J.B. Hunt at 60: Our People
In this multi-part series, we dive into the key components driving our mission to create the most efficient transportation network in North America - thinking big and taking risks, building a talented workforce unlike any other, and offering stellar customer service.
Spoiler alert - it's been 60 years in the making.
You’ve heard it hundreds of times from leaders and co-workers. Probably said it to a family member, a prospective client, or someone that just started on your team. What makes J.B. Hunt so unique - in our industry, community, even the country - is our people.
To get a more detailed understanding of what that means, we met with several company leaders and influencers to discuss our culture, its evolution over the past 60 years, and the spirit of the people who give it life. Innovative, driven, disruptive, integrity – all terms we heard often with great passion. But the one that was most consistent among everyone: family.
The J.B. Hunt Family
“Our company came from a family and that family had beliefs and a system of values that it brought to our foundation,” says John Roberts, president and CEO.
Together, Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, along with our first-generation leaders Wayne Garrison and Kirk Thompson, would define the values of our company, values that still ring true today: that we honor our commitments; regularly challenge ourselves and our approach in how we serve our customers; watch costs closely; and strive to treat one another as family. Our office and field employees and maintenance team have all played vital roles in helping us build North America’s most efficient transportation network.
Founded by a Driver
So, too, have the J.B. Hunt drivers who put in mile after mile to make sure our customers’ shipments get to the right place at the right time.
It’s a lifestyle our founder, Johnnie Bryan Hunt, knew well. Before he and his wife Johnelle Hunt started this company in 1961, Mr. Hunt was a driver with a regular route between Little Rock, Ark. and St. Louis.
In the following decades, as the two built the company into one of the largest and most influential transportation providers in the nation, Mr. Hunt never took his finger off the pulse of the road. While crisscrossing the U.S. to meet with customers and drivers alike, he loved dropping into terminals and hearing directly from drivers.
Mr. Hunt relished hearing directly from his employees so much that he insisted on keeping his home number listed in the phone book. At this point, nearly 15 years after his death, the stories of his personal touch are endless. Brad Hicks, president of highway services and executive vice president, recalls one such story particularly well.
It begins with a surprise visit. A J.B. Hunt driver had stopped at a terminal to do laundry and eat when, unannounced, Mr. Hunt “rolls through into the break room and sits right down with him,” says Hicks.
In the impromptu conversation that followed, Mr. Hunt sought to go deeper than surface level. “It wasn’t just a little quick ‘Hi, how are you? Good to meet you.’ shake-hands-and-move-on kind of thing,” Hicks says.
Instead, Mr. Hunt spent 30-45 minutes asking questions and trying to understand that driver’s life on and off the road. If there was something that the company could do better, after all, drivers would be among the first to know.
The conversation “meant so much to the employee,” Hicks says. "Even 20 years later, he can't wait to tell people the story about the time he got to meet Mr. Hunt.”
A Culture of People
That one-on-one interaction is part of the “culture of people” upon which Mr. and Mrs. Hunt built the company, says Paul Bingham, senior vice president of sales. “They found the best talent, shared their vision, got buy in and motivated all of their employees to execute said vision.”
Every year, this culture is celebrated when many of the company’s best drivers gather at the corporate headquarters in Lowell, Ark. These drivers, all of whom have driven two or more million miles accident-free, walk through the building as fellow employees cheer and high five them.
“It was one of the best moments in my life,” J.B. Hunt driver Terry Weston recalled of the 2019 Million Mile celebration. “I was trying to shake everyone’s hand. I wish I could have hugged everyone.”
During the event, Mrs. Hunt made a point to tell Weston how much he meant to the company.
“I told her: ‘Twenty-six years ago from today, I was shaking your husband’s hand and today I’m shaking yours.’ And I’m probably going to cry,’” Weston said.
“And she goes, ‘You go ahead and cry. I’ll cry right along with you.’ I’m so glad I got to meet that lady.”
Putting the Team First
While drivers are perhaps the most visible employees of J.B. Hunt, a large group of people including thousands of office and field employees and our maintenance team works behind them.
To Mr. and Mrs. Hunt, employees were family. So much so that they used to host company picnics in their home in Springdale, just down the road from headquarters.
“Johnnie and I have always felt like, ‘Be fair to the people, care about the people,’” Mrs. Hunt says. “And we feel like we really did.”
Every morning, Mr. Hunt made a point of walking through the company headquarters, from the ground floor to the top floor, to check in with folks. “He would go through and he would speak to everybody in the company before he came to his office,” Mrs. Hunt recalls.
“And I always felt like that was the most important thing that he did for the company. He let everybody know how much he cared about them, what a good job they were doing.”
Continuing the Tradition
The Hunts have passed the torch on to today’s J.B. Hunt leaders, who continue to stress the core of the company’s culture.
Stuart Scott, chief information officer and executive vice president, saw that firsthand during a new employee orientation in 2016. He recalls one of the speakers saying, “‘Welcome to the J.B. Hunt family.’ And I thought, ‘Family,’ that's a strange word." I mean, I've worked in a lot of companies and you hear ‘Welcome to the company,’ ‘Welcome to the team,’ ‘Welcome to the organization.’”
“I've never heard ‘Welcome to the family.’ And what’s really interesting is I've experienced that every day since. Our culture is one where we care about people, we care about our employees and we care about our communities. It really does feel like a family.”
As the company grows larger year by year, keeping that culture intact is important. One way to do that is ensuring people can bring their whole selves to work, where they feel like they are being care for personally and professionally, says Shelley Simpson, chief commercial officer and executive vice president of people and human resources.
To that end, J.B. Hunt has developed personal enrichment resources and employee resource groups that can help all employees grow their professional networks and give back to the community. The ERGs also support the advancement of women, African Americans, Latinos, veterans and individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+.
“Being inclusive is making sure that all 30,000 plus of our employees feel like their voices are heard and respected,” says Tami Allensworth, senior vice president and co-founder of GROW. That’s regardless “if they are man or woman, in Lowell or located in a field location, whether they drive for us or they're in an office setting, in one of our maintenance shops, introverted, extroverted, person of color or not.”
The Next 60 Years
More than 30,000 employees is a long way from the early days when Mr. and Mrs. Hunt worked days and nights at their rice hull processing plant in Stuttgart, Ark.
It was hard work, integrity and honesty that helped carry them through those trying times and eventually turn that venture — and the transportation company that was incorporated in 1969 — into a success. With those values as a bedrock, all kinds of growth are possible.
“Growth brings opportunity,” Roberts adds. “It gives us financial potential but it more importantly gives our people potential, it helps us hire, it helps us retain because you come to work here like I did and you can have a career. If we don't grow, if we don't get bigger, then we may put that at risk.”
Simpson agrees: “Many people in our organization have had the opportunity to leave, but they stay because they believe that there is even more opportunity inside J.B. Hunt — more opportunity to be successful, to love their career, to really build something that's different and unique.”
That consistency helps lay the path for the next generation of J.B. Hunt leaders. “We’re a 10 billion company today and we’re going to look completely different in the next 10, 20, 25 years,” Bingham says.
“But what’s not going to change is that culture where we take care of our people.”
Powered by our people, the opportunities at J.B. Hunt are endless. We're so ready to see what the next 60 years have in store. Learn more about our 60th anniversary celebration.