Johnelle Hunt: Continuity Key for Growth, Culture at J.B. Hunt

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Apr. 29, 2013 12:00 am  

ROGERS — J.B. Hunt and his wife, Johnelle, sat down for a meeting with their accountants one day in the mid-1970s. Johnelle Hunt can’t recall the exact date, but she remembers plenty of other details from that day as they evaluated the future of J.B. Hunt Transport.

Reality simply wasn’t matching the dream Hunt had when he borrowed money to start the trucking portion of his company in 1969.

Bills were being paid, but not without creditors occasionally providing some leniency on a due date.

Shutting down the trucking aspect of his business, founded as a poultry industry-related operation in 1961, seemed to be the safest, most logical option. “Johnnie,” Johnelle recalls, told those in attendance that he would turn his attention away from trucking if the business couldn’t turn a profit during the next quarter.

Following the meeting, Johnelle Hunt typed up what her husband had just told the room. She took a copy of the document into his office, looking for a signature. Instead, he handed it back to her unsigned and immediately turned his attention to other matters on his desk.

”He just handed it back to me, and that was that,” Johnelle Hunt told Arkansas Business in a recent interview at her Rogers office. “It was never mentioned again. We just knew we needed to get back to work and work harder.”

Motivated by the possibility of failure, bolstered by innovative thinking and energized by promising young hires who would work their way to the top of the company, J.B. Hunt Transport eventually matched — and exceeded — J.B. Hunt’s vision for what the business could become.

By 1983 J.B. Hunt was successful enough to be taken public. By 1993 its revenue had eclipsed $1 billion.

When shareholders gathered for the 2013 meeting on April 25, they were set to hear how the company planned to improve on the $5.1 billion in revenue for 2012. (J.B. Hunt’s performance moves it to second place on the list of largest trucking companies in Arkansas, just behind FedEx Freight.)

Despite the difficulty of the early struggles, Johnelle Hunt, 81, enjoys looking back at where the company began.

Her late husband, Johnnie Bryan Hunt Sr., died in December 2006 at age 79 from head injuries suffered in a fall, and she is no longer on the board of directors.

However, Johnelle Hunt, who handled collections for the business in its early days, remains its biggest stockholder with a 17 percent stake, totaling about 19.95 million shares.

 

 

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