J.B. Hunt’s Shelley Simpson shares passion for workplace diversity

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 616 views 

Workplace diversity is a passion for Shelley Simpson, president of the trucking and integrated brokerage operations for logistics giant J.B. Hunt Transport Services. It’s career she’s built over the past two decades which began as a customer service representative right out of college.

“I didn’t grow up playing with trucks. I grew up playing with dolls,” Simpson said during her speech at the Cross Church Summit Luncheon in Rogers on Thursday (Oct. 30). “Someone had to be intentional to say to me this (trucking) is a great career for me. … Someone had be intentional to have a diversified team that included not only Millennials, but also Generation X and Baby Boomers.”

Simpson said too often the diversity issue is “uncomfortable” but it needn’t be, especially if diversity is sought for the right reasons. She said diversity is not just about gender, ethnicity or age, it’s also about experience levels and areas of expertise and talents that can vary greatly among any class of workers.

“It’s not about a quota, it’s about culture,” Simpson said. “If I told you that workplace diversity could help you grow profits up to 2.5 times, would you be interested? If I told you that it could help you retain your best employees would that be of interest to you, or if your customers could be better served by it, would you then be interested?”

Simpson said companies often don’t intentionally embrace diversity, and they don’t have programs in place to seek out the best and brightest candidates with unique and diverse experiential qualities.

She said J.B. Hunt began three years ago to do a better job of recruiting straight from college. However, Simpson said a true picture of diversity is difficult recruiting from a university with 17% diversity.

“Today we actively recruit from 88 colleges, across many different disciplines. We now speak 24 different languages. In just three years,” she said.

She also noted that college degrees are not the end-all, be-all factor for hiring. Experience and leadership qualities also matter in the selection process.

Simpson said the face of this country is changing as six of the top eight metro areas now have no majority ethnicity and 75% of those entering the workforce today are female or people of color.

“Companies have to adapt or get left behind, because their customer base and vendors are also going to demand diversity,” Simpson said.

A local example of where the application of diversity has worked at Hunt is with the Integrated Capacity Solutions or brokerage division which was originated in 2010. Simpson said the leadership team that planned, staffed and built this new division was purposeful regarding diversity. The leadership team itself included men and women of various experience levels, ages and ethnicities and they sought to recruit a combination of youthful vigor and older wisdom.

At roughly the same time, the company launched its Rise Leadership program to recruit and harness talent across the world. Simpson said convincing some of them to move to Northwest Arkansas after college graduation was a challenge, but the company gave them a commitment to help them relocate in three years if they choose to leave.

“We find that about one-third of them love it and want to stay after the three-year period,” Simpson added.

Since 2010, the ICS division has grown from $0 revenue to $1 billion this year, Simpson said. The brokerage segment has also grown its local workforce to 16% of the corporate total in Northwest Arkansas and it’s the fastest growing of all four operating divisions at Hunt.

The success of ICS helped push Simpson into an expanded management role in April when she was named president of the company’s laggard truckload segment in conjunction with her duties at ICS. Simpson now oversees two of the company’s four operating segments and is the company’s highest ranking female.

As of the company’s last fiscal year report (April 2014), Simpson was not among the top paid executives mentioned in the company’s Proxy filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Terrence Matthews, executive vice president and head of the Intermodal division was on the list as were two other male executive vice presidents — David Mee, chief financial officer and Craig Harper, chief operating officer. CEO John Roberts III, formerly ran the ICS division before his promotion to replace outgoing CEO Kirk Thompson, who is still chairman of the board.