CFI returns home to a community it never left

 The CFI name is once again affixed to the headquarters of the truckload carrier in Joplin, MO.
The CFI name is once again affixed to the headquarters of the truckload carrier in Joplin, MO.

Name and ownership changes have led truckload carrier back to its roots

Starting with just two trucks in Joplin, MO, in 1951, Contract Freighters Inc. (CFI) built a reputation for quality service, professional drivers, and being a good community partner. That commitment has never wavered through the years. Changes may have challenged those commitments, but the employees of CFI remained committed to the company, the mission, and the Joplin community.

Today, CFI – after several name and ownership changes in the past 15 years – is reconnecting with the Joplin community and its customer base. The truckload carrier is home, even though it never left.

“Now that we are CFI, we are starting to reconnect with the community in a meaningful way,” Tim Staroba, president, told FreightWaves. “Not only has it been the employees who are grateful to see CFI come back, but I think the community is glad to see CFI back on the building.”

For those who have been in the industry for many years, the CFI name has history to it. For those unfamiliar with CFI, they still likely know the carrier. Prior to its purchase by XPO Logistics for $3 billion in 2015, CFI had been operating as Con-way Truckload. Con-way, then a less-than-truckload carrier, acquired CFI in 2007 in a $750 million deal and renamed the company Con-way Truckload.

Following its purchase, XPO rebranded all the Con-way divisions, which included Con-way Freight, Menlo Logistics, Con-way Truckload and Con-way Multimodal – XPO Logistics. The acquisition led to layoffs, according to some reports about 10% of Con-way’s workforce at Ann Arbor, MI, and Portland, OR, as well as most of upper management.

As XPO continues expanding, the truckload division didn’t fit as well with the transportation and logistics business of XPO, and when the opportunity came to sell the division, XPO did just that. Canada-based TransForce, since renamed TFI, acquired the truckload operation in late 2016.

 CFI employees in Joplin listen as management addresses changes at the company.
CFI employees in Joplin listen as management addresses changes at the company.

“This acquisition significantly strengthens TransForce’s presence in the North American truckload landscape with prominent market positions in domestic U.S. and cross-border Mexico freight,” Alain Bédard, chairman, president and CEO of TransForce, said at the time. “The acquisition complements our existing capabilities and gives us access to a diversified and blue-chip customer base. We have acquired a high-quality truckload business with a rich heritage and demonstrated solid operating and financial performance. We believe we are investing into the truckload space at a critical time and are well-positioned to benefit from future growth opportunities.”

TFI again rebranded the company, this time going back to its Joplin roots. With its third name in two year’s time, there were some bumps in the road, but the management team, which includes Staroba, who took over as president in October 2016 following 21 years working on the LTL side of Con-way before moving to the truckload division under XPO, has navigated the waters.

In fact, Alan Brady, human resources manager, says that all the changes have, in the end, been good for the current company.

“When we worked with Con-way, we were [more exposed] to national trends, national trains of thought,” he says. “It was almost like CFI went to college, and those that joined us as Con-way knew of the [CFI] legacy…because it carried over [from veteran employees].”

Brady estimates that about 50% of current employees worked with the company when it was CFI the first time.

“There have been system changes, but a good mark of customer service is that there is a smooth transition and we’ve done that with planning,” Brady adds. “As far as human resources, it’s also been a journey for us. To work with our sister divisions [under Con-way and XPO] gave us [greater exposure to processes]. We learned a great deal from that time, which is great because we can bring a lot of that innovation.”

 The timeline of CFI, from its founding to its sale to TFI in 2016.
The timeline of CFI, from its founding to its sale to TFI in 2016.

As CFI reintroduces itself to the Joplin community, Brady says it’s obvious the name never left the minds of residents.

“CFI is always a community player, so this year we wanted to reintroduce ourselves to the community,” he explains. “We sponsored a large job fair – we’ve done these the last [few] years under [Con-way, XPO and now CFI] – and we had so many people come up to us [this year] and say they were glad there we’re back. I’ve even been to driver job fairs and seen drivers with an old CFI hat come to the table and say they want to come back.

“We now have that spirit,” Brady adds. “We’ve back in the driver’s seat and we have to go back to what we’re famous for – we do what we say, say what we do, and that’s pickup and deliver on time.”

Now with a fleet of some 2,400 company tractors and 7,000 trailers, CFI trucks can be seen on the road again, providing time-definite, dry-van truckload services. The company also is actively involved in Mexico thanks to its CFI Logistica operation – which never changed names during the transitions. CFI Logistica was launched in 1997.

Earlier this year, CFI launched a U.S. logistics business – something that was not needed under Con-way, which had Con-way Menlo for those services. “It’s been tremendous down on the Mexico side but on the U.S. side we really didn’t have a need for it,” Staroba explains. “But now that we are a standalone company, it’s important.”

Throughout the transitions, Staroba says lessons have been learned that have been and will continue to be applied to CFI.

“The major difference is we are a standalone company again; TFI bought us to make us a standalone company,” he says. “We will be a stronger CFI for going through [the changes] simply because when you are owned by Con-way, which is a great organization, and then by XPO, we are able to take away [strategies].”

Community and employee support may be at all-time highs, Staroba says, thanks to the reputation of the CFI name.

“Is there anything higher than all-time high?” he asks. “Because I think that’s where it is. When we announced the sale and that we were bringing back the CFI name, people were crying because it meant so much to them.”

 The best part of the journey, though, may be that it is over. And yet, it really has just begun.

“TFI has made it very clear that CFI is not for sale,” Staroba says. “We are home … and that allows us to set [a pattern of growth] We’ve got our foot on the gas right now and are ready to grow.”

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.