thomas left the British West Indies and came to America to find opportunity. His first job was picking fruit on a New Jersey farm, from sunrise to sunset and for little pay. Today, he owns Swift Service Co., a Houston-based air freight trucking firm that generated $5 million in sales last year.
Self-taught and self-made, Thomas shows how far one can go with discipline, drive and instinct. He also has relied on community support from groups like the Houston Minority Business Council.

On Thursday, he attended the 28th Annual Houston Minority Business Council Expo where, he said, he has made some of his best contacts. At the Expo, Thomas and more than 1,000 other minority business owners networked with nearly 2,000 representatives of 200 corporations and government agencies. Expo organizers say that at least two-thirds of the business owners win contracts from corporations worth up to $2 million within eight months of the event.
Swift Service specializes in emergency shipments of general cargo and has 40 drivers throughout Texas. Since he entered the business, Thomas said he has striven to provide first-rate service. In 1987, when he was a one-man show, he unloaded the undelivered freight from his truck at the end of the day and stored it in his apartment for safekeeping. Today, his trucks are inspected each morning to ensure reliability.

"What Swift Service represents is honor, integrity and satisfying the customer every time," said Richard Huebner, executive director of the council. Swift Service's clients include Shell and Exxon Mobil, but, Huebner said, "Nerv didn't set out to land the huge contract. He excelled with every piece of business given to him and built his business step by step, until he was able to get the huge contract. "Like Swift Service, our minority firms are solid core businesses that want an opportunity and deserve an opportunity for their past performances." Thomas' inspiration in life is his late father Nicholas Thomas, who worked on a St. Lucia banana plantation for 47 years, starting as a laborer and retiring as the manager. From his father, Nerv Thomas inherited a strong work ethic. He puts in 16-hour days. He is not sure why his father named him Nerv. It may have been to give him toughness and dogged determination, he said. His father once told him, "It's not how much you make. It's how much you save," and he took it to heart.

More revenue streams

Nerv has developed additional departments as an extension to Swift’s already successful business initiatives: a tire department, an equipment repair shop, and other smaller in-house departments. "It's a way to create a revenue stream from the things we do for ourselves," he said. His wife Melinna Thomas is the Vice President and CFO of the company. His sons Arthur (VP-Business Development), Albert (Manager-Safety), and Josh (Manager-Finance/Real Estate/Marketing), had their humble beginnings in the company helping out on Sundays cleaning the yard and washing trucks; today, they are fully engaged in the day-to-day operations of the business. Nerv has employees hailing from Peru, Grenada, Belize and the West Indies. He provides free business counseling and gives motivational speeches of his life story and business ventures, to community and professional groups. When he immigrated to America in 1980, he landed in Miami but soon decided to move to Philadelphia, believing there to be a cousin there that he never met. On the plane to Philadelphia, he told a couple sitting next to him that he hoped to track down the cousin by asking strangers at the airport if they knew him. After all, everyone in St. Lucia knew each other, he explained. "This kid is lost," said the woman to her husband, and they took him under their wing for six months. "We've always stayed in touch. We're like family," said Nerv, who noted that a member of that family once worked for him.