Johnnie Bryan “J.B.” Hunt, Sr., 79, died Dec. 7, 2006, in Springdale, AR, of injuries suffered in a fall at his home, according to published reports. He built the company that bears his name — J. B. Hunt Transport Services — from the ground up, parlaying one truck with himself at the wheel into a $3.1-billion truckload behemoth fielding 11,000 trucks and 47,000 trailers and employing 16,000 persons.
“He was truly a legendary figure,” Satish Jindel, president of Pittsburgh-based SJ Consulting, told Fleet Owner. “It says a lot about his tenacity and foresight that he was able to build his company organically, rather than through acquisitions, and put in place a hand-picked management team over two decades that's still in place today.”
“Mr. Hunt evidenced incredible foresight and vision at the time of deregulation of the trucking industry in the early 1980s,” Steve Russell, chairman & CEO of truckload carrier Celadon Group, told Fleet Owner. “He was one of the great visionaries that created what the trucking industry is today. His family, as well as the management and employees of the company, should be proud of the legacy they've achieved from Mr. Hunt's humble first steps.”
Born in 1927 in Cleburne County, AR, Hunt grew up during the Depression, leaving school after the 7th grade to work in his uncle's sawmill to the help his family.
He started J.B. Hunt Transport in 1969 with just five trucks and seven refrigerated trailers to support the rice-hull operation. By 1983, Hunt's trucking “sideline” had grown into the 80th largest trucking firm in the U.S. at the time.
Although Hunt stepped down as president in 1982, he remained chairman until 1995.
Though known for being gregarious and outspoken, Hunt never sought the media spotlight, building his company quietly along the same lines as fellow Arkansan, Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton. “He's kept a very low profile,” said Jindel. “I personally met him a few times and his modesty was surprising. There were no outside displays of wealth with him — you would never have noticed him in a crowd.”
A company press release characterized him as “a staunch supporter in the development of Northwest Arkansas; an outspoken ambassador for the growth in the region who put his money where his mouth was by engaging in several projects that dot the Northwest Arkansas landscape and stand as a testimony to his progressive spirit.”