J.B. Hunt president: Take care of people during freight recession

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 3,249 views 

The trucking industry is in a freight recession, but trucking companies can come through it if they take care of their people, J.B. Hunt President Shelley Simpson said at the Arkansas Trucking Association Conference on Tuesday (May 16).

Simpson said the trucking industry is in a period of diminished freight volume activity and deflationary cost pressures. Her company will respond by disrupting, adapting, and accelerating.

“If you heard me on my last two earnings calls, I have talked about the two words that many of us in trucking never like to hear, which is, we’re in a ‘freight recession,’” she said. “So many of you’ve asked me, ‘How long will it last?’ We don’t know. But we know this, that this too shall come to pass, and I think that’s our most encouraging part, and that we will be future-focused, and we can think about it long-term.”

Simpson told attendees that companies would be sustainable if they take care of their people and allow them to innovate.

Simpson described her company’s growth from its humble beginnings in 1961 when J.B. and Johnelle Hunt started it with five trucks and seven trailers. The company went public in 1983 when it did $63 million in business. Last year, it did nearly $15 billion. The company that started with five trucks now has five business units, nearly 36,000 employees in North America, and nearly 7,000 in Arkansas. Its expansion into brokerage led to the creation of its J.B. Hunt Carrier 360, its online load board.

“We’re future-focused, we take a long view and have a growth mindset, and it has been that way since 1961,” she said.

Simpson started there 29 years ago, and as the company grew it offered her more opportunities. After she started as a customer service representative, nine of her next 14 positions didn’t exist when she had first come to the company.

“The growth of the company was like oxygen for my career,” she said.

Simpson said the company celebrates its people. She said 677 have been with the organization for 25 years or longer, and one, Chairman Kirk Thompson, has been there 50 years. He led the company as president and CEO from 1987 to Dec. 31, 2010.

J.B. Hunt offers eight free mental health therapy sessions for employees and their family members. That service was a great benefit for one driver who had told Simpson she needed extra paid time off at a driver’s roundtable at the Memphis terminal. She was a single mom with two kids, her mother had died, it was around Mother’s Day, and she was lonely and needed to connect.