Road Trip

Brothers Nick and Irfan Sinanovic are innovating the trucking industry through their rapidly growing, St. Louis-based company Vega Transport.


Story By Allison Babka, Lauren Harms Milford
Visuals By Michael Thomas

An oversized wall covering of a semi truck greets visitors at Vega Transport. Tucked away in a small strip mall on Lemay Ferry Road in South County, the business office is otherwise fairly nondescript — white walls, plenty of desks, folders stacked high with invoices and notes. But a sort of magic happens here, with a dozen or so dispatchers and customer service employees coordinating a complicated dance among truck drivers and clients.

About 14 miles away, a few of those truckers pull into Vega’s North Riverfront terminal after completing their deliveries. Some are coming off of a one-stop two day trip, while others are home after a series of routes across several states. They honk as they pull their rigs through the sliding chainlink gate, wave to the mechanics in the garage and park among the dozens of other trucks with drivers who are happy to be back home in St. Louis.

Nick Sinanovic is a familiar face in both locations. Though he typically spends time in the office, he’s hanging out with the shop mechanics today, unleashing praise about all of the people — comprised primarily of those who had immigrated to St. Louis — who have helped his company become successful.

“They’re super hard working people,” he says. “The Bosnian community here, a lot of the people have gone into the industry. Not just Bosnian, but a lot of immigrant communities in general.”

Vega Transport employees are originally from 30 different countries.

How do you launch a business that grows bigger than you’d ever imagined? For the Sinanovic brothers, it’s by asking questions, building your company the right way, not being afraid to do things differently and constantly questioning and adapting. This is what Sinanovic and his brother Irfan did to found and expand Vega Transport. It’s how they started a trucking company with no transportation experience nearly 15 years ago and grew it from two brothers and one truck to 105 employees from more than 30 countries and 120 trucks.

The Sinanovics were among the many Bosnians who moved to St. Louis during and just after the Bosnian War in the 1990s. While taking computer science courses at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Nick Sinanovic also worked part-time at the International Institute of St. Louis, translating for other immigrants who were preparing to take the Commercial Driver’s License test and become safe, professional truck drivers to support their families.

It was an experience that would shape the future for him and for his brother.

“I ran across a lot of people who were telling me about issues that they were facing in the industry. They were telling me how they’re not getting paid on time and all the difficult things,” Sinanovic says. “Being a college student, I had lots of time on my hands. I sat down and I started doing some numbers.”

“I went to Irfan and said, ‘Listen, I think we should do something. I have an idea how to do this better, and how we could run a successful transportation company,’” Sinanovic continues. “One thing led to another. We wrote a business plan, and eventually, after so many trials and errors, we got things to work out.”

In 2005, Vega Transport was born before Sinanovic had even graduated from UMSL.

“When we got into this business, we came without any preconceptions about how trucking should be done,” Sinanovic says. “We just started from scratch and questioned everything. I think that’s what makes us successful in this business.”

Over the years, Vega Transport has increased its use of innovative fuel-efficient methods.

One of the things that Vega Transport does differently is to prioritize the family lives of its employees. In the industry, drivers often travel hundreds of miles a day and can be on the road for many days, weeks or even months at a time. But Vega’s dispatchers make a point to route drivers as efficiently as possible, often ensuring that the road riders are away from home for only a few days, when possible.

What we always focused on from the very beginning is to bring our drivers home, because a lot of our drivers are family-oriented,” Sinanovic says. “They have families, lives, kids, and they always appreciate when we can bring them back to St. Louis between their runs to spend a day with their families. That just means the world to them.”

St. Louis’ spot in the middle of the country also plays a big role in Vega’s success. Because of the centralized location, Vega’s drivers can transport goods to cities in the Midwest and beyond, with interstates and highways connecting it in every direction. 

“It is very well connected to the east, west, north and south and makes a great spot for transportation, especially,” Sinanovic says. “St. Louis is growing tremendously in terms of how much freight ships in and out.”

"We just started from scratch and questioned everything. I think that's what makes us successful in this business," Nick Sinanovic says.

Being a truck driver is a tough job, but it is one of the few that pays well without requiring a college degree, something that’s important to the Sinanovic brothers as they continue to grow Vega Transport. Many of Vega’s drivers make roughly $70,000 a year, which allows them to provide for their families and — especially for employees from other countries — further build their lives here in St. Louis. Sinanovic says people from more than 30 countries are on the Vega team, all excited to contribute to the local economy. But this diversity brings something special to the company itself, too.

“Bringing people from different walks of life helps us see things differently and helps us grow in different ways,” Sinanovic says. “They do work hard. They put in 60-70 hours a week.”

As they hire more people, Sinanovic wants to increase the diversity of the company even more, coinciding with St. Louis’s growing multifaceted nature. A St. Louis Public Radio story says that census data shows a nine-percent increase in the city’s population of foreign-born residents from 2014 to 2015.

Industry technology is improving, too. Over the years, Vega Transport has increased its use of innovative fuel-efficient methods to have a gentler impact on the environment. 

“Our company really takes pride that we’re forward-looking and trying to reduce that fuel consumption by installing technologies such as aerodynamic devices on the trucks and trailers, training drivers and talking to them constantly about how important it is to have a good fuel economy,” Sinanovic says. “Impacting the environment is big on our list, but at the same time, we have big savings on fuel because big trucks use three or four times as much fuel as a small vehicle.”

In hiring people who share the brothers’ core values — safety, customer service, diversity, family, sustainability — Sinanovic says that Vega has a much lower turnover rate than other trucking companies.

“People come to us, and there’s really no reason for them to go anywhere else because we’re always open to learning. We’re always open to new ideas, and we let our people grow with us,” Sinanovic says.

And there’s been a lot of growth in the transportation industry since Vega was founded, he adds, necessitating the recent purchase of a new facility in Granite City, Illinois.

“These new initiatives are helping us grow even further,” he says. “We’re going to continue to be a force in St. Louis.”

St. Louis' central location plays a big role in the growth of Vega Transport as well as the happiness of its employees.

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