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Craig Harper: ‘Tough to Leave’ J.B. Hunt

3 min read

It seems strange to think of J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. without Craig Harper in the executive suite.

Harper, J.B. Hunt’s long-time chief operations officer, stepped down at the end of 2023 after 31½ years with the Lowell company. Harper joined the company in 1992 and served as COO for 23 years; he spent the last few years as J.B. Hunt’s chief sustainability officer.

Harper, 66, told me he had been contemplating retirement since 2014, but J.B. Hunt kept presenting new opportunities that kept him motivated to stay. But in July, when the company had its annual succession planning meeting, he realized he needed to speak up when no one mentioned his possible replacement.

“My name never came up in that,” Harper said. “No one said, ‘Surely, Craig, you’re going to be retiring soon.’ They just assumed I was going to be working for several more years.”

Harper said he pulled aside President Shelly Simpson and COO Nick Hobbs to tell them he was ready to retire. The company named Greer Woodruff as Harper’s replacement; Woodruff worked with Harper for the past 27 years.

“It was tough to leave,” Harper said. “I just decided that I wanted to focus on some areas, and a big part of it is spending time with my family. I’ve been running hard here for 31½ years.

“I just felt like it was time.”

Harper said he is proud of what he accomplished at J.B. Hunt. As the company’s chief safety officer, he and Woodruff were the driving force behind J.B. Hunt’s commitment to safety.

Harper said he tried to personalize and humanize safety by showing company executives the pain caused by a lax attitude. Safety is one of the driving core principles of the company now.

“I don’t know how many lives it has saved, but it has saved them,” he said.

After his long tenure as COO, Harper transitioned to sustainability, where he worked to get J.B. Hunt more credit for its efforts in that field. Under his guidance, J.B. Hunt released its first sustainability report and announced goals to reduce carbon emission intensity by 32% by 2034.

“Craig has been a great boss, mentor and friend for all of the 27 years we worked together,” Woodruff said. “Craig was so critical in establishing culture. Craig has established a culture in two different areas, and I don’t know too many people who have a professional career where they have been able to do that.”

Woodruff said Harper succeeded with tasks such as safety and sustainability because he made sure he learned all he could about every single aspect of each subject. Harper credited his natural love of learning.

“He does have a lot of drive to be the best, the most knowledgeable about whatever topics he is entrusted with,” Woodruff said. “He seeks to understand every angle of whatever topic he is working on. Over a period of time, he knows more than the subject matter experts he talked to.”

Harper said other companies have reached out to him about positions since his retirement, but he has no intention of returning to a work life. He said he will form a company, Craig Harper Consulting, but it has a ready expiration date.

“My client is J.B. Hunt; I don’t think we’ll have any clients after the next few weeks or months,” Harper said. “If I was still planning on working, I would have stayed at J.B. Hunt.”

Harper said he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Karyn. He plans to travel more and play more golf and pickleball.

“I don’t know when the perfect time is; it’s hard to know,” Harper said. “I feel like I’m in great health, and I want to take advantage of that.

“I need more time with my family to do the things I have put off for years.”

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