Transparency19: Shelley Simpson, J.B. Hunt

( Image: Shutterstock )

Shelley Simpson comes to work every day with one objective in mind: “How to disrupt ourselves, our customers, and our industry to help create the most efficient transportation network in North America.”

It’s an ambitious goal, to be sure, said Simpson, Executive Vice President, Chief Commercial Officer, and President of Highway Services at J.B. Hunt (JBHT:NASDAQ).

“But for one of the largest trucking and transportation companies,” she said, “it’s a given.”

Founded in 1961, J.B. Hunt is a legacy transportation business. It employs more than 27,000 people and grossed more than $7 billion in 2017. But the company is always ready to pivot, Simpson said. What innovation means at J.B. Hunt, she observed, is watching out for customers and employees.

Simpson, a keynote speaker for Transparency19, knows innovation having worked for J.B. Hunt for 24 years as the industry has experienced huge change.

After starting out as customer service representative in 1994 she quickly moved up the ladder. During her tenure with the company, Simpson has held several senior leadership positions, including Chief Marketing Officer, President of Integrated Capacity Solutions & Truckload Vice President of Economic Analysis and Senior Vice President of Finance and Administration. She assumed her current role in May 2017.

Traditional companies, she said, have an advantage that emerging freight tech businesses lack – industry experience. “They know the ins-and-outs of the market and have an expansive offering of solutions to meet customers’ needs. Many also know the intricacies of being a carrier and driver – dealing with maintenance, ensuring compliance and the importance of practicing safety as examples. That level of experience and empathy is unmatched by a tech startup.”

That said, digitization plays a huge role in J.B. Hunt’s transportation business strategy. Simpson said 2018 was a great year for J.B. Hunt tech development, as the company saw the impact and benefits of its platform, J.B. Hunt 360. “This will  continue to expand, as new developments in artificial intelligence and data science happen every day.”

Committing to disruption also means always being on the lookout for fresh talent.

“Keep innovation top of mind by bringing in new faces that will challenge teams to think beyond the usual parameters,” Simpson said. “They’ll help you find your next big idea and change the atmosphere along the way.”  

After 24 years in the industry, what does Simpson like best about the job?  

“Transportation is important in the supply chain and has become a key differentiator to our customers’ businesses. I love helping our customers solve problems. I love working with our people who believe in this company and find the same long-term career here that I have found.”  

“Mr. [Johnnie Bryan] Hunt used to say, ‘It’s going to be a big day.’ Big is what you make of it and has shaped the way we think as a company. Big goals, big dreams, big reality.

“That same mindset still exists for our company nearly two decades later.”

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Linda Baker, Staff Writer

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves staff reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes early-stage VC, freight-tech, mobility and West Coast emissions regulations.