The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King’s epic “I Have a Dream” speech and the launch of Beatlemania made the year 1963 one of the 20th century’s most memorable.
That same year, Mississippians Tom Kobuke, W.J. Liles, B.C. Lee and Henry Moudy decided to form their own trucking company. Dubbed KLLM Transport Services, the name utilized the first initial of the last name of each of the founders.
Fifty three years later, KLLM still calls Richland home and has evolved into the nation’s third-largest cold cargo trucking company. Now owned by Mississippi-based Duff Brothers Capital, KLLM features over 4,000 power units and 7,500 trailers. The company’s “promise on performance” ensures a 98 percent on-time delivery rate for client’s goods and perishables.
Make no mistake, the odds are pretty good that KLLM had a hand in hauling any number of items currently in your household, from chicken to ice cream to pharmaceuticals.
KLLM president Jim Richards began his career with the company in 1986. He served in a number of roles before assuming the top position in 2008. A “company man,” Richards says the key to KLLM’s success is simple – great customer service, and then some.
With 80 percent of its customer base among the nation’s top 20 companies, KLLM has maintained long-standing working relationships with numerous mega-corporations, including Tyson, Con Agra and Hershey.
“Our company culture has been extremely service oriented since the beginnings of KLLM in the early 1960s,” Richards said. “Customer service is a premium and what we’re known for in the industry. KLLM’s rates are not the cheapest but our ‘blue chip’ customers feel it’s worth the price.”
Richards also credits parent company Duff Brothers Group’s acquisition of KLLM in 2008 as a tonic to the company’s financial woes.
“With the Duffs (Tommy and Jim) behind us, it’s worked out to be very profitable,” he said. “They’ve been very instrumental in providing the financial means necessary to turn the company around.”
In 2013, KLLM acquired Dallas-based Frozen Food Express, enabling the company to extend its footprint in the refrigerated market and accelerate growth. Both companies fall under Richards’ purview.
“FFE brings a totally different service to the game,” he said. “Unlike the KLLM model, Frozen Food Express ships by the pallet. In other words, instead of one truck-trailer filled with one type of commodity like KLLM, Frozen Food Express might have 20 different types of products on-board — a pallet of this, a pallet of that over there.”
The nation’s first temperature-controlled carrier to utilize satellite communications fleet-wide, KLLM has continued to be ahead of the technology curve. Recently, the company installed a digital locking mechanism on all its trailers. For instance, a driver hauling pharmaceuticals in California must contact the Mississippi dispatcher to unlock the door.
“Security is a must with some of the goods we carry,” said Richards. “Our main priority is to protect our customer’s product, and this technology allows us to do it better.”
To solve a shortage of qualified truck drivers, KLLM partnered with Hinds Community College four years ago and began offering free training to students enrolled in the college’s commercial truck driving program. The driving scholarships are valued at $4,000, with students committing to one year employment with KLLM.
The nine-week program benefits both the company and the rookie drivers, said Richards.
“I worked closely with (HCC president) Dr. (Clyde) Muse and we built the training facility,” said Richards. “We offer people that have no experience an opportunity to learn to drive a commercial truck and earn a good living, and in return, we have a steady stream of capable drivers.
“We’re very loyal to our people and they are loyal to us.”
A Vicksburg native, Richards takes pride in promoting his home state. For several years, KLLM tractor-trailers have become rolling billboards proudly displaying the cursive “Mississippi” brand in 48 states and Mexico.
“I’ve lived here all of my life, and the (branding) is a gesture of goodwill,” Richards said. “We love to promote Mississippi, and we’d like to change the focus of people to a more positive image of our state. When they see our trucks, they know who we are.
“KLLM is all about: integrity. Our (unofficial) motto is ‘Either do it right or don’t do it all.’”
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